Public Speaking is Like Exercising
Exercising and public speaking have a lot in common. Both become easier over time when you practice them regularly using the correct techniques. Everyone is capable of exercising and public speaking, although initially they may be a cause of pain for some people. The results of exercising and public speaking are worthwhile, but they'll have more lasting positive effects and be more fun if you enjoy the experience.
Here are some suggestions about exercising that I've found can help you improve your public speaking:
1. Focus on Your Goals.
You may have several goals when you exercise: to feel better, to be healthier, to look better, to lose weight or gain energy. You have to keep those goals in mind, especially on those cold winter mornings when you'd rather stay in your warm bed than go to the gym. With public speaking, your goal may be to educate, inform, persuade, inspire or entertain the audience and you have to focus on that goal when you're preparing your presentation. It definitely helps to focus on that goal when your nerves kick in, you get cold feet and you're thinking, "why did I say yes to giving this presentation?"
2. Thinking About it is NOT Enough – Do It!
Thinking about exercising is not the same as actually putting on your sneakers and sweats and going for a walk. Unless you actually exercise, you won't see any benefit from it to your health and waistline.
The same is true with public speaking. Just thinking about public speaking is not the same as volunteering to speak at an upcoming meeting. And when you have a presentation to give, just thinking about what you're going to say is not enough – it's not as effective as doing a dress rehearsal where you say the words out loud in as close to the actual setting as possible.
3. Make it a Habit.
Exercising once a month is not going to yield the results you want. In fact, it will probably leave you feeling very sore and less motivated to exercise again. Likewise, if you only speak once in a while, it's hard to see improvement in your skills and abilities. And if you have a bad experience in one of those rare public speaking opportunities, it may be more difficult for you to stand up and speak again.
4. Get Feedback.
Feedback when you're exercising can come in many forms. Most gyms have a mirror so you can check your yoga pose or ensure you're using correct form when lifting weights. Or you may work out with a personal trainer to help you take your exercise to the next level and focus on your goals.
With public speaking, you can get feedback by asking a trusted friend to listen to your presentation, audiotaping or videotaping yourself and reviewing it, or working with a presentation skills coach. This feedback can help identify what you are doing that is effective so you can continue it, and also what you're doing that interferes with your ability to communicate your message effectively to your audience.
5. Take it Slow.
You wouldn't run a marathon the week after you start jogging for the first time; that would be a recipe for pain and injury. Likewise, it's probably not a good idea to give a one-hour speech in front of five hundred executives as your first public speaking experience. Take it in small steps: first give a quick status update at a small team meeting, then stand and present for 10 minutes on your project results at a department meeting, etc. As you get more comfortable, you will gradually strengthen your public speaking muscle.
Exercising and public speaking have a lot in common. While they may seem painful at first, with continued practice and persistence, they become easier. And in the case of public speaking, you will become a more effective communicator.
Gilda Bonanno is a speaker, trainer and coach who helps people from all walks of life improve their communication and presentation skills. Copyright (c) 2010