I was listening to a celebrity speaker who thundered,”The number one fear for most people is the fear of speaking in public !”
And the number two fear – “fear of flying !”
Any idea about the number three fear ?”, he asked and some one from the audience said “fear of speaking while flying ! “
Seriously, public speaking is not for the meek.
Many years back I spent two days in the sylvan settings of IICT(Indian Institute of Chemical Technology), Hyderabad. Sixty scientists, all pursuing their PhD from various CSIR labs across India had been huddled for an intense one month workshop on Technology led entrepreneurship program.
Dr DVR Seshadri of IIM Bangalore , now with ISB Hyderabad was the anchor of this program, which involved renowned academics from IIMB and industry stalwarts talking to them about entrepreneurship, Business plans, Decision Analysis, Intellectual Property rights, Creativity and the like.
I handled the Communication skills workshop and on day two we had six participants make presentations for 4 minutes. One of them, Sridevi, a scholar from Pune had her right hand trembling throughout and was extremely uncomfortable. While she apologised for being a nervous wreck, I comforted her with the reassuring quote by Mark Twain – “There are only two types of speakers in this world- the nervous and the liars !”
I then asked if she would be willing to give the same presentation later in the evening standing behind the lectern. She agreed and I tweaked her speech to include a persuasive angle.
And when she did deliver the second time, the transformation was remarkable and she managed to handle a hostile question with poise. The audience gave her a sustained applause for one minute. They just couldn’t believe what they saw ! She stood still waiting for my feedback and I said after that one minute applause, any feedback would be superfluous. She promised to join the PuneToastmasters to internalise the learning.
Many years later my dear friend Pramod Shankar and I conducted a seven week effective public speaking course for the students of Mount Carmel College,Bangalore. On day 1, we found a demure girl from Kerala who was highly conscious of her small town background and lack of fluency in English.
With the help of other participants we encouraged her to overcome her shyness and diffidence and gradually she progressed and on graduation day,she stunned the entire audience with a fiery speech on patriotism. We as faculty were extremely gratified over her transformation.
In my interaction with thousands of professional across sectors like IT, manufacturing, Services, I’ve found that we have extremely competent, technically brilliant associates but are found wanting when they need to articulate their views before a client or a boss. Enabling confidence is a huge challenge and I felt immensely satisfied about being a catalyst for this small but significant change.
I am reminded of Emily Dickinson’s poem, Not in Vain….
If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robinUnto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.