I'm standing in front of my high school class. The assignment is simple. Get up and tell everyone what you did over the summer. That year I was in a drum and bugle corps. We preformed and competed in different states. For the first time, I had an exciting story to tell. I was sure I knew exactly what I was going to say. The first couple of sentences came out strong. I was confident I was going to get through this anxiety-producing, exercise. Instead, my mind became empty. I hadn't a clue as to what I wanted to say next. It's as if all the words just floated away. I felt the heat rise in my face, and my palms began to sweat. The teacher was trying to encourage me to continue, but when my tears created a small puddle at my feet, he let me sit down.
I was so embarrassed. I was sure that public speaking was never going to be easy for me. It turns out, all I needed was a sense of commitment and a bit of masochism. In time, I was able to get over my fear of talking in front of a group of people. I learned how to be prepared and find the words before they disappeared.
Working with people to develop their communication skills, I quickly learned that I was not the only one who experienced their brain switching off. It's a fear that keeps us from delivering a presentation or sales pitch. I've found ways to minimize the chance of drawing a blank. When the rare time it does happen, and I'm at a loss, I know how to keep moving on.
Being prepared is an essential tool. Know your message inside and out. When I put my research together, I will go over it several times. I memorize vital points. Visualization helps with this because I turn my main ideas into pictures. For example, if I want to explain breathing techniques, I will envision my belly filling up like a balloon. It reminds me to describe the diaphragm. When I'm recounting an event, I "see" the place and the people involved. It helps me stay on track. Don't worry that you don't say every word that you practiced. It's more important that you developed a beginning, a middle, and an end. Your ideas are organized and easy to follow. Practice in front of your friends and family and listen to their feedback and advice.
Taking slow, measured breaths before my speech helps me to relax. Feeling anxious or nervous leaves us open to losing our place during our talk. Focused breathing puts us in the here and now. It's that kind of mindfulness that will keep us in the moment. We won't be distracted. Instead, we'll feel grounded.
Pause. Yes, take a beat. Dynamics help keep an audience engaged. When we stop for a second or two, we allow the audience to take in our words. It also gives us a chance to find our place if we have a momentary lapse. If you can't find the exact wording in your script, don't worry. Trust that you know your material. If it comes out a little different than what you practiced, it's okay. The only person who will know is you. Your guests will think you gave them a short time to digest your fantastic content. You'll appear confident and in command of your speech.
Let go of the idea of being perfect. It's too much pressure. Work on the presentation, and it'll flow. If you enjoy what you're talking about, your passion and enthusiasm will transfer to your listeners. Take your time, maintain eye contact, and smile. Unless, of course, you're talking about something sad, like humiliating yourself in front of your classmates. Okay, it's a little funny now.
Celeste DeCamps has a B.A. in Communications from the University of Miami. She worked in radio and television, was a professional belly dancer, drummer, percussionist, nightclub owner, and a sales rep for Southern Wine and Spirits for 12 years. Throughout her different career moves, speaking to and teaching women how to be more confident is Celeste's most fulfilling job.
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