Some weeks ago I had decided that it was time to start improving my communication and presentation skills, soft skills that come in handy in any situation. At DrivenWoman we are always encouraged to put ideas into action straight away and say out loud what we want, even when it involves stepping outside comfort zone.
So I shared this ambition with my manager who also thought it was a brilliant goal for the coming months. We brainstormed and thought that practice makes perfect! We should find opportunities for me to present to different audiences within the company.
Ask and you shall receive... big time!
Only two weeks later I found myself presenting to a full room of 160 people. I was hoping to start with a small audience and lots of preparation time, but hey... I asked for it.
How to find confidence to get on stage, in 5 days!
Luckily there are multiple amazing speakers in my network, so I reached out to few of them and got lots of great advice on how they approach public speaking and presenting to large audiences. We might think that people we see on stage are naturally great speakers, but it turns out to be a skill that they have practiced over and over again. Getting insight on how they approach preparation and the presentation itself was helpful.
Here are 5 top tips I learned from building courage to do public speaking:
1. It is about them, not you. The audience is there to understand how you can help them and what they can gain. They are not there to listen to your pitch.
2. Be you. Be who you are and adjust your presentation to fit your own personal style. Are you funny? Be funny. Being funny or telling stories are definitely not my style (at least not yet) and I’m more likely to relate to data, facts and bullet points. So maybe that’s my delivery style?
3. Manage your fear with routines. Think ahead and practice for the day – how am I likely to feel, how do I get in the right state and mindset minutes prior when you might start to get anxious. During that week, I was listening a songs from a play list that bring me to a powerful and positive state of mind. When watching others present, I was singing some of those songs in my head, closing my eyes and finding a feeling of positive energy in the room.
4. Focus on the first few minutes. This was one of the big 'aha' moments for me. For a long presentation it takes a lot of time to practice and to perfect it but if you nail the first few minutes you are more likely to have a positive experience and get into a flow state. I had divided my presentation into 5 minute sections and practiced the first few minutes the most – what am I going to say, how am I going to say it, where am I likely to speak too fast and then get out of breath (which had happened a few times lately). I speed up when I say my name and anything following that so, I practiced to pause right after.
5. Build on previous experience I realised that I keep framing this experience as something big and scary. Instead, I started to build on my earlier successes - I have been in front of big audiences, probably a hundred times larger if not more. All my life I’ve sang in a choir and performed on stage. There is always that feeling of excitement before getting on stage but it’s not anxiousness or fear. When I learned to re-create that experience it helped me redirect my energy in the right place and find an already existing confidence.
I'm extremely happy I actively put myself out there and accepted the challenge to speak in public. My talk went well and I can be proud of myself. But I'd like to extend these lessons beyond public speaking.
How to build courage to do anything that scares you
• Say yes! When I was asked to present, I first said yes and only after thought about what it would require.
• Practice in sections. You will get a quicker repetition when practicing same section multiple times rather than the full piece.
• Don't be afraid to ask for help. People are more than willing to support. (And DrivenWoman is a great place to start!)
• Document it. My amazing colleagues understood how excited I was, and they were kindly documenting this personal growth experience for me and taking pictures. It's great to reflect back and also share to inspire others.
And I want to thank everyone in this supportive community for making this a great experience for me!
ps.... I have more speaking opportunities lined up already!
Nella Koponen is a DrivenWoman member in London and Senior Partner Marketing Manager, EMEA at Splunk.
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