Mastering Public Speaking:
Or How To Fake It Until You Make It”
by Coyote Mars Driver
An article on overcoming a common fear through simple actions and behaviors
Seeing as how it’s been about a year since I last submitted anything to the school, I felt it appropriate to celebrate this anniversary by writing about a subject with which I am quite familiar, but many may not be. Public speaking is something that most people list as their number one fear, and they often accompany this claim with understandable reasons. But we’re here at this school not to be “just another everybody.” We’re here to be special; to rise above those around us, and help those around us by utilizing any number of our specific talents. In the end, however, it is those who can convey their point without physical force that are elevated to the status of true heroes. This is why it is incredibly important to master the art of conversation, not only on an individual basis, but in front of the masses, as well.
Now, I understand that many of you are uncomfortable with the thought of speaking to large audiences, which is completely understandable. Most of you are here because you are not like everyone around you in your lives. You are here because you are different, and that is what makes you unique. Unfortunately, this may have had a negative impact on your ability to communicate with those around you. This is precisely the reason that I am here to help you.
Public speaking is like any other aspect of your life, whether it be sword-fighting, spell-casting, or treasure-recovering. With practice, one can achieve great success in their respective fields. However, without the proper guidance, all the practice in the world will not make you better at what you do.
Now, at this point, you’re most likely thinking to yourself, “get to the point, he just keeps talking and talking.” This observation of yours brings me to my first point: Take it slow, and stretch things out. Many times, when one is uncomfortable with speaking to large groups, one will often increase the tempo of their speech. This increase in speed not only distracts the audience, but increases the rate of failure for the speaker. When you are speaking to a large audience, the foremost thought in your brain is to talk slowly. While this may aid you in keeping your audience captivated, it also serves a dual purpose. When you are speaking slowly, your thoughts are still traveling at their normal speed. This will give you ample time to find the perfect segue into your next point, by the time you’re only halfway finished with your first. Speaking slowly allows you to appear confident, and gives you the proper time required to think of your next point. Just let yourself relax, take things slowly, and don’t get ahead of yourself.
This brings us, appropriately, to our next point. Confidence. I’m not going to tell you something trite like “imagine the audience in their undergarments.” What I would have you utilize is another type of confidence. You’re at the head of the room for a reason. Someone wants you to speak because you’re the best at talking about what needs to be said. However, there is a difference between being confident, and being condescending. What I am about to tell you is something that you need to keep in your thoughts only, and never in your tone or in your actions. Since you’ll be speaking slower, take that extra time to look around the audience. Stare them down, but keep your eyes moving. Never maintain eye-contact with a single person for more than a few words of your speech. Keep things moving at about the same rate you’re speaking. If you move your eyes around too fast, your voice will follow, and you’ll be right back where you started from.
Confidence also stems from body language, and unless you’ve been learning how to manipulate your body’s subliminal cues for quite some time, you’ll just have to do the next best thing, and actually be confident in yourself. This may seem like a daunting task, but there is one last trick that will help you keep these points in the front of your mind, and allow you to appear cool and collected. In reality, even if you’re still engaging in public speaking for traditional education, what do you care what people think of you? Be honest with yourself, you aren’t best friends with everyone who’s listening to you, right? What do you care if they don’t like you? Now, this may seem a bit harsh, but one of the main reasons that people provide for a fear of public speaking is “what if I mess up and the crowd doesn’t like me?” Well, what do you care? You’ll never see them again. And you’ll soon find that when you don’t care about how others perceive you, you’ll stop making mistakes that would cause said others to judge you harshly.
As I’m beginning to become long-winded, (as you soon will be, too…) I’ll sum up the major points, so you’ll have a handy checklist before that next big presentation.
1) Speak Slowly. When you talk slowly, but not in a way that makes you sound exhausted, you convey confidence that would not exist when speaking rapidly. It also serves the dual purpose for you to gather your thoughts, and to find the best way to tie them together.
2) Eye Contact. Keep it, but never for more than a few words. Keep your eyes moving. Try to match the tempo of your speech with your eye-contact. It’s important to stare down your audience, but looking too long can lead to a distraction, which will throw you off.
3) Confidence. This may seem daunting, but remember, you can fake it until it’s really there by utilizing the points in this article. You’re at the head of the room for a reason, because you’re the expert on what it is you’re speaking about. And if you mess up, who cares? No one in the room has major control over the outcome of your life. You’ll never even see most of them again, so what does it matter what they think? You’re the hero. You’re the head of the room. You’re the expert. It’s time to show them why.
The rest will come naturally, as long as you remember these things. Pace yourself, keep the rhythm of your speech and body in check and never look down for too long. Maintain your eye-contact all across the room, never keeping it focused for more than a sentence, and remember that no one’s opinion but your own matters. After a bit of practice, you’ll be well on your way to mastering public speaking in no time.