“How to be a good public speaker? That’s what I want to know.”
The student caught me after my talk as I was ordering a red eye at the university coffee shop. Whatever I’d said must have struck her as “good.” I was stunned at the question. I’d never considered myself a public speaker. Certainly not a good public speaker. And even in that moment, when I thought about what it meant to be a public speaker, it scared me.
Know why the photo above is blurry? Pretty much because I’m crazy on stage. Energy is bursting out of me. I’m fired up about my topic, I live fired up about my topics, and my enormous fear of public speaking means that there is a ridiculous release/relief of energy when I dive into my talk.
I’ve talked at Ivy-league universities and respected organizations, at clubs and at boarding schools. I’m not sure if a clear photograph at such an event exists. If you find one, fellow reader, send it my way!
So, after I took a few extra long swigs of coffee to gather my thoughts, I blurted out to the inquisitive student:
“You just seriously have to give a shit about what you’re talking about.”
I think she was caught off guard at my language, so I circled back to appropriate:
“I can only speak for myself, of course. But being a public speaker terrifies me. I actually can’t believe I keep racking up speaking gigs. My mouth goes dry, I’m sweating all over the place… and it’s been that way since I can remember. You know how they say it gets better? For me it didn’t and it doesn’t.”
Then she said, “But your talk, it was awesome. Any advice for how I can kind of do the same in class or whatever?”
“How to be a good public speaker? I mean there are a ton of articles to read, but for me it’s just that I care so much about what I’m talking about. The fire I have for these topics just takes over and my nerves or anxiety eventually fall by the wayside.”
Luckily that seemed to suffice, and she then asked if I’d read a poem she wrote. Hell yes I will, I thought to myself. Now that’s an arena where I’m more comfortable.
My mind circled back to this student’s question today as I signed another speaking contract, this time for the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.
How to be a good public speaker? Surely it’s different for everybody and every body, and maybe some of the thousands of articles out there on the topic will help you. Seriously, do a Google search for “best motivation speaker” or “what is a keynote speaker” and you’ll find a ton of stuff that may be useful.
Here are 9 pieces of advice, based on my own personal experiences. Take what works and, as Bruce Lee suggests, discard what does not:
Step n°1 |
Being a good public speaker has 10% to do with your on-stage preparation and 90% to do with your passion toward the topic.
Step n°2 |
I’ll sit (typically in the hotel bathroom because it’s quiet and there’s a rug) and just focus on my breath before the talk. If I feel my mind or heart starting to race I’ll come back to the rhythm of my breath, knowing that it’s my anchor.
Step n°3 |
Take some time to think about some larger topics of the world. This is perhaps easier for me as I often talk about human rights issues, but I’ve found that by framing the nervousness about my talk in comparison to the major problems of the world, it minimizes what I’m about to embark upon and provides a sense of ease.
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by Cameron Conaway Journalist, Poet, and Content Marketing Manager at KlipfolioFollow