Spread your ideas – learn to speak in public

Posted on May 6, 2010


The Audience and the Speaker

A long, long time ago, I wanted to become a lawyer.  I applied to law school and was admitted.  The month before school started, reflecting on my vast knowledge of being a lawyer (gleaned mainly from watching episodes of L.A. Law), I realized that, as a lawyer, I would have to speak in front of people.  Not just speak, I’d have to advocate, argue, act and persuade.  I’d have to show emotion and passion.  I’d have to shout and pound – and also project a whisper across a crowded courtroom to adoring jurors.  Me, the introvert.

Instant panic.

Ok, full disclosure.  You don’t have to be THAT kind of lawyer.  There are many lawyers who never step foot in court (weird, hunh?), lawyers who rarely meet clients in person, lawyers who spend their days behind piles of paper or computer screens.  There are lawyers who walk property boundaries but never cajole judges or juries.  All types of lawyers.  But in the summer before law school, I had no idea.  And the acceptance letter had been mailed, the deposit had been paid, the expectations had been raised.  This girl was going to law school.

Well, I’m not a Snow White who’s gonna wait for someone to rescue me from my predicament.  I figured if public speaking was required to become a lawyer, then I was going to learn public speaking.  I signed up for Dale Carnegie’s course.

Best move ever.

Learning to speak in public taught me so much about:

  • Refining my message to a focused point
  • Talking about my passions – in a way that would connect with my audience
  • How to tell a story with rhythm, timing, energy
  • How FEAR could be a good thing (one of my instructor’s tidbits was: ‘the trick is not to get rid of the butterflies.  the trick is to get the butterflies to fly in formation’)

Taking a public speaking class taught me almost nothing about how to be a lawyer (tho’ ironically, I did end up being the kind of lawyer who goes to court and argues cases before a judge)  Taking a public speaking class did teach me about taking risks and embracing fear.  Since then I have taught classes to law students, bankers, and 2nd graders.  I have spoken in public before audiences of a half dozen people and a couple thousand people.  I still tend towards introversion.  But public speaking has opened up my brain and my experiences in ways that I never expected as an anxious law school candidate.

I have heard that public speaking is one of the greatest fears.  That some people fear speaking in public MORE than they fear dying.  Yet, what a great way to take a risk without facing potential death or injury.  If you only follow one of the suggestions I ever make on this blog, try public speaking.

Here’s how:

  1. Start slow.  My daughter, who wants to be a teacher, practices ‘teaching’ her stuffed animals and dolls.  She lines up the audience and does her spiel.  You can start small, too.  You could do a speech in front of the mirror.  Or recruit one or two friends or family members to listen to you speak.  You can tell them you’re practicing a speech – or not.  Pick a topic you’re passionate about and talk for 2 minutes straight (have them time you).  Finish by saying “My point is . . . [end with your point here].”
  2. Join a group.  Dale Carnegie has an awesome approach to public speaking.  I’ve also heard great things about Toastmasters.  Your local university or community college or public school district probably offers public speaking classes.  Or you could just round up your friends who share the same fear/interest and do it yourself.  Practicing in front of a sympathetic audience will do wonders.
  3. Practice, practice, practice.  Public speaking is definitely an area where the more you do it, the better and more comfortable you get.
  4. Cultivate those butterflies.  Practice will tame the butterflies.  But if you get to the point where you’re NOT nervous – you may be getting stale.  Take  a risk, try a new topic.
  5. When you’re ready – jump! Once you’ve gotten some confidence, look for opportunities to use this new skill.  Can you propose something?  Can you argue for or against a school activity?  Can you speak in front of a group that you belong to?  Is there some way to advocate for your calling or in a way that enhances or advances your calling?  Get out there.  Make a difference.  Spread your ideas.

Speaking in public will teach you about facing and managing fear, filtering and refining your message, and connecting with other people.  What better way could there be to advance your goals?

Share: are you – or were you ever – afraid to speak in public?  How have you managed that fear?  Anyone else speak publicly?  How did it make you feel?  Would love to hear others’ experiences.

thanks, Ami

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