TED talks and the independently organised TEDx talks are hugely popular with both speakers and their audiences. An opportunity to speak at such an event is on the bucket list for many people, so when I was invited to speak I jumped at the chance.
And yet ten years ago, I had a debilitating fear of speaking in front of groups. The turning point came for me one day in a team meeting. I was so nervous I couldn’t give a short five minute update and someone else had to step in whilst the entire room looked at me. I was mortified. That day I decided to do something about my situation.
Joining Toastmasters enabled me to improve both my confidence and my speaking performance. When you join you get a manual with ten speech projects that help you gradually build your confidence and skills as a speaker. The great thing about having a structure to follow is that you hone your speech writing style and understand the value of preparing your material well.
Here's how I prepared for my TEDx talk, which was entitled Why women need to speak up; a subject very close to my heart.
I wanted to share my message at TEDx without notes and be as conversational as possible. I also wanted to include facts and figures that supported my message. I spent many hours researching my material, writing and rewriting my speech and rehearsing so that I felt comfortable enough to speak in front of a live audience as well as a video camera. Preparation helps you feel comfortable enough to get out of your head and just be present in the moment to really connect with your audience.
All TED talks have a cut-off point of 18 minutes, and for good reason; people’s attention spans are limited so you have to get your ideas across quickly.
At Toastmasters, speeches are timed to ensure that the meeting finishes on time but also to help you learn how to keep to time.
Working through my speeches within the club helped me understand how to craft and deliver my message within a designated time slot. Also, when you’re really familiar with your material and know what it feels like to speak for five minutes or 30 minutes you can adapt when you get thrown a curve ball.
Quite often meetings or seminars go over time because other speakers haven’t prepared properly. This has a knock on effect. So, when the chair says “unfortunately now you only have half the time to get your message across” you can quickly adjust and deliver.
At Toastmasters every speech is evaluated. Practising in front of a live audience week after week and getting this feedback has been one of the most beneficial aspects of my development as a speaker.
Far too many presenters don’t understand that the audience experience is key. Rehearsing and testing your material is crucial to ensure you engage your audience and create a good experience for them. Getting feedback helps you understand what the audience sees and hears.
I used to be terrified of speaking in public, but with focus and effort I got to a stage where I felt confident and competent - and now I really enjoy it.
Whether you are as terrified as I used to be, or you simply want to ensure your talk is the best it can be - follow my advice and you’ll ensure your moment in the TEDx spotlight is a success.
Copyright © 2015 Jay Surti is a member of Toastmasters International.
Do you feel nervous before presenting? Do the nerves affect you performance? Are they stopping you from progressing in your career or business? Would you like to feel more confident about speaking in public?
The first step is to ask yourself: are nerves always a bad thing?
Do you think the professionals get nervous? You bet they do. And those nerves are good— they drive us to prepare well, they drive us to focus and they give us energy on the day. If you’re too relaxed, you probably aren’t giving it the focus it needs. However there is a problem if these nerves become limiting.
So here are nine ways to overcome nerves and ensure you give a great performance:
1. Remember nerves are normal. If you feel nervous then you are human. Revel in it and read on to find out what to do with them.
2. How do the nerves manifest themselves for you? For most people it is normally a fear of forgetting what they are going to say, or falling over, or people laughing at them. These thoughts make it worse and it is a downward spiral.
Stop these thoughts and instead think: “how much value can I give to my audience?”, “how can I make it fun for my audience?” or ask “how could this be fun for me?”.
3. You are there to give the audience a gift, a gift of your experience, knowledge and expertise.
4. If you get the opportunity beforehand, then chat to the audience. It will feel more like you are talking to a group of friends as opposed to strangers.
5. The best antidote to nerves is to do it regularly. The more you do it, the more comfortable you will become with it, so practice, practice, practice.
6. Remember that they want you to succeed. No-one in the audience is thinking “I hope this guy is rubbish, I hope I don’t enjoy it!”.
7. Deliver the talk in front of a friendly audience to start with and get comfortable with it. Then when you go to a new audience you will feel better about it. Don’t test a new speech on a new audience.
8. Before you start to present take a moment to breathe deeply and slowly. Try breathing in for three, holding for nine and then out for six. Repeat four or five times.
9. Instead of asking yourself, “how am I going to remember all of this?” or “what if they hate it?” ask better questions like: “how can I make this fun for the audience?” or “which bit of my presentation are they going to enjoy the most?”.
By following these simple tips you can easily reduce your nerves so they become an asset not a hindrance.
Alan Donegan is from Toastmasters International.
We’ve all sat through them — those presentations where the speaker just doesn’t connect with the audience, leaving you feeling detached from the experience and that your time has been wasted.
Here are my seven top tips to ensure you build great rapport with your audiences — whatever the occasion.
1. Use a personal story or anecdote to connect with your audience. It shows that you are ready to be open, vulnerable and personable, and it will make them more receptive. The real power comes from your emotions — which will go straight to their heart and they will remember your story long after the words have gone.
2. Use humour to lower the tension. Experiment with what makes your audiences laugh and release any tension. Be ready to surprise them. Dare to mock what happened to you — self-deprecating humour is a great way to make you appear more human.
3. Create images and movies in the heads of your audience. Everyone will see something slightly different in their mind's eye, adding their own experience to it and making it theirs. Tell them enough, but leave room for them to add their own part. It then becomes "their" story and point of view.
4. Remember to pause. At the beginning of your talk, and before an important passage. A pause will allow you to hold them in your hand, reuniting them in the tension of waiting. Pause after any important points you make as it lets them fully absorb information.
5. Be in the moment, in the present. Let go of any worries about yourself from the interaction. This might be easy to say, but how to do it? Plan your talk, practise and use personal stories and humour to let go of any tension. Remember to smile — and breathe!
6. Use variety in your voice to enhance your message. For instance, quickening the pace to add tension, emphasising key words to bring out important points (but don’t overdo it!) and lowering your volume to add suspense. The most important things are to connect with your own emotions and to speak about what you care about. It will show.
7. Believe! Give yourself confidence by believing that the audience is your friend, and will give you energy. Believe profoundly in what you are talking about and this will take care of most of your vocal variety and gestures — and ensure that you project authenticity.
Each audience, each room, each time is different. The same speech should be adapted to every occasion, and will be received differently. Join a speaking club such as Toastmasters International to give yourself the opportunity to practise in a supportive environment. Experiment. Enjoy. Engage.
Julie Kertesz is a member of Toastmasters International and winner of the Silver Comedy Best Newcomer 2012.