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How Do You Get Good at Public Speaking? Fall in Love With It

This is the second installment in a three-part series covering GovLoop’s virtual training event on effective public speaking. The first installment collected top tricks for improving your public speaking, while the third installment answered frequently asked questions about effective public communication.

I love developing expertise on a topic.

It’s a multitude of reasons: I enjoy the research, and the process of slowly putting the pieces together to discover the subject’s many intricacies.

But when I have to share my newfound knowledge in front of an audience, the delight turns into dismay.

It seems I’m not alone. On Tuesday March 11th, GovLoop hosted a virtual training session on how to become a better public speaker. You can view the archived webinar in its entirely here. The event opened with an audience poll, which revealed that public speaking causes anxiety in 85 percent of respondents.

Michael Lawyer is okay with that statistic – and the anxiety. The difference between a good speaker and a bad speaker, he says, is what you do with those feelings.

Lawyer is the Special Assistant to the Human Capital Officer at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and was a panel speaker on the webinar.

“I don’t want you to just be good at public speaking,” Lawyer said. “I want you to learn to love public speaking.”

Public speaking is often thought of as an ineffective form of communication, since studies have shown that audiences generally remember very little of the content after it’s delivered. Lawyer argued that these findings miss the point, contending that public speaking is not about the transmission of detailed information.

“What it is there for is to convey emotion, feelings and a way to understand the world,” Lawyer said. It’s in this space that speakers can have the greatest impact on their audiences.

But in order to get there, you have to get good at public speaking. “The secret to getting good at public speaking falling in love with it,” Lawyer maintained.

His thought? This love has three main components: your content, audience and nerves.

Loving Your Content

The good news is that most public servants are halfway there. They’re committed to public service and they have a constituency that has entrusted them with their well-being. As such, they already have the passion and expertise needed to deliver good content.

But Lawyer contends that this is only half of the equation. The second half is harnessing all of that emotion and that passion. The secret to merging these two, according to him? A lot of work — and practice, practice, practice.

Lawyer went into greater detail in the webinar, offering some very entertaining advice from two unlikely sources – “This American Life” producer Ira Glass and musician Neil Diamond. You can hear more about loving your content by listening to the archived webinar in its entirety.

Loving Your Audience

Loving your content goes hand-in-hand with loving your audience. As Lawyer explains, his earliest experiences with public speaking failed to capture that appreciation for his audience: “I was so immersed in my content that I’d get the opportunity to speak and would just bomb it all over the audience,” Lawyer related.

Instead, your goal should be to help the audience understand what they need to know. “What you need to do is anchor your talk and make it easy to digest,” Lawyer explained.

Loving Your Nerves

This is perhaps the most difficult part of transforming your approach to public speaking. It’s also the most essential.

“People who have learned to get good at public speaking get excited for that [emotion],” Lawyer said. “You start getting pumped up about getting nervous because you know [your body] is getting ready for ‘go time.’”

If this seems like transforming all of your anxieties into positive, invigorating emotions is a daunting task – well, it is. But the exciting part is that this is true for everyone. There aren’t people who were simply born to stand in front of their peers and deliver compelling speeches. We all have to work at it, which means we all can get good at it. “The more you love it, the more you will work at it, and the more you work at it, the more you will love it,” Lawyer added.

Watch the full webinar here.

Additional Resources

  • NextGen Speaker ContestEnter here to be one of five lightning speakers at NextGen 2014. Share an innovative project at your agency or a great idea to revolutionize government.
  • Repurposing Stress: Michael Lawyer referenced a must-watch TED talk on making stress your friend. Click here to watch it.
  • Design Matters: Steve Ressler recommended reading these presentation design reference books by Duarte. He also recommended SlideShare, a free repository for slideshow presentations. Each day the top slides are featured on the site.

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Jan Stapleman

The way to fall in love with, and get good at, public speaking is to join a Toastmasters group! There are Toastmasters groups all over the world, and the organization is helping hundreds of thousands of people get beyond their fears and actually excel at public speaking. Toastmasters offers several programs that help members learn about different aspects of public speaking, and you won’t find a more supportive group. I’ve been a member for years, and I look forward to meetings because they’re so much fun! Toastmasters opened many doors for me and helped me advance my career to new levels.