I remember the day I addressed what was back then the largest audience of my life. I was in a camp with about three thousand other college graduates.
It was a 21-day paramilitary training program geared towards preparing us for a National Youth Service Assignment.
An opportunity was given for any one of us to give a motivational speech that particular morning, and I applied.
On the last morning of the parade, I was standing with my platoon members when I heard my name over the Public Address system. I was so scared I thought my mates could hear my heartbeat.
We were a little above three thousand, and so many people must have submitted their speeches. So I wasn’t counting on being called out.
I felt my knees wobble and shake uncontrollably under me. Then my palms started sweating.
I knew I was in a fix, and I had nowhere to run to. I really wished I had the power to simply disappear and re-appear somewhere else.
How my Experience Changed
Just at that moment I had a quick mental shift. I realized I can do and be anything I want and nobody could really stop me. So I stopped hesitating and rather took the first step.
I didn’t just stop there. I picked up and started jogging towards the podium.
I felt like, “Well If I am going to do this no matter what, I had better kick ass at it”.
As I jogged, my fellow corps members looked on in anticipation and some started clapping. They were already being affected by my (fake) act of confidence.
As they clapped, I felt my self-confidence rise. Once I took the microphone, I breathed in deeply, breathed out, and smiled. It was the biggest crowd I had ever addressed. But instead of being afraid, I had become ecstatic.
My speech was titled “The Attitude of Gratitude”, and I just couldn’t wait to deliver it.
We had spent 20 days in camp and many of us were grumbling. We all couldn’t wait to leave the camp. The desire to go home wasn’t bad, but the attitude behind it for most of us was absolutely wrong.
All I wanted to do was change it.
With that mindset, I delivered my speech. It lasted for less than 10 minutes. It was a very short speech, but it was the right word for the moment.
As soon as I finished, the applause I received was almost deafening. I couldn’t believe it. Everybody bought what I was selling: Gratitude instead of Attitude.
We still couldn’t wait to leave the camp. But we were now grateful for the privilege of being part of it. That was a huge change in perspective. And it wouldn’t have been possible if I had allowed fear to hold me back.
I have had the opportunity to stand in front of audiences as big as that to speak and even sing a lot of times after that. Do I still feel scared just before I have to handle the microphone? Yes I do.
But the secrets below are what I always count on to help me deliver:
- I prepare and practice as if my life depends on it.
I once had the privilege to speak on the subject of purpose discovery earlier this year. I prepared with all the materials I could lay my hands on- books, handouts, audio and video messages.
I also made out time to rehearse the delivery over and over again, timing myself in the process. It was undoubtedly one of the best public speaking assignments I had ever engaged in.
I vividly remember how ecstatic I felt when one of the members of my audience called me later to specially thank me. According to her, she had heard so much about purpose discovery. But she was only able to discover what her purpose was, after I spoke.
- I imagine myself making a very incredible speech.
King Solomon of Bible times was the one that said that “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he”.
I know that if I think of myself stuttering and delivering a very terrible speech, I will. So I focus instead on how great it will be to pass that very wonderful message to all those incredible people.
Doing so puts me in the right frame of mind. And yes, I usually deliver beyond my wildest imagination.
- I jog towards the podium and watch my fears disappear.
Have you ever watched any of Anthony Robbins’ videos before? He literally jogs to the stage.
I tried that formula and it worked. Instead of cowering in fear, I run towards my fears.
No matter how scared I am, once I run to the podium, I feel in charge and very confident too.
- I mark my territory.
In most of Anthony Robbins’ videos, once on stage, he rhythmically claps in a particular fashion that tends to build up energy until the final release. I like the effect it has on his audience, so I started practicing that in my own way too.
I don’t clap like he does. But I could excitedly start saying a few words like “Come on get excited get excited get excited”.
At that moment, I would have just turned the podium to my comfort zone. It will become my safe place, my territory, specifically designed for me to function in.
At this point, I feel in charge, and I can do anything.
- I realize that my audience came to learn from me.
Have you ever taught a child before? I bet you were not scared of teaching him or her.
I usually imagine that all the people before me are my little students. That way I find it easier to make eye contact and hence connect with them.
- I relax by deeply breathing in and out a few times.
Since I had previously marked my territory, I find it easier to relax. I take a few deep breaths to help me relax further and panic less. It always works
- I have a charming smile and I maximize it.
I always smile when I speak in the public. It has become a habit and I don’t even know when I do it. I usually catch myself smiling at intervals. When I do this, I notice that my audience tends to relax and equally smile back. This puts me at ease.
- If all fails, I imagine that the people in my audience are pooping.
I have done this a few times in the past when I was really scared about talking to someone. It is not conventional, but it has worked for me in the past. All I do is picture my audience doing something embarrassing like taking a quick dump or snoring in their sleep.
Doing this helps remind me that the people I am speaking to, are normal humans like me. It makes me remember that they equally have flaws and are not super humans for me to be afraid of.
- Lastly, I always ask for feedback.
A few months ago, I had the privilege of speaking to a student audience on the subject of purpose discovery. After the program I took out time to ask three different people among my audience for their honest feedback. They did and I made mental notes on the things I need to improve on immediately.
Similarly, I am a singer in my local church. Each time I take the lead, I usually purchase the DVD of the church service at the end. I do this to see how well I did and how I can improve.
DO the same. You can never get better at public speaking until you can evaluate your past performance.
In conclusion, public speaking is not a gift that we are born with. It is a skill that is developed with time and constant practice.
If you still have a hard time, I recommend that you get the book Public Speaking by Dale Carnegie and it will help take you from novice to professional.
Toby Nwazor is an entrepreneur. He is equally a free lance writer who is passionate about helping other people live their best lives now. He is the co-founder of the personal development blog http://www.tobyandkc.com