Dare to Speak!
At some point in our life we will face the fear of public speaking when we need to deliver a speech during a special occasion, address an audience, make a professional presentation or simply tell a story to a group of strangers; it is inevitable. Public speaking can be and really should be a satisfying experience. However, the majority of people feel fear, anxiety or experience stage fright. So, how can it be avoided? To answer this question I went to a ‘Dare to Speak!’ workshop at the Helensvale library which was organised by members of Toastmasters International.
It wasn’t news to me that learning public speaking skills can be beneficial to effective communication and help to become a better leader. However, my pen was filling pages very quickly and I am happy to share what I learnt with you.
‘Dare to Speak!’ was well-organised, presented and lead by the Master of Ceremonies – Sarafina Zubovic.
She ran the workshop like clockwork. Every speaker from Toastmasters International was formally presented. Later, all speeches were professionally validated by Toastmasters including Joan Small who was also responsible for timing every speech, giving speakers the appropriate signals. At the end, some young people from the audience went on stage with short introductions, prepared by spontaneously organised groups supervised by Toastmasters.
The workshop started with an overture to the art of public speaking by Bob Simpson, who has been a Toastmaster for more than fifteen years and has delivered over a hundred speeches. Right at the beginning of his training session, he used a funny trick in introducing his name in order to relieve some tension, demonstrating the first tip of how to relax an audience and himself. He then explained that going to a new, unknown place can trigger an anxiety or fear. He suggested that one way to avoid that trigger is to come earlier and to explore the new environment before going in front of an audience.
Forgetting words during a speech can also trigger anxiety or fear of failure. Bob Simpson advised that if you are afraid of forgetting your speech notes can be invaluable. He gave a demonstration of how to take care of notes on stage, including a method of how to follow the text with one hand in order to avoid a ‘black hole’ and minimize the risk of failure. He even suggested hiding notes in your pocket when notes are not allowed during events such as public speaking contests. This tip could provide a speaker with comfort, a positive psychological effect reducing the risk of failure. However, the best method is to correctly structure your speech and know the content of your speech.
There are many different triggers that can make a speaker feel anxious and some are based on the speaker’s perceptions of himself or herself. ‘I look like a goose’, ‘I am a boring speaker’ or ‘I will be laughed at’ and so on. Such perceptions strip away personal confidence but this can be avoided by learning how to deal with it. For example, one of the methods to build confidence to visualize yourself giving a great speech and receiving a standing ovation. Focusing on the audience and not yourself is also a great way to deal with personal fears or nervousness.
Of course, to impress an audience with a speech, a speaker needs to be energetic, friendly, enthusiastic and passionate about the chosen topic. An audience will judge a speaker visually. What the speaker does and how the speaker acts on stage? It will also judge the speaker vocally. Does the speaker express his speech too fast, too slow or too monotonous? Are the words clear? Finally, the audience will judge the speaker on the actual content of the speech. Is the content interesting, informative, well-researched and easy to relate to, intriguing or controversial? However, Bob Simpson reassured us that the audience doesn’t know what the speaker is afraid of and what words the speaker remembered or forgot. “The audience is on your side,” he concluded and added: “The best way to build up confidence is practice, practice and practice.”
We learnt about the use of body language from Bob Simpson’s expertise and experience; how to reinforce a message, how to add impact, how to use facial expressions, how to use descriptive emotional gestures and whole body movements. All this was masterfully demonstrated by the next three speakers from Toastmasters international: Beverley Bradbery, Andy Cristofori and Vinnie Monaco.
‘Today’s leading global youth movement’ speech by Beverly Bradbery was a great example of a well-researched and inspiring speech. In the beginning she engaged the audience with a question and then took us through the History of the Scout Movement, her personal experience of what it means to ‘be prepared’ as the mother of her children who joined Scouting. She passionately convinced everyone that Scouting is invaluable for young people who want to be leaders of the future. She concluded by offering information on every Scouting club in the local area.
Andy Cristofori’s speech ‘Is your body multilingual?’ was based on his personal experience of making mistakes. He started with the powerful fact that in order to communicate we use 55% body language; 39% of communication comes from the volume and the tone of the voice and only 7% from the actual words used. To prove his point he cleverly engaged the audience in interactive visual demonstrations of using hands, fingers and the palms of the hands to show symbolic emotional expressions instead of words. Then came one punch line after another with explanations of how the same non-verbal symbols (gestures or movements) mean totally different things to different cultures. He took us through such details as what it means to use the right hand or the left hand, the clean or dirty hand. What was unique about his speech was that he made us visualize how a particular gesture is interpreted differently in various countries. He also brilliantly concluded with the proposition: “Today we had covered what a hand can do. Imagine what the rest of the body can do.”
The last speaker was Vinnie Monaco, a Toastmaster from Robina with his emotional and persuasive speech – ‘You are amazing!’ He started with: ‘I have a question. Growing up, how often were you told that you are amazing?’ Sadly, there were only few of us who were in this category and Vinnie Monaco said: ‘Let me tell you how amazing you are because we are all amazing’. Through his energetic speech, cleverly using scientific facts he masterfully made us feel special, unique, smart and definitely amazing.
As I have stated in the beginning of my article, public speaking can be and really should be a satisfying experience. This was confirmed by my observation at the ‘Dare to speak!’ workshop. I was also looking for answers of how to avoid anxiety and a fear of public speaking. I certainly learnt a lot and just like me, for the next three months, you can visit numerous workshops organised by Toastmasters International at the Helensvale Library or the Nerang Library. You could even join Toastmasters International clubs around the Gold Coast, Australia or anywhere in the world.
My warmest regards,
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