For years I have spoken in public. Given an endless number of presentations to often tough crowds. Sometimes a bearer of unexpected insight into what an organisation’s audiences really think of them. Other times an advocate for ideas that are likely to change the status quo in much needed ways. Or simply a sharer of wisdom and experience to inspire the less experienced.
It is nerve wracking for most of us to stand in the limelight and speak to an audience – small or large. We hope to come across as confident and interesting at the very least. At best we wish our message be received with open arms and as little resistance as possible. Resistance comes in many forms. People yawning. Chatting amongst themselves. Scrolling on smartphones. Asking blatantly challenging questions to derail the narrative. Disagreeing completely with what is recommended or shared. Or walking out of the room.
I have experienced most forms of resistance in my public speaking/presenting days. In the beginning caught on the back foot, I relied on survivor instinct and quick thinking to handle derailments. Over time I refined the techniques required to prevent derailments or at least minimise their desired effect.
In 2004 I began mentoring teams and individuals on how to present with confidence. I designed and delivered personable, challenging and practical workshops based on my vast experience and success presenting.
Architects, creative teams, designers, marketing teams, fundraising teams to name a few, have stepped up and into my workshops.
They learn, practice, practice, practice the art of public speaking with candid and immediate feedback. They all seem to leave feeling more confident, armed with a bagful of tools and techniques to help the next time they are in the limelight, presenting.
When my daughter asked me to speak at her wedding as part of the ceremony itself, I said yes! It was my utmost pleasure and privilege to contribute on such a special occasion. I was given a ‘very clear brief’, with timings (which made me smile) – and the added challenge of saying my words in French as well. Her husband to be was French, over 60% of the guests were non-English speaking. The fact I am bilingual meant this was feasible, though still a tricky variable to accommodate.
The pressure was on. This was the one event to captivate the audience with my finest public speaking abilities. Equally important was to retain a demure tone worthy of the mother of the bride.
As with the people I mentor in public speaking, and any presentation I have ever given, I applied the same approach to prepare – 1. Know your purpose. 2. Know your audience. 3. Know your story.
The whole process authoring these important words was extremely emotional. I was nonetheless clear on the purpose – to honour my daughter and her chosen partner; the audience – my daughter, future son-in-law and all their beloved eclectic friends and family present from cities, the countryside and the mountains; and story – well, this was a powerful and delicate narrative combining a light touch and serious depth. My daughter’s father died when she was a baby. Finding a joyous way of bring him to the ceremony without bringing us all down took thought.
When I was happy and certain of my prose, all remained to do was rehearse. I did. Until I was ready, and sure enough I would make it through without tears brimming.
The wedding was outdoors, by the ocean. We did a microphone test. The sound was phenomenal. My voice was everywhere.
Even though I was word perfect during rehearsal, I decided to write down the words on a few parchment paper cards. In case I was thrown. By emotion. Or the setting. Or any number of distractions. No matter how experienced we are, we can always falter last minute. Mind goes blank. We lose our thread. Best to be prepared.
It was time and I rose to take centre stage.
My voice filled the big sun-drenched outdoors. The words came alive and out naturally. I soared without ever having to look at my notes.
It was by far the most exhilarating, complete and meaningful experience I’ve ever had speaking in public. Guests were enthralled, moved and compelled to tell me, and thank me afterwards. My daughter and son-in-law were profoundly touched. Hearts love-filled. Eyes blinking back tears. Poignant feelings all round.
What a day. My small part speaking was the most special gift I could give my daughter and son-in-law. Only made possible because of the hard earned experience and practice presenting in my work world.
We often keep the personal separate from the professional because we feel we have to. In this instance I’m very glad the two worked hand in hand.
If you would like to learn how to overcome nerves, and present with confidence, please get in touch to book your workshop.
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© Amanda Yensa Manor 2018