I saw this post the other day, and it got me thinking… As much time as I’ve spent in front of people, public speaking definitely is an acquired skill, but I think it’s one that starts when you are young, and the type of circles that you run in. But I think part of the fear comes from a lack of training in how to project – it’s not really anything that gets taught in school. I remember being in 3rd grade and having to memorize a short poem each week, and having to recite it to the whole class on Friday. Everyone in the class did. It was part of our training.
I will be the first to tell you that I was generally one of the quieter kids in school – usually kept to myself, would read, and usually only hung out with a small group of friends. But I was active in those groups, and I was active in some of the organizations I was in during school. And I came from (and pursued) the military life.
When you are put into a position to bark orders in drill, it can do something to you. I have one friend from ROTC who, at the time (and I was up front with her about it at the time) had little problem speaking in front of groups, but she was kind of quiet and could be a little squeaky. The semester I was overseeing the Drill & Ceremonies for the ROTC group (aka – planning and training for a change of command parade, something done at least 8-10 times during the summer camp we had to go to – and anyone about to go to camp had to have scripted/key positions for the parade). I wanted her in the key position, the Group Adjutant – that also carried almost all of the dialogue (and it all became about training her for projection) – and she did fine. (I heard the Lt. Colonel at the time tell someone it was one of the better executed ROTC parades she had seen done, so we must have done something right).
I also went through several theater classes, which also worked on projection skills (nothing like standing center stage in a theater and having to recite a Shakespearean monologue – it was Hamlet’s “Speech to the Players”). But those were also experiences that I sought out, because they were fun to me, and the development of projection was a side benefit.
And the were all done without a mic.
Working with a mic, though, is a whole other skill that takes some getting used to, and unless you use it (speaking with a mic, or public speaking in general) daily, it gets rusty, like the foreign language you learned in high school and haven’t used in twenty years. In the twelve years since getting out of ROTC, and in the almost six years since I’ve gotten out of regular management, any self-aware skill that I had has atrophied terribly. And it’s been magnified when I am not part of a group.
How can a writer improve their public speaking? That’s going to be different for each person. Find a workshop and read sections aloud. Start small, if you have to, read to a group of stuffed animals. Start by reading out loud to yourself (scary how we can talk all day long, but as soon as we start actually listening to ourselves we tense up).
Even the best public speakers get the jitters. If you can get comfortable with yourself, though, it often becomes getting through the first few minutes, or enough to get into your own rhythm… Think of it like theater where you get so comfortable with the lines (if it’s a prepared piece), where you end up with a haze over your vision as you look around – you see people, but only as vague figures but out clear details. The more you practice, and the more you give public talks, you can move to the “comedian” approach, where you are noticing details from the crowd, and maybe even incorporating them.
But always remember to project. If you can project, then you’ve already fought most of the fears.