Unlike most plebeians, I was born with the ability to mesmerize a crowd. I was giving TED Talks while I was still sleeping with a teddy bear and I destroyed my kindergarten class president acceptance speech. I may be tone deaf, rhythm deaf and colorblind, but if I was given one lucky hand in my genetic stack of cards, it’s public speaking.
Well, that’s not entirely true. My knack for public speaking didn’t develop that early on. I refuse to believe that anyone on this planet is born with the ability to speak to a crowd. Sure, some of us are more outgoing, but the art of coherently, cohesively and charismatically delivering your story to a group is one hundred percent learned. It’s unlike a fixed trait, like height or color vision, and more along the lines of learning a language. Yes, some people can pick up languages faster than others, but it takes a deliberate, conscious effort to become fluent.
The very first thing you need to do to get better is to completely shatter your perception of public speaking. It’s absolutely a learned set of habits. Anyone, and I mean anyone, can be fantastic if they work on this enough. The following ideas should shift your mentality when you write, practice and perform. It’s on you to build those muscles—and instincts—by developing them. But there are good and better ways to train.
Your nerves are your best friend. Whenever I’m about to go on stage, I get a physical, visceral reaction. My stomach is a mess, I sweat a little bit, my heartbeat’s racing. The second I stopped seeing this as an awful, sinking feeling and started seeing it as an adrenaline rush, I started chasing that rush. I enjoy that nervousness. It’s uncomfortable in a good way— in a way that makes me feel alive. Train yourself to embrace your fear. Don’t try to prevent it. I used to try various “tricks” to calm me down. But all calming down does is make you overthink things when you should be operating on an instinctual autopilot. You should underthink.
Start visualizing your speech as a hike, not as a path from A to B. Nobody goes on a hike because they’re trying to get to a particular point— they take it because the rises and the drops offer challenges, the sights and sounds offer wonders and the removal and isolation offers clarity. When you write and give your speech, you need to have multiple peaks and valleys— points of build up, tension and climax. Your words and insights need to be interesting and different. Your original thoughts and lived experience make up the landscape your audience wants to see. And when you’re speaking, the combination of your laser-like focus and their exposure to your thoughts should place both parties completely in the moment. Audiences want to be captured.
Finally, it’s easy and cliche to shout. It’s harder to time your quiet moments. Above-average speakers nail the high points, but unforgettable speakers master the low points. Dropping your voice takes courage, because it means you think the audience is interested enough to lean in to what you’re saying. That confidence to draw them in, to say something that actually matters and to keep building up to your next high-energy peak separates speeches that don’t leave the room from the speeches that leave impressions.
Owning the stage is not just a power move — it can build your career, boost your networking abilities and make people believe that you’re the best version of yourself. You will be nervous. You will give bad speeches. And you will be stuck for hours on end, trying to figure out what you can actually tell the audience that they haven’t heard before, feeling like you have as much creativity as a lump of wood. But every bead of sweat and every nervous breakdown will be worth it when you finish your last sentence to deafening applause. With the right frame of mind and with the right dose of authenticity, you’ll slowly catch yourself becoming one of those insane people that actually enjoy public speaking.
You can reach YINON RAVIV at email@example.com.