Yip. Over dying. People are terrified of public speaking, yet it is a skill that, if mastered, will reap huge rewards. So often I have had to sit, glazy eyed listening to someone give a talk. A talk that didn’t grab me. A talk that lacked energy and passion and wasted my time and everybody else’s time in the room. It’s frustrating. Frustrating for the poor sod delivering a talk that fails to engage and frustrating for those watching it. Bringing a presentation to life can be harder than getting published, it takes perseverance. Mastering the way we say things is a skill and it takes both effort and practise.
I recently told a friend I was going on a public speaking course, which I had arranged to review. He laughed and insisted:
‘JoJo, you don’t need a public speaking course. You are a natural. PLEASE don’t go!!’
‘But the guy from Tree of Knowledge who is taking the course, Gavin Oattes, is one of the best public speakers I have heard, and he has been doing it for years.’
My friend let me off the hook. You see, I have met quite a lot of the team from Tree of Knowledge over the past few years. They all have something a bit special. I assumed that the course would have a little bit of magic. I knew there would be a bit of a twist to the training and that I would get something from it. I assured my friend this course wouldn’t be an old school textbook job, that sapped my style. Thankfully I was right.
The day flew in and it was cram packed with loads of interesting info, practical tips and hands on activities. We covered mental rehearsal, the way the brain works and a bit of mindfulness. One thing I have learned over the past few years is that anxiety can be a good thing. It doesn’t have to hold us back and it certainly doesn’t prevent us from going out and totally smashing things that scare us. There are so many tips available, in terms of tricking our brain and calming us down. We spoke through a lot of them on the training course. Tree of Knowledge offer loads of courses and the one I attended was Presentation Masterclass, which is under their corporate course list. The team also offer various other courses on fascinating topics such as resilience, motivation and change management.
I am not a huge fan of using notes when I give a talk. I prefer to speak from the heart and be fully present in the moment. I feel that notes can be a hindrance. I love to get lost in my stories, although there is a balance between being prepared and winging it. My background is in acting and being on the stage. It gives me such a buzz and I always love getting up and putting on a show. I used to have an amazing memory and would manage the lines no bother, until baby brain kicked in. Ask me what I did yesterday, it may have been awesome but my mind will go blank. All the more reason to practise. I have always loved to write content that I would perform, which started when I was tiny. My friend Cheeko and I would write comedy plays, at 5 years old, and act them out for anyone who would watch, we would then take a hat around the room for sweet money. Great times. I like to think of preparing a talk as the same as writing a script. It’s preparation for a performance. Not just any performance either. The performance of my life, every single time. When we are invited to give a talk, it is exciting. The butterflies and nerves are natural if we care about it. If we care about giving the very best of ourselves, be it raw, vulnerable, educated, funny and entertaining. No matter where we are, these skills are essential. Especially in such a fast-paced world, where we have to fight harder to hold a person’s attention. A fundamental human need is to give back and to leave an impact. We get such a buzz from inspiring and educating people. That starts with entertaining them so that we get our audience hooked. Gav is a master at this.
We covered preparation, from getting clarity in terms of what is expected for a speaking event, the audience, facilities, timing, the style of venue and the type of mic and technology available. Whilst preparation is really important, there are times I struggle to find the time. Often, I feel like I am running from one event or meeting to the next, or I have an article or a podcast due, not to mention juggling the school and nursery run and general life. I tell myself I know my subjects well and I could talk about them with passion all day. BUT sometimes that is not good enough. When we are given an allocated time, practise is important. When companies are digging into their budget to pay speakers, a lack of practise is disrespectful.
This was a huge reason I wanted to go on the course. I have been booked up for loads of speaking gigs. Some are for 30 minutes, some are for an hour. Some are for 15 minutes. Some are ‘roughly 20 minutes’. What about if I am asked to speak for 5 minutes? On this training course, we were asked to prepare a presentation, 5 minutes long, on a subject we feel passionate about. One of the busiest weekends of my life had just ended, I launched my book on the Saturday (blown away by the reviews already, if I am hit by a bus tomorrow I leave the world happy) and the course was Monday morning in Glasgow. I thought ‘no bother, I can totally wing this’. Oooops. How wrong was I? You see, I only agree to give talks on subjects I am passionate about. 5 minutes is not long. In fact, it is way too short. I didn’t practise, I didn’t time it. It totally threw me.
Did I speak with passion? Yes – 100% (box ticked).
Did I speak with energy? Yes – at the start until I realised I was totally running out of time (box half ticked).
Did I say everything I wanted to say, did I end the talk in a powerful way? No!! (empty box, sad face :().
Had I practised more, I would have realised that the story I told is not one you can cover in five minutes without perfecting the last minute. You see, I told a story that changed my life. But I didn’t do it full justice. I realised that I was running out of time and I lost my flow. A lot of us in the room did when we realised that the time had flown in.
I tried to quickly cram in a few light-hearted stories at the end, but I had lost the impact I wanted to make because I was unprepared. I know I could have done SO much better. Of course, we are our own worst critics. One of the guys in the room gave me some feedback. He said he was ‘hanging onto every single word’. Maybe some in the room will remember the words in years to come. But I know I could have taken it to the next level with preparation. I know I could have done better. Have you ever felt this way? We all have to set our own standards. That is probably the most important thing I got from the day – practise, practise, practise. Never get cocky. Go on the courses, learn from people and companies like Tree of Knowledge, who are masters in their field. Write your words down, practise in front of the mirror. Film it. Time it. Practise in traffic, practice during a run, practise in the shower, practise to family and friends. Put in the time, find the time. Speak to those who have been speaking for years. Be inspired by people and never intimidated.
Who should go on this course?
If you want to do more public speaking or have some big gigs coming up – do it. There are a few little surprises thrown into the day that really gave a lot of us something to think about.
If you can’t stand public speaking but you have to do it for your job – 100% go on this course.
If you want a great corporate team building day – do it.
If you have just published a book or want to grow your blog – do it. This course will also give you some great inspiration for vlogging and content creation.
If you are a teacher or a lecturer – do it. You guys have such an important job and the ability to speak and leave an impact is essential.
Highs of the day
Lovely people, lovely surroundings. They pick great venues like the Edinburgh Zoo and House For an Art Lover.
Great content. I didn’t switch off or get bored.
Loads of practical work and time to practise.
Meditation and Mental rehearsal.
Getting a full day with the legend that is Gavin Oattes. He is a SUPER busy guy, doing awesome things (as are all of the team from Tree of Knowledge). There is nothing like being around inspirational and talented people for a mojo injection. Huge thumbs up, would love to do another one.
What would I change about the course?
Trade the 5 minutes for 10 minutes 🙂