"Public speaking is listed as American's number-one fear, before death at number five, and loneliness, weighing in at number seven. Guess that means that most of us are less afraid of dying alone than of making fools of ourselves in front of others."
-Quoted from Toastmasters Website: http://westsidetoastmasters.com/resources/off_the_cuff/chap1.html
A few years ago I would have dreaded the idea of doing a reading at an open mic, and quite frankly wouldn't have signed up. But now I'm actually looking forward to it! This upcoming Tuesday I will be doing a short reading of my novel at the Medicine Hat Library open mic night.
So what changed? Why am I actually looking forward to it than dreading it? Well firstly, I practiced, a lot. Not in front of the mirror, but in front of the people in my writer's group. They weren't professional speakers or a critical audience, they were always encouraging. I've been reading my stories out loud to them for over two years now and it's made a huge difference in my fear of public speaking. I still get nervous sometimes. It's impossible to step away from the feeling of self-awareness when you're in the spotlight. Someone might laugh or sigh loudly or even walk out to use the washroom while you're reading. It's hard not to over analyze your performance and the reaction from the audience when you're public speaking.
But the turning point for me was my last public speaking experience at Words In The Park in Sherwood Park, Alberta. It was the first time in my life I enjoyed public speaking without the fears that keep one second guessing oneself. The reason was simple. I actually believed the chapter of my novel that I was reading would entertain the people listening, and it did.
Suddenly my public speaking wasn't about how I sounded or what people would think of me or if I would make mistakes or get embarrassed somehow, it was about entertaining the listeners, reading something I thought they would enjoy and making them a little less bored that morning.
Once I went from thinking about myself and how I came across on stage, to thinking about the audience and what would make them enjoy the session, it became fun!
Another great event I attend monthly is a local spoken word / poetry open mic night. It is a small group and the audience is very open and non-judgmental. I find my confidence for public speaking has grown a lot by attending this event. At first it was a personal challenge to use this 'safe environment' public speaking opportunity to give me practice speaking in front of a group of people, but now I do it for fun. I look for poems (and write them too) that I think the audience would enjoy. I want to share it with them, I want to engage with those who are there and they want to be entertained. They aren't just a sea of heads who may think my dress looks dumb and my hair is frizzy.
So next time you're nervous about speaking in front of a group of people just remember it's not about you, it's about your material that you're presenting. And those listening almost always want you to succeed, they want to enjoy your speech or reading, they will probably find some entertainment in it, even if you mess up (maybe even more so, if something funny happens). It's about them, not you. You're there to give them something interesting to hear and experience, not to get approval of your voice or what you chose to wear that day (although I do recommend dressing appropriate to the audience, business, casual, formal, etc.)
And if you're in the Medicine Hat area this upcoming Tuesday night please come out and see if I mess up in my reading of the chapter of the Virgin Diaries I will be presenting. Or just come and be entertained. I'd love to talk to you afterwards and ask if I succeeded in entertaining the audience for the short time I was in the spotlight.
Happy writings everyone,