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Public speaking has been one of my many issues as a person, you can’t really avoid it yet many people don’t know how to do it. In a bid to avoid studying law I told my parents I’m not a good public speaker and that I’ll need to learn it in order to be a lawyer. So, I took a stroll to a public speaking school and let’s just say the boss tried to finesse me out of some money for a ‘crash course’ as I was heading to uni in a couple of weeks. Needless to say, I did not go back, the man was even trying to ‘move to’ my sister lol.
Noticeably, when we’re speaking one-on-one it’s easier and we feel more relaxed but just tell us to say the same thing to a bigger audience and suddenly your nerves and fear creep in like cockroaches in a sewer. So why does this happen? The Fast Company states that this is the reason: “Evolutionary biologists tell us that in the presence of a presumed threat, we go into fight-or-flight mode, kicking off a millennia-old chain-reaction that starts in the brain’s fear centres and ends with our muscles pumped with blood and oxygen, prepared for battle or escape”.
I remember taking a public speaking class and the instructor told us to talk to those beside us and find out a thing or two, luckily I was talking to a cute girl haha so it went well, just a normal what's your name? what do you study? Type of conversation. Subsequently, the instructor asked us to talk to the audience for about a minute or so and my nerves kicked in but I sort of controlled them because why else will a random guy tell me he liked the way I talked?
Public Speaking Myths
You don't have to be an orator like Martin Luther King Jnr or have to drop your mic after speaking like Barack Obama at his last White House Correspondents' Dinner to be a good speaker so here are some myths we're gonna bust like the Mythbusters.
I want to keep this short so what I'll do is list a couple myths and put links to where you can read them.
1. It's all about personality: Fast Company
2. If you're good you don't get nervous: Inc
3. Introverts are not good speakers: Forbes
4. You Need A Particular Kind Of Voice: Brand Quarterly
5. You have to memorize your speech: Inc (same link as before)
Public Speaking/Presentation Tips
1. Practice & preparation: On an employability course I did last year summer, the last session was a special one with a public speaking instructor Kayla Conley who asked us to do a few exercises. Some of the exercises include saying tongue twisters out loud, talking about ourselves and my favourite, I was asked to read a poem out loud. We were given feedback on our performance and where to improve; the only way to improve is to practice, practice, practice! Practice makes perfect but I prefer what Dean Graziosi said ‘practice makes permanent’.
According to Fast Company,
"Practice is key to mastering virtually every skill, and effective speaking is no exception. For every minute of delivery, Winston Churchill spent an hour preparing. A 45-minute speech meant 45 hours of prep (or the average worker’s workweek). In the meantime, Churchill had a country and war to run. A great speech should seem effortless, authentic, even spontaneous. Perhaps Mark Twain put it best: “It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.”
2. It’s about the content not the audience: Fast Company further says, "Accept that there will be a percentage of people in the audience checking email on their phones, a few more may be whispering to the person beside them, a handful will be wondering how to sneak out gracefully to make a call, and many may not be interested. Keep this in mind because that means you’re really talking to a much smaller group. Now, doesn’t that make you feel better already? Focus on the content of your speech and the right people will pay attention”. A Skepta lyric comes to my mind to paraphrase, he basically said he treats the audience of 25 people the same as 25,000. The audience are important but keep in mind quality over quantity, just like a net can’t catch all the fish in the sea, your speech might not impact everyone present and that’s okay especially when speaking to a diverse audience.
So what do you do when you’re losing your audience and you can’t help but feel some panic?
3. Use humour, stories, and compelling language: This doesn't mean you have to burst out your comedy act you've been secretly practicing because you have dreams of being a comedian, you're not Kevin Hart or Basketmouth so, chill! Marjorie Lee North advises that you should
"Inject a funny anecdote in your presentation, and you will certainly grab your audience’s attention. Audiences generally like a personal touch in a speech. A story can provide that". She also says to let your personality come through i.e. be yourself, don’t become a talking head in any type of communication. You will establish better credibility if your personality shines through, and your audience will trust what you have to say if they can see you as a real person". It's not like we want to talk to a robot. If people sense you're just repeating information by rote they might be asking you prove 'you're not a robot' like a captcha. I know I said "it's all about personality" is a myth but it's not just personality that makes a good speech or presentation that does not mean you can't let your personality shine like the diamond in the sky you are! Rihanna needs to meet me lol.
4. Positive thinking: Like it was previously mentioned about how your brain can go into fight or flight, positive thinking is you choosing to fight. Positive thinking can give you the much needed confidence boost you need before talking to your audience. The Mind Tools Content Team puts it this way:
"Fear makes it all too easy to slip into a cycle of negative self-talk, especially right before you speak, while self-sabotaging thoughts such as "I'll never be good at this!" or "I'm going to fall flat on my face!" lower your confidence and increase the chances that you won't achieve what you're truly capable of. Use affirmations and visualization to raise your confidence. This is especially important right before your speech or presentation. Visualize giving a successful presentation, and imagine how you'll feel once it's over and when you've made a positive difference for others. Use positive affirmations such as "I'm grateful I have the opportunity to help my audience" or "I'm going to do well!".
5. See yourself doing it: Piggybacking off the previous point, visualization is a powerful way professional athletes gain confidence with their particular style of play, improve their mental toughness etc. I previously mentioned in one of my blog posts (8 Self-help or Inspirational Book Recommendations) that according to Charles Duhigg in his book The Power of Habit (click book title to buy it), Michael Phelps (multiple Olympic gold medalist for swimming) visualizes his win in a series of small wins and when he takes some actions in a sequence. This procedure is so effective that in the Beijing Olympics 2008 he couldn't see and still won the race .
On this matter of visualization, The Productive Teams said:
"Don’t just see yourself finishing the speech and receiving applause, but focus on the entire process. Walking onto the stage (or into the boardroom), stepping up to the microphone, looking out into the sea of people, and delivering your speech calmly. Do this a few times until your mouth no longer goes dry and you feel you are ready to do it for real. If you stumble in your visualized speech, follow through with that and see how you calmly recover and continue. The main thing to keep in mind throughout all this is that you have other skills and attributes that make you a valued person in business and in life, so don’t put the pressure on yourself to be a perfect public speaker and don’t associate your self-worth with success in one area that makes you nervous in the first place”.
For all this to be effective go back to the 1st point, that is the most important, it's basically saying hard work beats talent.
QOTD: A good speech should be like a woman's skirt; long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest - Winston Churchill.
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Not satisfied with the post or you just want further information? Check out our public speaking book recommendation post here.
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My name is Ofai and I'm passionate about blogging and it gives me fulfillment that I can help you out so sit back, relax and enjoy your weekly carats of #SelfImprovementGems with me!