Young People Ask . . .
How Can I Succeed as a Public Speaker?
“I imagined that people were noticing every one of my faults and insecurities. I couldn’t focus on my speech. I felt they were laughing quietly to themselves.”—Sandy.*
THE school auditorium is packed. You hear your name over the sound system, and suddenly everyone’s eyes are on you. The few paces you must take to reach the speaker’s stand seem like a mile. Your palms start to sweat, your legs feel weak, and for some reason your mouth seems impossibly dry. Then, before you can stop it, a huge bead of sweat trickles down your cheek. How embarrassing! You know you are not going to face a firing squad, but it certainly feels that way.
Let’s admit it: Most of us dread the thought of speaking before others. (Jeremiah 1:5, 6) Some people have even ranked their fear of public speaking above their fear of death! However you might feel about it yourself, there are good reasons why you should be interested in public speaking. Let’s look at some of them and consider how you can become a successful speaker.
Called On to Speak
“Public speaking is a skill that everyone needs.” So says an advertisement for a course on public speaking. Yes, sooner or later, you may have to face an audience. For one thing, public speaking is promoted in many schools. A young woman named Tatiana recalls: “There were many times when I had to speak in front of my classmates at school.” From oral reports and book reviews to multimedia presentations and debates, students often have to be ready to speak.
When you eventually enter the workplace, you may be called on to teach a class of coworkers, pitch a proposal to a client, or explain a financial report to an executive committee. Actually, speaking skills are useful in a wide range of jobs, including those in journalism, management, public relations, and sales.
What, though, if you choose to work as a laborer or an office clerk? Well, being able to speak well on a job interview may mean the difference between getting hired or not. On the job itself, your ability to express yourself can work in your favor. Corrine worked for three years as a waitress after she completed her schooling. She says: “If you can speak well, you are looked on as being more mature and able to handle more responsibility. It may even mean a better job, higher pay, or at least more respect.”
Finally, young Christians often speak before others in the course of their worship. (Hebrews 10:23) “It’s important to be able to express yourself clearly,” Taneisha observes. “We have the privilege of preaching the good news of God’s Kingdom.” (Matthew 24:14; 28:19, 20) In the congregation and in their public ministry, young Christians cannot “stop speaking about the things [they] have seen and heard.”—Acts 4:20; Hebrews 13:15.
Learning good speaking skills can thus benefit you in a variety of ways. Even so, you may still feel anxious at the thought of getting up before an audience. Is there something you can do to overcome your nervousness? Yes, there is.
Overcoming Your Fears
“You don’t have to be brilliant or perfect to succeed,” says Dr. Morton C. Orman, an expert on stress and a professional public speaker. “The essence of public speaking is this: give your audience something of value.” In other words, concentrate on the message, not on yourself or your own anxieties. Some in the first century thought that the apostle Paul was not the most eloquent speaker, but because he always had something valuable to say, he was still effective. (2 Corinthians 11:6) Likewise, if you present something of substance that you really believe in, your nervousness will more readily dissipate.
Ron Sathoff, another noted speaker and trainer, makes this suggestion: Don’t think of your speech as a performance. Treat it as a conversation. Yes, try to connect with your audience, not as a mass, but as individuals, just as you would in regular conversation. Show a real “personal interest” in your audience, and speak to them the way you normally talk. (Philippians 2:3, 4) The more conversational your approach, the more relaxed you will be.
Another common reason for anxiety is fear of embarrassment or of being judged by your audience. Lenny Laskowski, a professional speaker and trainer, reminds us that audiences tend to approach each presentation with a positive outlook. “They want you to succeed—not fail,” Laskowski says. So have a positive mind-set. If possible, try to greet some of your audience as they arrive. Try to see them, not as enemies, but as friends.
Remember, too, that nervousness is not entirely a bad thing. “Contrary to popular belief,” one expert says, “nervousness is good for you and your presentation.” Why is that? Because a measure of nervousness reflects modesty, which will help keep you from becoming overconfident. (Proverbs 11:2) Many athletes, musicians, and actors feel that a little nervous energy actually makes them perform better, and the same can be true of public speakers.
Tips for Success
By applying these and other ideas, some young Christians have already obtained a measure of experience and success as speakers at school, on the job, and in their congregations. See if a few of their suggestions might help you.
Jade: “Put the material in your own words. Convince yourself of the benefits of what you have to say. If you feel that your talk is important, so will the audience.”
Rochelle: “I found it helpful to videotape myself. It’s humbling but beneficial. Also, try to choose a topic that you enjoy. It will come across in your speech.”
Margrett: “I find that I speak more naturally and sound more conversational when I use an outline instead of writing things out word for word. In addition, taking a deep breath before I speak helps calm me.”
Corrine: “Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself. Everyone makes mistakes. You just have to try your best.”
Of course, as in any endeavor, such as sports, art, or music, there is no substitute for experience and lots of practice. Tatiana recommends preparing your speech far enough in advance so that you have enough time to practice. And do not give up. “The more often I speak in front of others,” she says, “the more comfortable I get.” There is one more source of help, though, that you should not forget, especially when you are called on to speak in behalf of true worship.
Help From the Great Communicator
As a young man, David, the future Israelite king, already had a reputation as “an intelligent speaker.” (1 Samuel 16:18) Why was that? Evidently, in his youth, during many long hours spent under the open skies tending sheep, David developed an intimate relationship with the Great Communicator, Jehovah God, through prayer. (Psalm 65:2) In turn, this relationship prepared him to speak with clarity, force, and persuasion even under trying circumstances.—1 Samuel 17:34-37, 45-47.
You can be sure that in the course of your worship, God will also help you to speak persuasively, as he helped David, giving you “the tongue of the taught ones.” (Isaiah 50:4; Matthew 10:18-20) Yes, by taking advantage of opportunities to sharpen your speaking skills now, you can become an effective public speaker!
Some of the names have been changed.
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Trained as Speakers
In congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses throughout the earth, there is a weekly Bible-based program of instruction called the Theocratic Ministry School. Students participate in class discussions, give presentations before the congregation, and receive personal assistance to help them progress. Does the program work? Let 19-year-old Chris tell you his experience.
“Before joining the school, I felt very uncomfortable around people,” he says. “I never thought I could be on stage before an audience. But some in the congregation encouraged me, saying that even if I just stuttered the whole time, they would enjoy it, knowing what it took for me to be up there. Then, after every talk I gave, they commended me. That was a big help.”
Today, after five years in the school, Chris is preparing to deliver his first 45-minute lecture. Are you taking advantage of this provision?
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Being an accomplished speaker can help you in all aspects of life