Public Speaking.

Yes, I know it is scary. Yes, I know many people are more fearful of public speaking than of dying. But learning how to be an excellent public speaker – and actually enjoying it – are not as hard as you might think.

I should know. My first attempt at public speaking was awful. I didn’t sleep at all the night before the presentation. And during the talk, my hands shook like crazy each time I advanced the slides. Today, I love presenting in front of groups. What changed?

I did. I learned how to transform that nervous, debilitating energy into a relaxed confidence that allowed me to powerfully articulate messages that move people. And you can too.

The big breakthrough for me came with a workshop I attended called SpeakEasy. The first part of the seminar focused on how to craft a message that achieves its desired outcome – typically moving a person or group to take a certain action. But the second part of the seminar was the most intimidating.

Each of the attendees spoke for 5 minutes on a random topic. And if that wasn’t painful enough, each talk was recorded and then played back in front of the audience where the instructor picked apart everything we did wrong: how we were standing, where our hands were, where our eyes were looking, how our feet were planted, how we handled pauses, and so on. You can imagine how challenging that must have been.

But there is an amazing benefit to watching yourself on tape with a quality instructor who can point out tips for how to improve. By the third or fourth take, each of our presentations was far better than the first. By the end of the workshop, the most nervous and intimidated among our group was eager to get up in front of the room.

The techniques we learned on how to channel our nerves into delivering a compelling message and how to position our body for maximum impact were invaluable. The founder of SpeakEasy, Sandy Linver, wrote a terrific book called Speak and Get Results that encapsulates much of the workshop. The book is a bit dated and there may be more modern reads, but the original probably still holds up well. Another organization worth considering is Toastmasters. I’ve never used their services, but I know a few people who are big fans.

There are also many free courses, including this one offered by Coursera called Introduction to Public Speaking. It looks like the 10-week class covers everything related to preparing your actual message as well as the delivery. I don’t know the person teaching the class, nor do I have any affiliation with Coursera or the University of Washington. If you take the class, let me know how it works out.