This story is part of How to Get Better at Public Speaking, the Forge guide to talking in front of a crowd.
I’ve made a career of helping people overcome anxieties related to human communication, especially at work. In the pages of Esquire, GQ, Men’s Health, Entrepreneur, and a book (and now, here at Forge, where I’m executive editor), I’ve offered guidance on job interviews, keeping your cool, and engaging in small talk at a networking event. But nothing I’ve written has resonated more than advice about delivering the most nerve-rattling form of human communication of all: a speech.
Whether it’s a presentation, a talk, or a wedding toast, stringing together words in front of a sea of faces is terrifying for a lot of people. Millions of people. Probably even you. And me. Definitely me. I hate public speaking.
It’s scary because you might screw it up and be humiliated in front of your audience, whether that’s 10 people or 10,000. It’s scary because, let’s face it, it’s contrived, artificial, and weird. And the big reason: It’s scary because most of us don’t do it enough to get comfortable with it. Practice makes a huge difference.
But here’s the thing: Mastering the art of public speaking is overrated. It’s such a rare event in most people’s careers that the only energy it deserves is indifference. It’s the waterskiing of human speech. If you’re good at it, great for you. But do you feel bad because you are mediocre at waterskiing? I don’t.
In most fields, you can have a successful career while almost never speaking in public. You can have a successful career speaking in public but not being very good at it. You can have a successful career while cowering in the corner, if you’re really, really good at other key aspects of your job.
So stop worrying about how much you suck at public speaking. Which, ironically, is exactly the kind of attitude that could help you get better at it.
Consider comedians. Note their general bearing: They don’t seem nervous, but they also don’t seem super excited. They seem like they’re hanging out with you in the kitchen…