You were able to present like a pro at your first job but now it’s been years since you’ve last given speech. You should be okay, right? Not necessarily. Many folks assume that since they were able to give a good presentation back in the day that they’d still be able to deliver an engaging talk today. While that might be true for some people, most notably people that presented frequently for an extended period of time, not everyone is able to pick up where they left off — especially if it took a lot of work to overcome the discomfort.

When I teach my “Fear of Public Speaking” class, one of the first stories I share with my class is that I’ve conquered my fear of public speaking twice. I had always hated any public performance when I was growing up and didn’t feel comfortable speaking to groups until I became an instructor and taught five classes per week. After that position, I took a job where I didn’t need to speak until four years into it. There I was, speaking to familiar faces about things I do every day and I choked. I was shocked as I had felt comfortable only a few years back. It was then that I realized that public speaking is something you need to keep at.

There are a lot of people out there who consider themselves speaking experts, myself included, that took a speaking class and/or joined Toastmasters, made that transformation from nervous speaker to confident speaker and decided to help others make the same transition. What some of these folks to fail to understand is that everyone is different and what worked for them won’t necessarily work for everyone else.

So they say things like “public speaking is easier than you think” or “public speaking is like riding a bike.” Both statements are true to some extent, but just like the myth about Toastmasters will make you a better speaker, it depends on a lot of other factors. Some of the things to consider include:

  • How you initially dealt with your fear & discomfort.
  • How often you speak to groups.
  • Whether you speak to the same group over and over again or change things up.
  • Your motivation for speaking to groups.
  • Your confidence in your own abilities.

That’s why I prefer to use the analogy that public speaking is actually like bodybuilding. If you want results in bodybuilding you need to keep at it, constantly change your routine and strengthen your weak areas. There is a concept called “muscle memory” that also applies to public speaking. In bodybuilding, if you take a little time off and then start over, your muscles get back into shape faster than they would have if you were starting for the first time — and of course, the shorter your break, the quicker you back to where you left off. Of course, muscle memory works best when you’ve taken less than nine months off. Once you approach several years, you’re almost starting over.

So if you feel comfortable speaking to groups then all you need to do is speak to a group at least once every two or three months. The more you change things, the easier it will get for you. Not sure where to look for speaking opportunities, here’s some suggestions:

  • Volunteer to do a presentation at work.
  • Join Toastmasters and give a speech every two months.
  • Volunteer to speak at any club or organization you belong to.
  • Speak at service club such as Lions or Rotary.

By keeping your speaking muscles toned, you’ll be ready right away when you’re asked to give speech.

Public Speaking Myths: Public Speaking is Like Riding a Bike.
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One thought on “Public Speaking Myths: Public Speaking is Like Riding a Bike.

  • January 15, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    It’s true: the more you do public speaking, the easier it is. It’s so easy to find places and opportunities to speak that with very little effort one can speak for local organizations for a brief time (20 minutes or so) and “keep their chops up”. I encourage my students to speak regularly to keep themselves sharp and since most of them are business owners or otherwise promoting themselves, the incentive for them is the fact that they get new clients and customers and referrals every time they speak.

    David Portney

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