So we have been trying to make a difference to the case of the Missing Women in Public Discourse: Opinion Building Events, Think Tanks, Panels, and Expert Conferences where a common challenge for organizers (as I’ve been told) is “where are the women?” and women experts are quick to point out that they have never been approached. But is that truly reflective of a demand-supply problem and connecting the two sides only. The enormity of the problem is unfortunately bigger than we imagined when a bunch of us got together to address this (You can read more about #NoMoreManels here)
where are the women?
Women do exist (yes, that’s very good news indeed). Experts in their fields of work, employment, passion, hobbies are willing speakers (yes, who would have known that but we just validated this, again) however many Women Experts are willing to participate but need assistance with public speaking or need that confidence bolster to know someone who has overcome the barriers in their minds and made it. To be honest, who doesn’t need help being a better anything? I think we all do. Some of us are born to be hold captive a willing audience amongst a smaller group while some of us do that with much larger groups of people. But can public speaking be learnt?
Hence, in a structured hour long #TweetChat with Kiran Manral [Author. Planning board member Kumaon Lit fest. Chair, Women Unlimited Series, Taj Colloquium] to probe this further, I met with the realization: yes you can definitely become better at it if you keep at it. The hour went by fast, direct questions were met with unpretentious & genuine answers which were highly appreciated by many women who tuned in. If you’ve met Kiran, you know she’s warm, smiles from her heart, has absolutely no pretense and is definitely not an extrovert, then does she do it so well to make repeat appearances and be recognized for her expert opinions time and again? The answers were nicely summarized by Kiran in a blogpost following the chat which you can read here.
So, we all can become better public speakers, if we just try. Simple, isn’t it? Don’t believe it? Would you believe it if someone much more famous did? Here comesMark Twain to the rescue. He said- “There are two kinds of speakers: those that are nervous, and those that are liars”, Yes Yes Yes – that famous “Fake it till you make it” advice you’ve heard pour out on WhatAapp groups was prevalent even back then. But the moot point is everyone is nervous before public speaking and some are better at posing like they are not.
So here are 5 Things you can do in Preparation of a Public Speaking Engagement
1. Before the Talk: Preparation
Preparation is the key to success. Often heard but also ignored. You can’t get better unless you prepare for it.
- Accept invites for topics you have an opinion on and are well informed
No matter how tempting they might seem: big event, well-known names, huge reach… before you accept an invite, ask if you will add value to the topic. The answer should determine your participation in the session.
- Read up as much as you can about the topic pre-event
As you research you will mentally rehearse your responses and arguments for/against the topic.
- Research the audience
Knowing before-hand whose attending will prepare you to anticipate the questions that might be asked as well as prepare material/notes of what will keep your audience interested and engaged.
- Have a personal opinion on the topic
Know your corporate policies (if any) about engaging in public debates/topics that are directly relevant to your line of business. Be prepared with a personal opinion in case you’re asked and don’t forget to start it off with for example “This is my personal opinion and I believe….”
What I have found extremely useful is actually talking in front of a mirror and seeing myself speak. Rehearse speaking if you wish to.
2. Upping Your Confidence: Dress Comfortably & Well
Who doesn’t feel comfortable when you’re dressed up and know that your personal style statement is one of confidence and the unique you? Plan ahead of time and keep these tips in mind.
- Wear whatever makes you comfortable and something you’ve worn before, so you know how it fits
- Stay true to your style of dressing
- Knowing that one is looking presentable is a confidence bolster
3. Pre-talk Routine: Create one, Practice it religiously
A question I have always asked leaders who are on company boards and those who directly present to executive leadership (C level) is: How do you prep ahead of such a nerve wracking time? The answer has been unanimous and common: I do my little thing before I walk into that meeting. This definitely seems worth developing if the results are so sweet.
- Develop a Routine
Kiran recommends we might want to Chant, meditate, stroll before the talk. Seems to sooth the nerves and center ones thoughts on the task at hand which is to do a stellar job speaking. Anything that comes to your mind immediately when you think of calm- sound of wind chimes, smell of wet mud, sprinkling rain? How about singing a particular song? Listening to a particular tune or just staring blankly at the sky. Develop a routine that works and stick to it.
- Repeat I can do it
Affirmations have proven to have immense physical and mental benefits. Reams have been written about how successful CEOs, world leaders, influential personalities always tell themselves this. If it works for them, it will work for you. Do not believe it? Try it and see the results for yourself
- Make acquaintances in your audience by reaching early
Small gatherings in an event means fewer people to interact with but gives you an opportunity to develop warm acquaintances who you can look in the eyes while speaking and feel connected to the audience, almost like that *snaps fingers*
- Try to find one or two faces in the audience and focus your talk at them
Bigger audience, no familiar faces or friends there…. Feel your confidence slip away? Worry not, focus on just a handful of people, introduce yourself, have a conversation with them before you head to the podium or panel and throughout the engagement focus your talk at them as you scan through the bigger audience. Comforting indeed.
4. During the Talk: Be Centered & Focused
So you’ve spent many hours researching, rehearsing and being prepared. Here comes the D-Day and you’ve even done you pre-talk routine. You take the stage and the spotlight is on you. Terrifying possibly for a brief moment and a lot can go wrong but if you are prepared for it, nothing will come in the way of a great public speaking engagement
- Never be rude, no matter how provoked you might get
Trust that one question that is illogical and most often badly worded to come your way, you feel rattled by the implied rudeness but no matter how provoked, please stay calm and do not be rude to the person who asked. The best most nonviolent (verbally of course) way to handle it is this. Agree?
- Stay Calm, Centered and Focused
Every time you feel your thoughts drifting away even for a fleeting second, bring them back and keep them there. If you meditate, it might be easier for you but even if you don’t, don’t admonish yourself, be kind to yourself and get back to business.
- If you blank out: smile, think of an anecdote and get your thoughts back together
Even the best speakers in the world blank out once in a while, stage fright is real. It happens to everyone, including netas, abhinetas, world leaders and me and the lady who spoke at the conference to a standing ovation last month and yes sometimes to you too. Let it go, smile and keep going. If you’re a quick thinker, cover it up with an interesting anecdote and bring the conversation back to the topic. You will get better with more slip-ups. So experience comes from failure. Don’t fear it, embrace it.
5. Closing the Talk: Invite Questions, Thank The Organizers & the Audience
Finally, the talk ends, your endorphins are at a high and you can see the cue to wind up immediately because you’re over shooting the time limit. Conclude your talk, but always wrap up with a formal call out for questions and a thank you to everyone present
- Inform Audience of your Availability for Answering Questions
- Always remember your Thank You’s to the Organizers, Audience, Co-Panelists
I hope these assist you in your quest to sign up/opt for public speaking and be better speakers, not to prove to someone else but to yourself that you are a good speaker.
A Big thank you to Kiran Manral for allowing me to layer this article basis her blogpost and allowing its use. If any of these resonated, if you have questions or wanted to leave some feedback, you can do that in the comment box below or tweet to me @jasuja on Twitter. Would love to hear from you.
- Kiran Manral’s Blog Post: https://kiranmanral.wordpress.com/2016/06/01/so-how-does-a-shrinking-violet-like-me-get-up-and-speak-in-public/
- Women Speakers Storify: https://storify.com/_WomenSpeakers_/women-speakers-par-excellence-series-tweetchat-wit
[About the author: Monica Jasuja is a Payments Ninja specializing in Digital Payments Initiatives to further India’s progress as a less cash dependent economy. She is a Product Strategist with work experience in 4 geographies globally and brings knowledge and firsthand experience of desig ning, developing products with the wow factor. Her personal passions include changing the gender gap at work and helping other women rise. She is associated with various #WomenAtWork initiatives, vocal advocate for the cause & being a passionate #NoMoreManels change agent. This article expresses her personal views, and not those of any of her employers—past, present or future. Monica is available on Twitter: @jasuja]