I vividly remember a speech I gave about Pygmies in my Grade 9 History class. It was in French and we were not able to use cue cards or notes. My safety net was gone and I was terrified. I stood in front of my class with my back against the blackboard desperately trying to keep the quiver from my voice and remember each and every word I wrote down. Then my foot started unconsciously banging against the cabinet below the blackboard ... yes, the experience still haunts me.
My husband has the gift for public speaking. He comes across as articulate, smart and downright funny whether it is in front of a large industry conference or a gathering of friends and family. I asked him to share his secret ...
How do you become a good public speaker? Good question. You should ask a good public speaker. I'm an average public speaker, which means I can generally deliver speeches that receive reasonably positive feedback. While mediocrity is nothing to be celebrated, in the realm of public speaking the ability to deliver an average speech puts you in a fairly high percentile. Most people dread public speaking and it is reflected in their performance. Why is this?
"I know it's important, I honestly do but we're talking about practice. We're talking about practice man. We're talking about practice. We're talking about practice. We're not talking about the game. We're talking about practice." --Allen Iverson
Most people do not give speeches on a regular basis and so they are not practiced public speakers. Like anything, practice is the key to public speaking. I had a job where I delivered tons of presentations. Actually, I delivered several versions of the same presentation tons of times. I became very familiar with the material, which allowed me to shift my focus from speaking notes to the audience. I noticed that people disengage when they are being read to. Eventually I abandoned speaking notes altogether and memorized a general narrative of the presentation. I developed the story.
"Now this is the story all about how…" --Fresh Prince
I like to think of delivering a speech or presentation as telling a story. Good story tellers know which elements the audience needs in order to follow along, and where the opportunities are to truly engage (for example with humour). Whenever I have to speak publicly, whether it is a best man's speech or work presentation, I always know the story inside out. This is very different from memorizing a specific text and saying it in front of people. If I had to tell the story of The Three Little Pigs I would not try to regurgitate a specific printed version of the tale, rather I would memorize the core elements (3 pigs, 1 wolf, straw/sticks/bricks, fail/fail/pass, etc) and build around that.
"So, in conclusion, good luck on big final exam." --Professor, The Simpsons, Homer Goes to College
Nervous? That's ok, I am sure that many of the world's top politicians, lecturers and comics still get nervous before speaking, regardless of how many times they have done it before. However, I bet they know their stories backwards and forwards, which plays a significant role in overcoming their nerves. So take those speaking opportunities to practice and make sure you know your story.
(Photo of Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada)