Every December Edinburgh’s Christmas festival takes place and every year I promise myself I will go ice skating in the temporary rink that is set up in St Andrews Square. This year I finally did it and spent an hour with some friends going around and around and around trying desperately to stay upright and not make an idiot of myself!
As I was endeavouring to get used to the feeling of being on skates (the last time I was on ice skates was 30+ years ago), I amused myself with the parallels between ice skating and public speaking and the lessons we can learn from them:
Trust it will be okay
Given that it was such a long time since I had been ice skating and my body is a lot older and therefore less bounce backable, I did have some concerns about falling over. Not only would it be embarrassing but I figured it would hurt way more and do way more damage than it may have when I was younger. But I decided not to focus on those negative feelings and to simply trust that I would be okay. And it’s important to do this when you have a presentation coming up – don’t focus your energy and thoughts on what might go wrong; instead trust that it will go well.
One of the first things I noticed after a few minutes of being on the ice was that I was carrying a lot of tension in my body and I suddenly realised I was holding my breath in my effort to not fall over. But this actually created even more tension and made it more difficult to skate. So, I made a conscious effort to focus on taking slow deep breaths and almost immediately my skating became easier. When we’re nervous about a presentation we often forget to take in air or we breathe very shallowly which makes us more nervous and impacts our vocal delivery as well as our freedom of movement. Remember to breathe!
Familiarise yourself with your environment
After travelling around the rink a few times, I got to know where the extra slippery bits were, where there were holes and other obstacles in the ice and where there was often a lot of people I would need to avoid when coming around a bend. When you are delivering a speech or presentation it is important to get used to with the venue before you begin so there are no nasty surprises that might impact your talk. Check the stage, practice walking onto it and around it, check your equipment works, spend some time in the space and get comfortable with it so that you can move about it confidently during your presentation.
Have a mantra
At first my skating was jerky, uncoordinated and nothing like the smooth elegance I was aiming for. Then I thought about how I wanted to skate and started the repeat the word GLIDE in my mind. The more I recited the word in my mind, the more my skating improved, and I was amazed that I was in fact able to glide around the rink much more effectively. You can use this technique before and during a presentation; pick a word or phrase that you can repeat to yourself such as CALM, CONFIDENT, INSPIRE or whatever you would like to feel or focus on for your talk.
Keep your head up and use your body
As I repeated the word GLIDE to myself I realised that it was practically impossible to glide without lifting my head up, looking ahead of me and engaging my entire body in the process. It is the same when you are presenting; you will appear and feel more confident if you make eye contact with your audience and involve your whole body with appropriate movement and gestures to help communicate your message.
Find your centre of balance
As I was skating it took me a while to work out exactly where my centre of balance was so that I felt grounded and connected with the ice, but once I did my movement flowed and felt much easier (and safer!) When you’re giving a presentation, finding your centre of balance will anchor you, give your speech more gravitas and help you to find your flow.
Accept there will be wobbles
Every time I thought I was starting to get the hang of skating smoothly, something happened to make me feel a bit wobbly again. But it didn’t stop me; it just made me more determined to carry on. When you are presenting, it is much easier if you don’t expect perfection and realise that there will occasionally be wobbles, and that’s okay. Just accept them and move on.
Don’t go too fast
One of my friends who also hadn’t skated for many years was showing off a bit by trying to skate faster than other people. But then he would get the speed wobbles and completely lose control, even falling over several times. Like skating, when you are public speaking it is important to travel at an easy pace so you can command your audience with a controlled performance.
Ignore distractions and focus
At a couple of places around the circuit a bridge crosses over the ice and people can stand and watch the skaters. Unfortunately, one woman thought it was hilarious to shout out and distract the skaters so they wobbled and fell, and then laughed hysterically when they did. Once I realised what she was doing I decided to ignore her distractions and concentrate on my skating. It’s the same when you’re delivering a talk – focus on the task at hand and ignore annoying distractions.
Look for the friendly faces
Fortunately, when you are giving a presentation, the majority of people are not like the woman who took great delight in seeing the skaters fall over; most of your audience will want you to do well. So rather than focusing on anyone who may be negative and distracting, look for the friendly faces who are engaged and supportive and interested in what you are saying.
Practice, practice, practice
I don’t want to be a world class skater, but it goes without saying that if I practiced ice skating on a regular basis I would get much better at it and build my confidence. It is the same with public speaking – you can’t get better at it without actually doing it. So practice, practice, practice if you want to increase your confidence and improve your skills.