Public Speaking? It's just like climbing a mountain!

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Public Speaking? It's just like climbing a mountain!

Posted By admin |27 Mar 2019
Public Speaking? It's just like climbing a mountain!
With the fantastic JCI UK Public Speaking Academy coming up in just over a month, JCI Southampton's Mike Rothon shares his experience of attending last year and his journey from Public Speaking fear to participate on a national stage in the Public Speaking Competition at the 2018 JCI UK National Convention in Doncaster.

Blog by Mike Rothon

First off public speaking is something that I have always struggled with, I grew up with the feeling that it would never change and I had grown to accept this. When asked to speak publically I normally accepted out of obligation, this usually led to the familiar routine of spending the next week racked with nerves and anxiety. For me, public speaking provoked actual fear and pushed me into my panic zone stopping me from being able to perform. This meant I would often come across unprepared and miss some key points, as I would forget things in the heat of the moment.

Just to clarify, when I say fear I actually mean fear, not just a dislike… for those that don’t know me one of my main loves in life is mountain climbing. I still get scared at times, as when you are hanging on by your fingertips; when a slip could mean a several meter drop or looking down as you walk along a knife edge exposed ridge… But they rarely push me into the panic zone. In fact, this fear seems to push me to perform better, as the fear provides laser sharp focus.

Summiting Mont Blanc Solo

I can still recall awful memories of work presentations not going to plan, I wasn’t happy and work wasn’t happy with my performance either. I discussed it with them all they ever said is that I needed to prepare more failing to see I had a mental block that was too ingrained for more prep to improve my performance. I have attended work training for presentations and communications which I feel for me have been ineffective at the public speaking elements… Whilst some people don’t know the optimal way to lay out a PowerPoint presentation, good presentations are about purposeful verbal communication of information with a clear purpose in mind. I explained that what I needed was to overcome the fear and that I knew the nuts and bolts of presenting, but I couldn’t put them together. However, this wasn’t listened to and I still didn’t get the help and support to deal with my fears.

JCI Catalyst for change…

I spent time trying to improve myself but I didn’t feel I was improving as fast as I could be... I tried entering speaking competitions associated with my professional body the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET). I did improve in some ways but I still wasn’t getting the feedback that I needed to feel I was improving. I joined JCI this time last year, as for me it offered chances to improve my communication and leadership skills as well as make a difference in the community. JCI was a chance to get a different type of training and in particular, the Public Speaking Academy that I had seen on the JCI UK website. It had only been a couple of months into my JCI experience and I had attended all of the training sessions I had been able to attend and was impressed with the quality. So I decided to sign up for the JCI UK Public Speaking Academy. I was even more infused for the academy as I heard so many positive comments after speaking to alumni of the academy in my local chamber.   The academy soon rolled around I can recall much of the events and different sessions. The weekend essentially helped me move back out of the panic zone and into my learning zone where I could hone my speaking skills. I was re-trained in all aspects of public speaking and presentations for the better. The training focussed on slowly practising the newly taught skills not to overwhelm delegates with long presentations which could take people back to those moments of fear which could halt any progression.

Find balance by slowly creeping into the stretch/learning zone.

I left the training with a new found confidence and knowledge that I had started to build a foundation that I could work with. I had a real sense that I could be better and could command a room with my speaking. I felt I had found the spark to fire up my ignition to help me progress and write over past experiences. This is when I decided to enter the JCI public speaking competition.

Public Speaking Competition

I can still remember the morning before the competition, as we headed together to the JCI UK National Convention together in a minibus. This is when I realised what I had actually signed up for… I was actually going to speak in front of over 100 people. With no slides, no cues… just me, my story and my speaking insecurities. It was my turn to speak… I walked from the back of the room. This had always been my downfall. My mind buzzed with anxiety and fear. I felt different though. I knew I could perform and I would. Regardless of the outcome, I would have done something very few have the guts to do… to face my fear down. Stare it down and do it anyway.

Facing up to my fear in front of the Public Speaking Competition Panel

I felt my hands shake as I got to the front waiting for the judges to finish their marking of the last speaker and let me know when I could begin. I started nervously but delivered my speech much as planned with a few slip-ups, despite this I think I still did well. This experience cemented the idea that I can speak in front of people… despite not handling my nerves 100%. I had delivered my message and key points clearly without any cues in front of a huge room of people. Going forward I know I can speak in front of a large room of people without freaking out the week before and carry more authority when I speak. I actually only now have realised how proud I should be as I have looked back at the beginning of my journey. For those that weren’t there… I spoke about my mountaineering exploits when attempting to climb Mont Blanc and how failing made me better. Mountaineering and public speaking have a lot in common in that sense.

Summit within sight…

As for improving at public speaking, I have learnt you need to practice and get feedback to be better, it is a process, a journey with no magic pill, silver bullet or secret to overnight success.

My Top Three tips from my Public Speaking Journey.

Tell a story to improve key point retention and make your speech memorable.

It is well known that people learn best from experience, telling a story is a way of letting people experience your journey. This has been shown to increase the chances your audience will remember your speech. For extra impact add an obstacle that is overcome in the story, this is the classic technique to engage your audience and works time after time. Work a story into your speech, this will keep your audience engaged and keep them talking about your speech afterwards. Then add emotion for your speech to really hit home.  

Find a speaking style that works best for you

Finding your style that you do best is the key for a good performance when starting out; some people like to learn speeches verbatim and others delivery it off the top of their head. Point being speakers use many methods to get there points across which come naturally to them… Think about what you do when practising your speech on your own. What do you do this is most likely your natural style… think about making a conscious effort to act the same when you deliver a speech to add more authenticity and impact.  

Lose your notes and embrace the connection with your audience

Improve your connection with the audience by prepping properly... Even if you don’t deliver all your points perfectly speaking without a barrier between you and the audience will enhance your human connection with the people in the audience and make your speech far more effective.

Confidently getting my point across

Standing up, facing your audience without any barriers will engage your audience, keep your energy high and give you stage presence to keep people interested - from your first word to your last.