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Wake Up to Public Speaking

It’s spring-like in New York these days, and the entire world seems to be waking up.

This past week, I hung out at a jazz club, had dinner in a fancy restaurant, and went to a birthday gathering with 18 people, many of them strangers.

None of that would be worth noting if it was 2019. But it’s March of 2022 and, before the last few days, I hadn’t done any of those things for two years.

It’s Rip Van Winkle Time

In the classic Washington Irving story, a New York State villager named Rip Van Winkle wanders into the mountains. He meets and gets drunk with some “Dutchmen.” Then he falls asleep, wakes up 20 years later—having missed The American Revolution—and must struggle to re-adjust to village life.

Anybody else feel like that?

We’ve All Forgotten Something, These Two Years

Like Rip Van Winkle, many of us are shaking off a long sleep and discovering that skills we used to take for granted are pretty rusty.

For example, I’ve forgotten how to feel.

In New York City’s first horrible month of COVID—with constant death and a backdrop of screaming police and ambulance sirens—I went into a kind of stasis (it’s called “languishing” by psychologist Adam Grant) where nothing much registered except a dull, cynical ache.

Other people forgot how to drive, or wear shoes, or talk to strangers.

And of course, lots of people have forgotten how to speak in public.

To Wake Up a Complex Skill, Start Small

The good news is that all of these lost arts will come back quickly if we approach them step-by-step:

  • If you haven’t cooked a meal in two years, you should probably make an omelette before you try a souffle.
  • And if you haven’t run a race in two years, you might want to start with a short run/walk instead of a 10K.

It’s the same with public speaking: If you haven’t given a talk in two years, you’ll want to refresh your mind, body, and skills before you jump into a conference, or even a meeting presentation.

Fortunately, you can wake up your public speaking self—and ease back into action—in just a few seconds a day.

10-Second Ways to Wake Up Your Public Speaking

1. Practice being your Public Speaking Avatar

Your Avatar—the person you want to be when you communicate for business—may not have gotten much use during COVID, but that’s OK. Just seconds a day of feeling like your Avatar will help you snap back into your best public speaking self at will. (And if you haven’t created an Avatar yet, do it now!)

2. Practice sounding confident and decisive

Step into your Avatar, open your mouth, and make a simple, authoritative statement. What you say doesn’t matter (though if you want to pretend you’re giving someone an assignment or debating work priorities, go for it!). The point is not to be profound, but to practice making your voice heard, by speaking out loud, decisively and with confidence.

3. Practice organizing your thoughts

Here’s where the Instant Speech format shines. This simple, five-sentence structure—Key Message + 3 Supporting Points + the same Key Message—will help you organize your thoughts, from the silliest to the most complex. Start with inconsequential speeches about the weather, your mood, or who should do the dishes, and then move up to (real or imagined) professional situations like delivering information or explaining a new procedure.

Wake Up and (Practice While You) Smell the Coffee

Many of you are already familiar with these exercises (they come up over and over in my coaching because they’re so foundational for public speaking success).

And the good news is that, unlike training for a marathon or becoming a master chef, they’ll take zero time from the rest of your life. You can do them while you’re showering, waiting for your coffee to brew, or stopped at a red light.

So use them to wake up your public speaking skills and confidence.

And if there’s anything I can do to help, let me know!

Image by Igordoon Primus | Unsplash
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