Public speaking can be scary. Much as it might be tempting to turn to the gin to help with the nerves, I have some tips which will help you harness those feelings and allow you to find your natural voice. [Just to be clear, in this context I am calling all situations where you might need to talk about your work, to other people, ‘public speaking’. I’m not limiting it to giving a talk or a speech.]
- The audience wants to hear it
- You feel you have the right to say it
If these two components aren’t there, things will not go well. If your audience isn’t receptive it will be really hard work for you to win them over, and if you don’t believe what you have to say is worth saying you won’t convince anyone. Unfortunately you can only control the second component, but luckily most situations you find yourself in, when talking about your work, will be with audiences who are already interested and eager to hear from you, so that’s half the battle won.
I can’t tackle the issue of self-belief here and do it justice. It is a huge topic and something that I know a lot of makers struggle with. What I will say, in relation to speaking about your work in public, is no one can talk about your work in a more genuine way than you can. You are the only person who knows it inside out and backwards. Trust that the people you meet are interested in your story, in your work. They want to hear from you. If you are passionate about your work and committed to sharing that with your audience, they will respond in a positive and supportive way.
On a practical level, successful public speaking requires preparation beforehand and on the day:
- Be familiar with your material - practise!
- Warm up
Just as you would practise giving a speech before you deliver it, you should practise talking about your work out loud. What are the key words or terms you want to use? Do you have phrases you like, that sound pleasing said out loud, that describe your process, techniques or ideas? Write things down, record a chat with a friend or fellow maker, whatever works for you to start generating words. Test them out loud and get a second opinion on how they sound.
I am not suggesting that you create a script for talking about your work. This isn’t practical for shows or interviews, but the more familiar you are with the right words beforehand, the easier it will be for you to talk naturally and freely when you are in a public speaking situation.
It is vital, before any public speaking situation, that you warm up your voice and free up your whole body.
- Start by shaking your body loose
- Let out 3 big sighs of release
Julian Treasure, in his fantastic TED Talk “How to speak so that people want to listen”, shares some great warm up techniques for preparing your voice. The most important thing is that you don’t go into the situation cold – you have to let our your voice at more than indoor-voice volume.
The more you can relax the freer your breathing will be and the more natural your voice will sound.
- Pay attention to your stomach: is it tight and in knots or is it churning away? Can you relax your body? Imagine your stomach is soft, imagine the tension melting away.
- Be aware of your feet on the ground: can you feel where your feet make contact with the floor? Sense your body from your head all the way through your torso down your legs to your feet. This will help take your mind out of your head, and will help you feel more solid and grounded.
- Notice your breathing: is it fast and shallow or are you holding your breath? Take a few deep, long breaths. Gather your attention away from things going on around you and onto your breath.
We are often overwhelmed by our emotions and the anxiety of public speaking is a common example for lots of people. By preparing in advance, by warming up your voice and relaxing as much as you can, you will be the one in control of the situation, not your emotions. The anxiety may not disappear, but you will be more comfortable with it. In this way, you will be able to allow your full, natural and free voice to emerge – the voice which will connect with your audience in a meaningful way.