Baby Steps to Public Speaking Success

Kathleen Laney

We’ve all had to do public speaking at some point in our life. Be it in school or for work, it’s a task that’s almost impossible to completely avoid. I can remember when I was to present my Master’s thesis in front of an audience of twenty or so highly critical academics, I begrudgingly marked the day on my calendar and silently wept as the days drew nearer.

When the big day arrived, my palms were sweaty, my stomach was in knots, and I even considered forgoing the whole ordeal. But that would have been a waste of all my hard work and time, not to mention a lot of money. So, as I stood at the front of the room and gave my opening remarks, much to my horror my voice began to quiver. It literally sounded like I was about to cry. All I could think was, I have another 50 minutes of this torture!

But as I got into a groove, my voice returned to normal and my delivery became natural. As I came to the end of the presentation and I opened up the floor for questions, the audience blankly stared back at me as if stunned. The room was so quiet I could hear the students in the back row breathing. I thought for sure I had bombed it. The silence felt like forever, but then as a few seconds passed, the applause began, and continued, and continued some more. I had nailed it. Not only was my delivery articulate, but my subject matter held their attention, my graphics made them laugh, and I got the audience thinking.

After the applause died down, one hand raised. Then two, then three, and then a whole slew. Much to my surprise, people actually wanted to discuss my topic and debate my argument. I couldn’t have been prouder.

Years went by until I was faced with such an uncomfortable situation again.

Then I started Laney Solutions and I knew I needed to get my face and brand out there to grow my business. My fear of public speaking was still as strong as ever, but my drive to see my business succeed was stronger. My will to make it made stepping out of my comfort zone worthwhile.

Baby Steps

I can’t help think of the movie, ‘What About Bob’ with Bill Murray who is afflicted with severe OCD. In order for him to do anything that was uncomfortable for him, he would say to himself “baby steps”. When he would walk to the door, he’d mutter, “baby steps to the door, baby steps into the hall, baby steps down the stairs…” You get the picture.

When I decided to get back out there and speak publicly, I decided to take that strategy, “baby steps”. My first presentation I gave to an audience was a webinar for WIP. I thought a webinar was the perfect place to start, after all I couldn’t see anyone staring back at me and I could even pretend I was talking to myself, something I do anyway. It was just me and my computer. My second public speaking opportunity was another webinar for IPI. And while my voice quivered the first thirty seconds, I quickly relaxed and got to speaking with my natural cadence.

Time To Dive In

This past March marked my first in person presentation at PIE. I was fortunate enough to have a co-presenter which for whatever reason, put me at ease. The quiver in my voice was minimal and I’m pretty sure it was a success – I had a line of attendees waiting to speak with me after the session. Plus, an attendee asked me to give a presentation at the upcoming Texas Parking and Transportation Association Roundtable and another attendee asked me to submit a proposal to speak at the Canadian Parking Association Annual Conference.

In June I graduated to my first solo public speaking gig. It couldn’t have gone better. I felt confident and relaxed. I no longer assumed that everyone was thinking, geez, would she just shut up already. There were lots of questions and discussion after the presentation and once again, an attendee asked me to submit a proposal for another presentation, this one for the Southwest Parking and Transportation Association Annual Conference.

With three public speaking opportunities to fo this year, I feel confident that I can rock each one. But I fervently believe my ability to succeed was the baby step method. Start out small, gain confidence and the world will be your oyster.

Kathleen Laney is the President of Laney Solutions and is an active member and Marketing Committee volunteer in Women In Parking