Unfortunately, many people have fears of public speaking and, for some, it is personality driven. Personally, I’m introverted and shy, as I feel most comfortable in small groups. So, in order to talk to dozens, or even hundreds, of people for an extended time period, I must devote quite a bit of effort to either preparing speeches or presentations. As I look back at my high school and college years, two significant events contributed to refining my public speaking skills, helping me not only evolve as a presenter, but also have more confidence in myself and my speaking abilities.
High School: First Experience
When I was in high school, my art teacher encouraged me to become involved with the VICA (Vocational Industrial Clubs of America), and participate in the regional art competition. In order to participate in the competition, I would have to present to a panel of judges, while demonstrating one of my art projects. At first, the idea was a bit overwhelming. However, after some thoughtful consideration, decided it was worth a try. Luckily, my teacher volunteered to work with me, helping me prepare and practice my speech. To this day, I still remember her emphasizing how important it was to continue the speech, even if I encountered some distractions. Admittedly, I spent quite a bit of time practicing, but all of the hard work was definitely worth it. I placed first in the regional competition. As a result, I was even invited to compete in the state finals!
College: Speech or Group Dynamics Class
A few years later, I was enrolled in an undergraduate program, which required me to either participate in a speech course or a group dynamics class. Since I was still intimidated by public speaking, I always attempted to register for the group dynamics class. However, each time I did, it was full. So, one semester, finally decided to take a leap of faith and enroll in the speech course instead. To be honest, it was a little daunting. In addition to giving prepared presentations, students were occasionally selected by the professor to present impromptu speeches. Despite the challenges, this class actually turned out to be one of the best decisions of my undergraduate career. Without a doubt, each of the tools I learned that semester has been invaluable for me ever since, both personally and professionally.
Even the Best Speakers Have Struggled!
Last month I learned more helpful speech techniques at an “Enhancing Presentation Skills” workshop, which was presented by my co-worker, Brenda Meller. As an introduction to the workshop, she explained that public speaking did not come naturally for her either. In fact, it was quite nerve-racking and difficult. As I watched her explain this, it was obvious that she has worked really hard and has made considerable progress, as she is now a poised, confident, and energizing speaker. Brenda credits Toastmasters for helping her overcome her public speaking challenges. It is known to many as the “public speaking” association, but it focuses on improving communication and leadership skills. If you struggle with public speaking, you may want to consider joining Toastmasters. To learn more, the organization will be hosting its next Open House in June at the Novi Campus.
I know what you are probably thinking: I will never have to give a professional presentation. But, trust me; at some point in your life, you won’t necessarily have a choice. Over the last 11 years, I’ve received many opportunities to create professional presentations and speeches, either on a voluntary or non-voluntary basis. For example, I have given project status reports at College-wide meetings, pitched ideas during officer meetings, presented at various regional and national conferences, and read passages at three memorials. The ability to convey your point to an audience is an essential skill in this day and age, especially in the corporate world. However, comfort and confidence, while preparing and presenting speeches, is equally as important!
On a scale of 1-10, how comfortable are you as a public speaker?
Have you ever had a turning point in your life, which significantly improved your public speaking skills?