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Three Steps to Making Public Speaking Easier

Notes from the Expert(s Husband) - Part 4

Since 2012 I’ve enjoyed being a member of two Toastmasters clubs in Austin, and Maura has been a professional speaker for about 15 years. So I clearly understand and value of being able to stand in front of an audience, helping them gain new knowledge or insights or increased motivation, or any of the other things that great speakers provide to their audiences.

But, despite this understanding, I have to admit that I still am not the biggest fan of public speaking. While I do love many aspects of Toastmasters, and I get the value of public speaking there are a number of things about it that I just don’t love, including:

  • identifying topics that I feel knowledgeable enough to speak about in front of an audience

  • organizing the unruly mess of thoughts in my head to create a clear and concise speech

  • practicing sections of the speech in front of an empty room in my house over and over and over again until I feel somewhat comfortable with them

  • managing the nerves that inevitably arise just before I am introduced and the brain freeze that occurs when I hear my name called

  • wondering, as I look into the eyes of various members of the audience, whether they are totally bored, and

  • the critical self evaluation that inevitably starts the moment I sit back down.

Public speaking is something that I do not because I love it, but because I believe it is an incredibly valuable skill. As a result, I know that I will continue making myself practice public speaking.

And because I know I will subsequently continue running into the many things I do not love, I did some research to see if there was anything I could do to make things easier for myself.

flower petal fallen on a pond
Petal Fallen on a Pond

The Discovery

That research led me to the work of a behavioral scientist at Stanford University, BJ Fogg.

Dr. Fogg produced a model for behavior change that primarily incorporates a focus on two things, motivation and ability.

In his model Dr. Fogg says that if, at any given point in time, we have a low level of motivation to do something that requires a high level of ability, something that is hard, we simply won’t do it. He says that when we have low motivation, we can do things that are easy, but not things that are hard. And, he goes further to say that our level of motivation naturally fluctuates from day to day and throughout every day. So, when the time comes to do the hard things, by nature, we simply may not have the motivation we need.

Wow, did that feel familiar to me when I read it. Some days I feel up to a wide variety of challenges, and others, I feel like I would better served by staying in bed.

The Process

As I continued learning about his model and others that are similar, I began to understand a simple three step process that I could use to improve my situation:

  1. Separate the things that are easy for me and the things that are hard,

  2. For the hard stuff, determine whether it would be best to add motivation or increase ability, or both, and

  3. Brainstorm ways to add motivation or make things easier.

Step 1. The first step in my process is to simply identify which aspects of any project are easy for me and which are hard. To do this, I started by making a list of tasks that are involved in public speaking, because I know from what Maura has taught me:

  1. I can only manage what is outside of my head, and

  2. the best way to get things out of my head is to write them down.

Once I completed my list, I took another sheet of paper and created two columns, one labeled ‘easy’ and one labeled ‘hard.’ On that page, in the respective columns, I listed all of the things that I find to be easy relative to public speaking and all of the things that I feel are more difficult. My 'hard' list included the things I listed above, as well as a handful of other things. My 'easy' list included things like:

  • speaking loud enough to be heard by everyone in the room

  • doing research to explore topics and increase my understanding

  • making eye contact with people who are smiling and indicating interest in what I'm saying, and

  • walking back to my seat when I'm finished delivering a speech

Finally, I tore the new list in half and threw away the easy column, because the easy things aren’t the problem. It’s the hard things that I needed to overcome.

fallen leaf floating on Barton Creek
Floating Leaf on a Cloudy Day

Step 2. The second step in my process is to determine, for each of the items on my hard list, whether I needed to increase my motivation to get them done or make them easier, or both. Sometimes, a little added motivation is all we need, but other times, things really are just more difficult than we can manage or harder than they need to be. In those cases, we can benefit from taking the time to figure out how we can make them easier.

Once I’d determined where I needed to increase motivation and where I needed to make things easier, I reorganized my single hard list into two hard lists, one of things needing motivation and one of things needing to be easier.

Step 3. And that leads me to the third step in my process: brainstorming. For each of the items in my 'needing motivation' list, I brainstormed ways to increase motivation. And for each of the items in my 'needing easy' list, I brainstormed ways to make them easier. I did this all at once and on my own, but there is no reason that you couldn't break it out over a period of days or work with other people to generate ideas. One thing that made it easier for me is that before I got started, I did some research about ways to increase motivation and make things easier.

Adding Motivation

Start with why. One great way anyone can increase motivation to get anything done is to remember their 'why.' Why they cared in the first place or why the given task is valuable for them. And, if that why isn’t motivating enough, they can create another one. For example, as I mentioned previously, my reason for continuing to practice public speaking is because I believe it is an incredibly valuable skill. That reason doesn’t really feel all that motivating to me, so I came up with another reason. I decided that like all people, I have a unique set of insights gained from a unique set of experiences, and that if I can’t express those insights effectively, no one else can benefit from them. To me, even the smallest opportunity to help others achieve is extremely motivating. I love seeing others overcome barriers and achieve great things.

Work with other people. A second way to increase motivation is to lean on others. To find and engage an accountability partner, a coach, or a mentor. If you’ve ever had a friend talk you into doing anything you initially didn’t want to do, you understand the power others have to influence our decisions and behaviors. So, find someone you can talk to about the challenges you face and ask them to help you stick with the commitments you make. Then take some time to talk with them about your situation and ask for their help.

Fallen leaf on concrete
Leaf and Concrete

Making Things Easier

When we get creative it’s amazing how many ways we can find to make things easier. Some fantastic ways to make things easier include:

  • breaking them down into smaller tasks,

  • finding easier substitutes, and

  • adding leverage.

Break tasks down. In her talks, Maura use the example of making a phone call. She says making a call is easy if you know the number of the person you want to call, you know the best time to call them, you are clear about what you want to achieve with the call, and you know what you want to say to them. She says that if any of those things are missing, you should make things easier on yourself by creating a task for each step rather than lumping them all into one task.

In my case, where public speaking is concerned, a great example of breaking things down is to chop my speech into bits and practice each in turn. If I don’t feel up to practicing a speech in its entirety at any given time, I can break it down into smaller sections and practice one at a time.

Find substitutes. Applying a little creativity makes substitutes easy to come by. As an example, anyone who has difficulty writing a speech can try dictating it instead. An easy way to do this is to dictate an email to yourself into your phone. This can be as easy as starting an email, hitting the microphone button, and saying whatever comes to mind. At some points, the thoughts that come to mind will have nothing to do with the speech, but those you can easily edit out later.

Another easy way to dictate a speech is to make a recording and then send it to Temi to be translated to text at a rate of $.25 per minute of recorded speech.

Apply a little leverage. Leverage is any tool or add-on that magnifies a strength or set of strengths needed to solve a problem or achieve a goal. It is needed where that strength is not sufficient to accomplish the given task. Leverage comes in the form of things like the Toastmasters curriculum which provides a great deal of knowledge and wisdom gained by a large number of people over many years of practice. For me, relying on the Toastmasters curriculum where I lack knowledge and experience goes a long way toward making things more manageable.

The Results

Once I’d gone through this process of identifying exactly what is hard for me, determining whether I needed to add motivation or reduce difficulty, and brainstorming ways to do both, public speaking seemed a lot more manageable to me.

My hope is that through implementing this process again and again, my discomfort with public speaking will eventually and completely become a thing of the past. I hope that I can learn to really enjoy public speaking as much as Maura does, and that I can benefit from the opportunities it creates for me and others.

And if you are like me in that you don’t always enjoy the public speaking, whether you are a member of Toastmasters or not, or if there is anything else you struggle with, I hope that you can benefit from using this process too.

Thank you for reading! Please consider sharing if you think anyone you know can benefit. And, click here if you would like to read parts one, two, or three from this series.

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