5 things I learned from my first public speaking experience

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Public speaking is considered one of the top three most traumatic experiences in a person’s life, alongside death and divorce. Interestingly, only 20% who do it actually even enjoy it. Most managers avoid it at all costs and delegate the role to a direct report. Being someone who is a bit of a sucker for a challenge, I knew I wanted to conquer this demon. After all, it seemed like being a public speaker would be a total opposite from the terrified, withdrawn, person I had always been. Luckily, once I set my mind to something, I pull out all the stops to achieve it.

I decided my strategy would be to offer (silly though it may have seemed) my services to those coordinating conferences, team management days, and team building days as a plan B should one of the already organised speakers pull out. Turns out most don’t have a plan B and so are grateful if I can jump in at the last minute. The added bonus for me was that I didn’t have enough time to think about and therefore stress over it beforehand. Since then I have had several opportunities to speak when I otherwise would not have had the chance.

I will never forget my very first speaking engagement. I received a phone call and was asked to speak after another speaker had pulled out. My initial thought was ‘No way José’ but before I could utter those words I piped up and said yes. My next thought was what can I offer the audience; what would I be able to share that would be of interest? I knuckled down and had 48 hours to prepare a one hour speech. I’m glad I wasn’t told of the intended crowd size as it ended up being around 600 people!

Here’s what I learned from that very first experience:

  1. No one knows the topic better than you do. It is your story and therefore no one knows what’s about to come. You have been chosen by the organisers for a reason, so trust in your ability to have the confidence to tackle it head on.

  2. Taking a few deep breaths before you start calms the nerves. It’s good and perfectly natural to have butterflies before you do anything scary or foreign. Once I stumbled over my first few words, I calmed right down and the hour of my first engagement flew by. I can proudly say that it was the best experience of my life up to that point because when I finished, I felt a huge sense of accomplishment.

  3. Having something physical to distract you can calm the nerves. I have a special sentimental rock that I have on my person when I am speaking. When I know it is close and I can physically feel it and roll it in my hand, it keeps me balanced and in control. The action in itself distracts from what I am about to do. Some people choose to do the same thing with a coin, or another small item.

  4. Very few people enjoy public speaking. Of the small minority who do it, those who enjoy being on stage and in front of the crowd are few and far between – so know that you are doing something that most people would not dream of tackling themselves. You are ahead of the game!

  5. Have a reward to look forward to afterwards. I would class myself as 90% introvert but I understand in my role that I need to get on stage and be in the limelight as and when is required for my business. That’s even more the case because I am the face of my business. What makes the experience easier for me is knowing I will be stepping out for just a few hours and then reverting back to what I feel comfortable doing – getting home, taking off my makeup, getting into comfy clothes, having a food treat, and maybe having a bath or getting a massage.

Brené Brown is one of my favourite public speakers. She speaks from the heart and takes the audience on a journey with her. She admits to being a true introvert but has the courage to get on stage, step into the arena, and be vulnerable. Her philosophy aligns with my personal and business values – transparency, empathy, authenticity, vulnerability, and courage. She uses everyday examples to drive home her key messages.

I can say without question that I am not at Brené Brown’s level yet but I have started the journey. We’re all works in progress and have so much to learn, but for me each new experience of being on stage helps me get that little bit closer to my goal of enjoying the occasion. After a couple of years of focused public speaking, I can say I have moments on stage when I think, “Ooh, that feels good” and I am relishing the day when I can say that I enjoyed the entire presentation. Hopefully the lessons I’ve learned along the way can help you find that enjoyment too!