When The Podium Calls
A few weeks ago, I had, what I consider to be, the first big success of my career.
I hosted a launch event for the Women’s Network I started in my organisation. It was a hell of a build-up but I was so pleased with how it turned out. With this being my first major exposure to public speaking, it was a great little learning curve to reflect on. Here are a few thoughts for you, and your future speaking needs.
No one expects you to be perfect.
I was on the stage a lot as kid. Singing from the age of four, I’ve always felt quite comfortable in the spotlight but that was with someone else’s words and someone else’s tune. When I was on this podium, I only had my words and it took everything I had not to get them jumbled. It was an important event and I had such high expectations of myself to get this right. But in hindsight, no one else really did! Don’t get me wrong, no one was waiting to watch my downfall but there wasn’t any pressure from anyone to be perfect. My initiative and I are really, really new, and teething problems were expected. Luckily, no teething problems occurred but if they had… so what? You learn from them. It’s natural to want to make a great first impression, but no one expects a 10/10 from a new comer. I even made a joke to the audience about the number of faces I had looking up at me. Once I got my chuckle, my shoulders dropped about 6 inches.
Don’t read your speech word for word, but know your damn speech.
I think everyone’s view on this is different. There are those who print out their sheets for reference, those with no cue cards at all and those (we hate) who successfully make it up as they go along. For this event, I had a post-it note in front of me with the key topics I wanted to cover, and the leading sentence that brought me into that topic. That way I didn’t have to try and remember the topic and how to start that topic at the same time. For this to work, you really need to know the structure and details of what you’re saying. I knew my subject matter inside out, but knew I may get thrown off connecting my points from the pressure of being on a podium. I was pleased to say that out of my whole speech, there was only one detail I forgot to mention. Not bad for a new starter.
Breathe, a lot.
On my very-crowded post-it note, I had the word BREATHE between every points. If you already have your next topic and your leading sentence, you can take that second to pause and ground yourself before having to frantically remember what you’re going to say next.
Look out for smiling faces.
This is a big one. If you’ve got the right gang, they’re already going to be there, and I was so, so lucky with the number of friendly faces that were there for me that day. My manager in the front row, my best friends on either side of the room, and, to my surprise, my wonderful fiancé who arranged to attend, hiding in the back. It’s important to reach out and look at every direction of your audience, and clocking eyes with a smile will keep you going.
I’d like to take this moment to thank all those wonderful people who were smiling at me that day.
Be authentic and smile.
I can be incredibly professional when I need to be, but whenever I can, I strive to be as authentic as possible in my work. I think this is particular important when you need to sell your ideas. Your ideas are you. They come from you, they’re planned by you and they’re executed by you. You therefore need to be, you guessed it, YOU! People will see straight through you if you’re trying to be someone you’re not. So when your speaking/writing your speech, make sure there are sprinkles of you in there. You’ll feel more comfortable and that will be noticed by your audience. And smile!
Remember, everyone has a bloody opinion
This is probably my biggest lesson from the whole experience, and it was a tough one. I was on an absolute high after my launch event. I got my big round of applause and plenty of kind words from strangers – both making me think I had absolutely smashed it! However, when I came back to my desk the next day, I had three or four emails, framed as ‘constructive criticism’. Whether it was the timing of the event, the activities involved or the lack of clear steps moving forward – I couldn’t help but take each comment as a personal attack on my performance. It’s that classic human trait that we’re awful for – you could get 20 incredible emails, but you’ll only remember that one critical comment. A part of me just wanted to delete the emails and pretend they didn’t exist. Instead, I addressed each comment, either explaining my thought process or asking for further feedback the responses were much more positive and respectful (FYI people like to be heard!) This has happened a few times now and managing feedback this way has always ended with a genuine learning curve and improvements for the future. You’re not always going to please everyone, and certainly not with your first time in trying. But do not take it personally - just learn and get better.