Making a speech or presentation really doesn’t have to be the traumatic ordeal it is so widely considered. In fact, it can be exhilarating!
I am a public-speaking coach based in Manchester (UK), working to blow away the mystique that surrounds public speaking, both because of the stress and misery it causes and because, once we all understand what public speaking is really about, we’ll perform much better and standards will rise. For every harassed person dreading the prospect of making a speech or presentation, there is an audience who will almost certainly suffer let’s say a sub-optimal experience. Lose/lose. My mission is to change that.
Learn to Love Public Speaking!
First of all, let’s bust a few myths.
Myth No 1: The best public speakers are natural extroverts (show-offs?)
People who are naturally confident and like to be the centre of attention may have an advantage, in that they don’t have to overcome shyness before they can get up and talk to a crowd, but the fact that it’s easier for them to do this doesn’t necessarily mean they will be good at it. Over-confidence can be a deadly enemy.
The two secrets to successful public speaking are preparation and, yes, confidence, but the twist is that the confidence can be feigned, while the preparation must be thoroughly real and rock-solid. To a great extent, the confidence arises from the preparation and the danger is that if you’re too confident to begin with, you may not prepare as diligently as you need to in order to deliver a smooth and engaging talk. The shy or fearful person, on the other hand, will work like a Trojan to make sure the talk is as good as it can be.
How I can help: Partly as a result of some of the other myths that abound, people often don’t know how to approach preparing for a speech or presentation. I can show you exactly what’s involved in composing, structuring and delivering a talk to which the audience will pay full attention. If you’re an extrovert, I’ll help you to channel and harness your natural exuberance so you become a great speaker. If you’re an introvert, learning the techniques of effective preparation and delivery will go a long way to building your confidence and there are also some strategies I can recommend to help you think about public speaking differently and more positively.
Myth No 2: Great speakers make it look easy but public speaking is actually really difficult
This is a tricky one because there is an element of truth in it – but not in the way a lot of people believe. It’s not just the fact that they’ve done it many times before and honed their skills that allows great speakers to make it look easy, it’s also because they’ve put a lot of effort into preparing this talk. However experienced and confident somebody is, if the content is hastily thrown together and the delivery is improvised, the result will not be the best he/she can do.
Particularly in the early days, public speaking is much harder work than a lot of people expect. You need to spend some serious time planning what you’re going to say, finding the clearest and most concise way of expressing it, and then rehearsing your talk until you can present it well. Rehearsal is a crucial phase, never to be skipped. You may be the world’s leading authority on your subject but that is not the same as being able to articulate what you want to say about it eloquently and memorably.
As you get more experienced at public speaking, the process of refining your material speeds up a great deal. You’ll become more focused and efficient at rehearsing too, once you know exactly what you’re aiming at, so it’s certainly true that someone who has been speaking in public for years has an easier job of it than the novice does. But being hard work is different from being difficult.
Even if you do find preparing and rehearsing difficult (and perhaps I’m splitting hairs by distinguishing between hard work and difficulty), the comforting aspect is that you get to deal with the challenging bit in private. As long as you put the necessary time and energy into your practical and psychological preparation, you may be astonished how easy the delivery part actually is.
How I can help: I can show you what works and what doesn’t work in terms of putting your talk together. Then I can show you how to deliver effectively so you connect with the audience and make an impact. Basically, I can help you to master the whole process, so that you too can make public speaking look easy!
Myth No 3: The best way to get good at public speaking is to get out there and do it as often as possible
This view is flawed on two levels. At the upper level, it’s inefficient: it will take you a long time to hone your skills through trial and error – and that’s assuming this method works for you and doesn’t either ingrain bad habits or leave you constantly insecure about whether this particular talk is going to fly or flop.
At the deeper level, it’s risky. What if it all goes horribly wrong? Yes, you can learn from it but still you’ll only know what not to do next time. But it may be that the experience is so bad you can’t bring yourself to try it again and you develop a fear of public speaking.
The best way to get good at public speaking is to have some coaching, so you know what you’re doing. Once you know how to prepare and deliver effectively, then take every opportunity to give a speech or presentation and build your experience out in the field.
How I can help: I can take all the stressful guesswork out of learning to speak well and set you up for sure success, as opposed to experiment. More than that, I can show you how to protect yourself from failure: if you’re well prepared, practically and psychologically, you will be OK whatever happens.