Public speaking coach specializing in helping people with public speaking anxiety. “All great speakers were bad speakers at first.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson.

And what you can learn from my experience

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I am a new writer to Medium. Here is the story I didn’t want to tell. At least not yet. It was on the list, but well down the list.

My plan was this. Gain a following by sharing lots of helpful advice on improving public speaking skills and building confidence. Then tell this story. I didn’t feel ready to share it yet. And, I reasoned, it would be a waste if no one read it.

Three weeks into writing for Medium I realised two things. And they are closely related. Firstly, my plan was unlikely to work. …

And four principles that will help you do so

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Think back to the last time you made up an excuse to back out of something you had committed to. Was it yesterday? Last week? More recently than you would care to admit?

The trigger for me to write this article was a recent experience. I run public speaking courses for people with public speaking anxiety, and I have had a lot of demand for regular, monthly sessions for people who have completed one of my courses. However, making this work has been challenging.

Ten people committed to coming to the November session. Many had even paid in advance. On the night I had four people. Five people contacted me on the day to say that they could no longer come and one person did not show up. …

If only I had realised earlier that public speaking was a skillset, not a natural talent…

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When I was eight years old, my teacher taught the class to play the recorder. She told us one day that she was forming a recorder group, but I decided not to join.

Several weeks later, the teacher announced that the recorder group would be playing for the opening of the new school hall. That sounded cool, and so I asked if I could join the group after all. She gave me a piece of music and told me to practice. But she warned me that I had missed too much and it would be almost impossible to catch up.

I really wanted to play the recorder at the opening of the hall, and so I went home and practised all weekend. …

And you probably haven’t read these tips elsewhere!

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There are plenty of useful articles about public speaking, but many of them repackage similar tips. Remember to pause; practice your presentation thoroughly; maintain eye contact; focus on your audience; tell stories; and so on. Don’t get me wrong — it is all great advice! But I am always looking for fresh insights.

In this article, I have put together five less-known tips. Some of these I have discovered through my own practice and all of them I have put into effect or tested for myself.

Tip One — Try Elongating Your Vowels to Slow Down

A lot of people speak too quickly when they are nervous. The traditional advice is to pause more frequently. The powerful pause is an effective tool to slow down your speaking, but it is not your only option. …

How to find the preparation sweet spot

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Few people can engage an audience without preparing and practicing. Even presenters who look like they are speaking ‘off the cuff’, have usually prepared thoroughly— or have presented the same material many times previously.

When I first started as a public speaking coach, I stressed the importance of good preparation. But I noticed that some people would still turn up unprepared. And they often started their presentation by telling us that they hadn’t prepared.

I realized that they were using this as a ‘get of jail card free card’. If they told us how unprepared they were and it didn’t go well, they could always blame their lack of preparation. It was an excuse for failure. …

And showed remarkable insight

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The best speakers are usually great storytellers. Stories can help inform, entertain, persuade, or inspire. They capture our attention, help us understand, and evoke emotion. We usually remember stories more easily than facts. Stories can support other content, or they can form the basis of a speech.

Since 2016, I have been running a public speaking course at a local girls’ high school in Auckland, New Zealand.

The girls who sign up for the course are amazing. Only 14 and 15 years old, they already recognise the importance of gaining public speaking skills. …

It can be, revealing, reassuring, and motivating

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Many years ago, I watched a video of myself presenting. I couldn't bring myself to view it for months because I knew how bad it was going to be! Partway through my presentation, I had lost my way and hesitated. I dreaded watching that video but when I finally did, it was fascinating — because the hesitation was barely noticeable. And I realised that I had held a distorted view of my performance.

When I first started coaching, a few clients would ask me to video their presentations. I thought this was a great idea and so I extended the offer to everyone. …

You are human. Your listeners are human. Just think of them as friends and reach out.

Chris Anderson, Head of TED.

Parents can play a role, especially with reluctant children.

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Periodically a debate emerges in social media about whether young people should be forced to present in front of the class.

The Atlantic reported one such debate in September 2018. The story was about a tweet posted by a 15-year old high-school student:

“Stop forcing students to present in front of the class and give them a choice not too.”

This tweet had gone viral, as had a similar tweet posted earlier that year.

Some students were concerned that forcing them to present in front of their peers, could fuel their anxiety and have long-term harmful effects. …

Why you need to act and what you can do

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A few months ago, I had a phone call from a young woman who needed help. Anna (not her real name) was a marketing graduate who had landed a great first job in the grocery sector. But she was suffering from anxiety because she was required to present to a corporate audience of more than one hundred people. The audience included members of the senior leadership team.

She explained that she had had a bad experience of public speaking at college. And it still haunted her. Apart from that one experience, she had done very little presenting.

I discovered that she would be presenting alongside two more experienced people. I suggested that she tell them that she was nervous so that they could support her. But she couldn’t do this, she told me, because everyone expected her to be excited about this “opportunity”. Instead, she was full of dread! …

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