Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Petrifying Public Speaking

I am running an hour long session next week on Work/Life Balance and my gut is already doing some staccato stomach squeezes in nervous anticipation. My session is during The Unholy Hour: after lunch on the final day of a rather serious conference. How in Cadbury's name am I going to engage a room full of strangers when all they want to do is wear their screen-saver expressions, eat the last of the good biscuits and get a good head start on the peak hour traffic?

For some reason, I can goof off with friends, during meetings, karate classes and even on radio but the thought of actually standing up as the sole focus of attention, trying to convince the people staring at me (or are they checking out my Ayers-Rock-sideways arse? dog hairs on the bottom of my trousers? a king-sized boogie blowing in the breeze of my left nostril?) that I have some idea of the subject matter truly terrifies me. As Seinfeld once noted, most people nominated public speaking - over death - as their biggest fear in life. "So they'd rather be the one in the casket than the one still living, delivering the eulogy."

Imagining the audience naked doesn't work for me. It just leads to nightmares where it is me who is naked, normally behind a podium, trying my damnedest to hide the fact that I may be wearing a shirt and jacket on top, but have nothing on below the waist. Besides, wouldn't it be harder to entertain and engage a completely unclothed crowd - they'd certainly be much more easily distracted, surely.

Perhaps that’s why I’m enjoying writing from home so much. I can ration my time in front of strangers or even the need to ‘perform’ in front of co-workers. No need to dress like a professional, add the right amount of comment during planning sessions or have to speak authoritatively about some obscure part of government legislation to a member of the public I'd dearly like to shove under a bus. There's also no requirement to facilitate team meetings, convince senior management as to the wisdom of my ideas or be called on to answer a difficult question during a leadership seminar.

However, this session is about my book, and why I, the Poster Child for how NOT to achieve work/life balance actually found the ways and means to achieve it. All well and good, but how can I spin that out for 60 minutes before resorting to "Let's open it up to the floor," (and instead hoping the floor would open up to me and let me disappear forever), giving them a half-hour early minute or resorting to finding some funny YouTube clips that only vaguely relate to my topic? What if I forget what I was going to say? I'm not sure I can go noteless like Andrew Denton or be able to spin off some witty anecdotes in quick response to the situation. "Er, I seem to have forgotten what I was going to say...."Amnesia used to be my favourite word, but then I forgot it," heh heh, sweat sweat, blush blush......

Several years ago, I did a brain dominance psychology test at work and it revealed that I tended to perform pretty well in front of others, but suffer stress before hand, usually by throwing up before walking on stage. Too true, although 'throwing up' should be cancelled and 'crapping daks and farting like a flute' inserted instead.
Even during relatively innocuous occasions I've suffered at the hands of facing the public. Making the speech at Taka and Justine's wedding, my left knee shook so badly that the beads and sequins on the neckline of my dress appeared to be flashing, and after enduring a live telecast of 'Wheel of Fortune' as a 'lucky' contestant, I immediately regurgitated the complimentary chocolates and champagne the second I walked off the set. Even teaching high school students felt like a performance in front of a particularly picky and hostile crowd: how many times, in a work situation, are you faced with a fifteen year old looking you up and down and then asking sullenly, 'So how old ARE you, Miss Read?"

Back to now, or next week to be precise. How should I handle this presentation? Reliable old Powerpoint with some dot points and slightly humorous photos thrown in to keep them staring straight ahead and amused? Straight speech and copies of detailed notes to hand around? Minties and a mini group meditation? Or open up a stand with the sign 'Buy My Book Here' ??

Who knows, except the surety that I'll lose at least a couple of kilos in the hours before I start.....

15 comments:

TOM said...

I dread public speaking which ids odd because most people that know me say I never shut up!!

River said...

Start with the straight speech and switch to power point with humorous photos if/when you feel you're "losing" them. It means double the preparation I guess, but you'll have both plan A & B to keep your audience transfixed for the hour. You'll be fine.

eleanor bloom said...

I agree with River. Or, what you could do - if you want the whole thing to be slightly humorous - is have the humorous photos randomly flashed up behind you throughout. Then a) they'd know you have a great sense of humour and so none of you will be taking the thing too seriously, pressure off; and b) they won't care what you're saying as they'll just be waiting for the next funny picture (lolcat! yay!) to pop up!

Gosh. Aren't you glad you asked?

Anyway, I think straight speech interspersed throughout with a lot of anecdotes (some helpful, some both helpful and amusing - hey, entertain them and they'll buy your book!) and some powerpoint in the middle if you can be bothered.

And just throw handfuls of those Minties at them at random to keep them alert.

ThirdCat said...

Number one huge advantage: you are talking about something everyone wants to talk about and everyone can relate to. So, in that sense you can't fail.

Know exactly what you are going to say, word for word and just go over it again and again. You get enormous confidence knowing that you can say it without your pieces of paper. But you can take your pieces of paper on stage with you.

Email me if you want to talk about it. Or buy James O'Loughlin's book. Best thing on public speaking I ever read.

myninjacockle said...

Go with the booger. Make it luminous green and the size and shape of one of those fish-like soy sauce containers they hand out with sushi in food courts. Hypnotise them with it, make several fast paced turns that look like they might shake it free (make sure you have secured it firmly before hand) and occasionally scratch just near it.

Your audience will be captivated, entranced. Of course they won't listen to a word you say, or have any respect for you. But they will remember you.

Kath Lockett said...

Hmm, thanks guys. I'll try memorising my notes first (or at least making myself utterly sick of them); slipping in a few funny pics to keep 'em interested and then - if I'm truly struggling - have a go at the dangling booger...

franzy said...

I love public speaking.

So there.

Clear your mind, do your homework, picture yourself being showered with glory, applause and adulation. A quick belt of Grandpa's Special Medicine beforehand is also a powerful tool.

Fuck what these people think. THEY are there to hear YOU talk. YOU are better than THEM.
Say it: "I AM BETTER THAN THEM!"

NOW SCREAM IT AT THE NEXT PERSON YOU SEE!!!

ashleigh said...

These days I don't mind it (pubic speaking) provided I'm prepared beforehand.

But TRY, TRY to make it humorous for such an audience. (If you are trying to win a prize or something, then keep it serious... but in this circumstance you want to keep them AWAKE, you want them to REMEMBER, and you want them to queue up and BUY THE BOOK.)

Humour, oddball, and quirky should be a good thing.

If you use the dreaded powerpoint, be very careful - not much per page, and liberal use of the funny pictures.

Your elephant at the start of this post would be a good start.

And if you can, see if you can mix line drawings, photos, and other artwork.

See here:
http://headrush.typepad.com/creating_passionate_users/
for some really great ideas on presentation, artwork and so on. Steal some of it if you have to.

Anecdotes are good as well, but try and make them have a bit of a laugh ("or you can resort to chocolate..." at the right point...)

A rough rul of thumb if you do use the dreaded powerpoint: 1 minute per slide is the normal rate. And for gods sake don't write paragraphs in the powerpoint. Use an 18 point font (seriously) or bigger and stick to points where you know what you will say.

Then, it'll be a breeze.

(Just make sure to take a copy on a CD AS WELL AS A USB STICK so that in the event of a technical disaster you can keep the show in the road.)

Baino said...

Not much to add here Kath, you've received some good advice and I'm totally with Ashleigh on making your powerpoint presentation simple, slow and legible. I don't really have the opportunity to do much public speaking other than opening the odd client seminar . . but there again . . the people attend because the 'want' to be there which takes the pressure off . . . good luck!

delamare said...

I write speeches and coach speakers for a living (I'm a communication manager), and agree with the practice practice practice mantra. It doesn't need to be word perfect, but you do need to feel comfortable with the content.

Other than that, I'll give you two hints. One is to remember that Powerpoint is only there emphasize and illustrate your main points - not to have the whole speech up there some people can read along as you deliver it. And yes the text needs to be BIG.

The second is that sharing a story about yourself - funny, heartfelt, whatever - is the best way to deliver a memorable speech. One CEO I've worked with (for a company very close to your heart I might add), needed to know word for word what he was going to say every time he had to deliver a speech. But the one he was most remember for within the company was one in which he shared a story about himself and his family. We discussed what and when he might tell the story within his speech, but the actual words were unscripted.

All that said, I absolutely hate giving speeches myself. I suck at public speaking. I know - those who can do, those who can't teach.

Oh yes - and I've been meaning to tell you for ages that at the South Yarra train station in Melbourne, there has been a big billboard promoting the 'Dummies' series and yours, girl, was the one on the top of the pile.

delamare said...

I write speeches and coach speakers for a living (I'm a communication manager), and agree with the practice practice practice mantra. It doesn't need to be word perfect, but you do need to feel comfortable with the content.

Other than that, I'll give you two hints. One is to remember that Powerpoint is only there emphasize and illustrate your main points - not to have the whole speech up there some people can read along as you deliver it. And yes the text needs to be BIG. And pics are particualrly good (not beanie people clipart though!).

The second is that sharing a story about yourself - funny, heartfelt, whatever - is the best way to deliver a memorable speech. One CEO I've worked with (for a company very close to your heart I might add), needed to know word for word what he was going to say every time he had to deliver a speech. But the one he was most remember for within the company was one in which he shared a story about himself and his family. We discussed what and when he might tell the story within his speech, but the actual words were unscripted.

All that said, I absolutely hate giving speeches myself. I suck at public speaking. I know - those who can do, those who can't teach.

Oh yes - and I've been meaning to tell you for ages that at the South Yarra train station in Melbourne, there has been a big billboard promoting the 'Dummies' series and yours, girl, was the one on the top of the pile.

delamare said...

Oh God - double post sorry!!

drb said...

All excellent advices.
Experimentally, it has been shown that if you started to totally stress yourself up 1 hour before the presentation, by the time you are on the stage, your body would have used up all the stress hormones and you would not care anymore. I have taught my students that, and it works.
Break-a-leg! :-)

Kath Lockett said...

Thanks again guys and to Delamere - WOO HOO! If I was there I"d take a photo of it - I'm sad enough to have a copy of the Borders 'New Year New You' catalogue that featured the book in it!

Deep Kick Girl said...

I have no advice. The mere thought of public speaking leaves me sick and clammy.

I'll never forget when I set up the Central Coast Film Club about a gazillion years ago with my friend Michael. We had organised for a small article in the local paper and through that article advertised our first meeting.

I was so excited about the whole idea and about the potential "film loving" friends we were about to make. So there we were, gathered at the Lone Star-type eatery next to the Hoyts cinema at Erina. We had acquired a small but motley crew of film loving folk, all anxiously waiting for our opening spiel.

Confidently I stood up in front of this group (we're talking no more than 10 or 12 people here) and began to talk absolute gibberish. Somehow talking in front of a "crowd" turned my witty train of thought into something totally incomprehensible. Poor Michael had to jump up and "join in", i.e. translate the rubbish which was coming out of my mouth into something resembling a presentation on what we were thinking when we came up with the idea of this Film Club and why we hoped people would join.

See... I'm all clammy and sick right now.