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How to Master Public Speaking

04/18/2014 11:54 EDT | Updated 06/18/2014 05:59 EDT
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Afflicted with sweaty palms, short breaths, dry mouth or nausea every time you open your mouth to speak in front of a group of strangers? If your answer is yes, then you must also think that public speaking is not your forte. But guess what? Public speaking doesn't come naturally to anyone. It's a learned skill. Of course, in order to learn it, you need to start enjoying it first, which is a challenge too.

Don't think you need public speaking in the first place? You might be right. But, if you don't learn it, you'll be cheating yourself out of plenty of opportunities, some of which may be profitable.

So, why not learn how to enjoy public speaking and reap a few unexpected benefits along the way?

It's Not About You, It's About the Message

The most important thing you should understand about public speaking is that your audience will judge you based solely on what you have to say. As Publilius Syrus, a popular writer in 42 BCE, once said, "Speech is a mirror of the soul." In other words, they won't care about the colour of your jacket, your speech impediment or anything else you think is a flaw. If your message is informative, humorous or engaging in some other way, your audience will love you for it, while overlooking everything else.

As such, you want to make sure that your message is as clear and useful to your audience as possible. Do your research and practice your message in front of your friends to make sure you see the reaction it evokes. If it's negative, then ask your test audience why and take their suggestions into account. It's better to be over-prepared in this case than not, because you'll feel more comfortable that way.

Another key thing to remember is that regular folks aren't usually in the business of yelling at public speakers, even if they dislike their message. The worst reaction you're likely to get in most cases is that your audience will either doze off or leave altogether. One way or another, there's nothing harmful in that to you. So, yes, your message may not always be well-received, but that should just incentivise you to try harder next time -- nothing more.

Find Out What Makes You Anxious

In 90% of cases, anxiety is the key reason why people hate public speaking. But, in order to fight it, you should first figure out what it is about public speaking that makes you anxious in the first place. There are three types of anxiety that hinder public speaking the most: trait, context and audience.

People who suffer from trait anxiety tend to fear all forms of social interaction. For them, striking up a conversation at a party is just as loathsome as making a speech in public. If you suffer from this type of anxiety, then your best fix is to prepare for your speeches extensively and practice. You won't enjoy public speaking completely, but at least you'll feel comfortable enough with it to do it more often.

Context anxiety is the kind of nervousness that only occurs in specific situations. For instance, some people are okay with speaking in meetings or parties, but when they have to address a larger audience, they get anxious. The best way to avoid this kind of anxiety is to practice addressing a bigger audience until it feels natural (which it will). After all, if you're okay with speaking at a meeting, then you can learn to love speaking in front of a larger group of people as well.

Some people are just anxious about certain types of public speaking. For instance, if you're a student, you may be fine with addressing a group of fellow students, but if you decide to address teachers, you'd instantly feel nervous. That's because one group of people is on the same social level as you, while the other is a few levels above you. This is known as audience anxiety. If that's your problem, then you're actually very close to enjoying public speaking. All you need to do is imagine that the group you're addressing consists either of your peers or subordinates. By giving yourself power over them, you'll feel more comfortable to give them your speech.

So, the biggest take-away here is that you should practice public speaking as often as possible, while mentally putting yourself above your audience. That way, you'll feel like you have power over them, which will coerce them into listening to you.

Unexpected Benefits of Public Speaking

Learning to enjoy public speaking can yield you more benefits than you might think. You would be able to make more friends, become a better negotiator and even grow into a fine leader.

People look up to public speakers because they have power and confidence. Once you show them that you have both, they will eventually follow you into anything. Your network of friends would also expand since you would no longer feel threatened when talking to strangers during parties or other social events. And if you ever decide to negotiate a higher pay with your boss or a lower price with a salesperson, the confidence level gained from public speaking would let you achieve desired results every time.

In a nutshell, you would feel more empowered in life, which would let you take more control over the events that unfold around you, gaining you more success and - hopefully - more money.

Image courtesy of James Mitchel.