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I vomited in an alley on the way to my first public speaking event.
When I finally stood in front of the audience of 50 people, I was sweating with anxiety. I stuttered through the first 10 minutes. I could barely recall what I wanted to say. I remember standing there, sharing a story I really cared about while simultaneously realizing I was being terrorized by my own mind as I imagined everyone thinking I was an idiot.
Fast-forward to the present day. I spoke to more than 60,000 people in arenas, convention centers and hotel ballrooms in 2017. Videos of me speaking have been viewed more than 200 million times online.
Clearly something changed in my life.
How do you go from having zero skill to mastering your craft? It’s not just about putting in the hours. It’s about the right kind of practice and monitoring your progress along the way. It turns out any skill can be gained quickly through what I call progressive mastery.
Here are the 10 steps to progressive mastery I followed to learn public speaking.
1. Determine the skill you want to master.
Narrow your focus. I chose specifically to master the skill of extemporaneous speaking.
2. Set specific stretch goals on your path to developing that skill.
My goal was to give a 60-minute talk without any notes. I began with a full outline, then went to just one page of notes, then to just five bullet points. After 10 speeches, I went to zero notes.
3. Attach a high level of emotion to your journey.
I always reminded myself why it was important to speak with excellence, and in turn, I allowed myself to get frustrated and fired up to improve.
4. Identify the factors critical to success, and develop your strengths in those areas.
I had discerned that the most important components of a great speech were a few emotional stories, three clear teaching points and a motivational call to action. I practiced those elements and didn’t try to do anything else.
5. Develop visualizations that clearly show what success and failure look like.
Every morning for years, I would lie awake and imagine myself giving a strong speech. I imagined the good and bad, and how I could improve.
6. Schedule challenging practices developed by experts.
I didn’t have a coach, so I read books written by public-speaking experts and practiced as if they had taught me.
7. Measure your progress and get outside feedback.
After every practice, I wrote about what felt good, what I didn’t like and how I could improve. Then I gave free speeches for my friends and to nonprofit organizations to get more practice.
8. Socialize your learning by practicing or competing with others.
Even though I wasn’t ready, I took a class on debate so I could practice speaking and competing with others. Knowing who won in a debate helped me further discern what I should work on.
9. Continually set higher goals so you keep improving.
I set targets to speak to 100 people, then 1,000, then 10,000. I also set goals to tell more jokes and to allow myself to cry onstage.
10. Teach others what you are learning.
I regularly mentor new speakers, and I taught a college course on public speaking