The key to becoming better at anything is to practice. Want to be a better tennis player, gourmet chef or carpenter—practice. Need to make a speech and want it to be terrific? Practice. The physical and mental act of repeating something over and over again can help you learn to do just about anything better. Practice also helps eliminate fear and nerves because practice gives you confidence. You know you’ve done something before and can do it again.
Other tips for successfully learning new skills include paying attention to the teacher or text, and honing your technique by learning what works for you and what doesn’t—then adapting.
Also, it’s important to be patient as the learning process unfolds. You wouldn’t expect to go on stage to play Chopin after five piano lessons would you? Yet many people think that they should be able to get up and give a compelling speech—and be comfortable while they’re doing it—with only a small amount of practice.
To those of you reading this and thinking, “I know myself. No matter how much I practiced I’d never be comfortable speaking--or any good at it either.”
I’d like to disabuse you of that negative and limiting thinking.
The truth is that speaking is far easier than playing piano, and every one of us is good at it. All you and I do is talk. And we manage to get our points across most of the time.
There is a difference when we speak from a stage or to a group, though; we feel more exposed, more vulnerable to judgement, more afraid of making a mistake when all eyes are on us. This causes dread and fear which often leads to the belief that “I can’t do it” or “I’ll fail if I try.” And since we assume we’ll be terrible, when we do get up the courage to speak (because we have no choice), we place so much negative weight on our own shoulders that we’re never as effective as we long to be. To make matters worse we take the memories of that experience on to the next time we have to present to a group. The viscous cycle continues.
But it doesn’t have to. The cycle of fear and less-than-stellar performances can be broken—but it takes practice—and facing your fears.
Here are five things to remember about public speaking:
Public speaking is a learned skill—like playing the piano or tennis.
The audience doesn’t want you to fail; they are on your side.
Practice—committed and prolonged practice—will help you get a handle on your nerves and develop confidence.
You should be a bit keyed up. Nervousness will help you seem (and be!) energized, animated and enthusiastic about your topic.
Practice will improve every other aspect of your presentation too.
Here are five more bonus tips to help you maintain perspective:
No one is ever perfect.
At 11 p.m. you are the only one still thinking about your speech.
Unless you are teaching surgeons how to operate or airplane mechanics how to fix a jet, making a mistake will not ruin your, or anyone else’s, life.