Conquering public speaking

“Practice your kicks 10,000 times.”

From the book, “Dojo Wisdom for Writers

You’ve seen in several sections of this book that being a great consultant involves being a great communicator. You need to be comfortable with public speaking, and you also need to be comfortable with speaking in sales situations and production meetings. Not only do you need to be comfortable with speaking, as you read in an earlier section, you need to be comfortable with influencing people.

If you’re not comfortable with public speaking, you can do one of two things:

  1. You can give up, as I almost did many years ago.
  2. You can accept the fact that everyone is uncomfortable with public speaking at first, and get comfortable with it.

By getting comfortable with it, my salary rapidly increased from $50K/year to over $100K/year (in 1995 dollars), and my career became much more interesting. I’ll leave the choice to you, but I highly recommend that you tackle your fear of public speaking head on.

Practice, practice, practice

My approach to conquering public speaking was to first rehearse in front of a mirror, then rehearse in front of coworkers.

Somewhere along the line I also started videotaping my rehearsals, which had a tendency to keep me on track and keep the pace moving just like I was in front of a crowd of people. At first, watching the recordings was brutal -- I was horrible! But over time I got better and better, removing all sorts of annoying habits I had while speaking, everything from rocking back and forth, to mumbling, and to using filler words like “um.”

Between (a) this practice and (b) using my initial “flop sweat” presentation as motivation, my presentations eventually became good. I can’t say they were “excellent,” because I’m not the one to judge that, but they became good enough that I won some very large deals, and I’m now comfortable presenting in front of crowds of one hundred or more people.

As a final note, a friend of mine works in sales, and although he talks all the time in his role as a salesperson, he participates in a local speaking group known as Toastmasters. I’ve never been to one of their meetings, but as I understand it, the purpose of their meetings is to let everyone practice their public speaking skills in front of a friendly crowd. You prepare a small speech, present it in front of the group, and over time you become desensitized to speaking in front of crowds. Again, public speaking is your friend, and if you think it will help, I encourage you to join a group like this.

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