So many beginning speakers worry that they just aren't good enough yet, even after going to Toastmasters, even after hiring a coach. They won't schedule themselves for even the smallest Rotary group, even if their coach tells them it's time to jump into the deep end.
They want to reach Speaking Perfection before ever going out to speak. Unfortunately, Speaking Perfection is a Myth. An unreachable mountaintop. Even Jesus didn't convert everyone who ever heard his words. Zig Ziglar doesn't convince every audience member to 'Stop their Stinkin' Thinkin''. There's always someone who thinks the Toastmasters World Champion of Public Speaking should have been someone other than who it was in any given year.
Beyond influence, technical perfection isn't even necessary. We're not doing ballet on stage, folks. In some cases, technically proficient speakers are further away from perfection than those that stutter every now and again, because they are too slick!
Don't fall victim to the Speaking Perfection Myth. You are ready to speak to a live audience if:
A. You have a message they want/need to hear - a message based on your experience and expertise.
B. You have an outline - a real beginning, middle, and end, just like that paper in high school.
C. You have practiced more than once - at minimum in front of your dog.
D. You have spoken previously - in front of live people without fainting, freezing or vomiting. This is a big reason I recommend Toastmasters. Doesn't have to be this speech, though that would certainly be beneficial. Just know you can do it.
E. You have a point - an actionable point to leave your audience with at the close of your presentation. We don't care about your life, about twitter, about global warming, unless we can learn something and do something after hearing about it.
The setting is important, of course. An individual watching you at a breakfast networking group will be far more understanding and open to your imperfect message than the same individual who has paid a ton of money for a conference. That's why most coaches encourage their charges to start with 'free speaking' at service clubs. It gets your feet wet without putting you in front of an audience with incredibly high expectations. If the last person they heard was the average town councilman, or the Rotary President's sister who loves talking about quilting, you're most likely already ahead of the game.
"You don't have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great." - Zig Ziglar
Don't get me wrong, I don't believe any speaker should stop there. There's plenty more to learn, more ways to improve your level of connection, communication of ideas, and ultimate impact. It is a lifelong process, even for the best of the best. It's always preferable to reach 7 people out of 10 than 3. But 3 is a good start.
There's nothing wrong with wanting to get better, unless getting better gets in the way of getting started.
Don't wait for perfection. Don't wait til you've won enough contests. Don't wait until you're totally sure you're ready. If you haven't started yet, find a Toastmasters club, find a coach, or, at the very least, find your dog, and SPEAK.
Someone out there needs to hear what you have to say.
*after writing this, I realized I'd written something similar last September. I considered not posting this one, or delaying it, but then I thought again. If it's on my mind it may be on some of yours, especially as you look toward Speaking and Delivering in the New Year.