I was fortunate to have the opportunity to do a lot of public speaking growing up. I am pretty comfortable on stage now. While it is easy to attribute this to natural talent, I was horrible when I started. My school believed in giving kids plenty of opportunities to participate in inter school competitions. And, I had been chosen to try my hand at public speaking. After a poor showing in my first 3 competitions, I was told that they’d begin to give other students an opportunity if I didn’t do well in my next one. I did, and didn’t look back.
This is the process I followed –
1. Write/type what you want to say. As a kid starting out, my mom used to write all my speeches. (Thanks mom!) It took me a while to find my own voice and write my own.
2. Practice. When I got started, I rehearsed every talk at least 20-30 times in front of the mirror. The “practice in front of the mirror” tip ranks among the best pieces of public speaking advice I’ve received as it contributed most toward a better end product.
3. Find your authentic style. I am not funny. So, I’ve learnt that it is pointless to try to be funny. I’ve also learnt that it becomes very annoying when someone is trying hard to speak like someone they’re not. Just be you. In my case, I tend to gravitate towards content that is focused on learning (surprise, surprise) in my own style. My public speaking voice and persona isn’t very different from my conversational voice and persona. I’ve found that alignment to be very helpful.
4. Talk about stuff that matters to you. This ensures that the passion comes through. If I had to go one step further, I would even say – say something that you think might make a difference in the lives of the folks listening. Too often, public speaking becomes a race to make people laugh.
As you can tell, the process is not rocket science. I still follow it to this day for most important talks. However, the benefit of having done it so many times is that I am comfortable with minimal practice. That helps a lot – especially when it comes to delivering presentations at work.
Many people fear public speaking. I think that fear is natural. I do not know anyone who jumped off the cradle ready to speak. In every speech during my first 10 years or so, my legs and hands used to shiver like nobody’s business on stage. You learn very quickly that the fear is just part of the process. You learn to embrace it and trust in your preparation. And, when you do, you’ll have people come up and tell you have “the gift of the gab.” :)
Whenever I think of great public speaking, I am reminded of the Sir Winston Churchill quote (paraphrased) – “There’s three weeks of preparation before a great impromptu speech.”
So true. Success lies in the hours.