Building Public Speaking Prowess

Building Public Speaking Prowess

When I mention the words "public speaking" what type of emotion does that evoke? Fear? Concern? All. Out. Panic? Today I'm going to share my journey with public speaking, tools/tactics I’m using to develop this skill, and why I believe we need to master the art storytelling. This is yet another strength we can build together! As always, thanks for listening to the View 112 Podcast. 

Hello! Today is Monday September 18th. This kicks off one of the busiest weeks of the year for me but I. Am. Ready. I get up for weeks like this! So many fun things going on.  It’s Congressional Black Caucus weekend here in DC and I am attending an event on Wednesday. My parents are coming to visit from Atlanta, and 2 of my college girlfriends are in town this weekend for wedding. It is a huge week for me at work and I am over the midterm hump for this current online semester.  God is good! 

I’ve been inspired by the topic of public speaking lately and yesterday I got an incredible opportunity to facilitate a key note for students of Gallaudet University. After presenting yesterday, I knew I needed to talk about public speaking on the podcast. Allow me to share my journey with public speaking: 

Growing up, I’ve had many opportunities to speak in front of large groups of people. I grew up attending a mega church with thousands of members. Not only am I comfortable around lot of people, but I’ve had lots of times in which I’ve spoken, read a scripture, sang in the choir, etc in front of a lot of people. In school I’ve also been in dance groups and have performed in front of all types of crowds. In college, I aced my public speaking class with little to no effort and for over 10 years professionally I’ve presented in front of groups of varying sizes, not giving much thought to my skills as a public speaker.  A few things happened that changed all of that dramatically for me. Now I am able to pinpoint it to one thing: Feedback. When I started receiving feedback about my presentation skills, I was 28 years old. I had probably been speaking publicly for 20 years at that point (seriously). My mom had major anxiety with public speaking and so she signed up for Toastmasters. I went for support and sport, thinking I could darn near run the program. I learned quickly in my first Toastmasters meeting that i did in fact have work to do. They asked for volunteers to participate in an activity and of course I raised my hand. I was given a topic and a time limit to talk. Thinking "no problem" I start going.  Three tools Toastmasters uses to help develop public speaking skills:

  1. A sheet for everyone to write down notes for feedback.

  2. A clicker/counter for when you say “um” and “ah”.

  3. A timer that flashes yellow when you are close to time and red when time is UP

Let me tell you, the first time I heard that clicker was the first time in my life I realized I even use the word “um” and that it was a problem. It was also the first time in my life that I started getting a bit nervous. I literally went from arrogant to nervous. Isn’t life funny in how it can humble you? From then on, I became keenly aware of my opportunities in public speaking. Any time, even now if I am concerned that people are critiquing my public speaking skills instead of listening to the content I am delivering, it makes me extremely nervous! No matter if its 2 people or 2 thousand people-ya girl gets nervous.  I’ve spent time trying to learn how to quell my nerves. I’ve discovered I have a larger ROI building better public speaking skills than focusing on how to not be nervous.  Here’s what I do:

  1. Read all the books! You guessed it. Previously on the podcast I’ve mentioned some books I’ve read. I just picked up 2 new books: How to Develop Self-Confidence and Influence People by Public Speaking by Dale Carnegie and Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life, One Conversation at a Time by Susan Scott. In his book, Carnegie highlights the importance of preparing but also shares the preparation tactics of famous public speakers. Which brings me to:

  2. Study what great looks like. I was just inspired by Apple’s SVP of Retail Angela Ahrendts. She presented just recently during Apple’s fall product announcement live from the Steve Jobs theater. I’ve seen a lot of clips of her speak and I’ve noticed things that she does to avoid saying “um”. Anyone great at public speaking is great at the discipline of taking a moment to pause when they feel the urge to “um”. I’ve been practicing it a lot lately myself. I know these little tactics help when preparing and doing it often which is why Angela is so good at it I bet. Other people I study are the pastor at my church, Rev. Delman Coates, business icon Bozoma St. John, sports journalists Michael Smith and Jemele Hill, and others.

  3. Put it into practice. I’ve said this before too, but I try to put myself in situations of all kinds that require me to speak publicly so i can work on these things. I am not sure when or if my really big moment will happen. I’m sure when it does I will be nervous, but I will also be reaaaaady. Hello! I don’t shy away from opportunities. I may cringe for a second, a little wave of panic may ensue, but the next second I am on it with that same confidently raised hand from ToastMasters.

Finally, I want to talk just a bit about the art of storytelling. I’m sure when I first heard this concept in business a few years ago, I rolled my eyes. Now I am a big believer in it. As a sales woman at heart, I’ve seen the value of connecting people to an idea, product, or service through story telling. Here’s an example. I really enjoy drinking wine. I really like reds and red blends. At the local PF Changs, they have 2 different blends and for a long time I could never remember the name of the wine I liked. One day the bar tender told me the story of Colby Groom. Colby was born with a heart defect and underwent 2 open heart surgeries at ages 8 and 10 years old.  Colby’s asked his dad who is a wine maker to create a wine for sell in which the proceeds could go to heart research. Colby is 19 years old now and the vineyard has raised close to a million dollars for heart research. From the moment I heard that story, I have never forgotten the name of a red blend I enjoy: Colby Red. I want to share some thoughts about Uber and story telling. When Uber first launched I remember being connected to their slogan that Uber was “Everyone’s Private Driver”.  I was connected to that idea of luxury as I’m sure many people were.  By now, I’m sure you know all bout Uber’s issues and resulting turnover even at the highest levels.  Last week I saw Bozoma St. John on Recode panel talking about Uber and storytelling and how she’s using it to change the narrative of Uber.  She wants to show all sides of the company. There was a man in the audience that told Boz that he has a son in college and its a huge relieve to get a notification that his son just ordered an Uber at 3am. He knows his son is not driving drunk or in the car with drunk friends to get home. He asked if Uber had been tracking the reduction of drinking and driving incidents on college campuses. Boz highlighted that those are the types of stories she wants to connect people to about Uber. Later on her Instagram, she stated that it was a tough interview and she felt like she was on the hot seat. After looking at the interview, I think anyone would have felt rattled. It was tough, if you know Kara Swisher...well she was very much backing her reputation during that interview.  Boz was composed and I think still got her message through.  A public speaking and branding pro, which is why I’m sure she’s their Chief Branding Officer.  

What messages and stories are you crafting about yourself, business, product, or service?  We are telling stories and crafting narratives all the time regardless of if we know it or not. Time to be deliberate about it. What are you saying out loud about you? Whatever it is, people believe it. Make sure its the story you want.  I’ve been working on this myself.  

That’s it for me today.  I got a whole lot of week to get into. Thank you for listening! Please subscribe and rate this podcast on Apple Podcasts.  Email me questions or comments at Talk to you next time.

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