There are a few things that people say to me when we start digging into their public speaking. I think of it as that thing you do when you feel like you are about to be stretched. You get a bit defensive.
In my case, when I am being stretched (or taking on feedback), I find myself saying things in a high voice like “I have got better at <insert criticised area>” or “You should have seen me 6 months ago…!” And the air is filled with my awkward laughter.
When I am the one getting people ready to improve their speaking skills, I hear this one a lot from my clients: “I am OK once I get started”… In fact, one of them openly admitted recently “I just find it so hard to start the damn thing”.
Starting a talk rarely feels comfortable.
It’s like when you go to introduce yourself to someone, cold. It’s hard. It feels awkward. There is a bump in the road you have to get over, but it feels like a wall you’ll crash in to.
Same when starting a talk. So here are some of the tools I use with my clients to help them through that bit.
- Start in the middle (or at least as far in as you can)
When I teach storytelling I get the class to start with the problem or the mistake that has happened – we often think this is the middle of the story. It’s not. It’s actually where the story begins.
The trick in all good talks is to start further in than you think. We worry too much about the setup and the context. For example:
“There’s a moment when you lose something, that your heart sinks, time stops and you think – nothing is going to be the same again”
Is a better start than “Yesterday I was the park, the birds were singing, and the sun was beaming down. I had this really great back-pack, that I bought the day before, and I thought that I had everything with me but I didn’t”
Dawdling in the detail lands you in the depths of dreary.
The same applies to when you are prepping. A client said to me recently that when they were writing they weren’t sure how to begin. Thinking we have to have a grand beginning can hold everything back. The trick is to just get going, the order can come later. As can the killer first line.
And more often than not once the story is written a great headline pings out at you.
2. Never settle for bog-standard
The adage “Tell them what you are going to say, say it, then tell them what you have said” has been taken so literally that I keep coming across people starting their presentations with the line: “I am here to talk to you about…”
The best first line I ever heard was:
“This talk will start when there is an earthquake” …
It was followed by a stretch of silence about 2 minutes long (which on stage is a lifetime). I was in.
The speaker, it turned out, is a dancer who had implants put in her feet to sense the seismic activity of the earth. There are earthquakes all the time as the earth moves beneath us, so when the plates move, her feet vibrate. She was fascinating and captivating.
Imagine she had started with “Today I want to talk to you about some implants I have in my feet”
It’s just not that interesting.
3. Cliches are cliches for a reason
The problem with trying to land a great first line is that you stray into sounding cliched. And in a bid to not sound cliched you then start avoiding the cliche. And then you just come back round to “Today I am here to talk to you about…” #yawn
Cliches are cliches because they work:
“At the end of the day…”
“The bottom line is…”
“Only time will tell…”
Just because StoneHenge / Disney World is popular doesn’t mean you don’t go.
Some people feel that cliches mean that you sound like everyone else, and yes this can be true. But, I see cliches as a town you have to go through to get to the destination of “you”, and if you don’t go through it, you won’t find the right you.
So use cliches, because people will hear the familiarity in them, and then move through them to find your own way of saying it.
As an aside, beware: introducing yourself is underrated. While you don’t need to introduce yourself if you have been introduced, if you do – speak slowly and clearly.
Many people I work with rattle out their name and where they are from as quickly as possible because it’s boring or it feels weird.
Introducing yourself is a chance for people to tune into you – especially if you are speaking in a place where you’re the one with a strong accent. It also allows them to get to know you, and it indicates how important what you have to say is. Plus what’s the point of you standing there and saying something revolutionary, if the audience can’t attribute it to you because you said
“Hellomnameisclaregrndand I am a cnsmerbehvier specialist”
Your opening line is the opportunity for your audience to go “OK I am going to invest into listening to this!”. Take the time to make it a good one.
Everyone has to do presenting from time to time. It can be in a formal setting, it could be an interview, or it could simply be in a meeting – and if it’s in a meeting it might not actually be a presentation – it could be you just want to make a point.
In any form of public speaking situations asking yourself these 3 questions beforehand could get you everything you want!
- What do I want out of this?
Setting our own bar is vital before any presentation. When you establish the point you want to make, and what you want the outcome to be for you, then you can control the content of the presentation and be confident with it.
2. What do I want them to remember?
This is about making sure your audience walks away with one clear message. And it ensures that when you are presenting you can make sure your theme shines through,
3. Who am I speaking to?
Years ago I heard Alec Baldwin say on his podcast “Here’s The Thing…” that when he interviewed people he always thought about who they were, and what they would be expecting?
In his case, he was thinking that if he was interviewing a huge record label boss versus a politician, versus a comedian, he might ask his questions in a certain way, or think of experiences he could relate to with them.
You can make some simple assumptions about the person you are going to attempt to connect with. For example, if you know the audience will all be lawyers you can make some assumptions about what is important to them that day. Or if you are going for a meeting with a CEO you can assume they are busy and not waste your time getting to your point.
These three questions never fail to help my clients through sticky situations, the content they are unsure about sharing or meetings they are nervous about. So if you are in a similar situation – these 3 questions will not let you down.
There is no doubt that whenever anyone has to approach speaking in public the nerves set in. Countless articles and books have been written about the ways to beat the nerves, and how to create the perfect presentation. But I wanted to focus in on the “why”. “Why” is it so important to be good at public speaking today, more than ever before.
1)You Will Build Resilience and Grow In Confidence
The first time I was in a position of doing a talk that “really mattered” I was so nervous I couldn’t speak to anyone for days. I was afraid of forgetting my lines. I was afraid no one would think anything of what I had to say. I was afraid that I was going to be thought of as all sizzle and no sausage. I felt sick.
Then I did the talk.
It went really well. Like super well.
Nowadays the nerves still come whenever I talk, but I am more confident. I built some resilience to the nerves.
After attending one of my Speaker Courses, Clare saw me at an event and said to me “Kate, I went for a job interview after the course, and I decided to just be me, and be confident. On the first question I answered really assertively – and just said what I thought. I would never have done that before the course! I didn’t just get the job, I got offered a better job because of my answer to the first question”
If you can beat your fear of speaking in public – you can do anything.
2) You Will Be A Better Communicator In Day to Day Life
Great communication is a skill. It requires thought and practice. The thing is that we rarely think of it as a skill, and think of it as something we can all just “do”, and therefore we don’t apply any thought or practice. Especially when our key way to communicate today is via text or WhatsApp.
Speaking in public whether on stage, or podcast or on a youtube channel, will make you a better communicator in your day to day life, because you have to think about what you are saying and how your message is being received.
I helped a client start a podcast about 3 years ago. His podcast is on sport, his job is as a surveyor. He commented to me about a year in that he had noticed the impact of the podcast on his working life. He said “Having to form arguments and opinions on a weekly basis on the podcast means I am able to form stronger arguments at work. I am much less fearless about speaking up, and I am better at making a clear point”
3) You Will Become An Authority (and More Persuasive As A Result)
There are 2 things that make you successful:
- Be good at what you do
- Make sure people know about it
I have a friend who is a brilliant teacher. He covered a role while a colleague was on maternity leave for a year, did a brilliant job and then went for the role full time. In the interview, he assumed that they realised that he had done a good job, and so didn’t feel the need to tell stories or explain in detail what he had done.
He didn’t get the job.
When you stand up in public and tell people stories about what you do, and what you do well, you automatically become an authority on what you do.
When I did my talk to my industry I went from “person who could do a good job” to “person people knew did that job well”. In fact from that talk I found the confidence, and the authority, to launch a business to coach presenters.
The world is noisy. The world has its face in social media. The world is getting automated all the time. Being a good communicator is essential to you being able to achieve your goals – and getting good at public speaking is one of the ways that you can achieve this.
You can find out more details of my public speaking course “Speaker In 6” here.
Commercial Radio Presenters have always known the pressure of being allowed to talk, for only a certain time. Over the years it has been my job to get the most out of a presenter that has to talk for only 2 minutes. Or 30 seconds. Or 10 seconds. Or 3 seconds.
In that time it’s a radio presenter’s job to get you to listen for 15 minutes more (this is to do with how audience figures are collated). It’s not easy.
Now many presenters struggled, complaining that they couldn’t get the story in in-that time. I spent many hours and days explaining that in that short time they should be thinking “what CAN I do?” Rather than “What can’t I get done?” There is nothing like a time limit to make you self edit – but self-editing is hard.
Then one day a presenter who had been resistant, bounded up to me and with a real glint in his eye said: “Kate! I listened to my Friday show and I tell you what, this shorter link thing is amazing. When you hear my voice it’s like, boom!”
He clapped his hands together “Impact!”
Making every word count is not a new concept, Mark Twain said: “I’m sorry this letter is long, but I didn’t have the time to make it short”. And the Twitter age has had us working out how to edit our complex emotions down to 140/250 characters for some time now.
It’s still not easy. So here are some tips to self edit your content.
- Remove all mitigating language
Too many words get in the way of your message.
When you look at a painting the warmer colours (yellows, oranges, reds) attract the eye first. So if you want the eye drawn to a certain part of the canvas you paint some red in that spot. But if you paint the whole canvas red, it’s just red – and nothing else stands out.
Words are the same. Too many words, and too much detail is an ineffective way of getting someone to hear your point. You are saying everything and nothing.
The first thing to do is to get rid of any wasted words:
I was thinking that
Does that make sense?
Not only do they fill in space that needs to be cleared, but they also undermine your point.
- Rehearse and hear it back
Nothing beats rehearsal and listening back to spot where an edit is required.
Record yourself on your phone, and listen back. Film yourself on your phone, and watch it back. Even practising in front of another human gets you to hear yourself back.
Trust me – you will hear your edit immediately. I usually find myself yelling “oh shush will you” at myself. And then I just hammer out the words.
- Get to the point as quickly as you can
Helen Zaltzman-Austwick is the Queen Of Podcasters. I saw her speak at a live event a couple of years ago and she advised the audience of eager podcast makers: “Start as late in the story as possible”.
The biggest mistake people make is to over explain the set up and give too much context. The story doesn’t start with the set up, it starts with the problem. The set up literally gives your audience the reason to keep listening to you.
It’s the same with any point you wish to make. Never make your boss wait 45 minutes before you deliver the point of your presentation. Get into your point as soon as you can.
Use these three tips to be heard, and create an impact in these noisy times.
To stand on stage and perform feels vulnerable, so when you are on a line up with other speakers, that’s when the comparison voice kicks in.
I’m sat watching the guy who is speaking before me. He is really funny. Like really funny. I’m not that funny. And he has no notes – how is he doing all this without notes?
Then the next lady steps on the stage and she is covering really similar stuff to me, so obviously my brain starts up: “they are going to find out that you aren’t as clever as you make out”. And again “oh she is putting this message together much better than you do”…
And then your brain hits you with this doozy: “Are you sure you’re good enough?”
Brene Brown says that “Comparison is the killer of creativity and joy”.
And as I sat there trying to stop myself from going into a flat spin, I started to deploy the methods I use that remind me of the only thing that can stop you from killing your creativity and joy…
Remember that You are You.
I get all my clients to establish who they are before doing anything else. Understanding what you bring to the table, where your strengths lie, and what you are trying to achieve, eradicates comparison. All that matters is that you are attempting to be the best you can be, in line with your own values. Grasp this, and then suddenly you won’t be worrying about what others do.
Presenter Chris Evans said on his first Virgin Radio show in January “If anyone is any good then there is room for everyone”. He was replying to those who were curious about any competition between him and his old Radio 2 show. He’s right.
I also used to get really worried that I wasn’t as good as other people doing what I do. That was until I started to realise that there wasn’t one or two people that I was in competition with… there are thousands of people doing it, all over the world. All I can do is do the best I can to help the people I want to help.
Of course, competition is useful, It spurs us on and helps us to be better, and competition is fuelled by comparison. So, be clear on who you are, what you want people to remember, and focus on that. You can wave goodbye to comparisonitis.