Speaking to a huge audience while live on the radio was an important step to overcoming my fear of public speaking.
It is one thing to speak to a microphone and one or two others in a studio. Standing in front of a crowd or on a stage is something else.
I cracked it by starting small with:
- a small crowd,
- a short talk
- an informal setting
- and an easy topic.
My first official public speaking engagement was for a local computer company in Wellington, New Zealand. The company held regular evening events with food and drink for its customers. It would invite speakers and get them to talk informally about a technology subject likely to interest the audience.
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The company’s managing director asked me to talk for about 20 minutes on my work as a technology journalist. I can talk on this subject about for hours.
Although I prepared and wrote out a list of topics to cover, I didn’t have formal notes. It turns out these are more of a hinderance than a help. and some nervous people are too ready to hide behind them.
Today some hide behind Powerpoint slides. This can make for an awful audience experience.
Thankfully, the audience was unintimidating, maybe 25 or so people and the mood was friendly.
When I finished a discussion started which went on for almost another hour. I didn’t realise until afterwards that I chaired the discussion keeping things moving along when it flagged. I just did what came naturally.
Over the next few months I had a few similar speaking engagements, the audiences remained small, but the session length and topics would be different. After around five or six events I was comfortable enough to tackle a larger crowd.