Oh, no! Public speaking

I had a terror of public speaking until I didn’t. I needed a safe place to practice and get constructive feedback. I joined a Toastmasters International group years ago and it helped me, and then it helped me help others. I was well out of my comfort zone in the beginning. And given the choice to stay in my comfort zone or go out of it, I’ll put my feet up and relax, thank you. I expect you can see the downside of that attitude. However, with Toastmasters I got the support I needed to move forward.

It’s all very well to “say” step out of your comfort zone, but each one of us is unique. A big step for one person might be a small step for someone else. It all depends on where you’re coming from, your history, and your unique personality. If you’re just learning to swim, you wouldn’t want to enter yourself in an Olympic swimming event. If you go too far too soon you’ll become overwhelmed. At that point, you just give up.

No one starts out as an expert. An incremental approach works well. But this means you must be patient with yourself and tolerate your shortcomings. A small step gives you a chance to integrate what you’ve learned, consolidate it, and ready yourself for the next step.

It’s horribly frustrating to be misunderstood. Ultimately, an inability to express yourself and not being heard leads groups to the last resort — violence.


Speaking and writing with confidence doesn’t happen by chance. It takes attention and practice. But not everyone gets this as part of their education. Inter-personal communication is a vital life skill. To get a raise, know how to make a convincing case for it. And that takes attention, commitment, and regular rehearsal.

The word “oracy” is the ability to express oneself fluently and grammatically in speech. Typically, a beginning speaker rushes through a speech and fears any silences.  Untrained speakers fill spaces with these dysfluencies (junk sounds). Hesitation and verbal idling only irritate your listener. Instead of using these filler words, why not pause? Time changes when you’re on stage or before a group of your work colleagues in a professional environment. A thirty-second pause can seem like forever.


Some time ago I was checking out writing software and came across Scrivner. One tutorial on how to use the software was based on Monroe’s Principles of Speech written by a Perdue University professor in the 1930s.

I was intrigued and found a copy of an ex-library book from the 1940s. This method was taught to the military at one time. The book is packed with useful advice, such as how to keep the discussion from wandering, or arriving at a profitable conclusion, evaluating other people’s opinions, and techniques for securing agreement. But what most intrigued me was its similarity to the basics of communication that Toastmasters teaches.

The principles of communication have changed little since the discovery of rhetoric by the ancient Greeks. Our English language is continually evolving. Style and delivery change with fashion and technology, but the underlying method of how to connect with other humans remains the same.

There’s always something to learn.