“Angela, it’s your turn.”
I hesitantly looked up from my notebook, carefully avoiding the gaze of my coworkers and strategically turning my head away from my boss–the most intimidating person of all.
I spoke quickly, succinctly, and left no time for air to enter or leave my lungs. In one long sentence, I said my piece and put my head back down.
There. It was done.
Who knows what I said. I could never remember even a few seconds after I finished. I don’t know what people were thinking. I don’t even know what I was thinking. I just wanted it to end. Week after week, I endured the same torturous 60-second team meeting update.
I vividly remember the feeling of panic each time I sat in those team meetings at the radio station where I worked. Just the thought of saying a few sentences out loud was enough to make me want to call in sick. I often wondered if anyone else could sense just how deep my fear was. Did they know how much my palms were sweating under the table? Could they see how hot my ears were? Every time my turn was next, I would have to force myself to stay in my chair and not sprint out of the room. My fear of public speaking brought up the most intense anxiety and insecurity I had ever experienced and it never seemed to get better.
This took place 14 years ago, at the beginning of my career, when I was one of the shyest people you could ever meet. Since then, I’ve recognized the importance of building communication skills so I can advocate for myself in business, have more honest conversations at home, and feel more comfortable when socializing and meeting new people when at networking events and parties. I’ve spent the last 12 years building my public speaking skills and have learned that no matter what the environment or occasion, good communication and speaking up effectively comes down to three major components: the mind, the body, and the spirit. Here’s how to integrate all three so you can be powerful, comfortable and confident in any situation.
I used to think of public speaking as something you only did if a) you knew you couldn’t be wrong; b) you had a perfectly planned presentation; and c) you were an expert on the subject. Because of these imagined rules, I rarely raised my hand. The bar was so high I could never even see it, nevermind reach it. It seemed like the only people who spoke up were the smartest, most experienced, most respected people in the room. Intimidation was at an all time high when it came to comparing myself to those people. What I didn’t know then is that speaking up isn’t about being an expert, or being entertaining, or being inspiring, or being perfect, it’s about something very different and much less scary. It’s about being in service to your audience. It’s about asking yourself one very important question and leaving the rest behind. Asking yourself, “How can I be in service right now?” will help you discover good questions to ask, interesting ideas you can offer, and suggestions to build off of. If you’ve ever done volunteer work before, you know how good it feels to help others in need. There’s no pressure to perform in a certain way, it’s just about people helping people. Public speaking is the same thing – people speaking up and sharing in the name of progress and adding value. Try reframing public speaking as being in service the next time you’re thinking about raising your hand and see how different you feel.
Your body plays a big part in how people perceive you. If you walk into a room with your shoulders slumped over, your head down, and your eyes fixated on the floor, people are going to assume you lack confidence, have low energy, and don’t have a welcoming demeanor. Same goes for communication. When speaking in front of a small group or a large audience, the way you present yourself physically plays a big part in how your audience perceives you and your ability. Your energy and your breathing give clues to how nervous or afraid you are and may lead your audience not to trust you. To build your presence so you can build power in your presentation, start with breathing. Have you ever run out of air halfway through a sentence or felt you were gasping for air while trying to share your ideas? To avoid this, try a breathing technique called 4-8-7. Breathe in for four seconds, hold your breath for eight seconds, and then breathe out for seven seconds. Do this ten times in a row before a meeting, presentation, or important conversation. This will help you relax, get centered, clear your mind, and reset your breathing so you’re able to present yourself with ease and confidence.
The best presenters all have one thing in common. It’s not their level of education, years of experience with public speaking, or their accomplishments in a certain field. The unifying factor is that they all infuse one very important attribute into their talks: Love. They speak from the heart and their joy and passion for their subject comes across in their words, their body language, and their tone. Their love is so great that it becomes contagious and spreads to their audience. Those who get the pleasure of experiencing such a great speaker also become enamored with the subject and want to pursue more information, possibly even in search of that same level of joy they observed. In order to be a great speaker, you must first tap into the love you have for your subject and recognize why it matters to you. Once you can feel that love, bring that energy to your comments or presentation. Your audience will be engaged, inspired, and moved. They will hang on your every word.
By combining the mindset of viewing public speaking as being in service rather than being perfect, approaching it with a relaxed body by breathing and focusing, and coming from a place of love, you can transform not only the way you think about speaking, but you can also increase your impact and power every time you present. Rather than hold back what you want to say, start practicing these tips and see how your comfort and confidence grows each time. You’ll be glad you did.