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Overcoming My Fears of Public Speaking

I remember the first time I learnt about ‘Power Poses’. I was at a business networking group, London Women in Finance – Career Coaching Group, and the host had asked us what we would do to boost our confidence before a speech. Prior to learning about this new concept, introduced by Amy Cuddy, my answer would have been ‘have a coffee, stay calm, practice and pray’!

So what exactly is the ‘Power Pose’ strategy that seems to have skipped past me without me realising?

Well, some of it has a little to do with Wonder Woman and her ability to stand tall! Hands on hips, chest out and shoulders back. A pose that connotes power, confidence and increases your ability to deal with anxiety or stress….and the best thing of all, it takes just two minutes to do!

So why am I telling you this?

A few weeks back, I was standing in front of a small group of people, preparing to share my story.  I had agreed to give a speech entitled, How to overcome your inner critic, raise your visibility & get noticed at work and quite naturally, I was feeling a little nervous about addressing an audience. Seconds before speaking, I felt as though a Power Pose was what I needed!

Although I’ve spoken publicly on a number of occasions, I’ve never managed to become a fan of public speaking, even though the reaction by others has always been positive. I’ve always felt as though its something I’ve wanted to master and so watching Ted Talks, an initiative set  up to spread ideas in the form of short presentations, has helped me understand and observe how to address a sizeable audience and the art of keeping an audience engaged.  Its a great source of information for anyone looking to improve their public speaking skills.

The event, where I was speaking, was held at an intimate private venue in Angel & Islington and was an opportunity to share my past experiences with Vitiligo, whilst bringing some focus around being different in the workplace and the challenges with adjusting to a new working environment.

An interesting Q&A session followed, which raised some insightful questions, mostly around how i’d gone from being an overwhelming shy woman to someone who was able to address an audience about something that was once very personal. The few months I had to build my speech and prepare, was an interesting experience as I was conscious about engaging my audience and giving them something that was ultimately thought provoking. I adopted tactics often used in public speaking and focused on being prepared and how to eliminate the potential arrival of nerves of the day….

Plan and Practice

The most obvious tip of them all! I was practising for weeks leading up to the day. I didn’t want to rely on a scripted piece of paper. I wanted to present my story naturally, after all, it’s one in which I should be comfortable telling! Feeling prepared makes you feel confident and helps with keeping nerves at a distance when its time to stand before your audience.

Engage your audience

Keep your listeners at the forefront of your speech. Include them. Engage them and evoke interest in your topic. Whilst you may ultimately be speaking about yourself, try and tie sections in with your audience to keep their attention. Open with a general scenario that they could find themselves in. Make it so you can potentially persuade them to do something they may not have done before. If you can bring them round to your way of thinking it can be incredibly empowering.

Write key words on index cards and don’t be strict about sticking to it!

Key words can act as simple prompts during the speech. Key words helped me avoid the temptation of reading from paper, line by line. After I had got past my first index card and felt like my speech was flowing, I stopped looking at the cards and was pretty much able to deliver without too many glances at the cards before me.

Record your voice (great apps on the iPhone!) to judge pace

Nerves can often make you race through something, because all your thinking about is the ending, rather than living in the moment and addressing the audience in a calm manner. Im always conscious of my need to slow down to ensure I come across clearly. Whilst speaking slowly doesn’t come naturally to me, it’s incredibly important you speak at a good pace. It’s more engaging, allows you to be more expressive and makes you feel more relaxed throughout.

Arrive at the venue early

Im terrible with lateness and im often the one hanging my head in shame as I give my apologies for being 10 minutes late! But when it comes to attending a networking event or presenting, I make sure im at least 10 minutes early. There is nothing worse than rushing to  an event in panic mode, as it completely throws you off course. To feel relaxed you need to arrive relaxed. Your journey to the venue can either be going over speech material or simply a peaceful journey to gather your thoughts.

Treat yourself to something beforehand.

I’d never turn down the chance to treat myself! Im not saying run out and buy yourself a new Karen Millen dress or a piece of fine jewellery, but something small that you can enjoy beforehand. Mine is definitely a latte! Apart from being calming, it’s nice to look forward to something especially if you’re feeling nervous.

The event organiser, Philippa Ibe, very generously gave me a testimonial on my deliverance:

What I loved about Natalie’s talk is that it was fresh and real. She shared a unique yet relatable story covering themes such as body confidence and self worth. Her story is truly inspirational, moving and a real joy to see her grow into her own as a speaker. I look forward to seeing more of Natalie giving talks”.

 

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