So you’ve been invited to talk, in public, to a group of people you’ve never met before and may never meet again, holy shit! Presenting in any setting can feel absolutely terrifying! Now, you can spend hours looking at Youtube videos on how to stand, what to say, how to say it, what not to say, what not to do with your hands etc. etc. etc. All seemingly filmed by MPS’s (Male, Pale, Stale – sadly, the majority of public speaking ‘experts’ that are out there in the interwebs). By the time you get to the end of a few of this videos, any shred of confidence you’d gained by being asked to present has sloped off of you like a runny egg down a drain, never to be seen again.
Never fear! Scaredycat’s here to help you through! These 101 blog posts are all about speaking in public and not feeling like a complete imposter or a total fool. So, let’s dive in with the first part of a little list I call The P’s! Nobody’s Perfect, Plan, Practice, Perform
No matter the subject matter of your talk, no matter the audience, no matter the setting, do keep in the back of your mind, at all times, NOBODY’S PERFECT! Those beautiful TEDX talks you’ve been watching? Nearly a year of practice has gone into each one. Obama’s speeches? Planned, practiced so much more than just on the day.
As an audience, we don’t want to see perfect! Fallibility makes us human! If we wanted perfect, we’d watch a robot and even then, studies show that our brains are put off by so-called perfect robot faces and we fail to understand what they’re saying to us. We hate Perfect so why would you want to be it?
Yes, there are things that will put off your audience from paying attention to what you’re saying:
- completely losing the thread of your presentation AND making it obvious that you’ve lost it (we’ll talk about this more in the 101 post on Perform
- not ‘reading the room’ or ‘taking the temperature of the room’ – nothing worse than a speaker failing to notice that their presentation is literally sending people to sleep (again, more on that in the Perform post later)
- Belittling or insulting your audience (you’re on your own for that one, see ‘Amy’s Baking Company’)
But, but, but I’ve seen presenters do any of the following and they’ve kept their audience captivated:
- burst into song/dance
- get hiccups
- laugh at themselves
- wave their hands around, a lot (many of you from different cultural backgrounds may relate to this. For me, a family dinner isn’t complete without at least one person getting elbowed with an errant fork)
- Pause in their presentation
- Ask a lot of questions of the audience
- Invite audience members on stage to join in the conversation
- lose sound on a mic
- drop the mic (and not in a triumphant way)
- not be able to see over the podium (when podiums are obsolete, I for one will be very happy!)
- stride across the stage continually throughout their presentation
- stand in one place throughout their presentation
What is often the difference? Many, many male speakers do not give a shit about appearing to be perfect (in their minds, many of them already are!) and give fantastic presentations no matter how they present or what goes wrong. (I’d love to give you a link about this but psychologists and scientists are all still arguing about why this is). Many of us female speakers get trapped into the self-talk of trying to be the perfect speaker and we then take our mistakes too seriously or don’t keep the audience with us as we’re not being our natural selves!
As much as I’m loving all the #bodypositivity around right now, I’m not suggesting appearing nude on stage, I am suggesting giving yourself a damn break! If you’re instantly worried about presenting when you get that invite to speak (and we need to be taking up more of those and offering ourselves as speakers a heck of a lot more AND being paid, see the #allmalepanel #manel hashtags on Twitter to get depressed on the lack of female representation at conferences) then take a few minutes to yourself to say
“I don’t have to be perfect, perfect is boring”.
Then keep saying that to yourself as you Plan your speech or presentation, Practice it and Perform it and, hopefully, by the end of the process, you’ll be uplifted by public speaking (it does get addictive, I swear!) and not want to Pass out instead 🙂