I’m not what you might call an effortlessly eloquent speaker. My tendencies are to be a bit too casual, I indulge in a few too many verbal ticks and speak more quickly than I’d like, the result of nerves. Don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely comfortable in front of an audience and in a room full of executives and other stakeholders. It’s often a struggle for me to slow down and organize my thoughts, though, which can be problematic.

The best advice I ever got about public speaking came in high school from a teacher whose subject I honestly don’t remember right now. Following a presentation of some sort, I had given he spoke to me after class and told me to watch the tone of my voice. Specifically, he said my voice tended to get higher when speaking to a group than it was normally.

I’ve remembered that advice every time I’ve stood in front of a group. Deep breaths, control my nerves, slow down, keep my voice low and even. Don’t wig out.

At some point, my substantial ego takes over and I begin to think “Yes, this is fine. I deserve to be here and have their attention.” I slip into the same mindset that pushed me on stage to perform in plays and musicals in high school and college. It becomes a role I’m playing, something I’m much more comfortable with.

When it comes down to it, I’m a writer. I like the opportunity afforded by writing for me to consider my thoughts a bit more fully. Sometimes I may not know what I want to say until I’m three paragraphs in, but that’s better than hemming and hawing and stammering to the annoyance of everyone around me.

Again, put me in front of a group of people I need to convince of the rightness of my point of view and I’m golden. But extemporaneous speaking has never been my strong suit. Yet another skillset I’m constantly working on developing and improving.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

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