Watching the second presidential debate last night made me think about my own public speaking skills. Like many others, I have trouble expressing myself effectively in front of a crowd. I notice that President Obama, Mitt Romney and many other politicians running for public office do not answer the main thesis of certain questions when put on the spot during debates; this annoys me, but I think I may have been guilty of something similar in the past. I certainly hope I have improved my ability to get to the point and not drone on like some people do. The art of public speaking really is all about being concise and focused when giving a speech or answering questions.
My ups and downs with public speaking started when I was in elementary school. Each time I had to give a speech on a topic, my resolve to do well would crumble when the class bully would make faces and mutter snide comments to make me feel uncomfortable. When my ineffectual teachers would ask me questions in front of my classmates about the points made during my speech, I would give clumsy answers and prove that I wanted to be anywhere but in front of them. I retreated further into my shell, not wanting to raise my hand to answer a question in class when I knew the answer or have anyone take notice of me at all.
I began to break the cycle in college when I took a public speaking course that forced me to face my fears. My professor encouraged us to use our strengths to make us more comfortable with oral communication in our personal and professional lives. I think this class made it easier to speak to a group of overseas-bound ESL teachers about my experience in Indonesia, and later for my sister’s wedding. I am my own worst critic, but I think I did reasonably well in those two situations.
I would love to hear your thoughts on the art of public speaking!