Standing one in front of many is where I am happiest, except maybe in the kitchen Saturday PM with sport on the Big Telly, The Snip in the garden and soup on the hob.
In June I have nine gigs to 100 on Perfect Pitching. Nerves, to the extent they play any part, are motivators in the run up. This is not the case for everyone but, to be sure, choosing to channel your nerves positively, to embrace the fear that comes with big audience speaking, is a powerful tool. Some of the best exercises at these events are the simplest ones: having everyone stand up and see how much energy they can create in the room by passing a pen and just speaking, loudly, to your table when the pen is in your hands can be a light bulb moment. You simply have to go for it or no one will hear you; in fact you may not hear yourself.
You need to be more than loud and vertical, even if that is the sum ambition of many, if you want top marks in the feedback stakes. In the midst of all these big gigs I had a coaching session with someone who was right at the top of the Public Speaking Pyramid, really very good. As I put him through his paces it crossed my mind that I might not have much to say as grounds for improvement: it certainly would not be around embracing the fear as he loved the love he got from the room.
And yet even at this level, there are tweaks and nuances that fine tune. The first thing was pace and pause, more specifically pause. If you want presence and gravitas and all that jazz learn to use pause to play with your audience. My coachee did use pause and varied his pace well enough but by showing him how to be more patient he improved his delivery style. Comedians or actors would call it timing.
The next key learning point for those who are already good is "the phosphorescence of learning", to quote Emily Dickinson. Having knowledge is one thing, displaying it with vibrancy and colour another. Every story or example I got from my experienced fellow orator was rooted in a project or an outcome or a statistic. This is fine, but not terribly memorable. In fact it's one dimensional and formulaic. This still marks my friend as a good presenter but finding the analogy that speaks to your audience is the highest of oratorical skills and all good platform speakers do it: they make the complex understandable and the mundane memorable. More than that though, at its best there is a spark, a cleverness, that turns a three bed suburban semi into Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water or the Mackintosh masterpiece, Hill House.
Analogy is always riskier than boring, read, PowerPoint led and you might miss the oratorical heights at which you take aim. Such is life, sometimes the gods are not with you. Wright famously said that a doctor can bury his mistakes but an architect can only plant vines. A podium speaker can get tumble weed as instant feedback with no opportunity to come up with another plan if falling over is out of the question. But you have to try, in your preparation, to find some phosphorescence, because you are unlikely to find it once on the stage.
Mackintosh said that "the power the artist possesses in making objects to himself and their tendency towards symbolism illustrates the hallucinatory character of his work. But it is the creative imagination that is much more important. The artist cannot achieve mastery of his art unless he is endowed, to the highest degree, with the faculty of invention". Mackintosh is saying that his drawings- beautiful as they are, valuable works of art as they now are- simply convey what is really the essence of architecture: creating beauty by enclosing space. And it is the faculty of invention, the creative imagination, that allows this beauty to be created. The drawings might as well be PowerPoint slides... don't get me started on those.
In the end my top talker went away with a goal to find some gems in the rough and tumble of his business and personal life and uncover ways to imbue his pitches with the emotional connection. It was my soup story, the oldest and still one of my favourites after nearly two decades, that swung it for him.
Put yourself on the Public Speaking Pyramid. Over time, try to get to the top. That's when you look forward to your biggest pitches with anticipation and love every minute of your preparation; and are stimulated by the upcoming opportunity so can eyeball the audience and think: yes, this is going to be just fine. Trust me, your audience gets that vibe and likes it a lot.
The public speaking pyramid - Where do you sit?
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about the author
Russell Wardrop is our Chief Executive. If you would like to know more about this subject, drop him an email and we will be in touch.