The backs of my knees felt sweaty. My stomach heaved. I caught my breath in quick, short hiccups, even though I tried to slow it down. My notecards stared up at me from my desk as if mocking the very idea that I planned to stand up in front of the class and speak.
My idea seemed perfect when I planned it at home. But that day in class, my plans fell apart. Or rather, ran apart.
The assignment was to demonstrate something I knew how to do. I couldn’t think of anything special that I knew about and my classmates didn’t. However, I was an expert on cats and their care. And my cat took a regular pill that only I was able to get down his throat. I decided to show how I accomplished this feat.
Except my cat had other ideas. We didn’t own a pet carrier back in the day, so my mother wrapped our unsuspecting kitty in a towel and drove him to my school. Everything proceeded according to the plan until she approached the front doors with him in her arms.
Then the bell rang.
You know what happened next. That’s right, the cat leaped out of her arms and dashed away. But in his confusion, he ran toward the building instead of away from it. At that instant, somebody inside happened to open the door and he ran through it, down the hall, and into the first classroom with an open door. My English classroom.
While waiting for class to begin, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a brown blur fly in through the door and across the floor to the overhead projector cart. My heart took an immediate elevator ride to my stomach. I identified the blur in those spit seconds.
After quieting the resulting uproar in the classroom, the teacher suggested I be the last speaker in order to give my kitty time to settle down. By the time she called my name, the cat sat purring in my lap. But my nerves refused to settle until after the dreaded speech.
I received an A on that speech, probably more for bravery in going through with it than the quality. But a cloud of terror hovered over me when I even thought about public speaking for years afterward.
When I realized that writers also need to speak, it was almost enough to make me give up on writing.
However, today, I love to speak. What changed? I took some deliberate steps that you can take, too, if speaking is just not your thing.
- I sought good training. I had attended CLASS writing conferences, so a CLASS Speaker Training seemed like the logical next step. It made all the difference in my confidence level.
- I found a topic I am passionate about. When your topic makes a difference in people’s lives, and you know they need to hear it, you become motivated to speak it.
- I added some fun and some bling. Nobody wants to listen to a boring speaker. When I worked for Premier Designs Jewelry, I learned how to bring the party. I incorporated some of those ideas into my speaking. I ask questions the audience is probably thinking of, and then tell them how to find the answers. I use visual aids. I create vivid mental images with my words–just like when I write. I employ humor. I tell stories. Someone has said that if you can make an audience laugh and then make them cry, they’ll never forget what you spoke about.
- I practice.
- I make sure I look good. There is an amazing level of confidence that comes from knowing you look your best.
- I Pray. If the message is from the Lord, and you ask Him to bless it, He will.
Does public speaking terrify you–or at least make you nervous? If so, take comfort in my story, and employ my tips. You might even learn to like it.
KathrynGraves speaks and writes about beauty in all areas of life. Her website and blog is Chasing Beautiful and can be found at KathrynGraves.com.