The Art of Public Speaking
Public Speaking is an incredibly useful skill to develop. Studies say that a large number of the population have morbid fear of this act. [ Day 6 of “One Day, One Blog” — a challenge I set for myself for the month of January 2019.]
The year was 2012. We had just launched Fourth Ambit. I stood on a raised platform, in an amphitheater styled auditorium. There were 120 plus students sitting in the room. I had come prepared with a very detailed PPT.
I took the mike and turned around to face the audience. I do not know what it feels like to stand naked in-front of people but if I were to hazard a guess what I felt at that moment would be a close contender.
It is a wonder I did not faint. I have this horrible tendency to forget to breathe when I am super stressed, you see.
A little background on my relationship with the stage
When I first started participating in elocution contests, I had a huge advantage over the others. I had severe myopia ( -8.75). So as I got onto stage, I would remove my glasses and it was just me…. and me.
Since my chosen profession was sales, I have had to give presentations throughout my career (with the glasses on, of course). While a good public speaker will benefit during presentations, in my opinion the opposite is not always true.
Hence, when my startup life created opportunities to build on this particular skill, I did not shy away from it.
Lessons I learnt on stage ( to be precise, by holding a mike)
This is by no means a comprehensive guide to Public Speaking— only a few things that I have observed and learned which I hope will be helpful to those who wish to strengthen this skill.
(A) Know Your Audience
Over the years, I have realized that I enjoy giving Talks to two types of audience — (1) College Students and (2) Women Entrepreneurs
Because I know these people. My work ensures that I interact and build relationships with students and well, I belong to the second category.
Take the time out to understand your audience and their expectations. One way to do it is to ask the organizers about the expected audience and their background.
When I conduct a session I go a step further and try to have informal chats with the students sitting in the crowd before I have to go on stage. This has multiple benefits — aside from learning about their expectations, it also acts as an ice breaker. I have formed a connection with a few of them at least and they tend to look at me with a bit more generosity ( audience can be VERY critical — as they should be. They are giving you their time)
(B) What is your purpose
Be clear what the purpose of your session is.
- Are you trying to sell them something? Or convince them to try your product?
- Are you trying to inspire and motivate them?
- Are you trying to impart knowledge and educate?
- Are you trying to entertain them?
It is important to identify the purpose so that you can prepare your content keeping this in mind.
(C ) Content and Delivery
There will be a lot of pompous asses who say , “Oh I haven’t really prepared. I am just going to wing it.”
There are two reasons why people say this.
Reason A: They are scared of falling flat on their face and this is their way of taking an anticipatory bail. ( Confession — I have done this. )
Reason B: They genuinely do not care and come unprepared for the talk. Sometimes they get it right despite this but most of the time, the audience can tell the difference. I dislike this category because they are disrespecting the audience and their time. (I am sure I have been guilty of this too but ever since I started getting paid for talks, I make it a strict rule not to go unprepared.)
It is critical that you prepare your content. It will take a couple of days to research the content and cull out the story you want to share.
Once the content is ready, prepare the delivery.
No one is born a great public speaker. It comes with conscious effort and practice. Speak out your content. In the bathroom,in-front of the mirror wherever you feel comfortable.
( C ) Play to your strength
There are various styles of delivering a speech. TED Talks are my go-to resources for inspiration and ideas.
You may be good at injecting humor in your speeches. As long as you can be reasonably assured that it will not fall flat, that is one of the BEST ways to go. ( I only succeed at humor when they are in the self-deprecating category.)
Some people are excellent story tellers. Their speeches are wonderfully peppered with metaphors and analogies.
Some go straight to your heart with emotional tales.
The style that works for me is conversational. My speeches work mainly because my audience identify with me and they feel I am speaking to them individually.
Do not worry if you have no idea what style to adopt. It will become clear to you as you get more experience.
The different categories of speakers
Before I sign off, I want to provide a few suggestions as a way forward to people who are serious about engaging in this activity.
Start with reading a lot — this is a golden rule for anyone aspiring to be a Public Speaker.
Identify topics that interest you and write down a small speech. Speak it out loud.
A key step is to get used to hearing your voice.
Practice in front of the mirror. As you gain confidence, “perform” in front of trusted people and get their feedback.
I consider myself in this category. I would advice people in this category to watch and study speeches of people you admire. Joining organizations and clubs such as Toastmaster would be a very good step for this category.
If you can record your speech, do so and evaluate it. It would be a great opportunity to learn.
Of course, I cringed so much when I first saw a recording of my talk that it took me a while to get back on stage.
The secret about “The Expert” is that he does not think of himself as one. He truly believes he is at the “intermediary” level and is constantly trying to improve.
Parting words — Read a LOT and Practice, Practice and then Practice some more!