My first venture into the world of public speaking was in a required class during the second semester of 8th grade. Friends who had taken it first semester warned me of what lay ahead. Ten speeches of ten minutes each were assigned, with the topic announced one week in advance.
I dreaded this class. Even though I followed the instructions as to the outline, it was the delivery that was worse than death each week. The more I practiced, in front of my bedroom mirror and with my mother as a single audience member the less confident I became when it was my turn to present in front of the class. I wasn’t alone in how I felt, but that did not make me feel any better.
The final assignment was to teach the class how to make or do something and I immediately thought of the egg carton Christmas ornaments we made at my house each year. I brought enough for everyone and set out the markers, glue, and glitter as I began to speak. This was fun! Even the boys showed interest in this project and I received a round of applause at the end.
What was different? Why did I enjoy preparing and delivering this speech so much? I believe it was because all eyes were not focused on me during my presentation and I could relax and share my knowledge and experience with the audience.
I successfully dodged public speaking for the next decade, until I received word that a childhood friend had died in a car accident and his mother asked me to say a few words at the funeral. Choking back my tears I was able to read a short note I had written about his life and what his friendship had meant to me over the years. My goal on that day was to let his family know what a treasured person he had been in my life and in the lives of others. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house and I gave his mother a copy of what I had written in a card I had prepared for her the evening before.
I seldom gave a thought to speaking during my twenties. Public speakers were other people who were experts and authors and had skills I would never possess. As long as I told myself this it was the truth. When I became a classroom teacher at age thirty I was asked to speak to the teachers at a staff meeting and all of the fear and insecurity I had experienced in my junior high speech class came flooding back. I was terrified and could feel the judgmental eyes of the other teachers piercing my psyche. I had to take their attention away from me so I asked them to count off from one to four as we went around the room. This gave me a minute to gather my thoughts but my presentation was weak and ineffective.
Again I withdrew from the idea of being a speaker and life continued to move forward. Twenty years later I made the conscious decision to leave teaching and my real estate business behind and start an online business I could run from home. Finally identifying as an introvert, I could replace my previous income while sitting in front of my computer by myself each day. I slowly grew my list and my income and loved this new lifestyle I was designing for myself.
Then a mentor suggested I begin speaking at marketing events. He suggested I attend a local Toastmasters meeting to get started. Reluctantly I agreed and though maybe public speaking would be different all these years later. It wasn’t. The Toastmasters group made a list of every little mistake you made and handed you the form when you were done. After three meetings I vowed to never return and that was that.
Soon after a woman I knew online asked me to speak at her marketing event in Raleigh, North Carolina. By this time I was starting to attend live events around the U.S. and she knew I was having success in a variety of areas with my business. I made excuses as to why I would be unable to attend. She did her best to get me to change my mind but to no avail; I was too afraid to speak in front of a group of my peers and declined her invitation.
At this juncture I took a step back to think about my life and where I was going. Several people had now told me that public speaking would open doors for me. I was ready to shift my mindset around this precept and to do whatever was necessary to make it happen. Even if I didn’t believe I had anything of value to say, I needed to speak to let others decide if what I would share with them could be of value.
I had joined my local Rotary Club and they were more than anxious to thrust a microphone into my hands each week. It started by the president asking me to tell the group about an upcoming project. My face would get red and my ears were hot as I mumbled into the microphone. I looked down at my feet and got my words out as quickly as possible before handing off the mic to the next person. My heart would beat out of my chest and I couldn’t hear anything for the next couple of minutes. It didn’t seem to get any easier over time, but I continued to share information with the group. I later found out the others did not realize how nervous I was; most of what I was experiencing was all in my head.
One day the program chair asked me to give a talk about social media the following week. Before I could think of an excuse I said that I would be happy to do this. I showed up early the next Wednesday, laptop in hand and ready to discuss Facebook and Twitter and how these social media platforms could be used for small business marketing.
It was fun! Just like when I was teaching 8th graders how to make Christmas decorations out of egg cartons almost four decades earlier, I loved showing my screen and answering questions from the group.
Within months I hosted a local event for about twenty-five small business owners where I shared how they could build a list and use email marketing to increase their business revenue. Social media was a part of what I taught on that day, as well as blogging for business. At the end of this four hour event I had three new clients and lots of newly discovered self-confidence.
Soon Matt Bacak called to invite me to speak at his event in Atlanta. I said yes before thinking and was excited at the prospect of speaking in this way. Matt was already something of a marketing legend and was barely thirty years old at the time. When his assistant emailed to ask for my PowerPoint slides I answered that I was not going to use slides when I spoke at this event. Matt called me personally to say that I had to have slides and I agreed to put together a presentation he could take a look at.
I had taught PowerPoint to my 5th and 6th graders as a vocational skill in my classroom. I hadn’t used that program since, but I dusted it off and created my first slides. I decided that sound and visual effects would not be suitable and came up with a presentation that covered all of my talking points and included an offer at the end.
There were several other speakers at Matt’s event, including copywriter Ray Edwards and my very first mentor, Raymond Aaron. There was a man talking about investments, but he was so polished he seemed like an actor and did not sell anything that weekend. I made two sales of my $2500 training program and was thrilled with my results. By the way, my presentation was awful and I even forgot to change into my good shoes before taking the stage. But I had accomplished my goal of speaking in front of an audience of more than five hundred people and selling from the stage.
Afterward I had lunch with Raymond Aaron. Actually, he ate and I took notes as to how I could improve my speaking the next time. Yes, there would be many “next times” in my future as a public speaker. Even Raymond invited me to speak at his events in Toronto and in London within the next couple of years.
My new goal was to get in as much practice as possible between speaking at live events. Teleseminars and webinars were taking off as a way to communicate with your audience. YouTube made it simple to record a video on your smart phone and upload it to your channel. I visited as many Rotary Clubs as possible as a speaker, and soon I was invited to speak at the District level to hundreds of people at a time. I was still nervous but speaking was becoming a much more positive experience for me.
I was attending a marketing event in Orlando, Florida when Armand Morin asked me to speak at his upcoming event in Minneapolis in June of 2010. This was the big time for me and I hesitated before answering. Yes, I would speak. Thank you for this opportunity, I could hear myself saying. Back at home I worked on a new presentation and offer.
Before I went on stage in Minneapolis Armand saw me in the hallway and asked if I was nervous. I said,
“Armand, I’m nervous because I’m not nervous this time.”
He laughed and threw up his hands in the air.
When I was introduced I came out on stage and recognized that feeling in my stomach that let me know I would be nervous, at least for the first few minutes. Then something magical happened. I said something funny and someone in the audience laughed. Then I relaxed into my presentation and had more interaction with the audience. I looked out at the sea of faces, most of whom did not know me at all. They were attentively watching and listening and I was having fun with them. I said a silent prayer of thanks and told myself to remember this moment forever. This was what I had always wanted and now it was happening for me.
That moment occurred over a decade ago and I can remember it as though it were yesterday. Everybody speaks every day and people want to hear from us. Now I speak all over the world to audiences of various sizes and on several topics, from how to write an eBook to changing your mindset to achieve greater success. I hope you take away something of value from what I have shared with you here and that you start speaking to share your thoughts, ideas, beliefs, experiences, and knowledge to people who can only hear your message from you.
I’m Connie Ragen Green, international speaker and thought leader and someone who wants to help you to reach your highest potential.