It wasn’t all that long ago I was in a similar boat to the one many professional people find themselves in.
I HATED public speaking, pure and simple.
The thought of getting up in front of an audience to deliver a presentation quite frankly made my guts churn.
I had worked as a senior consultant in major PR and communications agencies for a significant period of time. I had also run my own public relations firm for 10 years. I was more than comfortable pitching for new business in the boardrooms of some of Australia’s best-known companies.
But I HATED speaking in public.
Back in the early 2000s, the PR agency I co-owned was doing some pretty decent work and carving out a solid reputation in the marketing world. As a result I got asked to speak at several marketing conferences. It was a part of the gig I knew I had to go along with – speaking at high profile industry conferences and events was (and still is!) a great way to get your company’s name out into the marketplace. So I did it. But I still HATED the experience.
I remember for one very important conference I rehearsed my presentation until I knew it word perfect. What a schmuck!
What I didn’t know at the time – but found out soon enough while I was presenting – was if you have memorised every word of your keynote, what happens when you have a lapse in concentration and you can’t remember what comes next? I can tell you – it has the potential to trip you up and turn the rest of your presentation into a bit of a nightmare.
And let’s not forget the actual time it takes to script and memorise one whole keynote presentation. Ridiculous!
I got through. I was never great and probably nor was I very convincing, but I put in the necessary prep time and got by.
But I still HATED the experience.
‘Hate’ is a pretty strong word. But those who fear the stage know exactly where I am coming from.
But around 2007, things started to change for me on the public speaking front.
That was the year I started my blog PR Warrior (you can still find the original blog online). I also had gotten into Twitter in a big way. This thing called ‘social media’ was just starting to emerge as an interesting trend.
My professional profile started to rise over the next couple of years, thanks mainly to my blog plus some exposure I managed to get in mainstream media. As a result, people started asking me to speak at their events.
These gigs were mainly small community meet-ups and business group gatherings. I’m not sure why but I always said “yes”. The fact they often wanted me on a panel versus delivering a full-blown keynote address certainly made life a bit easier.
After a while, I started to embrace the experience, and that’s when things turned around for me in the speaking stakes.
There was a lot of genuine curiosity around social media at the time and audiences were very receptive, which helped. Plus, I figured that given I was already neck-deep in the trenches blogging, tweeting and experimenting with Facebook and LinkedIn (it was very early days of social media), I could talk from experience, which gave me a degree of comfort.
I continued to agree to speak (for nothing) at events.
Panel participation soon gave way to keynote addresses at reasonably sized business events and industry conferences.
Over time I settled into this public speaking caper and even began to enjoy it. Rather than fear the stage, I actually started to look forward to the experience. Being passionate about my topic certainly helped, but undoubtedly my change in mindset was the biggest factor.
I reckon I spoke gratis at some 50 gigs before I charged a cent for my efforts (my early speaking fee was pitiful by the way). Then Lady Luck smiled upon me.
Barry rang me several weeks later with the opportunity to speak at the annual conference of a well-known Australian retail brand. He had liked the content of my talk and the manner in which I presented it. This tick of approval came out of the blue and did wonders for my confidence.
And so my professional speaking career was officially born.
I’ve since delivered talks and keynote presentations in Miami, Bangkok, Fiji and the UK, as well as all major Australian cities a number of times over.
I’ve presented to marketers and PR professionals, company directors and startup entrepreneurs, recruiters, financial planners, mortgage brokers, franchisees, journalists, lawyers, school principals, executive assistants, tourism business owners, physiotherapists, hospital purchasing officers and insurance loss adjusters.
More importantly, today I wholeheartedly enjoy the experience; audience feedback is generally very positive, and I love interacting with people post-presentation. Indeed, people’s feedback provides me with great insights for the consulting side of my business, so speaking serves a double purpose for me.
What can you learn from my experience? Here are 4 tips …
If you’re keen to get into speaking in a more meaningful way – not necessarily paid speaking, it might be a sideline activity to help raise your profile professionally, for example – here are four tips you might find helpful:
- SAY ‘YES’ – grasp the opportunity to speak at events no matter what the size. I can honestly say the more speaking you do, the easier it gets (I’m talking mainly about overcoming nerves here).
- TAKE THE PANEL APPROACH – if you are a bit anxious about taking the stage (nothing wrong with that, we have all been there), maybe start out by speaking on panels. I found that really worked for me. Or if it is to be just you delivering a presentation, maybe ask the organisers if you can do a Q&A on stage with someone instead. I’ve heard my friend Yvonne Adele, who is one of the top professional speakers in Australia, give this advice numerous times, and I reckon it’s a great idea.
- PREPARE, PREPARE, PREPARE – don’t fully memorise every line like I stupidly used to do, but plan out your presentation well before the event (NOT the night before!) and internalise it fully. Great preparation seriously helps to take the edge off the nerves!
- EMBRACE THE OPPORTUNITY – most importantly, lean into your fear and welcome to opportunity to present. Speaking to an audience is a privilege; respect that, bring enthusiasm for your topic and speak from the heart. It will show, and people in turn will respect you for giving it a good crack, even if you happen to stumble along the way. It’s all GOOD!