Anonymous said: What is your best advice for becoming more comfortable with speaking in front of groups and gaining more confidence?
In 6th grade, we had to recite all of the prepositions in front of our class — you know, aboard, about, above, across, against, along, amid, among, around, at, etc — and I knew them cold.
I got up in front of my class and blanked. Completely. Just sat back down at my seat. It wasn’t the last time I completely blanked out on something I knew. For many years, I would get so nervous speaking in front of people that I would physically shake, feel like I was going to throw up, and sometimes forget everything I was going to say. This is why I always preferred radio to other mediums, and writing jokes to doing stand-up comedy: the person writing the jokes gets to sit down.
This year, I decided that I could no longer sit. First, part of my gig involves experimenting with stuff and then explaining the results to an audience. And second, I get most ideas by bouncing off other people. So I was losing out on possible ideas and possible experiments by not getting over my fear.
So I put myself out there and said I would happily speak to groups. So far, I’ve spoken to five universities and been on three panels, with about six more coming up. Each time it has gotten a bit easier. Here’s why:
1. I write my entire speech out ahead of time. I include inflections and phrases and say my speech out loud three or four times in my head and 2-3 times in front of other people. By the time I’m talking, I’m not actually looking at the speech. But I tell people where to look for it while I’m speaking: this helps people who are hard of hearing or who don’t speak English as a first language, and it gives them something to focus on that’s not me.
2. I realize no one is as critical as I will ever be. They don’t care if I pause or stutter.
3. I try to focus on 1-2 people in the audience and only look at them.
4. I acknowledge my nervousness.
5. I always offer to follow up with a written email synopsis of the speech.
6. I tell jokes.
7. I try not to be boring because I know how bored I get during lectures. Interactive moments are key. Ask questions. Pause. Etc.
8. It will all be over soon. The longest I’ve spoken so far is an hour which seems like an incredibly long time but even that passed with not-too-much trouble.