I was very shy and nervous in my early years at school. In class I would become upset at the littlest thing. Tears would be guaranteed if I was asked to speak in front of the class.
I remember being sat in the deputy head teacher’s office with my Mum. Back then we had to choose our options for study up to the age of 16. I wanted to take drama. I have no idea where that idea came from – they wanted me to focus on academic subjects like history. I convinced them over half an hour that drama was the subject for me. In the end they agreed. So, over three years, I studied drama and joined a local theatre group. At first I felt overwhelmed and out of my comfort zone, but over time my confidence and self-esteem grew and my fears gently dissipated.
Upon finishing school I left drama classes behind and trained as a teacher. The stressful role caused me to experience severe IBS symptoms (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). My body seemed to be telling me to step back. Instead of taking medication, I learnt everything I needed to manage my symptoms and in doing so I went from being a UK size 16 to a size six. I’m now free of symptoms.
I wrote a book, and when it was published I was inundated with opportunities to speak at events. I was inundated with opportunities to speak at events. Fear and insecurity hit me like a tonne of bricks when that first request came in. It was like being back at school again.
Now, I speak internationally about my experience. Do I get nervous? Of course. Over the years I have developed ways to reduce the stress and anxiety and by mastering this I was recently awarded Speaker of the Year in the UK.
Firstly, choose a topic where you have expertise and can speak about comfortably.
- Craft your speech: Don’t leave it to chance that you will deliver the best presentation of your career.
- Deliver value to the audience: The speech is about them – not you. Does your speech pass the ‘So what?’ test and give them something they can use in their life and/or work?
- Gain experience: Look for opportunities at work: offer to lead meetings, present a topic in your team meetings or speak to the management team. Also look for opportunities at relevant clubs, non-profit organisations, charities, professional organisations in your industry or student groups.
- Practise and prepare for every presentation: Leave nothing to chance. The more practise, the more refined your message will be and the more impact you will have.
What impact do you want to make on your audience?
Over the years I have identified (and experienced) six common pitfalls.
- Reading verbatim from slides or handouts: A big no-no. Not only does this frustrate the audience, they will be distracted by you looking over your shoulder for ‘what’s next’. You will look both unprofessional and unprepared – not a good look.
- Thinking ‘I will just hope for the best’: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Rehearse and practice the transitions, words, gestures and movements. Saying it out loud and while standing will enable you to hear any clunky words or phrases and hone your presentation. Why not do a dry run in front of your friends or peers?
- Low energy: In a room full of people your energy should be infectious. Turn up your energy by 10 notches on a dial. Command attention and exude confidence, passion and charisma right from the start. Look like you own the stage.
- Not knowing who your audience is: Find out their aspirations and obstacles and ask questions beforehand to ensure you know what is expected of you from the organisers.
This article is an edited version. The full article was first published in the July 2015 issue of HRMonthly magazine as ‘Oration stations’. AHRI members receive HRMonthly 11 times per year as part of their membership. Find out more about AHRI membership here.