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The Art of Public Speaking

Public speaking has been rated the #1 fear people have, followed by death, at #2. I don't know how I'd come to love public speaking, but I contribute that to my family. No, they didn't encourage me to perform, on the contrary, I never really felt that I had their attention. Growing up in Greece, you learn pretty fast that, the only way to be heard, is to speak louder than everyone else. I was also never the kid in class to answer questions, since I was always worried about being judged, but felt that I had the answers, and sometimes, more insightful answers, but I didn't have the voice. It was that fear that kept me silent.

When I started teaching, I noticed that the most quiet students are the ones who are the thinkers and observers. When they feel safe, they share. Most of the time, we feel nervous sharing or speaking in public because we are afraid of being judged. As as I teacher, I am always speaking to crowds of people. As I moved into public speaking and presenting, I realized that people are more interested in what you have to say and what they will learn from you, rather than judging you. When we are taken over by fear, we rob everyone else the opportunity to learn from us.

Today, I facilitate workshops for educators and I teach high school and college level students. Public speaking is one of my favorite things to do! However, I feel tremendous stress in timed interviews or timed workshops, which I facilitate. I practice timing myself, while presenting a trial run, out loud. I am an auditory learner, so I usually record myself and then I play the recording over and over, until I have memorized it like a poem or song. I find interruptions or questions from the audience very distracting and time consuming, but sometimes unavoidable, therefore, I practice my presentations from multiple start and stop points. That way I don’t feel completely derailed when I am sidetracked.

These techniques make me feel at ease. Prior to a high stakes meeting, or talk, I try to do something completely different with my brain, like cleaning, or listening to music, or going for a walk or gym. I try to play out the presentation or meeting and envision it going well. This helps me feel the excitement and relief; in a way, I trick my brain in feeling like it is over, and now I am looking back on it and reflecting. This is called metacognition and, in a way, it engages me in a process of being grateful for having the opportunity to be part of something, rather than getting caught up in the anxiety around it.

Public speaking is not a "talent." It takes practice and a firm belief that you are making an impact. Try to connect with your crowd. Try to survey them and see where they are coming from so you can meet them where they are. Your audience is eager to learn from you, so it is important that you engage them, know as many names as you can memorize, maintain eye contact, and have a conversation component. Otherwise, you, and they, will feel disconnected.


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