Remember the time a speech touched you so deeply you felt compelled to take action, to respond with a roar of applause?
Whether you do or you don’t, those speeches, answered with standing ovations, are difficult to write and more challenging to deliver. When you consider most people fear public speaking, you realize what speech makers face. But what if you want to stir up emotions and move people into action? How can you become a great public speaker?
I can tell you right now, it’s not easy. In the beginning, I didn’t even want to be a public speaker!
Today you see me making videos in one take, or teaching thousands of my mentees from the stage. I’ve been a TEDx opening speaker not once, but twice in my career.
It was a long journey to get here and it’s this journey I want to share with you today so you can benefit from my experience. So how did I become a great public speaker?
Learn To Overcome Your Fears
Let me take you back to when I was getting started back in high school. I had come to Canada from Hong Kong, not speaking a word of English. English is not my first language, Chinese is. In school I had no friends because I was afraid to talk to people. I was that invisible kid, sitting in the very back of the classroom. You know what I’m talking about?
I was that kid you go through a few semesters with and you don’t even know his name. I would never put up my hand, I would never ask any questions because I was so afraid of saying something stupid. Truth was, I didn’t know how to communicate or express myself.
One English class, I had to deliver a speech. I was so terrified that I skipped the presentation and hid in the bathroom in terror. Ms. Fallon, my English teacher, grabbed me afterwards and said, “Hey Dan, you’ve got to deliver the speech because if you don’t, I can’t let you pass the class. Just deliver it. I don’t care how bad it is, you have to do it to pass.”
So I stayed after class and she helped me craft the speech. And when the day came, I went to the front of the classroom with my hands shaking and my knees locking together. I was sweating and I’m sure my face looked pale, but I just delivered the whole thing.
At the time I could only talk about basic things, like my thoughts about my hero Bruce Lee. I didn’t even deliver the speech, I just read through it. When it was done, I put the paper down and a couple of students clapped.
Afterwards, I thought to myself, wow, I didn’t die. I did not die from that experience. I’m still alive. Okay, this is good. I’m still here.
I want to thank Ms. Fallon for pushing me out of my comfort zone and giving me the confidence to speak in public. Afterwards, the experience planted a seed in my head. I realized I wanted to overcome this shyness. I could sense the fear did not help me in any way and was holding me back in life.
Join A Group To Learn To Give Speeches
I joined Toastmasters, a non profit organization with clubs all over the world. The Toastmasters club I joined was called Metro Speakers. For my first day, I just showed up and was met with very friendly, great people. At the club, I practiced giving presentations and from that time, my presentation skills grew phenomenally.
Toastmasters has a program that you follow for delivering speeches. You do an ice breaker, story telling, and a humorous speech.I did all of that. I was so hungry that I was delivering a speech every single week. It didn’t matter if it was table topics, where you’re doing an impromptu speech. I didn’t care if I was chairing the meeting. I would show up and participate every single time.
By delivering a speech every week, I completed the program very quickly. I could even see my progress. After each speech, people give you a comment form with feedback on your delivery. People used to write, “Good job, awesome, excellent.” After six months, people started writing, “You are a natural at this. You’ve got talent. Oh wow, great skill.”
The compliments surprised me. Natural? Talented? What were they talking about? There was nothing natural about learning to give speeches. But because of their feedback, I started to get a lot of positive validation.
People would come up to me after a presentation and say, “Great speech Dan. What you shared really touched me.” Then I thought, Well this is amazing.
For the first time in my life, I started to understand the power of words.
I realized the effect that a good communicator had on an audience. And I started becoming more confident in myself, in being able to communicate with people. As my confidence grew, I began to give back to those around me.
It became my goal to help others because I remember what it was like in high school. I remember avoiding eye contact when walking home after school, keeping my eyes on the floor in the hallways and on the ground when I got outside. I wouldn’t talk to anyone.
Toastmasters was the first step to developing my confidence so I could look beyond myself and start helping others. Later on, because I was so active in the club, I was voted the club president, the youngest president for Toastmasters in my district at the age of 22 or 23.
We became one of the most successful clubs in our division or district. Under my management, we had more members than other clubs, we charged more, and we had a waiting list. Our club produced some of the best speakers. We’ve won many more awards than anybody else.
I’m very proud of that because I learned leadership during that period of time. I learned how to work with people and how to communicate with people.
Although I was the president, I worked with people who were older than me. I even managed a group of volunteers. Later, to skip ahead in this story, I started my own internet and digital marketing business. When people saw my success, they started asking me to teach them. So I decided to put my presentation skills to use.
I decided to run a workshop for a small group. Sadly, nobody showed up. Then it was my mom and two or three others. But eventually it grew. It grew to 10 people, then 20, and they brought their friends. Then I had 100 people, then 200 people. And the audience just got bigger and bigger.
I could tell you that I was born with the natural talent to be a great speaker. But that’s not the case at all. I never, ever thought of becoming a public speaker.
Practice And Put In Bruce Lee Hours
When I was that kid who couldn’t even pronounce words properly or speak English in school, being a speaker and inspiring people was the furthest thing from my mind. I just wanted to learn enough, and be able to communicate enough to people. That was it.
But as I was improving, I was getting validation, and one day I realized I had a gift. It was only then that it occurred to me, maybe I don’t have to be a perfect speaker. Maybe something about the way I communicate and share my message resonates with people.
It wasn’t until many years later that I decided public speaking was a skill that I enhance and turn into something that would not only help me, but also change a lot of people’s lives. But how could I improve myself even more?
How does one rise from good to excellent?
I found the answer in martial arts. Many years ago, when I was training with one of Bruce Lee’s original students, someone asked, how do I become Bruce Lee? My sifu, my teacher, said, “Very simple, you put in Bruce Lee hours.”
To become a great speaker, you put in the hours. Study other good speakers. Look at their videos. Attend their training, attend their workshops. Look at how they deliver and how they present. Try to mimic their style.
In the beginning, you mimic them before developing your own style. Then you work on your routine. For every five minutes on stage, I spend roughly an hour on preparation off the stage.
Even with my amount of experience, I practice before I go on stage. That’s what a professional does. Most people don’t practice enough. You only get nervous when you are delivering a speech without enough preparation.
If you’re well prepared you’ll be okay when you go up there. And when you do it enough times, your brain knows what you’re doing. Now when I deliver a speech to hundreds of thousands of people on camera without a script, I’m okay.
What Makes A Great Speaker
I’m not so much focused on perfection as I am on connection. I’m focusing on speaking from my heart. I’m not trying to deliver every word perfectly. That’s not the point. That’s not what makes you a great speaker.
A great speaker connects with his or her audience. That’s what makes someone a great speaker.
You’re not telling the perfect story. People don’t care about that. It’s the connection that’s important.
So if you want to be a great speaker, put in the hours, join Toastmasters, and practice. Study great speakers. And practice some more. It might take you some time. It took me years.
If you just show up everyday and keep showing up, you will improve. I guarantee it. And then, one day you might be just like me.
You’ll realize you might have a gift. That maybe speaking is your talent. Maybe you’ll utilize this talent to impact people and help people to transform their lives.
Now if I’ve inspired you to become a great public speaker, then I’d like to share some tips to get you started. Even if you already feel confident when you give presentations, these tips can be great reminders.
How To Give A Great Presentation
Over time, I created a list of tips for giving a great presentation. There are many, but I’m going to share a list of the top ten here:
Maybe I’ll see you on stage someday, sharing your story with the world. Just remember, in the words of John Maxwell, “The first time you say something, it’s heard; the second time, it’s recognized; the third time, it’s learned.”
Final Thoughts On Becoming A Public Speaker
Not all great speakers are born. I made my first speech because if I didn’t, I would fail English class. That experience led me to Toastmasters, where I learned valuable speaking skills that gave me the confidence to speak as I do now, to an audience of thousands. But to get here, you must be committed to hours and hours of practice.
So share your story once. Twice. Many times. Share your message with the world like I have. A great public speaker moves the audience with the power of his or her words. We have a responsibility to share an unforgettable message.
Have you tried Toastmasters before? Comment below.