Your knees are shaking. Your palms are damp with cold sweat. G-g-good afternoon everyone. Ummmm, I, uh - Today I will be - uh - talking about…
I know this scenario all too well. Until a few months ago, I was phenomenally incompetent when it came to public speaking - even when conversing interpersonally with someone who I don’t know very well, I get very anxious and nervous, stumbling on my words and having my thoughts blank out mid-speech. This can be incredibly frustrating since I know that my written communication can be quite strong, but when put onto the spot, I would make myself look like a fool. This led to me participating in conversations less because of my lack of confidence, and as a result, making me feel inferior to others since I am unable to communicate my points; To leave incompetent communication un-addressed is a negative, endless spiral in self-confidence and speaking.
However, I’m quite proud to say that now, my oral communication is at the very least, passible for most use cases, and although I may still feel a bit anxious when I speak, I am a lot more confident in stepping up to the stage when necessary and I have improved my mentality when speaking. Remember when I said that the unable to communicate my points made me feel inferior to others? That no longer holds, since I also accepted the fact that as there are times when you should speak up, there are also times when it is better to remain quiet, and it is a completely valid option.
Throughout my experience at Zenreach, my co-workers have told me that my communication can be improved upon, and took the initiative to guide me in the right direction. I’ve found these learnings to be very helpful, and would like to share them with other people who have trouble with oral communication:
Low Hanging Fruits
- Maintain eye contact when talking or listening to someone. This has a duo role of exerting confidence and giving them your attention span so that you take in the content of the speech better, and have more context with which to craft a response. Never look down, and if you really do need to avert gaze, look to the side or through them. These days, I play a little staring contest game with my speaking target.
- Take a deep breath to gather your thoughts. You should not feel obliged to speak as soon as a question is posed to you. It would be mutually beneficial for both parties if the conversation flow was smooth and coherent instead of having bullshit being made up on the spot.
- Play the devil’s advocate. In other words, don’t be afraid to disagree with the norm, and don’t be a pushover. If you think about the people that your respect, are they pushovers who submit themselves to the norm, or are they radicals with their own opinions?
- Say you don’t know when you don’t know. There is no need to put up a false pretense of knowledge when you do not have it. You are only making yourself look bad, and making it harder to continue speaking because you need to continuously adapt your speech for the lies that you have conjured.
- Remember the purpose of your conversation. Speaking is a tool for getting your points across, not to demonstrate your knowledge. As such, there is no need to grasp at straws and spout out unrelated nonsense while speaking.
- Understand that conversations are a two-way street. You don’t need to feel forced to take the lead in the conversation.
- Believe in yourself And if you have start doubting yourself, shut out those thoughts immediately. Even celebrities admit to doubting themselves sometimes, but they immediately squelch these thoughts in order to keep going.
- Consume more english material. Confidence comes with comfort around the language. In order to be more comfortable with the language, read or listen to more material in the designated language. In my case, reading more english material was helpful to expanding my vocabulary and raising my confidence in the language. The contrary is true, and watching anime and reading manga has negatively affected my level of english proficiency in the past.
- Know your material. - As with the previous point, confidence also comes with comfort with the content of the discussion. To be comfortable with the content of discussion, read articles online and do research, by having a breadth of knowledge, you can prevent yourself from being caught off guard and having nothing to say. Also, for public speaking, always practice beforehand.
- Dress sharp. - Shallow as it may seem, dressing well also improves your confidence, which will reflect during your speech. So, have that nice dress shirt handy for such occasions.
I’d like to give a shoutout to the people who have helped push me forward in communication while I was interning at Zenreach. First, a big shoutout to Kai Umezawa, co-founder and product director at Zenreach. Although Kai has an atrociously packed schedule, he took lots of time out of his week to personally talk to me about my communication and how to improve it. A lot of the points I mentioned above stem directly from these sessions I’ve had with him. Another person I would like to mention is Bob Rafie, my mentor. He consistently reminded me to work on my communication and being a very direct guy himself, there was a lot to learn from his style of not beating around the bush. Finally, there’s my fellow intern and good friend Nicole Jiang, who shared a lot of experiences with me. I am very thankful to these people for spending their time to help me grow as a person.
Having good communication skills is useful for many situations in everyday life - from small talk with people you bump into on the streets to workplace meetings. With a good grasp of communication, you can direct conversations the way you want them to go and you can have your opinions be heard. You also exhibit more leadership qualities and give off a more trustworthy vibe. As with most things in life, communication is not something that will improve overnight. However, if you put in the effort and time, there will definitely be tangible results. Hope this post helps out introverts like me a little bit!