Are you "just a beginner" at public speaking? Good for you! No, really, I mean that: Beginning public speakers and presenters have advantages over the rest of us who've been doing it for a long time. I love to coach beginning speakers, because they all come to the task with particular assets.
The trouble is that these strengths are secrets that newbies don't know, so I'm taking the lid off and exposing them. (Seasoned speakers can take a few cues from this list, too.) Here are the six secret strengths of the beginning public speaker:
1. No bad habits to unlearn: Any speaker coach will tell you that it takes longer to unlearn bad speaking habits than it does to learn new ones on a clean slate. You'll advance further and faster as a presenter if you start learning from scratch. The takeaway here: Get training as fast as you can, as early in your career as you can, before you develop a batch of flawed speaking tactics.
2. A healthy respect for the audience: Over time, some speakers take the crowd for granted. Not so the new speaker, who's more likely to anticipate with care what the audience will find of interest, how long to speak, and how to be generous with question time. I think this stems in part from a more recent recollection of what it's like to be in the audience, combined with fewer assumptions about speaking in general.
3. The appropriate level of nervousness: New speakers make no bones about it: They're nervous. Anything might happen. What will the audience think? What if you forget something? All those worries are a great to-do list for preparation—a list that many experienced speakers skip. Here, nerves are your friends.
4. A willingness to prepare: Speaker trainers also will admit that the one chore that most speakers skimp on is preparation, yet it's the thing that will help a speaker most, both in confidence and in looking at ease and (ironically) unrehearsed and natural. Newbies are far more willing to prepare, and thus more likely to score when they speak.
5. The honesty to admit what you don't know: Unlike the experienced speaker who may be invested in an image as such, most beginners don't bother pretending that they've done a keynote or even a panel discussion. That removes a big barrier to training and learning. If you're too busy pretending to know how to speak well, you'll never get the insights that come from taking a lesson.
6. A seemly reticence: Some seasoned speakers don't seem to know how to wind up their remarks. Though newbies may err on the other side of speaking too briefly, they can't be accused of being windbags, for the most part.
As a speaker trainer and coach based in Washington, D.C., and working all over the United States, I've seen and worked with plenty of beginner speakers. Do you have a question about getting started in public speaking?
Denise Graveline is the president of don't get caught, a communications consultancy. She also writes The Eloquent Woman blog, where a version of this article originally ran.