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Speaking in public

I can remember when I first started out in my career, I used to be so nervous speaking in public that I would physically shake. One embarrassing moment, at an interview for my first proper job, my hands were shaking so much that, when I in-advisably tried to sip from a glass of water, I split it all over myself. Thankfully the interviewers saw through my nerves and I got the job!

Many people live their lives avoiding things that they don’t want to do. Take a job that doesn’t require public speaking, take a course that doesn’t require an exam, take the long way around to avoid a junction on the motorway. This gradually narrows our experiences in ever decreasing circles. But if we want our world and opportunities to grow, we need to face these fears head on, and to quote the title of an excellent book, feel the fear and do it anyway!

Pitching and public speaking

I’ve recently found Viv Groskop’s excellent podcast which accompanies her book How to Own the Room: Women and the Art of Brilliant Speaking. She interviews a diverse group of women from Mary Beard to Stacey Dooley and gathers their tips for good speaking. It’s well worth a listen, and really good to hear great women speaking on the subject.

There’s some great TED talks too, from Amy Cuddy, who shows us the art of ‘power poses’ to Simon Sinek who focuses in on why?

From my early days of physically shaking from nerves whilst presenting, I have had lots of practice over the years. Some presentations and pitches have gone better than others and some have been awful. Although I’ll never be a natural presenter, I think I have become a proficient and competent one. I’m certainly a lot more confident and the shakes have stopped.

I can recommend reading around, and catching a few TED talks. Seek out colleagues who are excellent presenters and see how they do things. Ask them for tips.

Here’s what I have learnt over the years and some tips I’ve picked up from others:

  • Practice, practice, practice - There’s no getting away from it, the more often we do things the easier and more natural it becomes.

  • Build up over time – If you’re just starting out, give yourself time to build your confidence and develop your presenting skills and personal style. Start with small audiences, offer to present a topic at your team meeting, or to a smaller group and build up from there.

  • Get in the mental space - think about what you will wear, you need to be comfortable. As well as preparing what you are going to say, prepare how you are going to say it. We all have our own ways of preparing, get to know what works for you. If you need a few minutes on your own before you go on stage, make sure you give yourself this time.

  • Think about your audience - who are they? What will they be interested in? What key messages do you want them to go away with?

  • Keep any slides concise and to the point – we’ve all heard of death by power point, don’t fall into this trap.

  • Know your tech – if you are using audio, video, live streams and will be reliant on tech, give yourself plenty of time to check everything is working and ensure you have technical support and back up plans.

  • Be yourself, you can observe and model good practice in others, but you have to be true to yourself and make sure it fits with your style too.

  • And finally practice, practice, practice again - Yes, you’ll get better and more confident the more times you speak in public. And you should also give yourself plenty of time to practice and run through each speech or pitch you make. Practice with friends, partners or trusted colleagues. Practice walking round the room. Practice saying it out loud. Ask for feedback and refine your delivery. Practice grows confidence!

Consider working with a coach

If you feel you have a real block in this area, consider working with a coach to build up your techniques, confidence and skills. You’ll be amazed what a difference this can make.

Further reading and resources

· Book - How to Own the Room: Women and the Art of Brilliant Speaking - Viv Groskop

· Book - Feel the Fear and do it anyway – Susan Jeffers

· Book - The 9 public speaking secrets of the worlds top minds – Carmine Gallo

· Video – TED Talk combination including Amy Cuddy, Simon Sinek, Megan Washington

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