Public Speaking

Each one of us has a story to tell and we are still afraid of sharing, of opening ourselves up. The truth is, however, that we lose any points of attack as soon as we enter stage and recount our stories.

The thought of having to read out in front of class or even give a talk about something at school when I was young made me very anxious indeed. I am not telling you how I avoided giving a talk right up to senior class. However, there came a time when I could not talk my way out of it anymore. At that point, I did not want to jeopardize my passing on to the next form and anyway, I was able to improve my marks considerably by giving a talk.

These days it is unthinkable to avoid giving a talk for so many years. Today I also know that I was not alone with my anxiety: According to a study, 41 per cent of the people declare that the anxiety of having to give a talk is one of the greatest anxieties of all.

My first presentation took place in Arts, followed by Philosophy and English. I was quite surprised how easy it was, once I had started. Even after the first presentation I was hooked: The combination of adrenalin and the complete attention I received got under my skin. Later on, I was elated to realize how much fun it is to take people with me on a journey of my thoughts and to be able to talk to them directly.

The U.S. – where I attended school for half a year and also studied there later on – gave me a completely new approach to ‘Public Speaking‘ and ‘Debating‘. Nobody here seemed to be afraid of talking in front of a group of people right from an early age and also to gain the attention and win them over for their posters and ideas by distributing sweets and performing tricks in front of the audience.

I am convinced that having to give a talk regularly should play a more important role in schools and by teaching the children various presentation techniques take away their anxieties.

In doing this, it is very important to learn simple tools that everyone can implement fast and intuitively. Having to come to terms with the excitement is hard work to start with.

Your only real job in giving a talk is to have something valuable to say, and to say it authentically in your own unique way.

TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking by Chris Anderson

As for me, I came in touch with ‘Public Speaking’ when a well-known speaker heard me speak at the occasion of a jubilee celebration at our company. He approached me and suggested that I work as a speaker. At the time I was responsible in my function as company manager for the section Business Development and Strategy in my company and held talks regularly in the section of B2B focusing on subjects of Sales and Healthcare. On the one hand, I was pretty busy and on the other, I was not really interested. At the time it was quite clear to me that I only wanted to act as a speaker once I had something to say. Why? I expect of others what I also expect of myself: I want to experience authenticity when listening to speakers at events. Their stories must be authentic and come right from the bottom of their heart.

A short while later I was asked whether I would be prepared to give a talk at an event of a women’s network and the subject was immediately clear to me: Female Empowerment! The participants’ feedback was extraordinary. The subsequently following discussions were open and honest and I had a feeling of having received a mission. Since then I have worked intensely on my positioning and given a lot of thought to the phenomenon of what actually happens when speakers affect their audience deeply.

Human-to-human communication is a true wonder of the world. We do it unconsciously every day. And it reaches its most intense form on the public stage.

TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking by Chris Anderson

The feeling is indescribably beautiful and motivates me to carry on this way. The subjects of my heart guide me through an invisible structure. It starts with the heart that makes itself known by means of the voice and all emotions of body language.
The technique becomes unimportant all of a sudden, the size of the audience of no consequence and our ego plays no role at all, when we present a subject or feel a mission. The energy simply flows through all of those present.

However, I do like to use some tools, for example, to introduce a talk. As we all are very much aware of the fact that the first few seconds decide on whether anyone is actually prepared to listen to us. Instead of wasting valuable time to introduce oneself by name and vitae, I recommend the following starting techniques:

# Start by telling a story. The surprise effect will make everyone listen. Take a true story from your life or from somebody you know or knew. The story should be connected to your subject, your mission on what your talk is about. What is the reason for your decision to be right where you are now? What drives your job and which people have played an important role in this?

# Each one of us has a story to tell and we are still afraid of sharing, of opening ourselves up. There is nothing more intimate and nothing seems to supply more areas for an attack once we have completely exposed ourselves with a story. The truth is, however, that we lose any points of attack as soon as we enter stage and recount our stories. We start to glow and become contagious; we show our humanity and hearts open up.

# Another way of starting a talk is to ask questions in order to gain the attention and interest of the audience. These questions should, however, relate to the audience and the subject. You can touch very sensitive subjects or provoke. It would be optimal, if these questions incorporate a problem or requirement of the audience. It is very important, though, not to ask too many questions. I recommend 3 at a maximum. Questions could also be helpful during the course of a talk in order to reclaim the audience’s attention.

Following the start there are various methods to build up the talk and everyone should find his/her own way of going about this. Nothing is more disturbing than facing a speaker who is apparently following a template that does not comply with his/her personality.

I always try to focus on my message and to concentrate on a maximum of 3 to 5 very gripping points. In doing this, it is of help to formulate the link to my objectives and to present the thus resulting benefit to the audience.

Everyone is different and while someone is more interested in facts and studies, someone else only concentrates on the aspects of profit or emotional contents. When talking to a rather heterogeneous group of people, I make sure that everyone feels spoken to by using specific words and wordings.

Although I think that sentences should flow easily, a structured speech is very important. Listeners will unconsciously evaluate whether there is a central theme. Short ‘deviations’ are allowed; however, too many may jeopardize the audience’s capacity of taking it all in. Enumerations are always helpful – reinforced non-verbally by noting important keywords on a flipchart or such.

I prefer interaction; voting with hands or thumbs is a possibility. Should you also know exercises that can be explained fast and easy and also work for larger groups – then this is a good idea, too. Touch your audience. Always be very much aware never to let any of your audience look like a fool or give the feeling of being a laughing stock.

The first impression counts and the last impression remains. It is useful to introduce the end: “Before I come to the end ….” Here again, the power of a story is what counts – this time in shape of a quote.
Finally, there is the applause which is not taken easily by everyone. We should, however, not just endure it but also really enjoy it.
In this sense: Enjoy yourself! 🙂