It all started in middle school speech class. Kids would be quaking in their shoes, on the verge of tears, and lose all composure during a two minute speech about how they spent their summer. It continued through high school and even into college, showing up in cookie cutter suits way too big, visibly sweating, shaking through their PowerPoint reading the slide word for word. You couldn’t help but feel bad for them. But at least we had the solace that we were all in it together. Collective suffering.

A bigger problem

Public speaking has a vaunted reputation for being the nastiest of experiences. But beyond the specifics of speaking for an audience, I believe this fear uncovers a bigger problem. People are afraid to step up and put themselves out there. They’re afraid to share opinions, to risk being called out, to risk being wrong. It’s the reason why people don’t speak, write, start a business, or even share a dissenting opinion with a friend.

This fear is why speaking and writing are so important. They are why I started and continue to practice putting myself out there in front of an audience… or lack thereof. Even though this topic encompasses so many other things, I’m focusing on speaking and writing for a reason.

First, they are two of the most basic skills you can have as a human. Communication is the most basic form of human expression available to us, so why are we so scared of it?

Second, it’s the easiest thing to learn. The vast majority of us can read, write, and speak. If you can, you already have the basics down. Saying you don’t have good grammar or you aren’t a good speaker isn’t excusable. It doesn’t matter how good you are right now. You can always improve, and no one starts something at a master level. Speaking and writing are actually very easy to get good at compared to other skills. Think about it, you’ve most likely been doing both in some form since you were very young. Compare that to say programming a computer or playing a sport. These two basic skills require little investment and come with a solid foundation from your youth, whereas programming or playing a sport takes much more time and effort to gain a baseline level of mastery.

Third, it forces you to have a point of view. I struggle with this, but it’s been one of my favorite parts of learning. There is a distinct skill in being able to take in information, develop your own informed opinion, and then communicate it to the world. The ones who do it well get a lot of attention for it. In some cases it’s a lot of bad attention, but they’re successful nonetheless. Speaking or writing on a topic forces your brain to come to its own conclusions and be able to share them clearly. This part of the process definitely isn’t easy, but it’s worth it and in my opinion a necessary skill for all people.

Start small

I understand the fear. It’s different to speak in front of a class or crowd compared to just chatting with your friends. Or to write a school paper instead of a blog or opinion piece seen by others. So start small. Write in a journal. Record yourself speaking for 5 minutes on a topic, but don’t share it. You don’t have to write a book or speak in front of 1,000 people right off the bat. Heck, that could be years down the line. Start as small as you want, just make sure you start.

By the way, guys, writing in a journal is not girly or dumb. I started in January this year, and it’s been a great outlet. Writing has helped me clarify thoughts in my head, brainstorm business ideas, or plan out things like this blog post.

As with any skill or change, it’s easy to think about it. Thinking is fun. Watching videos of good speakers is interesting, watching your favorite pro sports players is entertaining. But the work it took to get there takes commitment and effort. I can’t even tell you how many blogs on speaking and writing I read before I actually did anything, much less stuck with it.

Speaking and writing is just one example of putting yourself out there. If you don’t want to try one of these, choose something else relevant to you and go do it. Then, let me know in the comments what you’re going to do. Think this whole thing is crap? Great! Comment and tell me why.

See what I did there? Get to it folks.

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April 3, 2015

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