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A Bit Nervous about Public Speaking? These Three Secrets Might Help 27 October 2018

If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you will soon be making a speech to your staff, or at a conference.  The date may already be in the diary.  You’re up for it, but you’re a bit nervous.  Or maybe — let’s be honest — you’re simply dreading it.  If so, you’re in good company.  Few people enjoy public speaking.  

I’ve just watched 11 people who, I assume, do enjoy public speaking.  I make this assumption* because they’ve just given a talk at the TEDx Conference in Brighton.  The queue from the Dome to St James Street confirmed to me that TEDx Conferences are a crowd-pleasing international phenomenon.  Their rules are crystal clear.  You don’t have to be a celebrity (though you might be.)  But you do have to have an idea worth spreading.  And — on a stage bathed simply in black and red — convey that idea in 18 minutes or less. 

What I saw got me thinking about how the principles for delivering an 18 minute talk are really very similar to compiling a two minute news report.  Here are three.

  1. Set the Scene.  And set it straight away.  A counter-intuitive golden rule I picked up recently at a meeting of the Professional Speaking Association (yes, it does exist) is that the speakers who really know their stuff don’t even thank the person who introduces them.  They just convey their thanks with a smile, then stand stock still, look the audience in the eye, and set the scene.  “Picture this — I’m at my desk, looking out at the rain — it’s 8.45am on a November Thursday and my coffee is kicking in — my phone rings and it’s the Head of Sales … we’ve got a problem …” 
  1. Tell a Story.   It could be a customer’s experience of your product.  Or a member of staff’s success/failure/challenge.   Or — What Happened After The Head of Sales Called.  But the trick here is not to mention it and then move on to the dreary slides.  The trick is to weave that story into every point you make in (if you must) those dreary slides.  When you make your final point, make it through the eyes of whoever was at the heart of that story.  Complete the circle. 
  1. Keep to Time.   When broadcasting live on BBC News, there’s little choice — the voice of the News Transmission Assistant is in our earpiece telling us when our thirty seconds (or forty seconds, if we’re lucky) is up.  If we over-run by ten seconds we hear the word ‘TEN OVER’, firmly spoken, in our ear.   You probably won’t have anyone that persistent monitoring your performance.  But it’s a great rule to stick to, because it keeps your messages focussed, while showing courtesy to the audience, and whoever’s trying to ensure the event goes according to plan.   

It struck me yesterday that of the 11 speakers I saw, the two that bombed (for me) were the two who didn’t stick to these principles.  And guess what?  They were the celebrity names I’d actually heard of!  Yet they rambled a bit, or rushed, and used cluttered slides that confused me.   Perhaps their elevated status had encouraged them to forget the rules, and they didn’t get a tiny bit nervous any more.  So isn’t that encouraging?  The speakers who get their messages across are the ones who stick to the rules, because they are a tiny bit nervous. 

*PS:  one of the loveliest moments was when a super-successful business-woman on stage ended by admitting that ‘giving a TEDx’ had been something she had been scared of, but was determined to do.  A little humility, and it won a lot of applause. 

If you’d like to book a Public Speaker who’ll stick to time and tell a story with a business takeaway or two (as well as video clips, because that’s always much more fun) give me a call on 07850 188620.  I may suggest myself, or if I’m not quite right for your event, I may be able to recommend a contact from the Professional Speaking Association who is!

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