Posts Tagged ‘ Speech ’

Many Peoples’ Greatest Fear…

Not spiders.  Not heights.  Public speaking. 

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Credit: mckpr.com

Most people would literally rather die than speak to a group or a crowd.

My good friend “Moosh,” over at Sell, Lead, Succeed! put up a short, really interesting blog post detailing the 5 main reasons for not being able to shake off the jitters of a presentation (click the link for the post), and it got me thinking about my own daily work here at the Aviation Institute of Maintenance in Manassas, VA. (Click the link to check us out!)

Every day, it’s my job to stand in front of the class and relay the curriculum that the FAA requires me to administer to our students.  I will never forget that first day, when I had twenty faces I didn’t know looking at me expectantly, critically, skeptically.  Sure, I was nervous.  They didn’t know me, and i didn’t know them.  I was the new kid, despite having to lead the class.  It was my duty to establish authority in the class, but I knew that if I expected them to respect me, I would have to respect them first.  So I did.

My job was actually easy starting out, because I was taking over halfway through the class for a guy who was openly racist to students in the class; he had formed a very adversarial relationship with them, so once my new students figured out I wasn’t like that at all, they warmed up to me pretty quickly.  I began to slowly learn their names, where they were from, what their previous experience had been before coming here…slowly, I began to welcome them into my space — sometimes, perhaps, before they were ready to let me into theirs. 

Beyond that, though, the content of my professional experience had to speak for itself.  I spent hours going through the plans I’d made for how my 6-hour class would flow each day, what I would say during the lecture, how I would get certain confusing points across to them…I worked hard at being effective.  You know what?  It worked. 

I am still terrible at extemporaneous (or improv) speech — I get nervous and step on my tongue just like anyone else does when I have no time to prepare a topic or speech ahead of time — but I have found that the best thing you can do to improve your own public speaking skills is simply to get out in front of people, prepare your speech, and do it.  Over and over again.  It’s not comfortable and sometimes not all that pretty, but of course, real growth never is.

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Toastmasters International: TMI

I have to admit, when I showed up twenty-five minutes early to the Toastmasters meeting here in Herndon, VA (my new home), I was a little apprehensive.  Not about the fact that I would be meeting people I didn’t know, and not about the fact that  I had to show up to a place I had never been to.  No, the reason I was nervous for this meeting, is the same reason I get nervous about any and every Toastmasters meeting:  Table Topics.  

For those of you unfamiliar with the way a Toastmasters meeting is set up, there are two main parts of the meeting–scheduled speakers (typically two), and Table Topics (TT)–typically about fifteen minutes’ worth.  People who are scheduled speakers have signed up ahead of time to give a speech of their choosing out of their Competent Communicator’s (CC) manual.  These people have rehearsed their speech, and have worked on developing their speaking style over their tenure at Toastmasters International (TMI) either for work, personal growth, or some other internal reason.  The second part of the meeting is the Table Topics portion, and during this portion–if you are called upon–you will be asked to give an impromptu (or “off-the-cuff”) speech that lasts between one and two minutes, on the topic of the “TableTopics Master”‘s choosing. This is where I get heartburn every single time, because believe me–if you happen to run out of material thirty seconds into it, those last thirty seconds just getting to the minimum mark feel like an eternity.

TableTopics topics will range all across the board.  Personally, I have a short attention span for boring topics, so I try to stay away from the “What’s your favorite summer pastime?” kinds of questions.  I try to keep it lively with coins (I’ll ask everyone to give us their fondest memory from the year on the coin), random pictures (tell us what the caption ‘would have’ said), “Would you rather…,” or something like that.  One time, a lady brought twenty different things in a box from her garden, and we had to give a sales pitch on its use that was different from the obvious use it had.  Stuff to make you think creatively.  Problem is, when all eyes are on you and you have lost a road to take your speech down, creativity locks up like Fort Knox.  I tell you, I can speak to people I don’t know, and speak to them in large groups…but if I have to do extemporaneous thrust-and-perry with a time limit setting like that…I am not great at that yet.  People who are real masters at it can formulate a short, complete speech–intro, body, wrap it up–in their heads in a very short amount of time, and execute it within the time limit, and you as the listener will literally forget that you’re in the middle of a TableTopics exercise.  Those people are real pros, and I aspire to get to that level someday because it’s just so damned practical to have that skill.

The thing is, many people have a habit of running off at the mouth for a number of reasons.  Some are socially inept, some are speaking in such technical terms that your eyes have no choice but to glaze over, and some fill the silence with speech out of boredom, or fear of awkward pauses.  I have to admit, I’m a victim of the latter.  If I’m bored, I’ll let you know; if I’m nervous around you, I tend to speak too much about nothing.  I’ve been trying to get it under control, I promise.

I have a little saying I use to explain what Toastmasters can do for anyone:  “TMI helps you manage TMI.”  As in–Toastmasters International helps you manage giving “Too Much Information.”

Mohammed Ali once said, “Better to be quiet and foolish than to speak and remove all doubt.”  Everyone likes the guy (or girl) who knows when to speak, and when to let others say their peace.  Which person are you?  But more importantly, how would you know which one you are?

How do you feel about public speaking?  They say that many people would rather die than give a speech…in fact, once when I was TableTopics Master (person in charge of TT for that meeting), I asked a lady who was new to the group:  “Would you rather eat ten live cockroaches, or give a speech to a packed audience of ten thousand people?”  This woman, despite facing her fear in bi-weekly TMI meetings, literally chose to eat cockroaches over giving a speech.  I guess I’m blessed, because I’d be getting off easy giving the speech.  Are you someone who has trouble with speaking to people you don’t know?  Maybe you hate addressing the crew to go over the latest company matrix of goals?  Maybe you want the next level of professionalism to display at your local LinkedIn luncheon?  Seriously, Toastmasters will help you in every aspect of your personal and professional life.  Personal or professional, everyone likes the guy (or girl) who knows when to speak and when to let others speak.

TMI has chapters all over the world, and their “dues” are not much–twenty bucks for the Competent Communciator’s and Competent Leadership manuals, and it’s something like $27 every six months for membership–and it’s a pro-rated amount of dues when you join.  From a practical, career-building standpoint, you just don’t get the same bang for your buck anywhere else…it’s just that you’ll be a little uncomfortable along the way.  But hey, no one ever got anywhere they had never been before by sticking to what was comfortable, right?

Good luck on your journey, and shoot me a comment letting me know how it went for you!

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