Losing my Fear of Public Speaking

This is a guest post by Silvia Bach.  Silvia Bach (@silkebcn) is from Barcelona, studied journalism, works in the retail fashion industry. Her dream:  To become a professional motivational speaker.  She works with teams to ensure they do something special everyday.  More about Silvia Bach.

Losing my Fear

How can we explain the lack of public speaking skills in Spain?  Let’s take a look back to the last 30 years of Spanish history.  We laughed watching Julio Iglesias singing with his hands in his pockets in the 1970s.  We remember Arias Navarro’s overly direct and clumsy: “Spaniards, Franco is dead.”  We witness a regular procession of politicians delivering dry proposals without any sense that they care.

The Spanish can be charismatic communicators.  However, we tend to convey little enthusiasm when addressing large audiences.  We lack the foundation of the Anglo-Saxon world in presenting in public.  In school we are not educated to speak and we have few role models.

My Teenage years in The USA

When I was young, I lived in the United States.  I recall a terrifying personal experience that changed my life forever.  At my school we would spend Friday afternoons engaged in a variety of extracurricular activities.

La fête a eu lieu dans le Grand Auditorium de Milton High SchoolOne particular Friday, the history teacher called me on stage to defend the position against the Vietnam War (which we were currently studying in class.)  I was chosen given that I was not American and would have less problem speaking for the position that the United States was wrong.  I had never spoken to as wide an audience and I had never imagined that I ever would.

As I uttered my first words, stuttering, I began to hear laughter, comments and whistles and the last thing I remember is the school nurse holding me, using a paper lunch bag to control my breathing.  I had some sort of nervous breakdown.

I spent the weekend thinking that I would die of shame to go back to school and face everyone that had seen me make a fool of myself.  I wanted to disappear from the earth.

But it turned out very differently…

I became almost the most popular person in school the following week because everyone wanted to know what had happened.  The next “Friday Rally” I was asked to give a speech to everyone to explain what had happened.

This 2nd speech was very different for several reasons:

  1. Improved confidence in myself.  I was determined to overcome my previous experience
  2. Audience interest.  The audience really wanted to know what had happened.
  3. Knowledge of the subject: I would be speaking from personal experience and no one could contradict.
  4. Body language.  I was acting out something that had really happened.  I could use my body to demonstrate a real event.
  5. Fun:  I saw smiles from the moment I stood up. As I told my story, I heard laughing and I felt even more comfortable.

This speech was the beginning of Me, the Speaker

This experience planted a seed in me.  This was the beginning of an addiction to public speaking.  I leant to engage an audience.  I learnt to speak with increasing conviction and enthusiasm. This has helped in everything from presenting papers at university, to job interviews, to oral exams, to better sell my ideas and get access to wider resources in the office.

Reflecting now, I see that the terrible speaking experience I lived in 1993 has contributed towards every speech I have given since.  I have given many speeches to audiences of up to 600 people.  Before every speech, I always look in a mirror and recall the sports hall of Justin Siena High School.  This gives me strength to remember what counts.  I find my enthusiasm.  I see how I might captivate the audience.  I see how I can involve them in my message.  I can make them laugh.  I can share with them those emotions that I felt back on that Friday in America.  I walk onto the stage with an attitude “I am here talking because these people want to hear my message”

We each have within us the capacity to speak well

The impact that speaking well can have on a life is massive.  Poor speaking guarantees you will not get what you seek.  Great speaking opens doors.  Great speaking begins by accepting that how we speak is more important than the words that we say.  We each have within us the capacity to speak well.

I began this post asking why Spain has so many poor speakers.  I close by saying that we can each decide that good speaking is important and begin a path to great speaking.  We can learn from speakers at conferences, on television, in business.  We can become increasingly aware of what makes a speaker good, seeing the details, beginning to be clear for ourselves why one person connects whilst the next speaker fails.

I find it incredible these days when I see a poor speaker who seems to be doing nothing to improve.

What are you doing to improve?

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