Today, I’m excited to take you on a personal journey of mine. Picture a shy, awkward twenty-year-old who could barely speak above a whisper. Now, imagine that same person transformed into a confident public speaker, sought after within and beyond the companies they worked for.
This transformation wasn’t just about mastering the art of public speaking. As my confidence blossomed, I found it easier to engage with my colleagues, contribute in meetings, and voice my ideas and suggestions. I was no longer the silent one tucked away in a corner. I was an active participant, making my voice heard. The confidence I gained from honing my public speaking skills seeped into other aspects of my professional life, shaping me into a more effective communicator and leader.
This journey was far from easy. It was a path strewn with embarrassing moments, endless hours of practice, and continuous learning. But every step was worth it. Today, I want to share this journey with you, hoping it might inspire you to embark on your own transformative journey.
The Early Days
In the beginning, public speaking was an intimidating task for me. I can still recall the day I froze in front of my entire Swedish IT department during a presentation. My mind went blank, my palms were sweaty, and I wished for nothing more than to disappear. It was one of the most mortifying moments of my life.
But then, something unexpected happened. A kind co-worker named Lars noticed my struggle. His steady gaze and positive demeanor became my anchor amidst that storm of embarrassment. He said, “We all make mistakes when presenting. Just focus on me and talk only to me.” Those words were a lifeline.
I directed my attention towards Lars and his reassuring presence helped me get through the rest of the presentation. As years passed and I faced other challenging meetings or audiences, I often imagined Lars being somewhere in the audience. His imaginary presence gave me the confidence to face any crowd.
Lars’ simple act of kindness had a profound impact on my journey to becoming a better public speaker. I owe him so much for that.
The Journey to Improvement
Determined to overcome my fear, I decided to step out of my comfort zone. I joined an improvisation theatre group. (Also known as an “improv group”, this is a team that practices improvisational theater; a form of theater that involves performances that are made up on the spot, without a pre-written script, using spontaneous acting techniques, often incorporating audience suggestions, to shape the content and direction of the performance.) This group ran a variety of fascinating games and workshops that helped me come out of my shell. The spontaneous and interactive nature of improv helped me become more adaptable and quick-thinking, skills that are crucial in public speaking.
Improv became much more than just a tool for improvement; it became a lifestyle. The thrill of being on stage, the camaraderie among the group members, the joy of creating something unique and spontaneous – it was addictive! Even now, in my sixties, I still regularly attend improv classes here in Stockholm. The stage, once a source of fear, is now a platform where I can express myself freely and confidently (although I still often flub my lines or die on stage).
In addition to the improv group, I also joined Toastmasters, a professional group dedicated to sharpening public speaking skills. Toastmasters provided a more structured approach to public speaking, with regular meetings, constructive feedback from peers, and opportunities to practice various aspects of public speaking in a supportive environment.
This journey wasn’t just about learning to speak in public. It was about discovering new aspects of myself, pushing my boundaries, and embracing a more confident and expressive version of myself.
As I continued to practice and improve, I noticed a significant change. Public speaking was no longer a task that filled me with dread. Instead, it became something I looked forward to. Every time I spoke in front of an audience, I felt a buzz of excitement. The stage was no longer a place of fear, but a platform where I could express my ideas and engage with others.
This transformation didn’t just affect my public speaking skills; it had a profound impact on my career as well. I was fortunate to work with many leading high-tech Swedish companies like Ericsson, Compaq, Digital, IBM, and my beloved Spotify. I believe that, at each of these companies, my ability to effectively communicate my ideas and present them confidently played a crucial role in obtaining my career success.
I am convinced that my growing skills in public speaking and putting myself forward played a significant role in landing me these opportunities. It wasn’t just about being able to speak well; it was about the confidence and charisma in everyday situations that came with being a good public speaker.
The Importance of Professional Tuition
One of the great things about improv course was intimacy of the groups. Improv teachers are brilliant teachers and can regularly get close guidance from the them. Our groups are often small, which allows for personalized feedback and guidance. Our teachers were well-trained in the art of acting and speaking, and their insights from the stage were invaluable.
Improv forces you to think on your feet, to respond to weird ideas and notions in a split second. It’s a skill that translates well into public speaking, where you often have to adapt your speech on the fly based on the audience’s reactions.
In addition to improv, I also started taking singing lessons. This was after a rather embarrassing karaoke session made me realize just how much I needed to work on projecting my voice. While these lessons didn’t exactly turn me into a great singer, they did wonders for my confidence. They taught me how to project my voice out into the world, a skill that is crucial in public speaking.
Small professional courses like these provide a supportive and interactive environment where you can hone your public speaking skills. They offer close guidance from professionals, opportunities for practice, and most importantly, they help build your confidence.
Reflections and Advice
As I look back on my journey, I realize just how much I’ve grown. From a shy twenty-year-old who just wanted to hide in a corner to a confident public speaker who was in demand both inside and outside the companies I worked for. This transformation wasn’t just about public speaking. It was about gaining the confidence to interact with colleagues, to participate in meetings, and to bring up new ideas and suggestions.
I’ve been fortunate to work with many leading high-tech companies and I am convinced that my growing skills in public speaking and putting myself forward played a significant role in landing me these opportunities.
If there’s one piece of advice I could give to those starting their own public speaking journey, it would be this: don’t be afraid to make mistakes and ask for help. Join small professional courses or groups like Toastmasters or an improv group. Seek out professional public speaking coaches who can guide you one-on-one. Practice in front of a mirror or (heaven help you) take singing lessons to learn how to project your voice. Remember that every great public speaker started somewhere.
As I enter retirement, I can confidently say that learning public speaking skills was one of the best decisions I made in my career. It’s not just about being able to speak well; it’s about the confidence and charisma that come with being a good public speaker. So, embark on your own journey of transformation. You’ll be surprised at how far you can go.