I recently came across a really cool blog post by Dr Nic titled ‘How to stop killing people with your public speeches‘ where he talks about the importance of practicing our presentations so that they actually make an impact on our audience.
Towards the end of the post he suggests joining Toastmasters as a useful first step for getting used to speaking to a group of people and as an added bonus you get feedback after each speech you give.
When I finished university in 2005 the one thing that I feared above all else was speaking in front of a group of people.
At the time I was an avid reader of Steve Pavlina’s blog and in one of his posts he recommended Toastmasters as a way of overcoming the fear.
I attended Toastmasters sessions every fortnight for about 18 months in 2006/2007, getting through 7 of the 10 speeches, before I decided to go off and learn open mic standup comedy, but that’s another story.
It’s a really safe environment to practice in because it doesn’t matter if you make mistakes and the other people are there to help you improve.
Apart from getting comfortable speaking to a group, the main thing I learnt from Toastmasters is that it’s much more fun doing a speech if you can see that the audience is engaged.
In order for that to happen that meant that I needed to write a speech which I found fun to deliver, an approach which can be applied to any presentation that we give.
In my case this means that there has to be some sort of humour in the talk but I imagine this may be different for other people.
A couple of years ago while I was preparing for a presentation I was going to give to the Sydney ALT .NET user group, Erik Doernenburg suggested to me that the talk would be more interesting if I put a personal spin on it and told it as a story.
I found that it was actually much more interesting to prepare the talk once I took this approach and it was easier to present since I was framing the talk as being about my experience rather than (implicitly) claiming to be an expert of some sort.
When I started at Toastmasters I used to write out my whole talk word for word but now I tend to have a rough outline in my head which leaves some room to ad lib depending on how it’s going.
I now feel really comfortable in front of a group of people so I’d certainly second Dr Nic in recommending Toastmasters as an excellent way of overcoming any fears of public speaking and honing the skill.