[Toastmasters] Practicing Confidence

Random Observation/Comment #261: Communication is probably the single most important thing in any career.  Whether it’s in writing, formally presenting, or generally explaining concepts, your ideas must be easily understood.  Keep it simple and make clear statements.  Life will be so much easier.  How do you practice? Tell stories to people. Reiterate difficult concepts with analogies. Practice elevator speeches. Come to toastmasters (cough, shameless advertising, cough).

Oh, bread…

Every time I’m about to speak, I get the butterflies flapping inside my stomach, dry mouth, cold sweats, blanked mind, and elevated heart rate. It’s normal even if you’re prepared. You could have prepared for a full month and made a solid speech using all the classic textbook techniques (e.g. memorizing key phrases, acting natural with your tone, saying phrases with a smile, engaging the audience with questions, using hand gestures to compliment your content, etc.) and still – you will be nervous.  It’s inevitable, so just get over it.

 A good speech, no matter the topic, is said with confidence and passion.  If you’re speaking, you shouldn’t memorize any lines – you should be speaking from your heart and telling the story such that the audience knows you take ownership of the topic.  When you’re in front of the crowd, you become the expert. Walk the stage with confidence and deliver your ideas directly to individuals.  It’s almost like many one-on-one conversations mushed into a strong posture and warm smile.

If you have difficulty memorizing the order of your speech, it’s often easier to think of it as a story.  Your “and then what happened?” thoughts should lead you from one scenery to the next so that it logically flows and it’s easy to follow. If you know your content, then you should be able to answer simple questions about it. Imagine you’re actually having a conversation and someone asks you the next logical question in your story.  In fact, you can even ask the question within your speech to keep yourself moving forward.

Anyway, I’m not really a good public speaker, although I have studied a lot of techniques on how to improve.  I rather not just write down a bunch of techniques that you’ll be able to find much better explanations and details in some manual.  What I will do is explain the first step:  The biggest part is to treat the public speaking, leadership, and confidence mesh of skills as an action item that requires improvement. Practice makes perfect. Speaking more will make you think on your toes and help you convey ideas more precisely.  You’ll get rid of your filler words of UM’s, UH’s, LIKE’s, and Y’KNOW’s (because you’ll go crazy counting them with everyone you meet).  You’ll learn to organize engaging speeches to keep your audience interested. And most importantly, you’ll get over being overly self-conscious.

Share a story. Spread the happiness. Inspire. Lead. Buzzword.

~See Lemons Make Toast

Where do I practice, you ask?  Well… Toastmasters is a supportive community that will help facilitate practicing all the things I mentioned through an agenda of prepared speeches, table topics impromptu speaking, and evaluations.  Find a club near you. I’m not just saying this because I’m President… (Although CS employees should at least attend a meeting.)