Public speaking. Two simple words that can strike fear into the hearts of even the most charismatic and confident of characters. Whether it’s doing a presentation at work, giving a best-man’s speech or even performing on a stage most of us get panicky before having to step out in front of an audience.
Different people get nervous for different reasons – be that fear of losing their train of thought, stumbling over their words or getting heckled by Regina George. Even massive stars like Salma Hayek, Rod Stewart and Barbara Streisand have admitted to suffering from stage freight, so what hope is there for the rest of us?
Despite the fact that I regularly do public speaking, be it in schools for Stonewall or at corporate events, I still get nervous every single time. But nerves can be good when channelled in the right way and there are a few things that I do to make sure that I give myself the best shot at ensuring it’s alright on the night. So here they are - shoe-horned into topics based around titles of some well-known pop gems. I can’t promised they will take away the nerves, but they will definitely help to make sure you are as prepared as possible...
Think through the DNA
By the DNA I mean structure. What is the overall message that you want to communicate and what are the key elements that it is made up of? Thinking through a structure before you start will make it much easier to write the speech in the first place and helps to keep topics and thoughts clear and organised to the people listening. It also has the added benefit giving a framework for thoughts to be anchored around so that if disaster does strike and you lose your way it will be much easier to pick things back up.
One simple structure to use is chronological, telling a story in the order it happens in, for example when I am in schools talking to kids about growing up and being gay I talk through events starting from when I was a child moving through to the present day. Another is listing bullet points or headings and then expanding on them – as I have done with this column!
3 Words - Know your audience
If your mum heard the things you talk about with your mates on your group Whatsapp she’d be mortified. Equally if you’re having cocktails in Balans with your best mate and try to cover the same conversation you had with your gran at Sunday lunch then they’d probably invent some emergency and do a runner.
So it’s really important to think about who you are delivering to, what they are interested in and what is appropriate and then pitch your tone and content accordingly. If you’re not sure if you’ve got it right get someone else to read it over and give you their thoughts. You could write the best speech in the world but if it’s not pitched to your audience then you run the risk of losing their interest.
Look at The Man in the Mirror
This one is pretty straightforward. Practicing in front of a mirror can really help you to understand how you come across with both your voice and with your body language. It can feel a bit cringe-worthy at first but just the very action of getting over that awkwardness with yourself can help you come across more relaxed in front of other people. And now that we’re in the age of the iPhone you could take it one step further and film yourself and then watch it back to pick up on things you may do subconsciously and not even know about – just keep it clean boys!
You Say It Best, When You Say Nothing At All
He was a wise one that Ronan Keating. This can apply in two ways to public speaking: Firstly think about using visual aids, as pictures are a really good way to help illustrate points and also give people listening something to help keep their attention. Nobody likes a ‘death by PowerPoint’ full of words as these can be distracting - if people are reading they aren’t likely to be listening to what you are saying. But pictures can be really powerful – for example when I do my Stonewall talks I use old photos of me as a baby, at school and university to help bring the story alive.
Secondly, think about using pauses. These can be really powerful when used in the right way, particularly after a message you really want to land as they allow the people listening time to digest what you just said. They also have the added benefit of letting you catch your breath, re-focus and think about what you are saying next.
…Baby One More Time
The 3 P’s: Practice, Practice, Practice. The more you do something the more comfortable you will feel. So make sure you prepare well and practice both by yourself but also rope in your boyfriend/best mate/Pomeranian to listen to you so you can get comfortable talking in front of other people. You can also get more practice at work by volunteering to your boss to present things at team meetings, this will help you to build up confidence and can also benefit your career by helping to get you noticed by senior people (more on that in a future column).
And Finally… Love Yourself
Like I said at the start, there’s no quick fix for getting rid of nerves and telling yourself to act confident is easier said than done. For those of you TOWIE fans you’ll know that Gemma Collins is a big believer in the book The Secret. To summarise it in a sentence it’s about visualising things that you want in order to attract them to you. Now I don’t buy into any Mystic Meg type stuff but I do believe that visualising yourself doing well at something and believing that you are able to achieve it can have a positive psychologic effect meaning that you are more likely to do well. It’s amazing what a positive outlook can do – as the old saying goes, If you say you can you will, if you say you can’t you won’t.
Sanjay Sood-Smith is a food entrepreneur and former candidate on The Apprentice. You can find out more about his business Tuk In, which makes curry-in-a-naan, at tukinfoods.com.
Follow him on Twitter at @sanjaysoodsmith
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