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Getting Public Speaking Experience

Because half of the battle is just showing up!

Let’s face it, it’s human nature:

  • If we really want to avoid something uncomfortable, we’re going to find a way.
  • If we really enjoy something, we’ll find a way to do it often.

Public speaking is no different. For those with a fear of public speaking, they’re not going to seek out opportunities to make themselves sweat.

When I did a quick Google search of “public speaking training,” I was presented with over 27 million hits. This definitely tells me there’s an interest in this topic.

With so many choices, I thought it would be worthwhile to spend a few minutes to sort through some of the noise, and provide you some ideas on how to gain the experience you need.

The Problem

It’s not that hard to avoid public speaking. If you really work at it, you can usually sidestep the occasion by taking a quick vacation day, or by having a coworker handle it. I’ve been there, I’ve done it.

I’ve even heard co-workers say, “I don’t want to be promoted, because then I’ll have to get up and speak in front of a group.”

Essentially it comes down to this conundrum:

  1. You’re scared of public speaking
  2. Public speaking is important for your professional success

As someone who has suffered from public speaking anxiety, I realize how difficult it can be to break out of this spiral.

So, how do I gain experience?

Unfortunately, there are very few opportunities at work to practice in a safe, supportive environment, and audiences outside of the workplace are hard to find.

However, if you do a little research, you can find some public speaking ‘laboratories’ to practice and hone your skills.

Traditional Avenues

Most of the information you find on public speaking training will fall into this area. As you’d imagine, when so many people have public speaking anxiety, there will be plenty of agencies willing to take your money to train you.

Below are some of the most common.

Seminars and Workshops

Most of the links you’ll find in a Google search on the topic will fall into this area. Though not all, many of these have two things in common:

  • They’re short – most are one or two days long
  • They’re expensive – many are well over $1,000/day

Don’t get me wrong, you can definitely pickup some great training on honing your public speaking skills at this type of event. However, for the most part, you’re not going to be able to spend much (or any) time behind the lectern.

Additionally, unless you’re funded by your company, the cost is too much for an individual hoping to gain public speaking skills.

There are better alternatives for what we’re trying to accomplish.

Take a college class on public speaking

I guarantee that every college in your neighborhood has a public speaking class available. These are, for the most part, taught by instructors with a degree in communication and years of experience dealing with public speaking anxiety.

I’ve had the opportunity to teach college-level public speaking classes. Trust me, you’ll get plenty of practical experience. In my classes, each student was required to provide five speeches during the term.

In addition to actual speaking, you’ll be taught how to develop and design a speech, and also have the opportunity to listen to, and evaluate your classmates’ speeches. Many will require videotaping your speeches for review…painful, but one of the best ways to improve.

I taught at the local community college, and I’d suggest looking here first:

  • Classes are typically cheaper than 4-year schools
  • Class sizes are smaller, sometimes as few as 10-15 students
  • Normally several sections are held at night for working adults
  • The average student age is over 30-years-old
  • You can ‘audit’ the class, rather than taking for credit

College classes provide you a great resource, allowing for excellent instruction and chances for practice.

Toastmasters

This is what did it for me! I was scared to death of public speaking, and joined Toastmasters way back in 1989. I’m still a member today. Unless you’re above the Arctic Circle, there are several clubs in your local area.

Toastmaster’s reason for existence is to provide you a friendly and supportive atmosphere to hone your skills. The clubs consist of new and experiences speakers, typically meeting once a week for a few hours.

Go to www.toastmasters.org to find a club and to read about their programs. There are currently over 12,500 clubs, with more than 260,000 members worldwide.

There is way too much information to provide in a short article. Go to the site and find out what this wonderful organization can do for you!

Non-traditional Avenues

While the options above are the typical ideas we think of when we look to gain public speaking opportunities, there are other ways to gain this experience.

Remember, most of the battle is just showing up. You’re looking for opportunities for getting up in front of groups.

One drawback of these ideas, as opposed to the traditional routes above, is you’re not getting the additional training on how to design and deliver speeches.

I’d suggest, when going this route, jumping on Amazon and looking at the thousands of references available on putting together a good speech.

Volunteer to teach a class

I know, this sounds backwards; I’m scared of public speaking, and you want me to teach a class? Trust me, when you’re the expert at something, you’re much more comfortable talking to a group who are interested in what you’re saying.

If you have some expertise in an area, and I know you do, there are many organizations that are looking for talent. For example, if you’re good with computers, your local community center or library is always looking for volunteer instructors for those who are technically challenged.

Work with kids

As an adult, you may be more comfortable talking with a room full of kids. Schools and youth centers are always looking for adults to support their projects.

Scoutmasters, home-room parents, and other opportunities will get you in front of a group of young people. This experience will help whittle away your anxiety.

Provide a reading at your church

What could be more supportive than church? Many churches rotate readings among their members; if not, ask if they can start this program. Additionally, your pastor may appreciate a volunteer youth minister or Sunday school teacher.

Give a tour

Talk to your local museum or park service. They may be looking for adults willing to take groups around, and will provide you a canned speech to present.

Again, it’s all about just getting up and doing it!

What about after…

No matter what method you choose, it’s important to keep at it. I’ve found that public speaking isn’t quite like riding a bicycle; you can’t just jump back on after avoiding it for a year.

However, that won’t be a problem, right? Once you start, you’re going to look for more and more opportunities to get up in front of an audience.

You never know, you may even start to enjoy it! Feel free to offer up additional suggestions in Comments.

 

 

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