Public speaking is one of the most visible transferable skills you can develop in your career. If someone had told me nearly 25 years ago that I would be on stage in London and around the world as a respected public speaker, I would have overcome my fear of speaking much earlier!
Don’t let nerves get the better of you
I remember when and where I was when I conquered my fear of speaking. I was in my hometown of Adelaide, Australia, presenting at a public speaking competition. I almost dropped out I was so nervous, and I told the organiser that I had forgotten my palm cards (which I had conveniently hidden in my back pocket). Needless to say he made me deliver my 6-minute prepared speech, then came the 4-minute impromptu topic.
For this talk, the speaker would be given an envelope with a random topic and then would have to speak for 4 minutes then and there.
I ripped open the envelope and read the words “Your heroes have let you down”. GO! screamed the organiser.
For the next 4 minutes, the audience heard how I was devastated as a child when I found out the Muppets weren’t real. In the first 30 seconds, when my brain kicked into gear, and the adrenaline started flowing, I realised at that point that I actually really enjoyed speaking in public.
Fast forward 25 years, and more than literally hundreds and hundreds of presentations to a range of internal and external audiences around the world, and I realise the value of that competition because it made me a better speaker, and one more valuable to my organisation, and my own brand.
I am sure many people reading this post will identify with the fear of public speaking, and may wonder why they put themselves through the ordeal of this each time they are asked to speak.
Public speaking is an incredible transferable skill and you don’t need to be on a well-lit stage in front of hundreds of people to practice and perfect this skill, it can be in front of your team at the next staff meeting, a customer at a product pitch, or your board of directors.
Take small steps
Each time you speak, you get that little bit better as you can see first-hand what works and what doesn’t.
I’ve also encouraged my Daughter, now 10 to take any opportunity to speak publicly, so she can overcome any fear at an early age and become a confident and eloquent presenter when she is much older, and she is well on the way #ProudDad.
The benefits of being a confident public speaker are endless. When you’re up in front of your peers, they are looking to you for thought leadership and advice, and this can also increase the value in your “personal brand”.
My previous company, IBM also benefited from my talks as I was able to represent them in front of potential clients that they may not normally have access to. I’m also asked on a regular basis to present to internal IBM audiences about the power of Eminence, and how they can increase their visibility, and hence value to a wider audience using social media and public speaking.
Indeed, when I joined IBM in 2013, the deal breaker for me was the ability to keep delivering my talks. Their answer was of course yes as they saw how my profile could launch them into other communities, and also have the IBM point of view represented around the world. For IBM, they truly value the power of eminence, delivered through thought leadership keynote talks, not necessarily product pitches.
My top 5 public speaking tips
1. Practice, practice, practice! Use your iPhone along with a cheap tripod to film yourself presenting, and then watch it back so see what works. Ask friends, family and colleagues to watch it also and provide honest feedback
2. Start with talks on a subject you are passionate about, and it will allow you to forget the audience and speak from the heart. Work up to more detailed talks and subjects as you become more confident
3. Don’t expect to become a keynote speaker overnight. Offer to speak on panels, or chair a session to get exposure and experience. If what you are saying resonates, before long you may be asked to speak during a keynote session
4. Use social media to promote your speaking events before, during and after the talk, so others can learn from your experience, and find you as a potential speaker
5. Watch other speakers – browse the TEDx YouTube channel for other business leaders speaking, and attend conferences regularly to watch experienced speakers and see what techniques you could incorporate into your presentations