Twelve years ago, I stood in front of 700 people at my high school graduation to give a speech. I was terrified. It seemed so unfair. Everyone there was smiling and oblivious to my terror! If they only knew. A monster was gnawing at my heart, paralyzing me with bites of poisonous fear. I stood on the podium, but I was cowering on the inside. I was not ready for my Moment.
There would be more moments after that, and more chances to speak in public. Sometimes it would be a PowerPoint presentation or a class report. After I began working full time, there were team meetings and 1-on1 meeting with my manager. The moment wasn’t always so traumatic, but the fear of public speaking was always there. I dreaded to speak in front of people who were not friends or family. Being a charismatic and successful public speaker was beyond my wildest dreams. Like most people, I just wanted to survive the Moment.
A few years ago, a good friend of mine invited me to a seminar held by renowned public speaking coach and communications expert Richard Zeoli. Richard is a nationally recognized authority who has been the speech coach for leaders, executives, and even political candidates. Richard Zeoli was a maestro, and we were his captive audience. He believes that we could all become great speakers if we’d follow certain principles of public speech.
After the seminar, I went up to Richard and told him how much I loved his speech coaching. Normally I’m very wary of buying communication products, especially after such an emotional and stimulating seminar. This time, I just couldn’t resist. With some hesitation, I bought Richard’s set of audio CD: The Seven Principles of Public Speaking. The CD is great because I could listen to Richard in the car while commuting. You can also check out the book.
As one might have guessed, The Seven Principles of Public Speaking has 7 main sections:
Without going into too much detail, I will just focus on a few chapters. In the chapter on Perfection, Zeoli talks about public speaking as a mental game. Winning the mental game means playing it without the sense of overwhelming fear and anxiety. Unless you are the World Champion of Public Speaking, you will make mistakes as a speaker. It’s OK to make mistakes. No one will laugh at you. In fact, most of the time, the audience won’t realize you’ve made a mistake. If you’re full of anxiety, you may be distracted by your small mistake and will make an even bigger and more noticeable mistake. Let go of your imperfections and move on with the rest of the speech. However, this is not to say that you should not be meticulous in your speech craft. Mistakes in execution will happen, however mistakes in planning and preparation should not be tolerated.
In the chapter on Discipline, Robert Zeoli talks about the need to rehearse your speech. We all know that practice makes perfect, but for some reason, most people don’t practice their speech. The more practice you have, the more confidence you will have when your moment comes. I’ve found that the more I practice, the less anxiety I have even when I make mistakes. I don’t panic when I am forced to deviate from my original script.
Zeoli recommends practice in front of a full-length mirror. I’ve always found the mirror to be somewhat distracting. I can’t keep eye contact with myself while pretending to scan and lock onto the audience. Personally, I prefer to use an entry level video camera such as the Sanyo VPC-CG20 mounted on a cheap tripod such as the Vista Explorer 60-Inch. This video setup is small and compact and you can even take it with you to your performance! It was slow torture to watch myself on camera for the first time, but once I overcame my anxiety, there’s nothing better for improving my public speaking skill!
As I listened to The Seven Principles of Public Speaking over and over, a seed began to grow in my mind: Could I overcome my fear of public speaking? Would there come a day when someone comes up to me to congratulate me on the great speech I gave?
It was difficult at first, but I just tried to incorporate one speech principle at a time in my communications. With my increased confidence in my speaking skills, I began to speak with authority at work and in social settings. I even joined a local Toastmasters International club to practice with other speakers who wanted to improve their public speaking skills! This is a picture of me finishing in 3rd place at a Toastmasters division speech contest in 2010 (I’m the one with the small trophy). I lost count of how many people came up to me and told me what a great speech I gave!
It has been a long time since I listened to The Seven Principles of Public Speaking and took the first step, or seven, actually. I am not yet a great speaker, but I am incredibly grateful to Robert for laying a solid foundation for me to build upon. Now when I stand before an audience, it is the Monster who cowers. I take a deep breath and take in the moment. It is my Moment and I will not retreat.