There are a few things I want to mention right up front. Try to keep these three thoughts in mind. They will help you not just with public speaking, but with almost every aspect of your life. They are true regarding everyone in your work life and everything in your personal life.
No. 1) If you practice, you will get better.
The old cliché “practice makes perfect” isn’t necessarily true, because “perfect” in most things is an unattainable goal.
There’s a famous anecdote about Pablo Casals, the Spanish musician who was considered one of the greatest cellists of the 20th Century.
In the 1950s, when he was about 80 years old, he was asked why he continued to practice as much as five hours a day. He replied, “Because I think I am making progress.”
In other words, even the musician who was recognized as the greatest cellist of his time knew he could not be perfect. He knew, though, that with practice he would get better.
It’s the same with just about anything in life.
If you want to improve in an activity, take every opportunity you can to practice that activity.
With public speaking, that means volunteering to do presentations at work as often as you can. The manager needs someone to present a team report at a meeting, raise your hand. The company is looking for someone who can do a goodwill talk at a local school, volunteer. HR wants someone to speak with the summer interns about working for the company, you raise your hand.
Don’t just do this at work. In your personal life take every opportunity to speak in front of people. If your town or neighborhood is having a local event and is looking for a volunteer to talk, you should be first in line. If you attend religious services, signal that you are willing to stand up and participate. Weddings, birthday parties, anniversary celebrations, so many of these events can benefit from someone who is willing to stand up and say a few words. Be that someone.
And here’s the thing: People are going to be relieved when you volunteer. Remember, most people do not like public speaking. You will be coming to their rescue because if you are willing to do it, they don’t have to.
I know a young man who is a software engineer at an international company. He is only 24 and he has been promoted twice. His superiors are already signalling that he is on the track to move up into management.
What is helping him rise through the ranks?
I am sure he is good at his job. But he believes the reason he is progressing so quickly is that he takes every chance he gets to make presentations for his unit. He speaks regularly in front of his superiors, including the company’s directors.
He was even invited on a fact-finding visit taken by several directors who wanted his feedback on automating some processes. He had a seat at the table and several of his suggestions were adopted.
That is the power of taking every chance to practice public speaking at your company.
I should mention there are also public-speaking organizations that will help you if you believe you need more formal practice. Toastmasters International, Dale Carnegie and others can provide real-time feedback and support. Most of these organizations have chapters throughout the U.S., and even around the world.
With practice, you will improve.