I wrote this article a few years ago and it was published in the New Straits Times on the 16th of December 2004. I’m reproducing it here for archival purposes.
I was 11 when my English teacher, Peter Siew, coerced me into participating in a debating tournament. He told me he had chosen me simply because I was one of the more talkative students.
Much of the day of the competition is a blur now. But the few things I still can remember are very vivid.
I remember walking up onto the stage, staring at the crowd in front of me, and being consumed with indescribable fear. I was shivering; my heart was pounding; my knees were so weak I thought they would collapse under my tubby body at any moment.
“The school … the whole world, will soon be laughing at me,” I thought then as I pondered on how I would argue a motion effectively so it would not only excite the crowd, but also clinch the debating title for my school. Ten years down the line, I found myself before speakers from all over Asia – the Grand Finals All Asian Debating Tournament 2002 in Bangkok. That year, I won the Best Speaker In Asia award. And there has been no turning back.
How did I do it? With my five-point strategy.
Become your own superhero
They say 99 per cent of public speaking-related problems can be solved if you are confident. A lot of the fear is self-induced. I made myself overcome much of my fear by invoking an “alternate” speaker.
When I’m on stage, I’m not Suresh Gnasegarah, an ordinary Malaysian from Petaling Jaya. When I’m on stage, I’m Tubby Gnasegarah – invisible, charming, spectacular, and ready to take on the world. I am my own superhero on stage.
Become one with your environment
If you’re going to be giving a presentation to a group of people, make sure you arrive early. Get used to your surroundings. Walk around the room in which you’ll be presenting in. The more things you are comfortable with, the better you will feel and the easier it will be to speak.
Look, stare and embrace
Speakers who bury their faces in their script will never be good speakers. If you’re unable to look at people, try looking at the four corners of the room. This method also helps speakers who are nervous and creates the illusion that you’re engaging with the crowd. When the audience feels they are being “watched”, they will pay attention to what you are saying, and your confidence will rise.
Prepare, prepare and then prepare
Not many people have the ability to speak off-the-cuff. Having trained many people throughout my career as a debater, I realise that many people feel preparation is not important.
Again, preparation here doesn’t mean the process of memorising a particular speech, but researching your subject matter and ensuring that you know the material you are going to present. Nothing turns an audience off more than listening to an unprepared speaker.
Relax and enjoy yourself
Crowds love speakers who are having fun themselves!
These five golden rules have been the pillars to my various public speaking experiences. Hopefully, they’ll help you too.
* The writer is an information technology lecturer in the Multimedia University.