The best way to become a better instructor or public speaker is repetition and practice. You need to become comfortable being in front of people and interacting with your audience. Of course, it’s helpful to take courses and read books on the topic, but the only way to truly become an excellent public speaker is by trial and error.
For example, when I was in high school and college, I was terrified of public speaking. I used to cringe at the thought of doing even a simple presentation. As a university student, I clearly remember looking at my teaching assistant and then turning to my friend and saying, “I’ll never do that job.” Four years later, I became a teaching assistant in order to help pay for graduate school. Currently, my career relies on teaching, coaching, training, and other professional presentations.
Being forced to repeatedly make presentations for a living (and for a grade) was the primary reason I was able to make this transition. My first fulltime job as a Quality Assurance Lead convinced me that people might listen to what I had to say if I were placed into a leadership position. This is what convinced me, despite my previous reservations, to become a teaching assistant in graduate school. That experience, combined with the weekly presentations I had to do for my classes, forced me to be in front of people on a regular basis.
Public speaking was now inevitable, so I was forced figure out how to deal with it. This became the core factor as to how I became comfortable speaking in public. Through trial and error and the constant feedback of presenting on a weekly basis, I learned what worked, what didn’t work, and what it took to pull off a smooth, successful presentation or class. Basically, I discovered my presentation style: prepare and practice a lot, anticipate questions and problems, and use technology (namely PowerPoint) to my advantage.
I was quite comfortable with presentations and teaching after graduation, but I still had a lot to learn. For the next two years, I didn’t do too many presentations, but I never forgot what I had learned through experience. This left me with the confidence to become a business English instructor in Japan. Teaching up to 30 classes a week put my experience into overdrive and made me even more comfortable speaking and instructing. As with most people, I still get anxious before a major presentation, seminar, or first lesson at a new client. That’s normal, however, and once things get going, everything usually works out fine.
So, in summary, if you want to become a public speaker, or improve your existing skills, the most important thing is to get out there and just do it—over, and over, and over again. Check out future posts on this blog for tips and tricks to help smooth out the journey.