There is no doubt that whenever anyone has to approach speaking in public the nerves set in. Countless articles and books have been written about the ways to beat the nerves, and how to create the perfect presentation. But I wanted to focus in on the “why”. “Why” is it so important to be good at public speaking today, more than ever before.
1)You Will Build Resilience and Grow In Confidence
The first time I was in a position of doing a talk that “really mattered” I was so nervous I couldn’t speak to anyone for days. I was afraid of forgetting my lines. I was afraid no one would think anything of what I had to say. I was afraid that I was going to be thought of as all sizzle and no sausage. I felt sick.
Then I did the talk.
It went really well. Like super well.
Nowadays the nerves still come whenever I talk, but I am more confident. I built some resilience to the nerves.
After attending one of my Speaker Courses, Clare saw me at an event and said to me “Kate, I went for a job interview after the course, and I decided to just be me, and be confident. On the first question I answered really assertively – and just said what I thought. I would never have done that before the course! I didn’t just get the job, I got offered a better job because of my answer to the first question”
If you can beat your fear of speaking in public – you can do anything.
2) You Will Be A Better Communicator In Day to Day Life
Great communication is a skill. It requires thought and practice. The thing is that we rarely think of it as a skill, and think of it as something we can all just “do”, and therefore we don’t apply any thought or practice. Especially when our key way to communicate today is via text or WhatsApp.
Speaking in public whether on stage, or podcast or on a youtube channel, will make you a better communicator in your day to day life, because you have to think about what you are saying and how your message is being received.
I helped a client start a podcast about 3 years ago. His podcast is on sport, his job is as a surveyor. He commented to me about a year in that he had noticed the impact of the podcast on his working life. He said “Having to form arguments and opinions on a weekly basis on the podcast means I am able to form stronger arguments at work. I am much less fearless about speaking up, and I am better at making a clear point”
3) You Will Become An Authority (and More Persuasive As A Result)
There are 2 things that make you successful:
- Be good at what you do
- Make sure people know about it
I have a friend who is a brilliant teacher. He covered a role while a colleague was on maternity leave for a year, did a brilliant job and then went for the role full time. In the interview, he assumed that they realised that he had done a good job, and so didn’t feel the need to tell stories or explain in detail what he had done.
He didn’t get the job.
When you stand up in public and tell people stories about what you do, and what you do well, you automatically become an authority on what you do.
When I did my talk to my industry I went from “person who could do a good job” to “person people knew did that job well”. In fact from that talk I found the confidence, and the authority, to launch a business to coach presenters.
The world is noisy. The world has its face in social media. The world is getting automated all the time. Being a good communicator is essential to you being able to achieve your goals – and getting good at public speaking is one of the ways that you can achieve this.
You can find out more details of my public speaking course “Speaker In 6” here.
“Be bigger with your arms” I said as my client was trying out her performance.
She moved her hands up with her elbows almost stuck to her sides.
“No bigger” hoping that she would open up her arms wide
She moved her hands out to the side and kept her elbows glued to her sides.
“Ha! Bigger than that – hold your arms to the side”
She started laughing, feeling the vulnerability, but she raised her arms and spoke her line and that was when she became the leader she should be.
Whether you are on stage, on screen or on air – the performance space shrinks you.
I always tell my clients that in the performance space you need to be vintage you plus 10% or more if you’ve got it.
That means you need to be a tiny bit bigger, louder, more vibrant than you are on a Friday night. And keeping that energy up throughout your performance is tough.
As a presenter you are like the ringmaster – your energy can change the room, and people always remember how you make them feel.
Here are my 5 tips to keeping up your energy:
- Use Your Body
Just like your brain can send messages to your body, your body can do the same to your brain, and most importantly your mouth!
I was working with a presenter who, when I said “what can you do to build your energy here?” said “well I could stand up…”.
Sit forward or stand up – your body will tell your brain to be more urgent and active, and in turn, you will have greater charisma and energy. Even if you are on the radio, be expressive with your arms and your face as this will increase your “follow the leader” vibe (eg your audience will want to come with you).
It might be that before you start speaking you do your Wonder Woman Pose, or get big, or even get your heart rate up by jumping up and down. You’ll be surprised how your vocal tone follows.
2.Use Your Voice
Your voice will give your energy away. I used to hear Mr C on the radio in the early days and I could hear when he was tired!
I think we can agree that low and monotonous vocal tone sounds very boring and will lose your audience. When you are tired your mouth also stops pronouncing your words – as if your lips get lazy!
Asking presenters to put more energy into their work means they can stumble on the following trip-ups. The first is talking too fast. More energy means more energy – not to talk like a Duracell Bunny! So remember to stay well paced. The second is that you end up just shouting. And probably monotonously.
The best for vocal tone is to remember your voice has a lot of pitches or tones within it and you can use them all in your presentation. Initially try starting sentences with emphasis and high pitched and then working “down the stairs” as you finish the sentence.
3. It Should Feel Corny
Whenever I ask presenters to be “grander” in their presentation, they find themselves feeling like they are using “obvious” language, and they feel really corny in their delivery.
I want you to consider 2 things.
Firstly – the obvious is there for a reason. Opening your best man’s speech with a well delivered “Ladies and Gentlemen” is a well trodden path for a reason: it works.
Secondly – getting comfortable with cliche is the first step to finding your own voice. Sometimes you have to open the door to the the cringe, to find what’s the other side. If you refuse to be cliche or a bit cringe from time to time, you are unlikely to find your own true voice. Treat it as part of the process.
4. You Don’t Know There Till You Go There
Rehearsal is the space where you discover your style. Use rehearsal time to try new things, and the things you are afraid of.
If you are terrified of moving your arms from your waist then try rehearsing with your hands above your head. If you are feeling shy, rehearse your talk by acting out “being really confident”, you’ll be surprised what you find.
These are my favourite moments of any of my presentation courses – the moment where a client finds their power and their energy. It’s a truly amazing moment when they let out the giggle of vulnerability, and then go for it. It’s like they light up! This moment never happens in an unprepared performance. It only happens when you push through some of your worries in your rehearsal time.
5. Prepare and Protect Your Energy
Performing can be tiring for some people. I know that when I am booked to do a talk, or when I am recording my podcast, not only do I ensure that I am eating and exercising well in the build up, I also make sure I book in some down time afterwards.
I learned this from one of the presenters I worked with at the BBC. I noticed they were deliberately booking in their rest time after any performance. They were one of the most consistent presenters I have worked with.
Another radio presenter I work with acknowledged that the quick drink after work on a Friday was affecting their Saturday performance and they were frustrated by that. They got sick of walking out of the studio feeling like they’d not been entirely on their game. They felt like they let their listener down
Your audience needs you on your A-Game. In fact they need for you to generate the energy they are lacking, through your energetic performance! Make caring for your energy levels a habit.
Here’s the thing: people can tell when you are reading.
I should caveat that with: people can tell when you are reading unless you have done the work to be sure you don’t sound like you are reading.
My personal preference is that you should go without a script where you can, but the reality is that you will be reading a script at some point.
So if you are going to read from a script – how do you sound like you are talking rather than reading??
- Check the Words
This is key to it sounding like you aren’t reading. The aim for all presenting is that you sound like you’re talking to your audience as if you were in the pub plus 10%. The language you use to write is significantly different to the spoken word.
When we write we use lots of words we don’t need. When we speak we get to the point quicker. We also write in the first person (I / we went to the pub) or the third person (she went to the pub). We we speak we use the first and second person (you).
When you write you tend to put descriptions up front and the subject last. When speaking the subject goes up front and then you may add some description after.
Written: However, this week the dynamic and hairy lead singer of the Foo Fighters, Dave Grohl, did go to the post office
Spoken: “Dave Grohl, the lead singer of the Foo Fighters, went to the post office this week – which was surprising…”
It is worth going through your script and checking that it reads in a way that you would actually talk.
2. Read, Read, and Read Again
Chris Anderson says in his book “TED Talks: The official TED guide to public speaking” that most TED speakers write then memorise their talks. The rehearsal process of repetition makes it sound like you are speaking. And this is the case for those that purely rehearse rather than script too.
You will need to read a script at least 5 or 6 times before it sounds like it has become part of your spoken word.
3. Work Out Your Emphasis and Intonation
With reading written word, ironically, you need to put the natural emphasis and intonation back in. When I played the flute in orchestras we were regularly making notes all over our music, and for reading the written word, you need to do the same.
There is a fantastic technique called The Hudson Voice Technique, developed by the BBC voice over artist Steve Hudson. His technique includes two elements you can use really easily.
Firstly, pause at the end of your sentences (and even more so at the end of your points) and energise the beginning of the next sentence (point).
Secondly, mentally break the script up beyond the punctuation. In a sentence you are likely to find a bit of a natural lull every 3 to 4 words, then get your pencil and draw a line in hose breaks. This will help you slow up your reading so you are not racing ahead, and it will get you to think about where the emphasis is in a sentence.
Mostly, you need to find your natural voice rather than your natural voice, and to do that you can watch my video about finding your authentic voice here: https://youtu.be/ltnQy744B9g
In summary the pros of scripting is that you can remember what you are going to say, you can shorten your prep, and you can even delegate the writing part.
I wanted to leave you with this. I used to think that no script for speaking in public was the thing to aim for. Then I saw this great performance from Richard Huntington at Next Radio in 2016 https://youtu.be/8UIVpD5V0Xs and his energy made me wonder if you could do great presenting with a script in your hand.
“I am not good enough at this,” is what usually goes through your mind at a certain point of any creative project.
Usually right before the deadline.
When I am recording my Everyday Positivity links and I think “ugh why on earth is anyone going to like these?!”, or when I am halfway through a painting commission and I think “gah this isn’t how I wanted it to look! Why can’t I do it like Picasso?”, or most likely when I get to rehearsing my presentation so many times and I think “this just does not feel new enough – no one is going to like it!”
Inevitably on all counts, I make the piece, I show it to the audience and the feedback is great. I had nothing to worry about.
The problem: You get too close, and you get too saturated in it
In her book “Running Like A Girl” Alex Hemingsly recounts a dinner where her friends are asking her about the running she is doing for the book (for which the deadline is looming) and she loses it, having a massive strop about how she never wants to run again.
She got too close. She got too saturated.
Countless podcaster friends and event organiser friends and writer friends and broadcaster friends all tell of the moment where they think “I never ever want to do this again”!
They get too close. They get too saturated.
Inevitably they push through the feeling, and they create something wonderful with a huge adrenaline surge that makes them want to do it again (rather like giving birth where you forget the pain so you do it again – big THANKS hormones!)
An artist friend of mine once gave me some great advice about this feeling. She told me whenever I created a piece of art that I shouldn’t look at it for 6 weeks. “Art gets better in the drawers,” she said. Funnily enough writer Stephen King says something similar about the art of writing, in his book ‘On Writing’
If what you are doing feels like it’s rubbish, then it’s time to put some space and time between it. I record my Everyday Positivity a little in advance so when I hear it go out it could be a week since I recorded it. I am always pleasantly surprised by it – that it is much better than I thought it would be. Mostly because I have forgotten what I’ve said during the recording!
Space and time allow you to give yourself some useful feedback. Use it to get confident in your ability, to get self-aware, and improve your self-belief. Nine times out of ten a speaking client will watch themselves back and say “oh that’s not as bad as I thought it was going to be”. Space and time provide objectivity, it helps you to forget the nerves you felt in the cock-up, and look at how you could have dealt with it better.
So, if it’s not got better in the drawers, then you know you can work on the craft some more. If it has, you can stop berating yourself in the process.