Public speaking is like baseball and knitting
At an event last week someone asked me whether I thought anyone could be trained to speak in public.
My first answer was an emphatic yes.
My second answer, was yes, provided they’re willing to practice.
As a kid, I spent the summers with my dad.
At Camp Dad, I learned how to cook and play ball.
From age 10-18, our after dinner ritual consisted of daily softball and tennis practice, and occasional, reluctant basketball practice.
I learned a lot from all those evenings taking batting practice and hitting tennis balls, and not just how to switch hit or play tennis with 2 forehands (yes, two).
What at first felt awkward and frustrating - lots of strikes and getting hit with tennis balls - eventually became more fun.
As I became more proficient, there were fewer misses and more satisfying moments when you hear the beautiful sound of your bat or racquet connecting with the ball.
Public speaking is just like learning to play a sport.
It can be scary and nervewracking at the start. But anyone can learn and its exhilarating when you connect with your audience. That’s the good news.
The bad news is YOU. HAVE. TO. PRACTICE.
Practice builds muscle memory. The more times you do it, the less terrifying it feels.
And the less terrified you feel, the more fun it will be.
Okay, that sounds good in theory but how do you get started and move past the deer in headlights feeling?
Watching endless TED talks, reading books on presentations, and silently reading your notes to yourself are not going to cut it.
It’s like trying to learn how to play baseball by watching it on TV. Or knitting your first sweater by watching YouTube tutorials without buying any yarn or knitting needles.
At some point, you have to leave the house. You have to practice.
So the next time you have a presentation, block off 10 minutes a day for 3 days leading up to your presentation and practice OUT LOUD.
Here's how to spend your time:
Day 1 - Practice your presentation in the mirror. This might feel a little silly at first, but you want to get comfortable seeing and hearing yourself speak. Watching yourself in the mirror helps you get used to looking up and makes it easier to maintain eye contact when you’re in front of an audience.
Day 2 - Record yourself and listen to it. You can do this on video or voice memo but make sure to listen back to the recording and pay attention to your speed, volume, intonation (and posture if you're watching video).
Day 3 - Practice your presentation for a dog. Dogs make very understanding audiences and they force you to be creative to keep them engaged. If your furry friend is drifting off, try changing positions, moving locations, or switching up your volume or pitch. (Hint: These same techniques also work for humans)
Scheduling a few short practice sessions will save you the anxiety of cramming and help you make time for the #1 thing that will improve your confidence and increase your impact.
Do you have a favorite practice technique? Let me know.
Want more practice ideas? Read Practice Your Talk on the Subway