Public Speaking - Ride That Bike!

Public Speaking is like riding a bike.  If we weren’t taught how to do it when we were young, it can be absolutely terrifying to learn as an adult.  It’s like learning to ride a bike, on a tight rope, in front of a stadium full of people, but instead of a net to cushion our fall... it’s shards of broken glass. 

At the age of 38 I took on the challenge of learning how to ride the public speaking bike.  I joined Toastmasters a year ago and it has completely transformed my life.  

Some people who join public speaking groups say they've always loved speaking in front of crowds.  I can barely believe them when they say that.  For all my speaking years, I’ve been petrified of public speaking.  Even if I was casually speaking to a few people and then suddenly more people started listening, my mind would shut down.

But I’ve managed to actually ride the public speaking bike (without dying), and I wanted to share a short recording of one of my speeches and 6 quick tips that helped make the ride less bumpy…

1. Preparation 
The protection gear we wear to ride the public speaking bike, is preparation.  Writing our speech out, and memorizing the speech, or at least the main points, can help us feel safe.

But the truth is that no matter how prepared we are, we’re going to make mistakes.  Preparation just provides the reassurance that if we fall, we’re protected.  So learn your lines and go over your speech so many times that it becomes second nature.

2. Get On The Bike!
Seems pretty simple, but not so much.  I was making so many excuses for why I couldn’t do speeches - I couldn't decide what to talk about, I didn't have the time, the dog ate my homework... and one day my mentor said “just sign up”.   And it was that simple.

I was waiting until l felt ready, but I’m learning more and more when we make the decisions, when we just get on the bike, we ride!  When we strap on all this extra unnecessary protective equipment, it’s just procrastinating, holding ourselves back in fear.  So sign up, give yourself a deadline and you’ll make it happen.

3. Use Training Wheels
The first couple of times that I gave a speech at Toastmasters, my body shook, my legs gave way and I almost passed out - for real. That might be hard to believe for people who have seen me act on stage, but playing a character is different to standing in front of a crowd and speaking your truth.  Letting people see your soul, your opinions, your naked heart.  It’s terrifying.  

The first five speeches I gave, I used my notes like a pair of training wheels on a bike and I clung them for dear life.  I knew my lines sometimes, but the notes made me feel supported.  It meant that I didn’t have to make as much eye contact.

A good tip for coming off notes is to tell a story as a speech.  Stories are easier to recall than “speeches”.  It feels like using just one training wheel instead of removing them both at the same time. It's a good stepping stone for coming off notes altogether!  

But use notes as training wheels for as many speeches as you need to build your bike riding courage, and when you’re ready... you will fly!

4. Crash and Burn!
Building confidence isn’t about getting things right all the time, it’s about being okay with getting it wrong.  It’s sitting down after a speech with cuts and bruises all over us and thinking “Well, that wasn’t great, but I’m okay with that”.

I realized early on that the muscle I was really exercising, was being okay with making a fool of myself, making friends with my inner critic, and becoming a pro at making mistakes. More than anything I was teaching myself to be okay with falling off the bike and getting back on again.  

And that’s how we build true confidence.  Not by projecting a false air of perfection, but by showing up flawed and fabulous!  True confidence comes from being okay with totally bombing, getting back up and trying again.  The victories we have are merely the reward.

5. It’s Okay To Cry
One of the things I was most afraid of was crying on stage!  Every time I speak about something I’m really passionate about, I cry.  Sometimes I can control it, but when I’m on stage, controlling it is a little trickier.  In fact being on stage makes me want to cry already, so keeping it together when speaking about something I’m passionate about, while also on a stage, is near impossible.  

I noticed that when I tried not to cry I spoke like a stiff robot, so I accepted that if I wanted to connect with the audience, I was going to have to learn to be okay with having a teary on stage.  So I gave myself permission to be vulnerable… and it changed everything!

Not only did I cry on stage and not die, people laughed with me and were more moved by what I was saying as a result! 

The speeches we’re most touched by are those where the speaker is passionate and emotionally connected to what they’re saying, so harnessing this vulnerability is our most valuable asset as a speaker and as a human being!

6. It’s Not About You
My mentor kept saying it, I kept telling myself, I did affirmations and listened to talks that kept telling me… it’s not about me. It’s what I had believed to start writing my blog again, I knew it wasn’t about me, but once I was standing on stage in front of a crowd, my pain body, my fear, my ego, had different ideas.  

My body shook like a leaf, my mind blanked and my throat closed up as if I was under attack.  But the consistent training of telling myself that it wasn’t about me, of exercising that muscle, of becoming an expert at failing, of taking all the steps to simply show up and ride that darn bike no matter what… it broke through my fears, and eventually it clicked.

I remember the moment right before I walked on stage for my first fully memorized speech, I heard them call my name as they read out my introduction, and suddenly I become very aware that they were talking about ME, but instead of cringing and dying inside, I heard a voice in my head say gently, “it’s not about you… it’s for everyone.”  And I felt it.

I felt it in my bones right before I stepped onto the stage. This was the first time I truly believed it.  It’s not about me, it’s for everyone.  And it’s so true.  If it was up to me, I would hide away from the world in my safe little home watching Friends re-runs on Netflix, but that’s not why we’re here.  

Photo by Kate Shearer
We’re not here to play small, to live a life half lived.  

We’re here to grow, to evolve, to love, to laugh, to feel every emotion that the world wants us to feel, and then feel some more.  

We’re not here to stand back and be observers, we’re here to find our truth and share it with the world.  To remind each other of that, to lift each other up and contribute what each of us individually has to offer.  

We all have our own individual stamp and finding it is such an adventure!

I didn’t really know why I joined toastmasters. I just knew it was something I had to do.  I felt pulled by a purpose to contribute and our purpose is bigger than who we are or what we “do”.

We don’t need to know why. It’s not about the end result, it’s about the bike ride, the journey.

Find what matters to you and share it with the world.  If I could do this (and not pass out and die), you can do anything your heart desires too…

The short video above is my first memorized speech without notes.  It’s not perfect, but it’s perfect for how far I’ve come.  The audience laughed and cried with me, and the most important part… it was so much fun!


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