Lance Miller has made a living speaking in front of large audiences, but even he used to get so nervous that his knees would shake.
The World Champion Speaker of Toastmasters 2005 now travels the world to discuss how speaking in front of large crowds doesn't have to be nerve-wracking, but actually beneficial. He'll speak to the Hilton Head Island's Fast Trackers Toastmasters at their annual Humorous Speaking Contest tonight at the Palmetto Electric Cooperative Building in Hardeeville.
Miller explains how he got those knees to keep still.
Question. Most people hate speaking in public. What's your advice to help calm their nerves?
Answer. Stage fright or nervousness is a naturally occurring phenomenon. I've traveled to more than 40 countries, and it really doesn't matter your nationality, socio-economic status or education -- if one human being stands up in front of a group of human beings, we're nervous. The only solution is to get up in front of people and start talking.
Q. Did you used to get nervous?
A. Totally. My first (Toastmasters) meeting they called me on stage, and I was standing there smiling and my knee caps were bouncing up and down. I've gone through a lot of nervous energy trying to stay focused. I speak so much it doesn't happen now. But there is a focus on energy. You're pumped up the same way you'd be pumped up for a sporting event. I used to wrestle in high school, and I'd get so nervous. But all that nervous energy would turn into a kinetic energy. The same thing happens in speaking. If you don't feel that energy, you'll come out weak.
Q. Is it that difficult to be funny in a speech?
A. It's brutal (laughs). One thing I tell people is that you got to believe that your time up there is worthwhile for the audience. You have to believe in yourself. The second thing is if the audience isn't responding, keep going, don't back off. You have to ramp it up. The last thing is there's no teacher like experience.
In any public speaking, you have to know your message. That's something a lot of people struggle with. They have ideas but they don't know how to define them. I call it a business card test. Your message should fit on the back of a business card -- maybe six to 10 words. That'll drive how your organize your speech.
Q. What's the competition like in a world championship?
A. There's several contests but one that goes to one winner in the world. That's out of 13,000 clubs in 110 countries. I competed in that for 14 years before winning it. Lost it for 13 years. I give a keynote that's called "Losing Your Way to a Championship." You go through the process and it winds up with the top 10 speakers on stage at the toastmasters convention. The process wasn't about getting a trophy but about discovering my value. Plenty of times you think, "What do I have to give an audience?" And you discover that you have a message and you have worth. That changed my life.