Today I was debating with someone and someone sarcastically commented that I was sooo self-assured about what I was saying. Well, I was. I truly was. I wasn’t just throwing out theories, I was stating something that I know without a doubt is true and could easily be proven. It’s really easy to be self-assured in that case! I was confident about that situation and it’s easier to speak without fear when you are confident that you are right. It reminded me of something I learned in college and how I mastered my intense fear of public speaking.
When I was a kid, I used to hate giving presentations in school. Hated it. I was painfully shy and I would have rather failed a class than give a presentation. I couldn’t sleep and I worried for days, and dreaded the moment my turn came. I’d speak in a terrified, shaky voice and rush through what I had to say. I was normally so quiet at school, those forced presentations might have been the only time anyone heard me speak in class!
Years later, when I went to college for the second time in my mid 20’s, I gave myself a goal that I was going to leave with a 4.0. Well, in college, there are presentations. Gulp. But I wanted all A’s so bad, I knew I needed to master those presentations because they were just going to keep coming. I was still shy and quiet in class, and I remember one professor looking at me with sympathy when I got up to give a presentation on Charles de Gaulle, (fascinating hero, by the way!) Then I nailed that presentation so well that other students congratulated me and the professor told me how well I’d done. Honestly, she looked shocked and kept gushing over how good my presentation was. She looked at me differently after that and I became a favorite student. Whoa…me?!? Well, I wanted it bad enough and I knew I had to do it. That’s one thing I learned. I wanted that A so bad, I made it happen!
The next thing I learned is: Once you do it well, you realize, “hey, I can do this!” and the next time is not so scary. It just got easier and easier. I will always be a shy person, but I can say with confidence, that I can give a good presentation. Which leads to the third thing I learned….
It is easy to be confident when you know what you are talking about. I didn’t nail that presentation because I suddenly became a great public speaker. I succeeded because I went through the information over and over and over until I knew it extremely well and could have talked on and on about Charles de Gaulle. I didn’t even use note cards. I didn’t need to worry about something I’d learned so well it was second nature to me. I started using that pattern for all my presentations in college and later graduate school. Know your topic well!
If you have a fear of public speaking or even speaking your mind in front of smaller groups, just remember–if you know what you are talking about, it’s much easier to be confident. Don’t just memorize a speech. Know your subject so well that you could have a conversation about it. It comes more naturally and it’s less scary when you know that you know what you are doing. And you have to want to do it. When you speak successfully, save that feeling for the future and remind yourself you can do it again.
These days, I feel pretty good talking in front of people. 🙂