Presentations

What Good Is Freedom of Speech If You Won’t Use It?

We tend to get a bit smug about our civil liberties in the U.S., especially our freedom of speech. But if you censor yourself because of a fear of public speaking, what good is that freedom? If you let others enjoy influence out of proportion to the quality of their ideas, what good is that freedom?

This article is a public version of a challenge that I issued to an audience last week. I urged the least confident ones among them to be the first to volunteer to make the presentations for their teams in their business plan competition. The same goes for everyone reading this who would like to become a better public speaker but shies away out of fear or lack of confidence: speak up!

I’m qualified to issue the challenge because I faced the same fear early in my career. I was extremely introverted and would get dry-mouthed and knock-kneed in anticipation of merely having to introduce myself to a classroom. A friend urged me to join a Toastmasters Club, online and I kept finding excuses to miss the meetings. Finally, he called me a coward (using a different word that is not appropriate for this blog), and said if I did not attend that week I never would. Since I respond to that type of challenge like Marty McFly in Back to the Future,I did attend, and that first meeting changed my life.

I faced my fears and survived. Actually, I thrived. Fear was quickly replaced by confidence and even eagerness to take to the podium, and that got me more recognition within the bank where I worked than anything else I could have done. So, just do it.

And do it some more.

Besides recognition, I found that the even bigger payoff was vastly more confidence in other venues, including individual meetings, selling, negotiations, and social occasions.

If you’re a woman, you need to heed the challenge even more. According to The Confidence Code, women speak 75% less than men do in meetings where both are present. This leads to an unfair disparity in recognition and compensation, because the squeaky wheel gets a lot more than grease. If you’re hesitant to seek the limelight for yourself, speak on behalf of your team.

You can join a local Toastmasters Club; it’s cheap, low-risk and highly effective. If you prefer to apply your skills in a more immediately practical manner, find opportunities to speak within your organization, or facilitate a class. What is your special field or topic that you are expert in and that others might benefit from knowing more about? Follow your passion, because it will be easier to speak about confidently, but make sure it’s something that your listeners can also care about.

And do it some more.

Don’t expect that you will be magically transformed overnight, and don’t get discouraged if you slip up a little now and then. Keep in mind that every great speaker began as a bad speaker.

Will you take full advantage of your freedom of speech?

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August 16, 2012
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