Wednesday, 6 November 2013

How to be AWESOME at Public Speaking

Yesterday I wrote about my first speaking engagement in about 10 years. I was petrified! Public speaking is definitely not my comfort zone, let me concentrate on written communications any day! And if that's not possible, I can just about manage sitting in a small group and facilitating a discussion. But force me to stand in front of a bunch of seated observers and my knees wobble, my palms sweat and my breathing becomes short and shallow. So, how did I fair?

Actually, it went very well. But that semi-confident exterior was the result of a lot of preparation and a few coping mechanisms to boot. In fact, just making a few tweaks in your preparation, I think, can be the difference between a blithering mess and a calm, collected voice of authority. I thought I would share what worked for me - so next time you have a big work presentation, job interview or speaking engagement, follow these golden rules!

The Week Before...

1. Preparation, preparation, preparation
This speaking engagement might be your worst nightmare. You might be dreading it and wishing the day never arrives. But don't leave it too late to prepare, because if you're fully prepared you'll be much more confident. Here was how I prepared:

  • Two weeks before I spoke, I had already recorded my message off the top of my head twice on my dictaphone and scribbled down some notes. 
  • The week before, I listened back to my recordings and tried to get it down on paper.
  •  A couple of days beforehand I took these notes, grouped them together, filled in the gaps and finalised the main points and structure. 
  • I then re-recorded myself before doing a practice run in front my husband.
So by the time I came to speak, I had already spoken it out loud a number of times.

2. Know your topic
It seems obvious, but know your topic really well. I was privileged to speak on something I'm particularly passionate about. Before I've ever spoken on my topic, I've lived it. To the point where it's already a part of my life's philosophy. It was already ingrained in my psyche so talking about it in an engaging, exciting, passionate manner was pretty easy. When you know your topic inside out, you won't be fumbling through your notes trying to work out what to say. So rather than worrying whether I sound knowledgeable, I just needed to worry on communicating effectively.

3. Exude passion
Similar to above, but be passionate! If you're not passionate about your topic, how can you expect people to engage with you? Even if it's boring facts and figures, interpreting those facts and figures must be a little bit exciting in your field of expertise, right? When you're passionate about something, it's not hard to get other people excited too. 

On the Day...

4. Look the part
Think back to the last time you looked in the mirror, applied some lipstick and then went to conquer the world. Now compare to the last time you looked in the mirror and thought 'Oh God. I look terrible.' How would you want to look speaking in front of a room full of people? If you feel confident in the way you look, you'll speak confidently, whatever the topic.

So get a hair cut, don some killer heels (my preaching shoes were red patent), apply some lippy, accessorise and go get 'em!

5. Know the running order
Make sure you know when you'll be called on to speak and by whom. The worst thing would be if you felt rushed or sprung upon so check with the MC or leader beforehand to find out at what point you will speak, whether you need to pick up a microphone, whether it needs turning on, whether someone's going to introduce you or will you just jump up. And if you have a Powerpoint presentation or any other media, try and hook it all up beforehand so you're not caught off guard with techie problems!

While You're Speaking...

6. Occupy your hands
When speaking publicly, the common dilemma is what do you do with your hands? You need to do something otherwise you'll end up biting your nails, wringing your palms or just shaking like a leaf. But if your hands are occupied, they will channel all that nervous energy. If you're holding a microphone then, great. If not, decide what you're going to do with your hands before you begin; that way, you'll have all the right props with you. I gave myself three options so that I could alternate between each one - then it wouldn't be so obvious. Here's mine:

  • Have a glass of water handy so you can take a sip to pause and slow down, or simply just hold the glass when you start fiddling.
  • Rest your hands on the table as you turn the pages in your notes.
  • Wear a simply piece of non-jangly jewellery. I had a long chunky necklace on and found myself just holding the pendant every now and again. (Don't fiddle with it constantly, though, it's distracting!)

7. Break the ice
When you get up to speak, don't launch straight into your talk. Break the ice with a joke or a funny story about your journey there or your preparation. I commented on how lengthy my notes were. That introduction just gives you a chance to get used to the sound of your own voice and allows you to calm your nerves before getting to the important stuff.

8. Bring focus
Once you've introduced your talk but before you launch into the key points, do something that intentionally brings your focus back to the task at hand. It helps to take a moment to pause and slow down before rushing into the important stuff. I took a moment to pray out loud - just asking God to help me to speak His words (I was preaching in Church ~ maybe don't try this in a job interview situation!).

9. Pick out your supporters
As you speak, work out who in the crowd are your biggest supporters. They're normally on the edge of their seats, smiling, nodding and generally looking engaged. Hopefully you'll see a few! Then make sure you look directly at those people when you look out at your audience. Their encouragement will help you to feel like you're winning.

10. Be awesome
Know that you're there for a purpose and that you wouldn't be there if you were totally incapable. So just relax and enjoy the ride. Laugh at your mistakes, make jokes along the way and enjoy it!

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