Public speaking is a skill you develop. It is an essential tool each person should have in their toolbox. In this area, being a talkative extrovert does not really count. You do not have to be an expert. Everyone can learn how to communicate ideas in front of an audience clearly and effectively.
This is a journey. A 10 minutes speech can take over 8 months to prepare. This is a journey on which you embark with many people alongside you. And a journey you have to own, embody – for what you have to say is important, and only you can say it.
1. Find the core of your message
Finding the core of your message is as important as finding your own voice.
The first key is to know your audience. A supportive audience will not be as reactive as a hostile one. Knowing who you are speaking to will help adjust how you deliver your note.
Often you may feel like you have a lot of important things you want to express, but it is paramount that you define it in one quintessential point.
Garr Reynolds, the keynote presenter and author of Presentation Zen illustrates this in the famous test, the “45 seconds elevator pitch.” The goal is to summarize your idea in one sentence, one that should fit on the back of a business card. This can take quite some time to get to, and you may need cardboard, sticky notes, 4×4 tables, and listening to a few podcasts to get there, but it is an essential part of the creative work.
Once you have stripped your idea to its core, you rebuild around it by choosing only the examples and arguments that best illustrate your angle. This stage of the work may require you to “kill your darlings.” This concept, originally from the creative writing sphere, means that the writer must be prepared to cut off some of his favorite sentences, chapters or paragraphs if doing so improves the clarity of the work. Remember, that some parts of your speech may be for different talks altogether that can still be used later at different times.
2. Ask for help
Make a list of your strengths and your weaknesses. Whether it is a tendency to procrastinate, your Imposter Syndrome, or an inflammatory subject you do not know how to best approach. Identify your obstacles then ask for help. In the end, like any big task and first experience, you need others’ insights and helpful ideas. It is a real team work. And it is a process.
Like Brené Brown said, coaches are kind of like midwives. They provide full support, on a practical, motivational, and emotional level. My coaches helped me birth my ideas and my stage self without judgment. Thanks to them, my written piece went from an “audio book to a live talk”.
Although there is much literature available on the subject, I found that the book The Well Spoken Woman, by Christine K Janhke, offered great advice for beginners and experienced speakers alike.
3. Practice Practice Practice
The most valuable tip I received was “Practice Practice Practice.” Ditch the notes, keep your gaze up, smile, record yourself audio and video in order to debunk any hidden verbal and nonverbal nervous “ticks” such as looking down or hair flicking.
Use each audience and opportunity you get to practice your speech. Whether to your assigned coaches, or by yourself standing in front of mirrors. Practice also in front of family, friends and Uber drivers. You may even ask someone who has experience in performance arts or the corporate world. Each one will give you valuable feedback about what you still need to improve. The rest will be built into muscle memory and will feel natural when the moment comes.
4. Own the stage
Own each word. Do not let any of it drop. Embody what you say in your hands, your voice, your posture. Be very present. Even in your silences. Know where you put your pauses and how long they are. Silences are when your audience digests the information you have just given them. Keep your upper body animated but avoid wandering on stage, for it can be distracting to the public eye. Instead prefer to stand one place, or make one or two steps in between main ideas.
Dress to feel very comfortable and terrific in your outfit. For me, finding the proper physical appearance was a delicate balance between being seen and being heard, as I am. For some of us, it can be standing barefoot, sitting down, or wearing your best dress.
Now more than ever, it is crucial to go up on that stage and make your voice heard, because it counts. Even if you get anxious, know that you are not just doing it for you, but also for those who came to listen to you. It is transmission. It is representation. And it matters.
Watch Dr. Niyibizi’s FIX18 talk here.