Small steps to public speaking

Take Small Steps

Earlier this year, my son decided on his own to try out for the speech club at school. He practiced his audition and participated in the Honolulu District speech festival in May. I couldn’t have done all of that when I was his age.

A little while ago, I had an opportunity to be on the radio – nothing definite, just the possibility of being a guest. I was flattered and excited. But I was afraid. So I gently closed the door on the opportunity.

My immediate reaction was relief. I had avoided public speaking. Speaking in public makes me anxious. Giving a speech to more than three people scares me. After a few days, I didn’t feel relief anymore. But I didn’t exactly feel regret, either.

After I read “The Spirit of Kaizen” (2013) by Robert Maurer, I realized that it didn’t have to be all (public speech) or nothing (silence). I could take small, even micro steps, to change something about myself that I wish I could change. I could apply the idea of kaizen to public speaking.

In the book, Maurer relates how he helped a CEO become more comfortable with public speaking. At no time in these steps was the executive asked to do any public speaking! Each step was small and unthreatening. Each step takes as long as needed, until you are comfortable with it and eager to take the next step.

The first small step: the executive asked himself two questions about his company at the start of each workday. The executive wasn’t supposed to answer the questions, just ask them.

The next small step: the executive took 30 seconds each day to imagine himself delivering a quarterly update to financial analysts via video-conferencing. The executive was supposed to feel his straight spine, his hand gestures, his relaxed jaw; and hear his words, steady and genial tone, conviction and enthusiasm. He was supposed to envision the analysts on the screen, responding politely to him.

Another small step: the executive imagined himself speaking in other situations, such as giving talks to civic groups or annual meetings. On his own, he added extra practice time and rehearsed in front of his family.

According to Maurer, “The skill you’re practicing becomes so effortless, easy, and routine that you’ll hardly notice the transition from imagination to real life” (page 116).

I’d like to challenge myself – and you – to take a small step to change something in your life. Whether it’s eating healthier, exercising more, getting rid of a bad habit…

To become more comfortable with public speaking, here’s my first small step: I will take 30 seconds each day to imagine myself speaking in a small group of people. I will imagine myself feeling relaxed and confident. I will hear my assured, positive tone. I will see people listening to me intently.

What small steps can you take to change your life?

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