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In this edition, I share an excerpt I wrote for a new book for teens entitled Wise Words for Smart Teens: The Teenager's Guide for a Great Life. It is a collaborative effort by a group of speakers called More Success Experts (www.moresuccessexperts.com.) Seventeen speakers wrote chapters for the book with their best success tips. I was honored to be not only a contributor but the publisher for the project. It is filled with photos from the authorsí teen years and the kinds of messages that we want our teens to hear. In a tough world filled with negativity, our teenagers need a roadmap for success. This book provides that important roadmap.
To buy a copy for a teenager you love, click here.
I wasnít really unpopular in school. Actually, Iíd call it ďundiscovered.Ē I was deathly shy and simply afraid to speak up. I didnít think I had anything to offer anyone and sure didnít know how to tell anyone about it if I did. I was afraid that if I opened my mouth to speak, people would think what I had to say was stupid. Worse yet, I was afraid that I would say it in a stupid way. Then, the unthinkable might happen next ó everyone would laugh at me.
The only Oral Communications I had to take in high school was a semester in a torture chamber. The popular people did well and, they got chances to speak in front of the whole school. People looked up to them because they were able to speak to groups. Simply being on the stage in front of a microphone positioned them as a leader. I knew I could never make a difference because I was scared to death to speak in front of a group. I was convinced that I would never be a leader.
I wish the teacher had recognized my fear and talked to me about the source of my fear. She just treated it as if a little practice was all any student needed. If she had spoken to me, she would have broken into my vault of misconceptions related to why popularity had eluded me and why I thought I would never be a leader.
If she had pulled me aside and told me that butterflies were okay and they just needed training, maybe I would have learned to embrace my anxiety and instead of letting it cripple my future. She knew why the popular kids were good speakers ó they had taken several classes that focus on oral communication. More importantly, she might have explained that every time one of the popular kids stepped in front of an audience to speak, they took a huge risk. However, that risk provides an experience that grows their ability to speak more than practicing in front of their bedroom mirror.
She never asked about my fear of speaking, and I never offered it. In fact, Iím not sure she and I even exchanged twenty words the whole semester outside of role call. Perhaps that teacher could have used a little lesson in becoming the kind of person that people are attracted to. I felt like a necessary evil ó one of those pesky students who doesnít want to apply herself. If she had spent a few minutes breaking down my internal barriers to speaking, it would have helped me along my road of development.
Could one simple conversation overcome all the negative self-talk I had about my perceived obscurity? Who knows? However, one thing is for sure, learning to take a few more chances and overcome my fears would have positioned me for quicker success in every area of my life.
Hereís what I wished I had known then.
I look back now and canít believe that no one saw through me and pulled me aside to teach me that. My dad had been in Toastmasters International (it was only for men in those days) but I really didnít understand what it was about. My mom just comforted me and said, ďItís okay. I was terrified of speaking to an audience too.Ē What I really needed was for someone to reach out and help me create the desire to overcome my fear of public speaking.
Itís been more than twelve years since I decided that I wanted to do whatever it takes to be a good public speaker. Even though I practiced, the first few times were dreadful, and I was mortified. Over time, I started speaking up at meetings at work and taking small roles in meetings. The more I practiced, the easier it got.
I found other ways to lead in the meantime. I volunteered in leadership roles in the community and found myself speaking to committees of people. My role was to coordinate activities but I found my role as one where I asked questions and shared my vision for the task we were working on. Somehow, that didnít seem like public speaking. I started a business and had to meet with clients and promote my business. That didnít really seem like public speaking either. I was just sharing my knowledge and vision with others. The audiences gradually grew larger.
One day, Darren LaCroix, a Toastmasters World Champion of Public Speaking and close friend, urged me to go to Toastmasters (www.toastmasters.org). There, he said, I could get ďstage time.Ē As I had learned already, nothing catapults your speaking ability like working in front of a live audience. It was a supportive environment and it was okay to fail there because the organizationís mission was to improve speaking skills. I canít believe it took me almost ten years to join a club. Itís been one of the most meaningful investments in my success.
The ability to speak is revered by people everywhere because so many people fear it. My speaking skills have attracted people to me. I have more important things to say than I did years ago. However, I think that I had many of the same things the popular people had all along. This difference is that Iím no longer ďundiscovered.Ē My speaking experience has given me the courage to step out of the crowd, actively expose my self to new experiences, and meet new people.
In fact, all these things ó the ability to speak to groups, to make a
confident first impression, to attract good things into my life, to be
more friendly and approachable, and to lead meaningful conversations ó
have all helped me develop my ability to make a difference in the world.
In fact, the less I worried about being popular and focused on learning
the fundamentals of communicating with others in a meaningful way, the
bigger difference I made in the world. How cool is that?
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