Success

The 'world champion' of public speaking on how to overcome your fear and sound like a pro

Aaron Beverly at the 2019 Toastmasters International World Champion competition in Denver, Colorado.
Credit: Jowdy Photography

In 2009, Aaron Beverly, then a college senior, was inspired to join a local Toastmasters International club — the non-profit organization that teaches public speaking skills — after being mesmerized by the speeches President Barack Obama had made while on the campaign trail.

Growing up in Philadelphia, Beverly always had a fear of public speaking, one that intensified after he forgot a few lines while giving a speech during his sophomore year at Central Penn College in Enola, Pennsylvania.

"I totally went blank," Beverly, now 30, tells CNBC Make It. "My fear was realized."

But after watching Obama, and having a professor who was a former president of Toastmasters International, Beverly decided it was time to conquer his fear.

That was 10 years ago. Today Beverly is the Toastmasters' 2019 World Champion of Public Speaking. He beat more than 30,000 competition participants around the world at the event in September.

Beverly, who works as a project manager at JP Morgan Chase in Philadelphia, says it took him practicing "too many hours to count" to become the world champion. But improvements in his delivery were noticeable as soon as he overcame some key hurdles.

Here are Beverly's top tips on overcoming stage fright and becoming a great speaker.

Identify your fear

Though many people say they are scared of public speaking, Beverly believes most people are just scared of a particular aspect.

For Beverly, the debacle in college made him realize he was afraid of blanking on his lines.

"That fear stayed with me and once I identified what that specific fear was, I was able to confront it," Beverly says. To address it, Beverly would repeatedly practice a speech until he was sure he knew every word.

In fact, before his first Toastmasters speech in 2009, he pulled an all-nighter. "I literally practiced for 20 hours straight" to memorize a four-minute talk, Beverly says. "But that is how seriously I took this. I thought I had to confront my fear."

Beverly says that doing public speaking again and again also helped to melt away his fear over time. He learned that if he made a mistake, all he had to do was "keep going."

"There have been other times where I did forget what I was going to say, but the beautiful thing was that I lived to speak another day," he says.

Know your audience

To be a dynamic and effective speaker and really connect with an audience, "you need to know how the audience wants to hear their information."

That means Beverly not only does research on his audience before preparing a speech or presentation to find out what topics and issues resonate with them the most, but he also figures out what words to use to help them understand it.

"Some people speak in jargon, some speak in technical terms and then there are some people who don't understand technical terms and they need to have things explained to them in layman's terms," he says.

For example, in his winning speech titled "An Unbelievable Story," at this year's Toastmaster World Championship, Beverly told the story of his humorous adventure as the only African-American in attendance at his friend's wedding in India.

He says he chose that topic because it was personal and relatable to the international audience in attendance.

Record yourself

The best way to really accelerate your success with public speaking, according to Beverly, is to record yourself, then listen to the recordings over and over. It will allow you to spot mistakes you would not otherwise notice, like areas that don't flow well, for example.

Beverly says when practicing a particular speech or presentation he will record himself at night and then listen to himself throughout the day and take notes on the changes that are needed.

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