I am an early riser. Or rather, I pretend to be an early riser.
My alarm goes off at 5:05 a.m. I start drag myself out of bed with varying degrees of success. This morning I assiduously avoided hitting the snooze button, immediately hauled myself up, and staggered straight into the wall on the way to the bathroom. There will be a bruise.
Getting up early every morning is a struggle, but an important one. It is the best time for me to write, to do the Hard Work, to limbre up and get the words flowing before my lizard brain is awake enough to throw up walls of doubt and inhibition.
The more regularly I get up early, the easier it becomes. Unfortunately, backsliding is even easier – just a couple of days of sleeping in (which I did this weekend) can just about set me back to square one. So I pretend to be an early riser, stumbling into walls and door jambs, trusting that it will get easier each time I do it.
This is the exact same process for developing your speaking chops. You can’t be an early riser without getting up early. You can’t become a better speaker without speaking regularly. The idea that you’ll volunteer to speak more once you feel better about your skills is a killer. If you wait until you’re a good speaker to give that presentation, you’ll never give it. Full stop.
You need to pretend that you are a speaker. You don’t need to pretend to be a brilliant one – god knows I’m hardly a brilliant early riser, judging from the number of wall-induced bruises on my shoulders. You just need to pretend that you are one, in some form or another.
You need to pretend that you are a speaker over and over and over until it slowly becomes easier. And that means going out, finding the opportunities to speak, and seizing those opportunities. Don’t protest that you have no chance to speak – I hear that excuse all the time. Speaking is everywhere. You don’t even need to think all that creatively to come across a myriad of places where you get to put on your speaker’s hat, either formally or informally.
Volunteer to give more presentations at work. Join a speakers club, or a service club, or a business club – they are everywhere. Take a public speaking class, an improvisation class, an acting class. Heck, if you are truly petrified, take a cooking class and then be That Person who always gets up to share their thoughts and experiments with the rest of the group. When someone asks for thoughts from the audience, stick your hand up, then stand up, then speak up. Repeated action will develop courage, and speaking will become easier.
Don’t stop pretending to be a speaker. Our grasp on that courage to speak is tenuous, and backsliding into silence and anxiety is so easy. I know I harp on about this a lot, but it is so, so, so important to being a better speaker.
Pretend to be a speaker, speak at every chance, and one day you won’t be pretending anymore.
I, meanwhile, will continue crashing into the wall on my way to the bathroom every morning at 5:05 a.m.