Building my Confidence – Step 2: improving my public speaking

This is the second post in the series about building my confidence:

Step 1: How confidence works
Step 2: Improving my public speaking
Step 3: Becoming more assertive and speaking up in meetings
Step 4: Knowing our own strengths – self-esteem and self-efficacy
Step 5: Facing our Fears
Step 6: Making Confident Decisions
Step 7: Finding my Vocation         

We learned in the last post the good news that our degree of confidence is neither predestined, nor permanent. It’s a skill rooted in a set of ideas and behaviours which we can learn and apply. There are practical steps we can take to build habits to help us become progressively more confident.

Although I’ve done much of it, I still find public speaking a challenge. Since that terrible public speaking failure at school I wrote about in Step 1: how confidence works, I’ve become better at ORGANISING the session, PLANNING my delivery and at precisely what I will do DURING each talk to help me deliver a more confident presentation. We may not orate like Obama, or wear our heart on a sleeve like Brené Brown, but we can teach like us.

Here’s what I do:

1. Here’s what my ORGANISATION looks like before the session:

  • I find out about my audience by asking them exactly what they are looking for. People love to be asked about exactly what content they will find most helpful. It’s amazing how many people come away from a seminar saying – that section he presented was irrelevant, instead we could have done with more of this.
  • Then I think hard about my audience – what do they know? What do I know that they need to know, and could practically use in their next few weeks?
  • Next I try to improve my presentation before I’ve delivered it – this means trying out some of my ideas on a few trusted friends or colleagues. This helps to avoid getting the pitch wrong – too intellectual (too much theory, too little application), or too simplistic (vice versa).

2. Then here’s what my THINKING about the message looks like before the session:

  • I say what I am going to say in one sentence (‘make a promise and put it on the cover’). I write down (or in a sentence, on one slide) exactly what the presentation is going to offer, and what it will help the audience to do even better.
  • Then I organise my thinking – this means researching around the subject so I feel like more of an expert (this gives me confidence when it comes to the final Q&A).
  • Then I organise the information into bite-size take-aways, spaced throughout the talk. I will encourage people to write these down.
  • Next I plan what the actual presentation will look like – the words and visuals – on paper first (not straight onto slides – writing your ideas straight onto slides is a recipe for disappearing down the powerpoint rabbit hole).
  • ONLY THEN, do I decide whether this is to be delivered with or without slides, notes, props etc. (But very nearly always a good powerpoint registers easily with people).

3. Then here’s what the PLANNING of my delivery looks like before the session:

  • If I am running a morning, then I plan chunks of input, each followed by a BREAK. If I’m delivering a talk for an hour, I plan chunks of 10 minute input, each followed by a 4 minute DISCUSSION BREAK. This allows me to break up the learning activity, create lots of discussion and helps me to gauge people’s satisfaction levels. It’s also less pressure on me, the speaker.
  • Then I write out exactly the words I want to say, then cut these by about 90%, editing ferociously. Next I think hard about the quality of these words. This helps you to deliver with a little more emphasis the key points, the ‘what matters’ so these are more likely to land and be remembered.
  • If I am using slides, I find a small number of powerful images as a hook for my message – this means the audience focus on the message and stops them looking at me. When the image appears, I know I need to leave room for space to think.This helps me cut down on text.
  • If using cue cards, I cut the words (and the cards) by 90%, then practise using them, so i become more fluent and the cards become almost (but never completely) unnecessary.
  • If it’s a biggie, I may choose to practice the intro in front of a mirror or by recording on the phone.

4. Then here’s what I think about IMMEDIATELY BEFORE my presentation:

  • Now I remind myself I am an expert in this area – this helps me feel confident.
  • I tell myself to slow down the pace of the delivery. By which I mean the words – the slower the rate of words, the greater the importance I allocate to each one. Don’t be afraid to exaggerate this.

5. Then here’s what I think about DURING my presentation:

  • I remind myself to smile.
  • I decide where I stand and what I do with my hands – so many speakers move all over the place.
  • I direct the attention of eyes otherwise than on me. This means how I use visuals. It also means I think where I will stand – sometimes in front, often to the side or behind – if I want the focus to be on an image, on discussion or personal reflection. This also helps me to focus on what I’m saying, rather than worrying about what I think people are thinking as they look at me.

You’ll notice that there are four stages before I get to present, and only one for the actual delivery. And guess what? I’m in complete control of stages 1-4. So, if you follow this plan, most of the hard yards are done before you reach the presentation moment.

Because I knew from a very early age I was no natural public speaker, I just knew that, to manage my stress, and to face my fears, I had to plan as much inevitable success into my session as I could. I knew that if I got steps 1,2, 3, and 4 planned and in place, then it was hard to get much wrong with step 5. This massively reduces stress and helps you feel much more relaxed.

When people say they are terrified of public speaking, it’s only step 5, the delivery bit that they are talking about. But a huge amount of the terror around public speaking can be mitigated by steps 1-4.

I’ve had to work hard on this, over many years, through some good and some terrible presentations. Being able to feel confident when speaking in public depends on believing that you CAN DO the practice (steps 1, 2, 3 and 4), and that once you’ve planned this and mastered this easy-to-learn technique, then a successful delivery (step 5) really CAN HAPPEN.

Understanding how confidence works (see step 1 here) is key to helping us move forwards. Confidence and anxiety are always competing for our attention. Anxiety (our memories of embarrassing public speaking experiences in the past) pull us back from presenting well, because we think we will fail. Whereas confidence (knowing that you CAN DO the work, and that the perfect outcome CAN HAPPEN) is a bridge to the future which will push you forwards.

In the third post in this series, I will take a look at how we can become more assertive and feel more confident about speaking up in meetings.

3 thoughts on “Building my Confidence – Step 2: improving my public speaking

  1. Pingback: Building my Confidence – Step 1: how confidence works | ianfrosteducation

  2. Pingback: Building My Confidence – Step 4: Knowing your own strengths | ianfrosteducation

  3. Pingback: Building my Confidence – Step 3: Becoming more assertive and speaking up in meetings | ianfrosteducation

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