I had an interesting discussion with a friend recently about how even people with great interpersonal skills may struggle with speaking in public. As someone who was once relatively shy, and now speaks on panels and to large groups, I felt it would be useful to share some of the strategies I personally used.
Step 1: Improve Speaking and Pronunciation
Before I dealt with issue of speaking in public, I first wanted to be a good speaker. There’s an unfortunate catch-22 with public speaking: good speakers have confidence, but they have confidence because they are skilled at public speaking. To raise my own abilities, and confidence in those abilities, before I ever spoke in public I first practiced just speaking.
Read out loud. I had a number of choose-your-own-adventure novels I enjoyed when I was young. In addition to being entertaining, reading them out loud allowed me to practice speaking with a broad, exciting vocabulary. Choose your own adventure books also lend themselves well to dramatic interpretation, which allowed me to play around with inflection and tone. My brother and I would sometimes take turns with them, reading a page and then debating which was the best approach. If I had to pick reading material to start with now, I would probably use op-ed pieces in newspapers.
Emulate other speakers. As a child I watched Wheel of Fortune with my family. Pat Sajak had a calm, clear speaking voice. When I started looking to improve my speech, I would watch and quietly repeat what he said to myself, and later while reading out loud in my room, or even in conversations with friends, I would ask myself “How would Pat Sajak say this?” Pat Sajak was the ultimate host – he made people feel at ease, projected confidence and charisma, and spoke clearly.