Death & Public Speaking
Ever heard the factoid that people fear public speaking more than death? Me too. But now I understand why. Last week, I gave my first public talk at Motion Conference in Santa Fe, NM. And let me tell you, it was 18 minutes of adrenaline-fueled-trying-to-remember what-to-say-next.
Nerve racking is an understatement.
You might be thinking, if most people fear this more than death, why would you ever do this? Well, because I am compelled to step out of my comfort zone and share what I’ve learned. And a little because I wanted to visit Santa Fe (FYI—it is beautiful) and indulge in some proper tex mex.
What’s In A Talk?
We’ve all watched at least one TED Talk and silently applauded in front of our laptops. They’re consistently amazing and cover a vast range of topics.
Let's time travel backwards 5 months. It’s January and I have no idea what my talk is going to be about. I remember thinking to myself, “Who am I to give a talk? Timmy from MK12, Karen Fong from Imaginary Forces, my mentor, Chris Do—they’re who people want to listen to.”
Of course I am not my heroes and I am far from being a TED speaker, but both you and I share the single most important thing to giving a successful talk: a personal experience.
Great talks tell stories.
They entertain with intent. All in service of a bigger message. Once I grasped that concept, I had clarity. It made writing my talk as easy as recalling a funny story from my past. I was able to tap into my memory bank and examine something that I thought might help someone.
Here’s a still from my keynote (and the crux of my talk):
My talk was the answer to this question, told from my perspective. And yes, I will be sharing the details of it with you in forthcoming issues.
After giving the talk, a huge sense of relief washed over me. I DID IT! And I did it without completely blowing it. Mission accomplished.
Having said that, here are a few things I would’ve done differently:
1. Practice. Practice some more. And then really practice some more.
I can’t emphasize this enough. I gave myself about two weeks to memorize and practice my talk. I’d rehearse in the morning before work and on my commute to and from work. On average I’d go through it four times a day (~72 minutes).
It took several passes and lots of time to find the right delivery. You can write it out, word for word like me, but know that you will be rewriting it many times to make it sound more like your natural speak.
If you find yourself in this place, I suggest you give yourself at least a month of daily practice.
2. Record and Study Yourself Speaking
Akin to any sport, in order to get better you have to watch the replays and study mistakes. I had planned to do this, but didn’t get around it. Half of public speaking is rehearsal, but the other half is body language. Ultimately, you will find yourself onstage—bright lights blinding you from all angles—asking yourself: what do I do with my hands?
To best prepare for this, record yourself standing up giving the speech. Then, as uncomfortable as it sounds, watch the video. Study your body language. Are you pacing? Where are you looking? Why are your hands in your pockets? Rinse and repeat.
3. Talk To Everyone
Giving a talk was an incredible experience, but the real opportunity of speaking at (or attending) a conference of this sort is the people you will meet. Everyone is there for a reason and there are a lot of reasons to be there.
During those few days I met some amazing people and exchanged ideas and stories with them. Some I’d admired my whole career and was starstruck by. Some I’d never known of and now admire a great deal. But looking back, there were many people I didn’t get a chance to meet or talk with.
The next time you’re at a social event, talk to everyone. There’s something to learn from every interaction. And if that idea scares you, try this technique:
example: “Hey, I’m Joann. What brings you to Motion Conference?”
Introduce yourself and then ask a series of questions. It’s easy and you don’t have to know the answers to anything.
4. Explore Outside
One of my favorite things from the Motion Conference was visiting a local art installation called Meow Wolf. If you needed another reason to visit Santa Fe, this is it.
It had nothing to do with conference, other than to offer an amazing social space to explore and hang out in. This, along with some lunches and dinners, were where the best conversations were had. They were outside the conference, but sparked interesting ideas once we were back in it. I’m so glad we took the time to go here and participate.
Prepare For Landing
If you would have told me a year ago that I’d be flying back from New Mexico having just given a talk in front of a theater full of people I would laugh, pat you on the shoulder and reply, “Wait, what were we talking about again?”
Point being, if I can do something like this so can you. We all have a story that might help someone find the clarity they’ve been looking or even just make them laugh. Whatever the result, I encourage you to find yours and share it.