There are so many ways to fast-track a career or grow a business. We have so many tools at our disposal to test an idea, get advice, incubate a project. And yet one of the most powerful things you can ever do is one of the easiest to forget. It's as simple as standing up and speaking your mind. It's also one of the scariest things.
In his book TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking, TED curator Chris Anderson says that public speaking matters now more than ever:
"We live in an era where the best way to make a dent in the world may no longer be to write a letter to the editor or publish a book. It may be simply to stand up and say something."
He says we all need to learn "presentation literacy," and that it's not just for people who give PowerPoint presentations on the reg. In fact, it's just as important as reading or writing. Perhaps even more so, because of the power of a message to travel far and wide and move people in profound ways.
And yet most of us do a pretty bang-up job of keeping quiet. I wish more people—especially women—got up and opened their mouths. Shared their stories, their brilliance, their insights. And that more of us don't is a tragedy.
When you speak up and all eyes turn to you, it may be terrifying. But you do more to advance your cause, raise your profile, and make real change than when you're posting a Facebook rant (times a million).
Here are four ways to get better and more at ease speaking up:
1. Think of it as a skill rather than a talent.
Anderson says the ability to get up and say something isn't just a gift of the chosen few. "If you know how to talk to a group of friends over dinner," he writes in an article on TED.com, "then you know enough to speak publicly." You're great at talking to friends because, well, you do it all the time. If you don't normally speak publicly, then it's no wonder it feels weird and awkward. But so does fly fishing if you've never done it. You know what helps? Doing more fly fishing.
So, toss the story that you're not "born" for it. If it's a thing people do, it's a thing people can learn. Decide that this is no different from learning to change a bike tire or perfect the smoky eye. You can learn it, just like anyone else. You might even love it.
2. Raise your hand.
Public speaking doesn't start on day one with a keynote address. You'll get better by taking small opportunities to literally talk while other people are looking at you. The next time your boss says, "Any questions or concerns?" ask something. Anything. Then do it again next time. You can't expect people to notice you, admire you, or promote you if you don't make your presence known. Even in small ways, it makes a difference.
If you're working with a team, volunteer to be the one to present your team's project or pitch. This way you have the support of a group but can practice speaking up on your behalf.
3. Do a test.
If you're skeptical of whether speaking up matters, test it. See what happens when you don't speak at all (um, nothing). And now measure the effect of speaking up. You not only get attention and face time, but conversations flow from there. As do opportunities. So, track them. Notice what happens when you do.
Someone will come up to you to talk about what you said in the meeting the other day. They might say, "I'm so glad you said that." Give people a reason to keep talking to you. That's the name of the game.
4. Study other speakers.
Become a student of speakers. Watch them—at events you attend, online. You could literally spend the next month watching TED talks. Sure, you can watch the most viewed TED talks of all time (Amy Cuddy, Sir Ken Robinson, Brené Brown, to name a few). But I strongly encourage you to watch other, regular people's TED and TEDx talks—people you don't know. See what you like and what you don't like. Try some of their techniques when you get the chance to speak next.
Also: Take advantage of all the free tutorials and courses online like this one.
Trust me, no time is wasted when you spend it working to become a better, more confident presenter of your ideas. I will be cheering you on from the cheap seats!