Let Me Tell You a Story
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld has an interesting take on public speaking. “According to most studies,” he says, “people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means, to the average person, if you go to a funeral you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
It’s true. Twenty-five years ago I was invited to speak to a group of transportation lawyers in Florida about the state of trucking in Canada. I couldn’t believe my luck: I’d finagled a free vacation in exchange for 15 minutes of my BS.
My preparation amounted to jotting notes on a breakfast napkin a few hours before hitting the stage. When the time came, I strutted up to the podium, arranged my napkin, looked out at the 25 people in the audience… and froze.
What ensued was the most terrifying few minutes of my life. Gripped by stage fright, I was unable to get a single word out.
If you don’t think public speaking is part of your job, that’s hogwash. Call it whatever you’d like, but if you give a sales presentation, host a meeting, or lead a customer on a tour, then you are public speaking.
It pays to hone your craft. Here are some tips:
After my Florida ﬂop I asked TSN Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie, whose son at the time was playing on my junior hockey team, for advice.
He said preparation gives you the confidence to deliver as promised and to deal with the unexpected. Today I over prepare so I don’t need diapers every time I’m asked to speak.
Your audience sees you as a subject-matter expert. You owe it to them to be ready to deliver.
Tell a story
Don’t give a “speech”. Forget about “presentations”. You’ll lose your audience with unending data, jargon, and bullet points read from a slide.
Instead, try to tell a memorable story delivered in a way so people will recall your most important messages. Think about inspiring, not number crunching, the next time you speak at a sales meeting.
Hone your act
You might be surprised to learn that words account for only 8% of a speaker’s overall impact. Far more important are the tone of your voice (38%) and body language (55%), according to Albert Mehrabian, a professor of psychology at UCLA.
What good is a strong message when it’s undermined by weak vocal inflection and body language? No one remembers or frankly pays attention to vanilla. My personal motto is to entertain, engage, and educate whenever I have the floor.
Power of the pause
Speakers think they always have to be speaking. Many panic at the thought of a moment of silence. I was one of them until learned about the power of the pause.
A planned pause might be the most powerful tool you have to control your audience. It can make you look authoritative. It can get attention. When you slow down and take a break, people listen.
I’ll never forget the first time I gave this tactic a whirl. I was blown away at the difference it made to my stage presence. If you take nothing else away from this column, write “pause” in 24-point type at the top of every page of speaking notes, like I do.
For what it’s worth, I never finished the presentation in Florida. Turtling on stage was arguably the most embarrassing moment in my business career. Certainly put a damper on my free vacation.
But it taught me a lesson. And gave me a great story to tell.