Overcoming the Fear of Public Speaking
Thinking back to our school years, most of us can remember a time when we had to do a presentation in front of the class. For some, this was no big deal. But for many kids who later grew into anxious adults, the fear of public speaking (or glossophobia) is something that has followed them. From the time they sat at the back of the classroom in fear of being called upon to answer a question, many adults have practiced staying in the background for most of their lives and careers. It’s not always a conscious choice, but rather one developed based on past experiences.
All leaders are expected to have exemplary communication skills, whether natural or taught; someone who speaks with conviction is usually able to lead and inspire others. It’s not so much what they say, but how they say it. Talented public speakers are charismatic, authentic, and passionate people. They make audiences feel something when they speak.
Communication is key in the business world, so it’s important to be comfortable speaking in front of others, whether it’s during company meetings, client presentations, or while networking at events. Public speaking doesn’t come naturally to everyone, but it’s a skill that can be honed. The more time you spend speaking in front of others, the more confident you will become. With time, almost all traces of anxiety and nerves will disappear.
Join the (Toastmasters) Club
Joining a public speaking club, like Toastmasters, is a great way to develop better public speaking skills. Toastmasters provides people with a safe space to practice their public speaking in front of a group of supportive, like-minded individuals. The idea is for no one to feel intimidated about stepping outside of their comfort zone and into the limelight (at least, for a little while).
There are usually multiple clubs located in most major cities, and first-time visitors are welcome to just observe until they find the right club for them. Toastmasters does charge an annual membership fee, which allows members to attend as many (or as few) meetings as they like. You can also attend as a guest, where you can participate in part of the event. Some companies even offer subsidized membership fees to their employees, allowing them to attend privately-run Toastmasters sessions exclusive to their staff.
How does a Toastmasters meeting work? They can run differently, depending on the city or the club. It’s sort of like taking a course with a series of stages to complete. Members are given a manual with a set of lessons, such as structuring a speech, staying on topic, or mastering body language and vocal tone. The idea is that once you finish improving a specific skill, you implement that knowledge in your next speech. As members deliver their speeches, an evaluator takes note of how well each one is doing and presents them with written feedback at the end. Everything is accounted for, such as whether the member in question mastered the specific lesson from the manual to how many times they said “um.” After completing 10 speeches, a person will then earn the title of “Competent Communicator” and continue advancing from there.
In addition to the speakers, there are also several other roles that need to be filled, including the evaluator, the sergeant of arms, and the chair. There are generally four to five speeches performed each night, covering various themes and topics. The first one is usually a traditional “Ice Breaker.” The second half of the meeting includes a section called, “Table Topics,” impromptu, two-minute addresses that guests are encouraged to come up with on the spot, based on randomly-assigned topics.
Online and Print Resources
Toastmasters is a great way for anyone to build confidence. On the flip side, however, one could argue that you don’t need to spend money to learn how to become a better speaker. If you’re on a tight budget or the idea of joining a club doesn’t sound appealing, there are so many other resources available, from YouTube videos to online content and books that cover similar topics. If you’re looking to get started, here’s a list of some of the most popular books available. Good luck!
Rhea Braganza | Staff Writer