Working Hard to Succeed at Public Speaking

Last Thursday I touched on how I presented at the Coastal Carolina University Board of Trustees meeting. Even for the seasoned executive officer countless steps above me at our university, standing up in front of this group can cause nerves. Talking in front of the people who oversee the governance of our institution is a tall order. Throw in the President sitting front and center along with media members listening in on every word and you can imagine how speaking at a board meeting could possibly leave you sleepless the night before.

Lucky for me, I managed to hold my own when I took the podium. Words came out, Powerpoint worked, and the room applauded.

I am not a natural public speaker. I am so envious of the people who can talk in front of large groups on a whim. You just call their name and they hop up on stage and articulate, charm, and impress. If I could pick my talents, I would definitely choose effortless public speaking as one of them.

Ever since I was young I had to amply work on presentations and speeches well before my date up in front of the class. Plenty of time would be spent in my parents’ kitchen rehearsing my lines while the microwave timer counted the length of my spiel. For the most part my preparation would pay off and my presentations would go well. However, while a sophomore in high school I learned that I could never be too prepared.

I was in a combined honors English/history class. The end of the year assignment was to get up in front of the class and deliver a talk on globalization. As an aid we were able to use just a small post-it note to use as a guide. I thought I practiced enough but I knew in my heart that I did not have a good verbal grasp on the concept at the time. I went up in front of the roughly 50 students who comprised that class and stumbled through the presentation. At one point I even awkwardly paused mid-speech as the words just wouldn’t come out. It was an embarrassing ordeal.

From that moment on I made sure that I would never go into a speaking engagement underprepared again. Whenever I was to talk in front of people I made sure to go overboard on getting ready for the big date. My determination to not have another sophomore moment served me well. I got through the rest of high school, aced public speaking class in college, and adequately performed in front of groups big/small/casual/important since starting my professional career. While my confidence has grown, my tendency to take any speech lightly has not.

In order for me to be impactful while speaking in front of people I need to practice. I also need to visualize. I spend a good amount of time thinking about what the room is going to look like, where people will be sitting, and what I will need to do to make sure my technology works. I might stress myself out but I have learned that in the end it is absolutely worth it.

No, I will never be able to naturally light up a room and have everyone rolling on the floor in laughter at a second’s notice. However, I have developed the skills to speak professionally and persuasively in important situations. For me, it just takes work. Don’t Blink.