(Please note that this article on public speaking nightmares is relevant all year round, despite the ghoulish videos below!)
We all know that standing up to give a speech can frighten the strongest of characters. But the worst public speaking nightmares are often incredibly easy to cure. The cause is typically mixing up the means and the end.
In this case that refers to writing the speech and delivering it. We worry about what our audience will think only after we’ve written our script. We worry about being dull without translating the reams of information at our disposal into a story that will bring them to life.
The result, is, so often, a weak speech that aggravates those nightmares. So let’s run through them one-by-one.
Why is that guy in the pub so dull?! Typically it’s because he drones on at great length about himself, his views and his ideas. Speeches are no different. The dull ones tend to list information (and thank yous) with no thought for the way they will be received.
So the best way to avoid being dull, is to start the process by imagining what you want a member of your audience to say when you’ve finished speaking. Use that as a starting point for your preparation. How can you:
- prioritise those lists?
- make your knowledge relevant and interesting?
- intrigue and amuse?
Thinking back-to-front – putting the audience first and your own narrative second, tends to cure dullness instantly.
Forgetting your content
Have you ever woken in the middle of the night sweating at the thought of standing in front of a live audience and forgetting your lines? Sadly, it isn’t only a public speaking nightmare. It’s also a reality. You Tube is full of evidence – bright, thoughtful and fascinating speakers who have just lost their train of thought and gone silent. Some have even stumbled away, tearfully, from the stage.
Others have just missed out significant chunks. Ed Miliband forgot the economy in the biggest speech of his life. A good friend of mine gave a wonderful groom speech, but looked distraught afterwards. I asked why and he explained that he had forgotten to mention his Mum.
In both cases the common denominator was that neither used notes. Lesson learned. Yes of course it is wonderful to stand up in front of a huge crowd and look like you managed to ad lib an entire speech. But I still don’t think that balances the downside: which can lead to panic and a speech being memorable for all the wrong reasons.
What’s vital is that you use the notes in the right way. That you speak at a pace allowing you to look at your audience for at least 80% of the time. That’s easily doable with a good script and a little bit of coaching. And it will put this massive public speaking nightmare to bed immediately!
Giving in to your emotions
Gwyneth Paltrow receiving her Oscar was probably the most famous blubber, and she had no excuse. But there are plenty of speakers who can’t keep it together for a whole range of perfectly good reasons. The father of the bride hit by a stab of nostalgia, the bridegroom overcome by love, the daughter giving a heartfelt eulogy for her parent. Speeches tend to be given at pivotal moments in one’s life – and the emotions hit some harder than others.
We regularly receive calls from potential clients whose primary concern is not being able to control their emotions on the day. Some even ask us to rein-in the sentimental stuff to help them cope. Which is a real shame, as they have so much emotion to share. The ‘cure’ for this nightmare isn’t in the content, but at that stage after the speech is written. It’s all about rehearsing.
So when you have a script ready to run, don’t mumble it quietly to yourself. Don’t park it in your inside pocket and wait for the big day. And definitely don’t try to memorise it without reading it out loud. Quite the opposite! Stand up and say it. Hear your own words and feel them. Make yourself cry. Or laugh! And then read it again. And again. Throw yourself into those rehearsals and get to the point when your performance is enhanced, but your emotions are drained. At that point you can relax because you are preparing for a performance. Where the blubbing has already been conquered.
Weeks if not months of worry. Days of practise. Indefatigable preparation. And then, once you have finished, you sense that your words actually achieved very little. No one has made a point of thanking you. If you were speaking at work, you sense that nothing will change: sales won’t rise; motivation levels won’t improve; your great idea won’t resonate. In fact, you might as well have said nothing at all. Or perhaps you should have sent an email instead.
The reason is (typically) not that you haven’t got anything important to say. It’s that you didn’t prioritise it. You said too much. Your thoughts made complete sense to you – particularly after you’d proof-read them for the fifth time. And you knew exactly what you were getting at. But your audience didn’t. They:
- became confused by the amount they were being asked to absorb.
- didn’t know what you wanted them to do as a direct result of the speech
- couldn’t process everything you said into benefits for them.
And the solution is wrapped into the previous paragraph. Keep it relevant. Keep it simple. And try to use the facts and figures as ‘evidence’ backing-up the big picture message that holds your entire speech together. It’s not easy, and we can help, but you will find that once you have content that your audience actually want to hear, you will find yourself delivering it with significantly greater levels of impact.
We’re here to put your public speaking nightmares to bed!
We appreciate that it’s easy sitting here in a room full of speech writers claiming all this is simple. And from where you are sitting right now, it may appear anything but. What we do isn’t rocket science. It generally involves helping you see the world through your audiences’ eyes. And once you start doing that, everything else quickly falls into place. Writing a great speech and delivering it well are intimately linked. It’s impossible to do one without the other. And we are available, 365 days a year, to help you at any stage. Not just to end your public speaking nightmares, but to leave you actively looking forward to your next speech.
We hope you found this useful. Do shout if you’d like any help at all. Thank you.