The Courageous Act of Public Speaking

Public speaking is a courageous act.

Do you believe that? I do.

In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Dr. Brené Brown writes, “The root of the word courage is cor – the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage had a very different definition than it does today. Courage originally meant ‘To speak one's mind by telling all one's heart.’ Over time, this definition has changed, and today, courage is more synonymous with being heroic. Heroics is important and we certainly need heroes, but I think we've lost touch with the idea that speaking honestly and openly about who we are, about what we're feeling, and about our experiences (good and bad) is the definition of courage.”

Recently the students in my college communication class gave self-introduction speeches. One girl in particular was unnerved to the point of tears. I’ll call her Sarah. As she stood in front of her classmates shaking, and crying, and willing herself to continue, I couldn’t help but be struck by her incredible act of courage. She could have stopped speaking, given up, and dropped the class, but against all odds and in spite of incredible fear, she continued.

With a shaky voice, Sarah told us about her rough childhood and learning to speak English as a second language in a school where she always felt like an outsider. The class listened supportively to her speech, nodding and smiling. Everyone in the room was incredibly moved by her story. At the end, we all erupted in applause.

It wasn’t an A+ speech. It lacked organizational structures that would have helped us follow along better. There was minimal eye contact with the audience. And sometimes it was hard to hear her. But it was a courageous speech. One worthy of enthusiastic applause.

Over the course of the semester, I’ll do my best to teach Sarah how make each presentation more effective. I’ll help her learn to insert her powerful narrative into an overall structure. I’ll provide her with information about the power of eye contact with your audience. I’ll help her learn how to project her voice. And I’ll give her opportunities to practice all that she’s learned. But I wouldn’t be able to do any of that if she didn’t have the courage to show up, to speak, and to learn. I’m just the helper. Sarah’s the hero.

Normally in our blog we like to write about the science behind public speaking. We do our best to back our advice with research and statistics and prominent studies. And don't worry, we’ll return to that soon enough. But for today, I wanted you to hear Sarah’s story. I wanted you to be reminded that standing up in front of an audience to speak takes heroic courage.

Sarah started her journey to find her voice and gain the skill set she needs. If you are ready to start your own journey towards the mastering the art of public speaking, we’d love to help. Check out our all-new, online presentation skills course now. Help is just one courageous click away.

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