My heart was racing so much I thought it would come right out of my chest... My palms became sweaty and beads of perspiration began to form on my forehead... I forgot everything I was supposed to say and started stuttering...
These are some of the experiences people have in public speaking. Whether it is during a work or university presentation, family gathering or event, many people will at one time or the other have to speak to an audience. So what do you do to avoid a bad presentation experience?
Rozy Rana, a member of Toastmasters — a club whose mission is to empower individuals to become effective communicators and leaders — has some tips.
Rozy is a distinguished toastmaster and the first in East Africa to achieve the award. This is the highest educational achievement Toastmasters International, based in the US, bestows.
“Many pundits recommend calming and relaxing your mind and body with deep breathing exercises, yoga, and even meditation. All these can help in situations of excessive nervousness,” she says.
Rozy believes just about everyone can benefit from the Toastmasters Club.
The Star: How did you get involved with Toastmasters?
Rozy: I first learnt about Toastmasters in 2005, during a public speaking course organised by the Ismaili committee to empower women in our community. The facilitator was a volunteer and a toastmaster, Kuldeep Nayer. Toastmasters is the world leader in communication and leadership development.
I attended a Toastmasters Club meeting in Parklands as a guest. The evening was enjoyable. The speeches inspired me. I learnt from the evaluation and met many like-minded individuals, whom I instantly connected with. I was excited, albeit a little nervous, when I was called upon to speak in an impromptu session they called ‘table topics’. At the end of the meeting, I was thrilled to learn that I had won the ‘Best Table Topic’ ribbon and I was hooked from then. And the rest, as they say, is history.
How did you become a distinguished toastmaster?
This came after successful completion of various educational tracks in the Toastmasters Communication and Leadership Programmes. This has been a journey of learning and growing, which culminated in this coveted recognition.
Aside from toastmasters, you are a manager of Dormans Coffee Ltd. How do the skills gained from Toastmasters translate in your job?
The skills and competencies I have gained from Toastmasters have been invaluable in my work. The educational tracks address not just public speaking but skills such as listening, planning, motivating, critical thinking, team building, interpersonal skills and many more.
The learn-by-doing club environment has offered me many opportunities to practise and grow. Some of the leadership lessons have been particularly valuable for my work as the managing director of Dormans. These lessons have revealed to me how interdependent we all are. They have helped me realise the value of forging strong relationships with my teams. I’ve also learned to empower them to accomplish their personal goals and contribute to the successful completion of the company’s objectives.
I continue to learn from every Toastmasters meeting I attend. I never stop being challenged and inspired by fellow team members, by roles I perform and new projects I work on at Toastmasters. I have learnt to be more optimistic and open-minded, and have broadened my vision for the business.
Are public speakers born or can they be made?
Even the greatest public speakers did not possess their skills at birth. When you hear a speaker deliver an eloquent speech, you may not realise the amount of work that has gone into that delivery, and how long it has taken to acquire the necessary skills and confidence. While heredity and exposure may give you an edge, you must work long and hard to become good at it. As Malcolm Gladwell, a renowned author says, “Achievement is talent plus preparation”.
Whatever your starting level, you can learn to excel in public speaking. Toastmasters clubs offer a unique and supportive setting, where you can pick up the tools required to improve your public speaking skills, practise in a non-threatening environment and gain feedback to help you further improve and gain confidence.
What tips can you give for those who have stage fright no matter how many times they practise a speech?
Nervousness is a normal reaction and arises because you care about your speech. It’s no different to athletes who have practised hard before a game. The focus, therefore, should not be on eliminating nervousness. That said, indeed, the degree of nervousness can affect one’s performance, and stage fright implies excessive nervousness.
Nothing beats preparing well and practising a speech because this helps make you feel more comfortable and confident before you take the stage. I would therefore probe further on how they prepare and practise. Does the speaker have a clear purpose? What do they want their audiences to feel, think or do as a result of listening to them? Being clear on your purpose will help shift the focus away from your nervous thoughts and worrying about what the audience is thinking about you to a focus on the purpose of the speech and the message you are delivering.
Always deliberately try and focus on the value you can offer to your audience through your message rather than yourself.
Rozy's tips for beating stage fright
1. Understand that nervousness is not always visible
Knowing this will help you feel less self-conscious. Your nervousness may feel embarrassingly obvious to you but in most cases, your audience cannot tell that you are nervous; they cannot ‘see’ your heart beat rapidly, nor can they ‘see’ the butterflies fluttering in your stomach. However, there are certain mannerisms that are “give-aways” and which I recommend speakers should avoid eg: clutching on the lectern, pacing up and down very fast, clasping your hands together, cracking your knuckles, fiddling with objects such a pen, your hair, a shirt button, jewellery, and so on.
2. Acquire experience – Simply keep doing it
‘Firsts’ are always daunting. Do you remember your first date; your first day in a new school, your first day at work?
Each time you have to deal with something new or unknown, it is only natural that you experience some nervousness. Once you become accustomed to the situation, it becomes less daunting, and with time, it will no longer appear threatening to you.
3. Learn your opening by heart Having a strong, punchy opening that grabs the attention of your audience will help start you off on a strong note. When you look at your audience and sense through their demeanour or body language that they are attentive and interested in what have to say from the beginning, you will get the impetus to deliver your entire presentation with confidence.
For more information on Toastmasters Club, visit http://tmeastafrica.org/clubs/