Ten (More) Parallels Between Running and Public Speaking


Back in the summer of 2016, I decided to take up running and wrote a post about how running is similar to public speaking.

Due to some changes in my personal circumstances, running became less of a priority and until recently I hadn’t run for months.

But with my alternative way of approaching goal setting (which you can read about here), I am starting to make running a part of my life. It was whilst out running recently that I came up with ten more parallels between running and public speaking:

1. Change your mind about your ability

No doubt you have beliefs that impact on the way that you live your life. For me, one of the beliefs that has continued throughout my life is that I’m not very sporty. I never imagined I would be able to class myself as a runner. But one day I just changed my mind. I made the decision to get out and run and I just did it. And now, even though I don’t run that fast, I still run so I assume I can call myself a runner! Change can happen in a moment and it’s so simple. If you fear public speaking, the first step is to decide not to fear it any longer. If you think you’re no good a pitching and presenting, change your mind about your current ability and then take steps to improve.

2. You are capable of more than you think you are

I have completely surprised myself over the last 2 weeks, running further and faster than I ever thought would be possible (my achievements may not be spectacular to anyone else but for me it’s amazing!) By not setting myself a specific target for each week, or even for each run, I have been able to exceed anything I would have thought I was capable of so I have decided to take this approach into my business and life in general. And you can too. If you think you can’t give a presentation or pitch your business with confidence, think again! We are all capable of so much more than we think we are so give yourself a chance to find out just how much.

3. Familiarise yourself with the start and finish line

I’m sure you are familiar with the streets around your house, and so am I. As a result, no matter which route I’m running, if I start at my house I feel at ease because I know where I am and what it’s like to run on those streets. My run might take me into unfamiliar avenues, over unfamiliar terrain or through unfamiliar areas, but as I get closer to returning to my home, the environment becomes more familiar and I feel confident as I approach the end of my run. It’s the same with public speaking – if you familiarise yourself with the start and the end of your presentation you can begin and end with confidence.

4. Stop and take a breath if you need to

For my last two longer runs I have allowed myself to stop at the halfway point, take stock, do some stretches and breathe deeply. This has helped to focus on the homeward journey and re-energise me so that I could run better than I would have had I not stopped. One of the biggest challenges for many people who speak in public is that when they’re nervous they talk more quickly and forget to breathe deeply. This makes them seem more nervous and makes the experience unpleasant for the presenter and the audience. Remember that it’s okay to pause for a moment to breathe deeply or take a sip of water before carrying on; both you and your audience will appreciate it.

5. The thought of it is often worse than the reality

Sometimes I put off going for a run and tell myself I can’t be bothered or I think it will hurt or it might rain or any one of dozens of other excuses I feed myself. But once I make the commitment to go, I usually feel fine after the first few minutes after which I get into a flow and a rhythm. And most people I know find the same thing with public speaking – the thought of it is often worse than the reality. Almost everyone gets nervous before giving an important presentation but if you’ve done your preparation you’ll generally find that after the first few moments you’ll feel fine and get into the flow so it’s important to know that and trust that it will be fine once you get started.

6. Even if it’s a bit uncomfortable, keep going

As I am new to running, I don’t find it that easy or comfortable and a few days ago I also had a stitch to contend with. But I wasn’t prepared to let myself down by stopping so I embraced the discomfort and kept going because I knew that it would be worth it in the long run. When you’re giving a presentation, you may experience some discomfort but it’s obviously important to keep going – you don’t want to let your audience down or yourself. The discomfort will be worth it in the long run when you experience the personal satisfaction of having delivered a great presentation and you receive applause for a job well done.

7. Wear a comfortable and appropriate outfit

One of the most important pieces of running kit is appropriate shoes and I will happily spend a lot of money for a pair that are supportive and comfortable. What I haven’t yet invested in is clothing designed for running so the other day one of the tops I was wearing kept riding up my torso. It was underneath another top so my belly wasn’t completely bare but it did get quite cold! It made me think about how important your outfit is in public speaking too. I have seen people experience embarrassing wardrobe malfunctions on stage or become completely distracted from what they were saying because they were worried about their appearance. If you are giving a presentation, choose your outfit carefully - it must be flattering, comfortable and appropriate for the situation.

8. You’ll have good days and not so good days

The first day I started running again I was really surprised at how good I felt. I seemed to have energy, my legs felt strong and I was able to run further than I thought I could. My next run felt like I was wading through treacle; I still managed to run but I didn’t seem to have the same energy and it didn’t seem to flow. This happens with public speaking too – sometimes you’ll deliver a fantastic presentation where you feel your message is flowing and the audience is engaged and appreciative; other times it might feel a bit clunky and as though you didn’t connect as well with the audience. This is normal, even for professional speakers. Don’t let it put you off and don’t worry about it; just accept that some presentations feel better than others.

9. Watch your posture

If I’m getting tired towards the end of a run, I notice that my body tends to slump forward and I have my head down which makes it harder to run efficiently and to feel good about it and stay motivated. As soon as I adjust my posture and hold my head up, I get a burst of energy and feel confident that I can keep running for longer. When you’re presenting, make sure you stand tall, with your shoulders back and your head up. You will not only look more confident but you’ll feel it too – exactly the way you want to feel when speaking in public.

10. Smile and enjoy it!

Whilst at the moment I enjoy the feeling I get when I actually finish running, my ultimate aim is to enjoy the entire activity of running. And the more I do it and the more I improve the more enjoyable it is becoming. To help that along, I have started consciously smiling when I run and what a difference that makes to my enjoyment levels; I almost manage to ignore the burn in my legs. It’s the same with public speaking - even if you don’t feel like smiling, when you smile and show you’re enjoying yourself, your audience will enjoy themselves and you'll feel good too.

If you enjoyed this article, click here to access Mel Sherwood’s ‘Top 5 Tips for Public Speaking Success’

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.

Mel's book 'The Authority Guide to Pitching Your Business - how to make an impact and be remembered... in under a minute!' is available on Amazon. To find out more go to www.melsherwood.com or follow Mel on Twitter @MelSherwood_