Before Next Jump, public speaking was always one of my biggest fears – it affected me so much that for my university project presentation I recorded myself speaking to a camera beforehand, and played it back to the judges whilst I sat in silence. It sounds ridiculous but I couldn’t think of any other way to do it.
It’s shocking that public speaking tops the list of most common fears, ahead of spiders, heights and confined spaces, and affects around 3 out of 4 people. The scary part is that this fear can materalise in many forms – whether it’s giving a prepared presentation or improvising an explanation of something to a group of people. Despite not being in a client-facing role, as an engineer I still have to be able to communicate effectively with other teams, especially if I want to become a leader within the business. However, I’m lucky to work for a company that has a strong belief in bettering and improving ourselves - and I have been able to do exactly that.
Several colleagues from my London office had some experience in taking part in a weekly speaking group outside of work, which inspired them to introduce something similar into the workplace last year. In each session, there are a combination of prepared speeches and improvised 1-minute speeches, with everyone having the opportunity to give feedback and vote for the best prepared and unprepared talks. The first week we ran it, there was nearly 100% participation – clearly everyone wanted the opportunity to practice and improve their skills. I attended myself, but specifically asked to not be given any speaking roles.
Having the opportunity to practice public speaking in a continual and regular format is very rare, and particularly in an environment where you receive constructive feedback.
There have been several occasions where the anxiety or difficulty of the situation has been overwhelming, and the speaker simply has to stop and sit down. I, myself, while having at first refused to speak in front of the group, was then able to hesitantly deliver a 1 minute unprepared speech, and then, with time, a 3 minute prepared speech. Now I’m able to work on improving my presentation skills even more by focusing on gestures and the tone of my voice.
Having an ‘above the waterline’ arena to practice without judgment, and in the comfort of knowing that failure has no long-lasting impact, these sessions make it very easy for people to try something which they have avoided and worried about before. Even those in the group that I would consider expert speakers found that there are plenty of areas to improve, such as working on different styles of public speaking, introducing humour and working the room better.
What’s amazing is that these skills have now helped me become much more comfortable in all forms of speaking, not just when giving a formal presentation. I am much more comfortable addressing my colleagues in open meetings, or getting the attention of large groups of people in my social life. Simply put, ‘speaking’ no longer fills me with dread – or the urge to run away.
These weekly speaking sessions are now being adopted by the rest of Next Jump’s offices. I’m excited to see if it’s as popular here as in the rest of the company. With employees willing to humbly partake in practicing to improve something that scares so much of us, I expect toastmasters to be made out of all of us.