my public speaking secret - speak to Lisa


In the third grade, I had to give a speech in front of the entire school. The THIRD GRADE folks. I was 8.

It was a speech about Florida. You know, where all good Canadians go on vacation.

This is likely when my fear of public speaking kicked in.

I prepared for weeks. Wrote my speech out on cue cards, over and over again until the print was so tiny I could barely read it.

I was so nervous. When talking to Lisa, a fourth grader about this ahead of time, she said, "If you get nervous, just look at me."

Not really sure what she meant, I got up there, in front of all 300 other kids (I didn't say I went to a BIG school - it was everyone in Canada don't you know).

My mouth was like cotton balls, I just wanted it to be over. Out of breath before I even started, I found Lisa in the gymnasium crowd. She told me to look at her if I was nervous right?

I found her.

She was bright eyed, sitting up straight, calm smile, head tilted to the side. She looked like she was interested in what I was saying. A friendly face.

Oh, okay. I get it now. I'll give my speech to Lisa.

Since then, I've stumbled my way through many a presentation. None of these stumblings were so bad, however, that I can recall any of these details today.

If I can't remember, I'm pretty sure my audience doesn't remember either.

See, I was all worried about how my presentation would come off. The single biggest realization that has helped me to relax?

Everyone is so busy worrying about themselves, they're not going to remember my screw-ups 10 years, or even 10 minutes from now. 

Also, I'm the one in the arena, not them.

Today, I give presentations all the time, and I still don't like it.

But you know what? I do it anyway.

Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable takes constant and deliberate practice.

Hate speaking in front of groups? Here's what I've learned in the 30 or so years since the third grade to un-suck speeches:

  1. Regardless of whether you're giving a speech to 3 people or 3,000, craft it with one person in mind. You're having a conversation with one person.
  2. Power-pose. Wonder woman poses totally happen in the bathroom. Thanks, Amy Cuddy. 
  3. Only speak about things you care about and know deeply. If I asked you to tell me about where you grew up, you'd tell me without missing a beat. But what if I asked you to give a speech on financial planning and you're a yoga instructor? Kind of makes you want to vomit, right? Stick to what you know.
  4. Before taking the podium, hitting the stage, commanding the front of the room, say to yourself, "I'm here for my power, please." I feel like an asshat saying this to myself, but trust me, it works. Thanks, Danielle LaPorte. 
  5. Don't practice. Of course, this is what works for me. If I practice, I forget everything when it comes time to open my mouth. Instead, I make notes on important points to hit and trust that whatever comes out when I start to speak is what is meant to come out.
  6. Sit down. If it makes sense for the energy of your speech, sitting down will be perfectly appropriate for an intimate feel.
  7. Find your Lisa, and talk directly to her.

PS - which way to the arena? and why we're all desperately waiting for you to stop complaining about work