Most people think I’m kidding when I say I used to be terrified of speaking. I was because I just knew I was going to say the wrong thing and leave a bad impression. Growing up, I would always have a stomach ache on Easter morning as an excuse not to do my “Easter Speech” at church. My mom wasn’t going for it and made me go. I would mumble, “Jesus Wept” and then quickly go to my seat with my head down. (Some of you from my generation know what I’m talking about; others can Google it.)
My fear of speaking continued once I joined the workforce. I knew I had to overcome it to further my career. For more than seven years, I bought more speaking books and spent more money on speaking coaches than I want to count. I also went to—and promptly quit—Toastmasters. (Note: Toastmasters is a great organization. Me quitting was my problem, not theirs.) Fortunately, the following two things happened that made a tremendous difference:
I finally found the right teacher who told me that I was trying too hard to be perfect. As a result, I was stressing myself out and coming across way too mechanical. He said that people relate to the speaker first, the speech second. He pointed out that I needed to show people that I was human and genuinely excited about presenting to them. He had me speak more conversationally instead of professorially. The end result being I became much more comfortable because I viewed the audience as if I was speaking to a person instead of a group. I always begin with a smile and let the audience know what they will take away from the speech. I also stopped worrying about messing up because it shows people that you are human.
2. I also took media training. Seeing myself on film showed me how I was coming
across to others. I was using way too much technical jargon and taking way too long
to get to my point. I also saw that I needed to be more expressive with my hands and
facial expressions to emphasize my main points. After taking the training, I
started watching how television news anchors delivered their reports and taking tips
from them. (Monica Kauffman Pearson in Atlanta was, and still is, my favorite
because of how personable she comes across.) I would get in front of the mirror and
act like I was delivering a news report. I also watched how CEOs dressed, spoke and
responded to analysts and reporters questions. Pete Correll, former CEO of Georgia-
Pacific, is my favorite because of his Southern drawl (which I also have) and his
matter-of-fact delivery. You might not agree with how he said it, but you will always
fully understand what he said.
Those are the two things that allowed me to become a good speaker. I then became a good communicator by spending time understanding the audience I will be speaking to. I do so because I want to talk to them using words that resonate and address their concerns. I also always incorporate an anecdote that they will immediately relate to. Lastly, always remember that each audience is different, so make the needed adjustments in your delivery, but don’t change the essence of your main points.
In closing, your ability to communicate will not only determine your career success, but also lessen your personal stress. Next Easter, I’m going back to my childhood church and giving one heck of an Easter speech.