One of the greatest skills you can master is public speaking and Warren Buffet agrees.
No Jedi Master skill like public speaking is achieved easily. It takes a lot of practice and a tremendous amount of instant feedback. Many people get up and speak all the time with no feedback and continually make rookie mistakes.
This weekend I competed in my first serious public speaking competition.
JESUS ALMIGHTY, I stuffed it up big time!!!
Here’s what I did wrong:
Awkwardly cut off audience laughter.
My speech was totally impromptu (that was the contest type) and it ended up being funny without me intending it to be. I see myself as very “unfunny” yet the audience was in hysterics. My topic was “A week doesn’t go by without….”
I chose to address a week not going by without facing fear. I talked about many things but one of them was my fear of blood tests. I described a recent experience which I thought was serious and the audience laughed as I demonstrated how the nurse took my blood like a vampire.
Because I wasn’t prepared for laughter I kept cutting the audience off. I tried to talk over their loud laughter and it didn’t work so well. Oh well, I know for next time now
I walked into the hall like I was Rocky Balboa. My friend walked up to me and said: “How come you’re in runners, jeans and a t-shirt.”
I told him that it was what I was comfortable in. He then informed me that for proper speeches you’re supposed to dress up in a suit or something similar. Error number two.
I left home with fifty minutes to spare before my speaking gig. What I didn’t plan for was the traffic. This made me more stressed than I already was.
“Being on time so you can take a few deep breaths is crucial”
All the other speakers were early. I was so late I nearly missed the briefing. Unlike me, show up thirty minutes early and suss the venue out beforehand. Understand the speaking area, the out of bound parts of the room and take a peek at the audience.
The green room was awkward.
While you wait to go on stage, you wait in the green room to the side. I’m someone who likes to gather my thoughts and have a few stories in my mind. The usher kept talking to me and I didn’t handle it well.
If this happens to you, explain to the usher politely that you want silence. Try looking out the window if you need to so you can avoid eye contact and show that you’re preoccupied.
Didn’t talk long enough.
In this particular competition, you’re given a set time and ideally, you go as close to the end of the allocated slot as you can. I forgot to do this. This resulted in my talk being too short. Knowing the ideal time for your speech is crucial in a competition or even for a regular speech.
I didn’t talk to past contestants.
Many of the people there were friends and people who’d competed before. I forgot to ask for their advice and so I missed the walking around stage part and the timing advice.
Always talk to people who have been in your shoes before and achieved the same goal you’re aiming for. Epic fail on my part
Needed to use the stage.
In my Toastmasters club, we have a stage that is quite intimate and so we don’t move around much.
At this particular venue, the stage was huge and because I was used to a small stage, I forgot to move around. I stood there completely still, with a strong back, and many hand gestures, and delivered my speech.
Not moving around cost me valuable points although the audience was still thoroughly engaged.
Some things did go right though…
It’s easy to focus on the negative. I did some things really well and you can try these if you ever end up delivering a speech – you should learn the superpower of speaking by the way.
Here’s what I did right:
Got into a peak state.
Before the contest started, I listened to my Tony Robbins pump up music mixtape. I sang really daggy songs like Tina Turner – You’re Simply The Best.
As I was driving to the gig, people driving next to me were laughing at my singing actions. Physically feeling your way into a peak state is fundamental. If you feel on top of the world, then you’ll deliver a killer speech in my experience.
Body language was spot on.
I stood tall and didn’t slouch during my speech. I pushed my shoulders back and chest forward. I told myself “I am the expert!”
I used lots of hand gestures and did a funny demo of what it was like to get a needle in my arm.
People were laughing very loudly.
Humor in a speech is very hard to do and it gets people’s attention. I did this accidentally and it worked like a treat. Changing people’s state and making them feel positive emotions helps them to remember you, and ultimately vote for you.
“The best way to make people laugh is to make an idiot of yourself on purpose”
I often tell audiences that I’m a huge tall guy, with a big head and spiky hair. It always eases any tension in the room including my own.
Shared a vulnerable story.
My speech was unique because I talked about the lows of my recent career battles. I showed my battle scars and the emotions that came with them. The story had a beginning, middle and an end.
There were strong pauses.
Silence and gaps in a speech allow the material to breathe. People need time to take in emotional moments and really feel what you’re saying. Silence adds tension, drama and variety to your speech.
I rolled up to win, not lose.
My mindset the whole time was that I was going to win. When it came time to announce the winner, I even put my drink bottle away, stood up, and was ready to walk towards the stage. It wasn’t to be.
The main point here though is that I believed in myself – hence I stood up when the winner was announced. You can’t achieve any audacious goal unless you show up to win.
I used heaps of passion.
I let the audience have everything I had at that moment in time. I left nothing in the fuel tank. I used every ounce of passion, energy and excitement in my body. Passion sells a story and speech better than anything.
People see you as authentic when you show them passion in your speech.
“There are so many presentations, talks and speeches that we’ve all seen where the speaker lacks passion. It’s boring to listen to and forgettable”
You have to capture the audience in the first five seconds with your passion. Show how much you want to be there and put your heart and soul into it.
The end result.
I screwed up the speech, came last and didn’t make it to the next round. I was the favorite and everyone thought I would win. While I may have messed up the competition I did learn just how powerful public speaking can be.
Being able to move people with your words is a useful skill in every career. Now I have more insight than I ever did before and I’ll come back next year with a new approach. The basics of passion, storytelling and energy are universal though.
Get out there and deliver a speech – that’s my advice to you.
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