The prospect of public speaking is one which may strike fear in the hearts of many of us. As women, it is common to face additional setbacks such as lack of confidence and feeling anxious of criticism. All is not lost, however! Helen Berry, Professor of History and HaSS Dean of Postgraduate Studies, held an excellent session for the NU Women based around finding our voices within the public sphere. Helen has extensive experience in public speaking, be that in the lecture theatre or further afield in contributing to discussions on the radio or appearing on TV.
Below we discuss some of the most common challenges we might face in speaking within the public sphere. Taking heed of the tips that follow might help those butterflies disappear.
“What if my mind goes blank?”
There are several strategies out there to help us with keeping our talks on track, it’s a case of choosing the right method for you. Index cards or PowerPoint presentations with keywords on them are a good start in helping us to keep focused and improve our fluency. Don’t forget to slow down, too, to give yourself time to think – slowing down your speaking speed to about half of what you think is normal means you’re more likely to hit the optimum listening speed.
“What are others thinking of me?”
The truth is, they don’t care. They came to hear you speak, not to judge. Often we are our own worst critics! Find a friendly face in the audience and keep calm.
“What if I can’t make myself heard?”
Don’t be afraid to interrupt. Speak deeper and louder. Most importantly, don’t apologise. Cut out the I’m sorry buts and the I may be wrongs from your vocabulary and be confident that what you’re saying is a useful contribution to the discussion.
“I’ve never done this before”
This is a valid worry and one that almost everyone will have experienced, but don’t admit it! Audiences want to feel comfortable and seeing that you are too will help them to relax. Keep a journal for future reference and note down what works and what doesn’t. Remember that you’re in charge of the situation, so make sure you project an aura of control even if you don’t feel it.
“I don’t like audiences, large or small!”
You know about the subject (the audience is there because of it) and you have something valuable to say, so give yourself permission to speak. Take a look at Michelle Obama and Julia Gillard’s excellent speeches and note how they speak to their audiences.
Some final points…
Be resilient, be positive and build yourself a support team of family and friends to give you feedback… Practice makes perfect! Most importantly though, remember what you’re passionate about and why you’re doing it. This is what will get you through.
For further reading, Helen recommends Patsy Rodenburg’s book Presence as a practical guide to improving presentation skills. She is a former voice coach with the Royal Shakespeare Company. You can also catch her talking about the ‘three circles’ concept from the book on YouTube.
Helen will be doing another session in May 2017 that will be open to the whole NU Women’s network. Registration for this event will be shared closer to the time.