I have been a member of Toastmasters International for more than two years. It has greatly enhanced my speaking skills and has made me more confident around people. What is nice about attending Toastmasters meetings is that it gives you a chance to practice speaking in front of group of very encouraging people who will clap hard for you no matter how good or bad your speech is. You will then receive "positive" feedback from the group on what you can do to improve for the next time. This makes public speaking fun and not a chore.
Our local club puts out a newsletter and below is an article for one of the issues. It shows the value of being a Toastmasters member.
How to Get Up in Front of an Audience and Keep Your Cool
I keep hearing that the one thing that people fear most is getting up in front of an audience and giving a speech. For me that is way down in my personal list of "fear" priorities. I am not unique in this way of thinking as many of our seasoned Toastmaster members probably have that fear low down in their fear totem pole. They will probably tell you that the number one reason that they do not feel this way is because they seize upon every opportunity they can to get in front of an audience and not think about failure. The more you practice something the better you will do it. With experience in succeeding, you reduce the fear of failure. While, you can't be guaranteed to not have some butterflies attack your stomach, there are several things I do to prevent "Mr. Nervousness" from rearing his ugly head and disrupting an effective presentation:
- If I start to feel nervous before getting ready to speak, I take five long slow deep breaths. It is amazing how this relaxes your body if done properly.
- If I am working on a prepared speech, I practice it a few times in front of friends or co-workers. If it is a really important speech than I try at least two to three dry runs. The more you practice, the more confident you will be with it and the less likely you will be thinking of failure.
- Through martial arts training I learned to focus my "chi" outward. Chi is just an inner energy we all have. When focused outward our consciousness will not allow us thoughts about failure or what we are doing wrong, thus not allowing us to be nervous. If you have the opportunity to go through martial arts training, a way to help you focus your chi outward is when you are sparring imagine that there is an emergency requiring you to get home right away and your opponent is the only thing standing between you and your house.
- Try to look at your audience when you speak rather than looking down constantly at your notes. Look around slowly and focus directly into the eyes of individuals as if you are speaking to each person one-on-one. You should stay with each face about 3 seconds. Looking at a sea of faces can be daunting. Looking at people one at a time can trick the mind into thinking that you are have a chat with a single person instead of a mob. This technique can work whether your audience is five people or five hundred people.
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