How Public Speaking is Like Riding a Bike

As the weather breaks, I get antsy for spring and riding my bike.

Riding a bike, while simplistic, takes me back to my childhood experience of freedom. Any time I could, I would get on my bike and go, seeking new roads and avenues to explore and having chance conversation with neighbors and friendly folk I passed by. An introvert, what mattered most to me with bike riding was getting outdoors to refuel my energy and sense of self. Today those two things still matter, but so does my ability to get around without a car.

As you know, they say riding a bike is a skill we never forget. Once we’re able to control our balance, understand the workings of the mechanics and pace ourselves with the effort, any of us can enjoy riding a bike within a few moments of doing so.

Wouldn’t it be great if public speaking worked the same way?

If balancing our desire to demonstrate confidence even when we aren’t, or balancing the volumes of material in our head with saying only what listeners need to know, or even getting past ourselves to connect with those around us, if managing that balance were as easy as what it takes to ride a bike, more people would enjoy it and do it. Regularly.

But most people don’t.

So how is public speaking like riding a bike? 

There are at least 3 similarities between these two action-based activities.

Similarities between public speaking and riding a bike:

1. Freedom

Using our voice is a freedom that helps us get outside of our head and share the energy of our feelings with the focus of our thoughts. Sure, this task is complicated, as it involves planning our words, focusing our thoughts and expressing the most appropriate emotions. But this task, when complete, shows us the impact of our efforts. We hear responses from listeners, we see facial expressions and non-verbal language of attitude, relief and acknowledgement. We pick up on the energy of those in the room and have the chance to transfer it to our own response.

Those who don’t like riding bikes never got used to sitting on the “hard seat”, extending their reach to new areas of travel or pushing themselves to see how far they can go. But those who do, just like those who are willing to get on the speaking platform, gain a deeper sense of themselves and their abilities.

2. Repetition builds confidence

Back to that hard seat. I don’t remember my bike’s seat being so hard when I was younger, but maybe I just got past the sacrifice of sitting down a lot because of the freedom it provided. Or maybe I stood up to pump the pedals harder when my butt got sore. Today I need to strengthen my muscles – and wear padded biking shorts – to gain comfort with riding. I must schedule time to get on my bike regularly so I can enjoy the longer rides on Saturdays.

Repetition strengthens our confidence muscles when we speak, as well. Especially for a high-stakes presentation. Planning and rehearsing the ideas, the flow and the delivery give us all a chance to sharpen our clarity and work out exactly how to relate to our listeners. When we take time to do this, not only do we increase our confidence for the day we give the speech, we build our daily confidence in the process.

3. Pace helps us endure

Breathing well is crucial to outdoor activity yet it’s vital for speaking well, also. Slowing down when we open our message gives us a chance to develop poise while we get grounded in the moment. Too many of us think we need to jump in fast and loud, but just like with other physical activity, this wastes energy, and with giving a presentation, can lead us to hyperventilate, or at least lose our focus.

But breathing not only helps the speaker. It helps listeners keep up with unfamiliar or complicated information.

These aren’t the only reasons biking and speaking are similar. But they’re important ones to consider. If the temperatures are warming up from where you’re viewing this post, I hope you can enjoy some time on your bike. Regardless, get back out there in front of groups. What it leads to is important for all of us.

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