By Anna Simmons
Even the most confident and experienced public speakers will admit that they get stage fright…
As legendary author Mark Twain once famously said: “There are two types of speakers, those who are nervous and those who are liars.”
I faced my nerves head on by entering a public speaking competition held by The Junior Commerce International and quickly learnt that the butterflies are fine, but there should never be any need to panic!
The JCI Yorkshire public speaking event, held in Bradford, marked my first ever entry into a competition of this kind; I was understandably nervous and my shaking legs (which were not helped by the heels they were propped up on) certainly gave this away.
Despite my quivering calves I began my speech with a steady voice and found that my opening was going well and far better than I had expected. Moving into the next part of my speech, with a rising confidence, I looked into the eyes of my audience in an attempt to draw them in.
It was at this point that my eyes met with the girl who was timing me, as she had done for each candidate. Although I hadn’t seen any of the other speeches I had been told that we had seven minutes, as explained in the rules, and that there would be someone present to let us know our times. Going over seven minutes would seriously lessen your score but cards would be held up to tell you when five, six and then seven minutes had passed.
When my eyes met with hers I realised that I had not actually been looking at her at all to check the time. A calm and logical person would have realised that very little time had passed and so there was no need to worry at all. But a newcomer stood up in front of an audience and a panel of judges might well begin to panic, and that is exactly what I did.
I started thinking that maybe the whole seven minutes had gone and that the audience were watching as I went into eight minutes, then nine, and just kept on talking…
Distracted by this my earlier fluidity began to suffer and my shaking legs started to resemble a struck tuning fork.
I managed to keep going through my content but I kept my eyes on the girl timing me, forgetting about my earlier good practice of audience eye contact. She flicked her wrist to take a look at her watch, was she wondering what to do now that I had gone well over ten minutes? Suddenly a large number five was facing me. I had only been speaking for five minutes! All my panicking had been for nothing and she even held up each card for the full minute, to let me know how I was doing.
I learnt from all this the importance of not giving into panic and illogical thoughts when you are in front of a crowd or doing any kind of presentation or speech… instead, take a deep breath and simply carry on!
If you have gone over the time, someone will tell you and even if you have you will certainly learn from that mistake. If you thought you heard someone heckling, continue, if you thought you saw a streaker running through the audience, guess what you should do… yes that’s right, continue!
You’ll get a lot more credit if you carry on rather than crumble, and besides, it could have actually just been coughing you heard or the passing of an audience member in a very tight beige suit….
Other tricks of the presentation trade I discovered were, that saying ‘I am going to talk about…’ or ‘I will discuss today…’ is not necessary; it’s best to just get on with it, in the same way you should if something unexpected occurs.
A final tip which I picked up from the judges was to always use the space that you are given when delivering a speech. And if I had walked around and addressed each side of the audience, I am almost sure that my legs wouldn’t have jittered so much, or at least that no one would have been able to notice!