Dale Carnegie is quoted as saying ‘Great speakers are not born, they’re trained.’ Just like any skill, to become a proficient public speaker you have to learn how. But then crucially you have to put what you have learned into practice by actually doing it. Each time you speak in public you learn from it and layer the learnings to build your confidence and ability.
I consider myself to be quite good at public speaking (my business wouldn’t survive if this wasn’t the case!), but I also know that there is still much for me to learn about the art. In addition to reflecting on and learning from every presentation or workshop I deliver, I am constantly gaining new knowledge and skills through reading books written by expert communicators, watching other speakers and sharing ideas as well as attending courses and workshops with other expert speakers.
In August I attended the Professional Speaking Association (PSA) Bootcamp at the PSA headquarters in Cleobury Mortimer during which I had to deliver a 10-15 minute talk for the facilitators and other participants to provide constructive feedback and advice.
Coincidentally I had been asked a few days beforehand if I could fill a speaking slot at a women’s networking group which was the evening following the bootcamp. Despite being an event for a group of women in banking, the theme was entrepreneurship, and I was asked to share a bit about my journey to setting up my own business as well as a few of the lessons I had learned along the way.
Often when I’m asked to speak at events it will be about confidence and/or public speaking, so speaking about my own entrepreneurial journey was something quite new. I diligently did my audience research, identified my objective and started crafting my presentation.
This is the sequence of events:
- Friday – confirmation that I would be required to speak
- Saturday – allowed my brain to mull over some ideas
- Sunday – first draft of speech prepared (way too long), wrote second draft
- Monday – travelled to Kidderminster by train and rewrote entire speech
- Monday evening – rewrote entire speech again
- Tuesday – delivered speech at bootcamp and received feedback
Amongst some wonderful positive comments about the speech I delivered at bootcamp it was feedback from Peter Roper, award winning speaker, author and past president of the PSA, which had the most impact. Peter gave me just two words of advice: LET GO.
And I knew he was absolutely on the money! This is not new to me and is something I have been challenged by and working on since I first began delivering talks and workshops. As an actor, I was used to learning a script word for word and practising this until I could deliver my lines in character authentically and naturally. I respected the script writer’s expertise and always aimed to use the exact words they had written.
When it comes to my own speech writing, I spend time carefully selecting the most appropriate and words and phrases to effectively communicate the message. And this approach is fine if you have the time to memorise and rehearse the script, but it makes it very difficult to ‘let go’ and let the presentation flow naturally if you have limited time to prepare.
It has been said that we teach what we most need to learn. I often suggest to my clients that their delivery would be much improved if they could let go and I am always so proud when they take the step out of their comfort zone and do just that. I know how much courage it takes to be completely present and trust that the right words will come out at the right time. Like everything in life, the more often you do it the better you get at it. Having said that, most audiences don’t expect perfection; they will always forgive a stumble over some words if you are speaking with passion and authenticity.
So what did I do after the bootcamp? On Wednesday I rewrote my speech again before reducing it to a few bullet points. I rehearsed the gist of what I was planning to say without getting too hung up on the words I had originally written in my script. Then on Wednesday evening at the event, despite feeling way out of my comfort zone, I relaxed and let go of my written notes completely and just went with the flow. My normal delivery style is very interactive so I was able to engage the audience and incorporate their responses into my talk which made it much more relevant and interesting to them. The resulting talk was not exactly as I had planned; however, I was still clear about the message I wanted to share and ensured that the points I wanted to cover were included. By letting go of my script I was able to connect more effectively and let the authentic me shine through. Judging by the feedback from those in attendance, it worked a treat!
What about you? Do you prefer a script or are you able to let go and go with the flow? I’d value your thoughts on this so please feel free to share your comments.