3 Surprisingly Simple Things I’ve Learned About Public Speaking (For Those Who Don’t Like Public Speaking)

I’ll be honest, I’ve never really thought of myself as a teacher. In fact, I barely think of myself as a speaker, despite having delivered talks at events, workshops and community venues on a number of occasions now.

It’s just always been, to me, more of an acquired skill than a natural one; something I learned to do, and fairly well, but never really enjoyed… well… until this week.

Today I and several colleagues from the media organisation I work for were invited to speak at The Manchester College. First in a classroom setting in front of a room of business and marketing students, and then later in an auditorium to media students.

Micah Yongo at Manchester College

And I have to say I found the experience – as corny as this might sound – to be a genuinely uplifting and inspiring one. Mostly because we were granted the opportunity to hear these students respond to what we had to say by sharing their own passions and hopes for the future, the goals they’re working toward, the career and life they’re pursuing.

It was pretty special.

It reminded me of how contagious passion is, how powerful it can be to be around those with bold dreams and goals. But most of all, it reminded me of how important each of our individual journeys can be to someone else when that journey is shared.

So, in the interests of sharing, I thought I’d share three things I’ve found to be useful in learning to be an effective public speaker.

3 Simple Ways to Become a Better Speaker

1. Write

We’re all different, which means we’ll all have our own ways of preparing to speak. But perhaps one of the most marked differences I’ve noticed when it comes to my own experience of speaking is how much better I do it when I write my notes by hand.

writer (3)I know. It’s old fashioned, retrograde, maybe even a little antiquated. But when I write down my notes – rather than having them typed onto a pad, tablet or some other screen – I find it far easier to retain the information, and thereby give off that impression of fluidity and ease that comes through not having to refer back to what I’ve prepared every two sentences.

The thing is, this is not just an isolated anecdotal quirk to do with my personality, it’s actually a result of the way our brains are wired.

I’ll defer to the words of one Cindi May, a professor of psychology at the College of Charleston, SC, to elaborate further.

Taking notes by hand requires different types of cognitive processing than taking notes on a laptop, and these different processes have consequences for learning.

Consequences which, according to multiple studies now, also affect our capacity to remember things. Apparently, something about the slower and more tactile nature of transcribing information by hand onto actual paper, as opposed to a digital device, just helps us to take things in more deeply.

Which means that when it comes to speech preparation, the pen is truly the mightiest weapon of all.

2. Give

So I guess this is more a philosophical consideration than it is a practical one, but, as cheesy as it might sound, that Simon Sinek dude is absolutely right. People can become involved in public speaking for all kinds of reasons – a reluctant obligation, a desire to build one’s own profile, a need for a platform etc.

But I’ve found the more you frame the act of speaking, in your own mind, as an act of service motivated by a desire to help and share with others, the easier and more enjoyable the experience of it can become. Although I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this one mental switch has eliminated the pre-speech nerves entirely, I do find that when my attention is on the needs and hopes of my audience, rather than self-focused anxieties about whether they’ll like what I have to say, I’m a far better speaker.

3. Practice

Yeah… there’s no getting around it, repetition is key. The more you do this thing, the better you get at it. With each opportunity you’re granted to speak you have the chance to work your mental muscles around points 1 and 2;-

Another rep to make it about giving to those you’re speaking to, rather than trying to appear impressive or build your own profile or whatever. Another rep to learn how to craft content that centres on the interests and needs of your audience, rather than inaccessible jargon specific to the subject matter. Another rep to simply become more comfortable in your own public speaker skin.

Like learning to drive a car, when it comes to public speaking, as nice as the theory might be, a lot of the learning can only be done once you’re actually in the driver’s seat – either in actuality or through visualising the talk in your own mind.

So, the next time you’re roped into that speaking engagement that you feel ill-equipped for, don’t reject it, don’t stress yourself out with self-consciousness, in fact don’t make it about you at all. Make it about serving your audience, write down your notes, and practice, in your own head if not anywhere else.

You never know, you may just surprise yourself.







5 thoughts on “3 Surprisingly Simple Things I’ve Learned About Public Speaking (For Those Who Don’t Like Public Speaking)”

  1. Great advice!

    A few years back I was asked to speak to a small college class of adults that were working on their master’s degree in business.

    I decided to wing it, speak from the heart… which I did, but it was ugly before it got better. I’ll never make that mistake again!

    I’m always amazed at how much we learn by sharing with others.

    Good for you! Speak up!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Man, I’m so impressed by those who are natural enough to just go with the flow from the start. I can do that a bit, but feel so much better about having a loose idea of what I’m going to say before I say it. I’m maybe half way between a winger and a preparer 😉 (having started out mostly a preparer). But I think you’re absolutely right, it’s truly amazing how much we can learn by sharing with others.


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