How to become a Public Speaker
The writer speaking at his own daughter's wedding
You, too, can become a really top speaker - just persist
This is an essay specifically written for those who want to excel as Public Speakers. I write from my own experiences of having been a speaker for over forty years. I hope that what I say here will be of value to you.
I felt like I wanted to run away
Way back in 1960, just prior to my getting married to the woman I’m still living with over fifty-three years later, it became very clear to me that, at that time, I was absolutely terrified at the prospect of having to present a speech. My speech as a brand new husband on our wedding day confirmed this. Just about the whole day was ruined as I thought about the upcoming presentation I would have to deliver at our wedding reception even though it was a relatively small affair with probably no more than a score of people in attendance. I bombed it! All the way through making gaffs, losing thought, and genuinely feeling so uncomfortable I wished I could just fade into the floor.
"I'd like to be like this fellow: so sincere, so eloquent."
The years went by and I put the thought of speaking behind me. I’d have no need to ever go through that lot again. But one thing which did impress: I undertook at three-month-long course at work and I was extremely affected by the teachers – especially the introductory speech presented by the senior course leader. I was moved by the sincerity, the genuine humility and the eloquence of this man and I thought, “I’d like to be like this fellow; able to speak with the ease and aplomb of this obviously born teacher.”
I came into my own as a speaker when I 'retired' in 1995
The years went by and I did nothing. Don't you do that
Yet the years went by and I did nothing about it. Speaking was something I thought about occasionally but never undertook. Then a brother-in-law, Mick Hull, who was a member of a Toastmasters Club asked me if I’d like to accompany him to a meeting. This would have been in 1970. I said, “Yes, I’ll go along. But I do so on the proviso I am not asked to give a speech.”
“Oh, you won’t have to give a speech, Tom,” I was told so, when that particular evening came, off I went with him to the meeting.
My introduction to Toastmasters. It changed my life
The meeting was opened. Quickly the earlier parts of it passed and then the chairman introduced the Table Topics Master to present Table Topics. Table Topics is an exercise in impromptu, off-the-cuff speaking. The idea is to present a series of questions to Toastmasters attending seemingly at random. The questions are unknown, and those to be questioned do not know whether they will be asked to answer one of those questions or not. Each speaker or person questioned has to answer the topic in one minute.
Not a good venue for a speaker: audience too spread out
Speaking for just sixty seconds can be terrifying
Not much of a challenge! Don’t you believe it! It can be quite a test – especially if you’re new to the experience. I was completely new. But, of course, they were never going to ask me. After all, I was a guest, and Mick had told me I wouldn’t be asked to speak. So, after a couple of questions had been asked and duly answered by experienced Toastmaster members, what do you think happened?
Of course! “Now we’d like to ask our guest, Tom, is he could answer this question: ‘What do you think is the biggest mistake you ever made in your life?’
Good Dinner Meeting. Audience not too far away
Emotion was the key to my first success
I rose unsteadily to my feet. My face was either ashen white with fear or bright red with anger. For I was angry. After all, I’d been promised I would not have to speak. So the answer just rushed out of me. It was an impassioned, angry answer, tinged with just enough self-consciousness to make it sound…good. Yes, good.
“The biggest mistake I ever made in my life was to trust my brother-in-law, Mick. He swore I wouldn’t have to speak…et cetera.”
Hearty commendation is the key to motivating the timid to go on
The table topic won the prize for the best of the night, against at least seven others contesting for ‘Best Table Topic.’ Well, I can tell you this: Nothing, no, nothing, gives a tyro speaker greater confidence than to be told such things as “Terrific, Tom.” “You’re a natural.” “You really came across to the audience,” and such praise in the feedback part of the meeting. It made such a difference to me that when I was asked to come back I did so. Just one meeting was enough to put into my mind that, yes, I could become confident. I could become a speaker. I’d have to work at it, but I had it in me. So strong is that sort of feedback in the early stages of one’s speaking experiences that it can set up motivation that will last a lifetime. In my case it certainly did.
Thearter style is best for a speaker, especially in a full room
I was starting to enjoy it...but then I had to leave due work committments
So I went the second time and enjoyed it. Then I had to leave the club because I’d left my job and decided to live in New Zealand. So I left Toastmasters behind. My new job in the ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’ involved shift work with virtually no chance of being a regular member of a Toastmasters Club. But sure enough, it is said ‘We draw into our lives that which we think about most,’ so after around a year in that new land I saw an advertisement in a local newspaper about a Toastmaster club that met reasonably close to my home.
Lighting is important. It can be too light or too dark
My real moment of truth came in a decision not to go home
It wasn’t until fifteen months after my arrival in New Zealand, that I managed to obtain a nine-to-five job and I was able to join. Yet despite my good experiences with my two earlier Toastmasters meetings in Australia, I was still petrified of the idea of having to get up to speak in front of an audience. I was torn between fear and desire. So, as it was, I sat in my car outside of the venue, the Mon Desir Hotel in Takapuna, Auckland, New Zealand plucking up courage to go in. I was so close to turning on that car’s ignition and returning home…so close. Eventually desire won. It had to. I knew I could not live with this continuing cowardice.
I was so frightened that I was trembling. Why do we fear it so much?
As it was, I could not have found a friendlier, more helpful and supporting bunch of men as those Toastmaster members. So, after a couple of visits I joined. After a couple of months I gave me first speech, the Ice Breaker. I was so frightened that my right leg would not stop trembling, my voice sounded like somebody else was speaking, and I could not, at the end of it, remember a thing I’d said except the general concept of the speech which, from memory, was called, ‘Ware’s Wanderings.’
You have to be good if you don't want those hard chairs to be a distraction
One success leads to another, then another
It was well received. So I went on and did other speeches. I joined the committee as the club’s magazine editor. I joined the club’s debating team. I went along to Area competitions to see our best speak. I spent around two years in Toastmasters, from around middle of May 1972 to around middle of May 1974. I’d moved back to Australia in September 1973 and transferred my membership back to the club I’d originally attended way back in 1970 – Parramatta Toastmasters Club. Like Takapuna, Parramatta was a top club, the standards very high.
Quite a good environment for both speaker and audience
I'd spend weeks and scores of hours rehearsing a seven minute speech
Strange thing was I was still very, very frightened of speaking before my club. I used to rehearse and rehearse. I’d spend maybe 70 or 80 hours practiced for a five to seven minute presentation. Come the evening I had to speak I’d go out to the toilet maybe three times in as much as an hour or so, so nervous was I. This, despite the fact that I was now frequently being hailed as being one of the club’s better speakers.
Still, it too me four or five years to become really confident
Point I am making here is that I was a man nervous in the extreme. It probably took me around four or five years before I started to become more comfortable in front of an audience. And Parramatta Toastmasters was a particular intimidating group because there were so many first-rate presenters among its members. For example, one contemporary, Bob Hince, went on to become the ‘Runner Up’ in the World Championships in the USA not long after I was to leave that club again due work commitments.
Your truly presenting at the Centenary of the Titanic Celebrations
I found going outside Toastmasters easier than Toastmasters itself
(My second run in Parramatta Toastmasters spanned around six years from 1980 until 1985. A third run with this club went from 1995 until 2004)
Probably the thing that gained me more confidence than anything else was the old Toastmaster requirement of having to give five speeches outside of the Toastmasters environment. This was requisite for picking up the first level, advanced qualification the Able Toastmaster Award. It followed on from the Competent Toastmaster Award and I was the fourth member of Parramatta Club (even though that club had been going since 1968) to achieve this. Some ‘feather in my cap.’ But more than that, I so much enjoyed going outside of the Toastmasters environment that I’ve kept it up ever since.
My audience at my 'Titanic - a night to remember,' dinner
Today I can look back on hundreds of speeches before thousands of people
Today, I can look back knowing that I’ve spoken to scores of Toastmasters Clubs, and hundreds of groups outside of Toastmasters. It would be no exaggeration to say that I’ve spoken now to around 46,000 people outside of Toastmasters across 820 guest speaker appearances. I’ve presented at State (District) Conferences, presented workshop, keynotes, and educationals on more occasions than I can recall. From a tongue-tied, shy, introverted and very self-conscious young man – in his mid-thirties at the time – I have been gradually able to reveal to the world the real Arthur Thomas Ware. Increasingly I reveal more of what’s truly in my mind and in my heart. And as the years progress it is my intention to reveal more and more of myself so that you, too, will be motivated to do the same. For like me, you are just a diamond in the shone, waiting to shine. So get out there, get beyond self-consciousness and bring the real you to the world.
I hope you got something out of reading How to Become a Public Speaker, and I wish you the best in your endeavours.
More by this Author
Improving communications skills by becoming a public speaker
The importance of right attire for the public speaker. How a public speaker dresses is important.
Eckhart Tolle's advice re the Power of Now and Vipassana Meditation combined is what this essay is about. One stops present trauma, the other rids us of what we've already accumulated in our minds.