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Sam Davidson's blog

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Stand up - and get uncomfortable

I did it again this morning.

Around 8 AM, I stood up in front of a group of people and spoke. I talked about how social media is redefining the words "friends" and "community" for Generation Y. I made my points, clicked through my slide deck, made people listen and laugh, and then I sat down.

From the looks of it, I'll be doing this several more times this year and next.

For some, this idea makes them want to vomit. Jerry Seinfeld summed it up best when he said:

According to most studies, people's number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.

But, public speaking - the act of standing up in front of strangers - is also the way you develop authority, expertise, and possibly, a career. Therefore, if you're looking to become a leader in the nonprofit sector, it's something you need to get comfortable with.

All this month, Tera Wozniak Qualls and I will be blogging about four ways to become a better leader. These four ways are all things that might make you uncomfortable, but that's ultimately how you develop proven leadership skills.

Tera's already written about her experience with public speaking and has a very personal (and amusing) story about arugula. And she also shares how she got better at it.

I had my first public speaking experience in high school. Much like Beyonce learned to sing in the church, it's also where I learned to speak. And the first time I did it, I wasn't so hot.

I spoke to roughly 750 teenagers (I was one myself) about evangelism. I read from the book of Acts. And I talked about a time when I tried to live out the story I found in the Bible.

During the run-through the day before, I had friends listen to me. Their main suggestion was to not say "you know" so much. I took their advice and practiced my talk several times that night and the next day.

Then, during my fifteen minutes, I never said the phrase "you know." But I did say the word "indeed" 11 times.

I have a tape of this. I will never forget that word. Now, when I speak, I don't say "indeed" 11 times, if I say it at all. (Give it a try. See how many times you use the word today. Heck - try to force it into conversation and you'll see just how out of place it is.)

What I take from my story (and Tera's) is that the more you do something, the better you get. So, if you want to be a better public speaker, do it. Just go do it. You don't need to wait for invitations (those come slowly at first anyway). Treat staff meetings like a speech. Don't be long-winded or erudite. Just work on what you'd like to say and try saying it to anyone without fumbling. You'll be surprised at how much confidence you gain.

Then, seek out opportunities to speak. What groups are you a part of? A church or synagogue? Local associations? Whether you introduce a guest or speak for five minutes about your work, every time you stand up in front of strangers, you'll get better. The discomfort won't disappear overnight - but you will becomes used to it more so you know what it feels like and how to handle it.

Barack Obama didn't become a great speaker when he decided to run for president. He honed his craft in countless community meetings that had less than 20 people in attendance.

I don't really give speaking advice, even though I speak more frequently now than ever. So, this will be it from me when it comes to talking in front of groups. I've been doing it for almost half my life.

In other words, trust me: It gets easier and you get better.

On Monday, I'll be discussing the uncomfortableness that comes from proposing an idea that might fail. Click here to see what else Tera and I will be chatting about this month.

In the meantime, let us know how you’ve built your leadership skills through uncomfortable situations. Use the #devleadership on Twitter and Facebook or comment on this blog to let us know your story.

Photo by hiddedevries