Oct 26, 2019
Episode 72 of The Teaching Space Podcast explores the skill of public speaking and why it is relevant to teachers and trainers.
Today’s episode is based on a blog post I wrote a few years back on public speaking. I really wanted to make an audio version; so here it is.
Before I launch into this topic, I want to say this: teaching is SO MUCH MORE than public speaking.
I don't believe good public speakers necessarily make good teachers. In fact, often, they're terrible. The role of the teacher is to facilitate learning; not to talk ALL THE TIME.
However, I do believe that improving your public speaking skills can have a positive and powerful effect on your teaching, but probably not for the reason you think.
I mean, yes, working on your speaking skills focuses you on communicating clearly. That's important.
But the most positive outcome is this: you appear confident. While you may not feel confident on the inside, you project confidence to everyone around you. This will elevate your teaching to a higher level.
In business, we call it relationship marketing. You aim to project yourself in such a way that prospective customers will begin to know, like and trust you.
Teaching isn't that different really. You want your learners to know, like and trust you so you have the opportunity to create a learning environment in which they thrive and have the best chance of success.
What follows are my thoughts on how to improve your public speaking if you are faced with the terrifying task of giving a speech or talk.
Every single time I talk to a group of people I experience the same feelings: fear, anxiety and an overwhelming desire to be sick. Even preparing to podcast (ahem… that’s basically talking to myself) gives me butterflies.
But I love it.
And apparently, I look like I love it too. After a talk, people often ask, "Were you nervous?" My immediate reply is always, "Yes, terrified". My response surprises them.
Despite the fact that I find public speaking nerve-wracking, I love it, and I can present in a confident, capable way.
With careful preparation, as well as the use of specific routines, I can reduce my fear to a manageable level. I have learned to re-frame my nerves positively.
We learn stress and anxiety are bad, and more often than not, they are.
But pre-performance nerves, whether you are a speaker, athlete, teacher, or actor, can be an asset. You just need to know how to transform those nerves from negative to positive.
It’s useful to understand what happens to our bodies when we are nervous. It’s all about the brain. Your brain has one important job - to keep you alive. It makes your organs work and keeps you safe.
When you are in a potentially dangerous situation, for example, standing in front of a group of people, preparing to speak, you experience the feeling of fear.
In response to your fear, your brain releases adrenaline and other stress hormones such as cortisol in preparation for a “fight or flight” response. Adrenaline super-charges you so that you’ve got extra energy and power for fight or flight. It’s amazing - you can even see and hear better.
The more fearful you are, the greater the adrenaline surge.
If you perceive a situation to be utterly terrifying, there is going to be a lot of adrenaline shooting through your body. A bit of adrenaline is good. Too much adrenaline is going to make you feel awful (heart thumping, sweating, panic… you’ll be opting for “flight" any moment).
The brain does not know what you are scared of - it only knows your emotional reaction to the thing that scares you. If you are feeling terrified, it’s going flood your body with adrenaline. If you are only mildly scared, less adrenaline is needed. That’s the key.
If you can make the prospect of speaking in public seem less scary, your body will not produce as much adrenaline. You can do this through practice, careful preparation and routine.
The second thing we can do is carefully manage the remaining adrenaline and use it positively.
Here are some strategies to help before, during, and after your public speaking engagement.
If you know you are a good public speaker, your feeling of confidence will dramatically reduce your fear.
The more public speaking you do, the more confident you become. You’ll still feel some nerves - this is healthy. Anyone who walks into a public speaking gig with no nerves at all is cocky. Cocky people aren’t engaging. They are irritating.
If you are new to public speaking you need to practice, but not necessarily in front of others at this stage. That comes later.
One of the best ways to improve your public speaking is to record yourself and listen back. Video is better than audio, but let’s take one step at a time. It’s going to make you cringe but do it anyway.
Listen out for:
Once you’ve practised alone, it’s time to bring in some trusted friends for feedback. Your family are either going to be too kind or too harsh when it comes to giving feedback (I learned that one the hard way!) Find trusted friends who will provide genuine, constructive feedback. Ask them to identify what you are doing well, and your areas for improvement.
You cannot prepare for a public speaking engagement without understanding who your audience are. Ask yourself these key questions:
You could take this exercise a step further and “design” your typical audience member. Give them a name, appearance, age, employment history, religious and political views. Then prepare a talk just for them.
Public speaking starts with writing. Many of the rules for crafting a compelling story apply to writing a speech. For example:
Of course, you don’t want to read your speech word for word on the day. If you do, you will not get a chance to engage with your audience. It’s boring watching someone speak to you with their face buried in a pile of notes.
Your speech needs to be distilled down to discrete cue cards. Here are some tips for creating cue cards:
In Amy Cuddy’s popular TED talk, and later in her book “Presence”, she explores the effect positive body language can have on the mind. Cuddy advocates a “fake it till you make it” approach to confidence. If you look and sound confident - you will be more confident. Use the power of body language to melt nerves away.
It might sound like a load of old bunkum, but what have you got to lose? Try holding a Wonder Woman style pose (stand straight, hands on hips, chin up) for a few minutes before you make a speech.
Use your posing time to centre your body and mind and then go for it. Your power pose, combined with some deep breathing and quiet time, might just stem the flow of excess adrenaline and allow you to turn those butterflies into an asset.
I’d recommend turning a chain of activities like this into a habit. Routines are calming and can ground you before stepping into the unknown.
Once you’ve started to speak, you won’t have the mental capacity to remember long and complicated coping strategies. Here are just a few simple things you can do:
Take a moment to reflect on what you’ve just achieved. Take note of what your body feels like now the fear has gone. I suspect it will feel pretty good. That’s why I love public speaking.
That’s it for today. Before I go I have a small request: if you enjoyed today’s episode, please support the show by either:
… or doing all three if you are feeling super generous! Any financial contributions go directly towards the running costs of the podcast so you are investing in future content. Thank you.
If you have any questions about the show or thoughts you’d like to share you can do so by either:
The show notes for this episode include any links I’ve mentioned; you can find them at theteachingspace.com.
Thanks for listening and I hope you’ll join me for the next episode.