Have you ever committed yourself to doing something without having any idea of how you were going to achieve it? I’m a big believer in saying ‘yes’ to things and working out the how later; it has served me well and given me many opportunities that I may not have had if I had stopped to think first!
With this in mind, and having recently come to the conclusion that I need to improve my fitness, I decided to commit to doing Julie Creffield’s Five Weeks to 5K run. I’ve never been very sporty; I also have an aversion to gyms and I certainly couldn’t call myself a runner by any stretch of the imagination - I had no idea whether it would be possible and but I was never going to find out if I didn’t try.
So over the past few weeks I have found myself out ‘running’ (if you can call my slow shuffle for a few minutes at a time ‘running’!) Of course, I rarely stop thinking about my work so during a recent ‘run’ I started thinking about the parallels between my running and public speaking.
Get your mindset right
I will never know if I am capable of running 5km unless I try it but I have to believe it’s possible. It’s the same with public speaking. You have to look at your beliefs about your ability to speak well in public and find a way to believe that you can. I often help clients to shatter their limiting beliefs and replace them with new positive beliefs that will allow them to move forward with their public speaking goals. If you are serious about wanting to improve your public speaking, you need to have the right mindset. Get help with this if you need to – work with a coach, speak with a trusted friend or mentor or look into hypnotherapy, EFT, resonance re-patterning or any of the many other options available to help you get your mindset right.
(By the way, I have a belief that everyone can learn to speak well in public so that means you too!)
Stretch beyond your comfort zone
I don‘t feel mentally or physically comfortable about running. The idea of what others might think about me huffing and puffing along the road with my wobbly bits wobbling makes me feel uncomfortable! Pushing my body beyond what it is used to challenges me physically. But unless I stretch beyond what is comfortable I know I’ll never improve. Many people feel that public speaking is way out of their comfort zone but unless you stretch yourself beyond what is comfortable you won’t be able to develop any further than your current level of ability.
5km is a good goal to have when you initially start running. I’ve still not run 5km without stopping but each day I try to run a bit longer and by next week I know I’ll be able to run the full distance. If I had set myself the goal of a running marathon it may have felt like too much and I would have stopped well before reaching my goal. When you’re starting your public speaking journey, start small. Your longer term goal might be to speak at a big event in front of 1,000 people, but give yourself a more attainable goal when you’re starting out. That might be delivering a 30 second pitch at a networking event, challenging yourself to speak up in a meeting, joining a public speaking club like Toastmasters International or getting yourself a coach.
Just do it!
I know will never get good at running by just thinking about it. And you will never get good public speaking by just thinking about it. Until you get out and speak in front of an audience you will never know what works and what doesn’t, you will never be able to build your confidence, develop your own style or to implement any learning. It is the actual doing of it that helps you grow and improve so stop thinking and start doing!
Enjoy the high of achieving your goals
Today I managed to run half a kilometre more than I did yesterday before stopping for a short rest; I felt a great sense of achievement and it gave me a bit of a high. When you have set yourself and achieved a small goal in relation to your public speaking, make sure you take a moment to congratulate yourself and enjoy the feeling. If you're someone who avoids public speaking, it might surprise you to know that just like running, many people find that once they’re over the initial resistance they experience a high after public speaking as well.
Learn from experts
In the Five Weeks to 5K programme, Julie Creffield provides helpful advice and encouragement delivered directly to my inbox each week. As I get further into running I will consider hiring a coach to review my technique and help me find ways to improve. Even as an experienced speaker, I am always looking to further develop my own expertise so I read books, watch webinars and regularly work directly with experts who help me refine my skills even further. If you want to improve your running or your public speaking, learn from the experts.
As part of the Five Weeks to 5K programme, participants can join a facebook group where they can ask questions, share their challenges and encourage each other. You should do the same for public speaking; there’s only so much you can prepare in isolation, eventually you need to speak in front of people – practice your presentation in front of a supportive audience who can give you constructive feedback, help and encouragement. Choose these people wisely – sometimes your family, though they may mean well, might not be the best for this; a public speaking group is always a good option.
Just like an athlete warms up to ensure they are in peak condition before a race, so should we warm up before a giving a presentation. With my background as a performer I never warm up on the audience’s time. As a presenter, it is your responsibility to show your audience the best possible version of yourself and ensure your communication tools are sharp. You should ensure that your body, voice and mind are thoroughly warmed up so that you bring the best energy and delivery to your speech.
Awareness is key
When out running I become very aware of my body and how it’s performing. I notice when I’m breathless (a lot!), when my muscles are feeling tired or when I feel a twinge of pain somewhere. When presenting, you should be aware of your body as well. Are your gestures appropriate and effective or are they repetitive and distracting? Is your voice rich and expressive or are your nerves making it high pitched and squeaky? Are you speaking too quickly or too slowly? Are you sounding apologetic and unsure because your voice is too soft or you are including too many ums and errs? The more aware you are, the more effectively you can adapt your delivery during your presentation and work on improving it for the future.
Take time to reflect
At the end of each run I take a moment to reflect on how I felt and how I can improve for next time. I do the same with my talks and workshops to ensure that I am always growing and developing my ability. At the end of your presentation or speech, ask yourself what went well, what didn’t go so well and what would you do differently next time? Then incorporate your learning into your future talks to ensure continuous improvement.
Mel Sherwood is a pitch and presentation specialist who prepares ambitious entrepreneurs and business professionals to take centre stage, embrace the spotlight and present with more confidence, credibility and conviction. She is a multi-award winning speaker, trainer and coach and the founder of Grow Your Potential, which specialises in supporting individuals and organisations to design and deliver winning pitches and presentations.
Mel’s background includes over 20 years’ experience in public, private and not-for-profit organisations in Australia and the United Kingdom and she has also worked as an actor, presenter and singer. To find out more about Mel’s talks and programmes go to www.grow-your-potential.com or for public speaking and pitching tips follow Mel on Twitter @Grow_Potential