One topic that has been very close to my heart all these years is public speaking. If you read my first and previous post about being the introvert, public speaking is the thing I least want to do! Hahaha! What an irony. But I did a lot of it, especially in my last profession as a teacher, and subsequently as the head of school, principal or headmaster depending on which term you call it in your country.
Truth be told, public speaking is not only about speaking in front of large audiences. It’s also for friends and family; the building of bonds. You see, public speaking requires one to think on his or her feet all the time, requires that planning in terms of the conversation’s direction; you may be the main speaker but it’s also important to feel the audience’s emotions, to listen when needed. It’s important to engage them, to deliver quality content and to take into account breathing techniques when talking and listening. It’s so many things on the big stage all at one time, but it’s very much also what we do on a smaller scale when talking to family and friends.
I’m sure most of our ‘official’ public speaking experiences must have started in the classroom. Some of you could have had it as early as preschool. For me, I vividly remember my first major one in high school, where I had to sort of campaign to my class on why I should be the technology representative. You know the one whereby we set up the Overhead Projector (OHP), ahahaha that is so ancient right, but that’s the tool that was used to project the information slides onto the white board in front. Those were the good old days, the 90s. Ok so back to the story, I had to pitch to my classmates why I deserve to be part of the class committee and I pretty much fumbled it as I was so nervous. I think I went along the lines of, ‘Do you see me standing here? This is who I am and if you would like me to be the tech rep, then vote for me.’ After I spoke, there was no reaction whatsoever from my classmates. Bang! Reality hit hard. I appeared to keep my cool but deep inside, I really wanted to crawl into a hole and hide until class was over. So eventually I was voted as the tech rep to my surprise.
There was another incident where I organised a house party in my 20s. I have never done such things before but I wanted to challenge myself, to sharpen my public relations and management skills. Right, so to cut the long story short, it was the lucky draw segment and I had to pick out the lucky names. Everyone was staring at me (like 30 of them), or so I thought. Actually they were casually looking at me and waiting for the winning names to be called out. But guess what….I freaked out. I sort of trembled, my hands were shaking and it was very obvious. I felt so embarrassed….I mean it really just hit me when I least expected it. I never knew giving out lucky draw prizes could be so complicated hehehe. Anyway, I just put on a brave front and finished what I had to do. But the images of those nervy moments kept replaying in my head after the party, and even till today, I still think about it every now and then.
Since then I also progressed in my teaching career, and starting from classes of 10-30 students, this became regular audiences of 100-500 after I became a school principal. Bizarre isn’t it? How does an introvert who is so shy of public speaking, whose heart pounds so fast in big audience situations, who trembles when he gets really nervous become a school principal. I have no idea but this often made me view myself in awe. I guess sheer willpower and the determination to do well pushed me to do so, day after day.
Not handing out advice here, but simply sharing if you are keen to know what makes a good speaker. Actually these are not just ‘big audience’ tips but also when talking to our family and friends. Being able to articulate one’s thoughts is a lifetime art, and doing it well can bring you a lot of happiness and a peace of mind.
- Breathe well, in and out, whether you are talking or listening. It keeps you alert, helps you focus and gives you stamina for the entire duration. Very importantly, it allows you to carry all the words out in a steady tone of voice. Here, this video may be helpful
- Look at specific people in the audience as you talk. Engage in frequent eye contact with a few of them from the left to right and top to bottom from where they are seated. This allows you to carry out a conversational style of speech
- Fake it till you make it. There’s a very interesting video by Ted Talk speaker Amy Cuddy on this. It’s about the self-talk that you tell yourself in your brain, no matter how anxious or nervous you are. You will make it even if you fake the confidence. And by the way, it is very normal to feel nervous before talks, especially the big ones with big audiences. For me, this can mean butterflies in the stomach for days or even weeks, depending on the importance of it. But it’s normal, it keeps you alert and ready for a good show. The more you do it, the better you will manage these things
- Use humour whenever appropriate. This is a tricky one. Not easy at all. For me, it really depends on your rapport with the audience, like….do you feel the connection with them? Do you respect them such that you know you are sharing with sincerity, rather than lecturing or talking down to them? It helps if you like to inject humour into daily conversations, like a habit which comes naturally. If the humour doesn’t come naturally to you, NO PROBLEM at all too. Just focus on sincerely delivering a good presentation. You will be equally appreciated nonetheless
- Talk about your own real life experiences. The audience will love this rather than hearing you mechanically delivering point after point. They want to know who you are, who is the person delivering this presentation to them; I’m very sure your audience want you to succeed so that their time spent listening is worthwhile
Do you have more to add? Feel free to share it in the comments below. If you ever make a faux paus or make whatever mistakes, say something wrong or whatsoever, don’t hesitate to apologise and say that it was an error. And then carry on with your speech. It is what it is if it has happened; we must all remember that we are only human. Don’t reproach yourself too much…….it’s really ok, it’s fine I assure you.
Not every public speaking event will go smoothly. I remember there was once I talked to a group of about 30 parents in a room. Somehow they were more interested in looking at their smartphones than listening to me. I did some reflection on this. Was my content boring? No hahaha. Was it the way I talked? Maybe. Perhaps some humour could have lightened it up but I didn’t come up with any that time. Were the parents genuinely busy with work? Possible. It was working hours, right after lunch. The after speech interactions were more engaging though, so that sort of saved the event. These things happen, and not every talk will be a perfect show.
All in all, I do think that public speaking is not only about speaking to an audience. It really very much is also about how we interact with friends and family. If you look at the 5 main points above, for me, it’s very, very much about how we interact with people we care for, with sincerity. From the heart. It strengthens relationships in the long term and we create happier lives for ourselves and the people around us too. Public speaking to me, is a skill for life, public or private situations, no matter how old we are. Really keen to see you share your thoughts on this too. Feel free to comment if you’re in the mood!