I don’t like speaking publicly. I don’t think it’s my gift, and I certainly don’t enjoy it. But since I’ve got books in print now, there’s a very good chance I’m going to have to do more of it. So I’d better get used to it.
I got the opportunity to speak to a wonderful group of ladies last Thursday. Their group had asked me to come in and talk about my devotional book. They were so kind. They even fed me.
I definitely learned some things that will help me out in future public appearances, I think. So I thought I’d share the tidbits I picked up in my experience in case anyone is as bad at speeches as I am.
You really need to. Don’t just get up in front of an audience and expect that the words will come to you. I’ve flubbed enough speeches to know the terror of a blank brain when a dozen or more sets eyes are fixed on me. If you haven’t practiced, you’ll stumble and stutter and sound unprofessional. If you know your material, you’ll sound like you know what you’re talking about.
Know your material
Whether you can practice as much as you want or not, you should know what you’re talking about. Sure, you could just memorize what’s on your papers or on your cards and recite it, but what happens if somebody asks questions about it? You will have spent your entire speech reciting something you’re supposed to understand, but answering questions is the real measure of how much you know about at subject.
Don’t just memorize. Learn. Even if it’s not something you enjoy learning about. If you don’t know the material because you didn’t take time to learn it, you’re going to wish you had when people start questioning you—and you can’t back up your statements.
If you can’t learn it, draw from experience
A personal experience speech is the easiest type of speech to do, I think, because you don’t have to do much research. You just dive deep into yourself and pull out the stories from your life. I may not be an expert in the kitchen, but I’ve cooked and baked enough in my lifetime to share my experiences. Just like I’m not a world traveler, but I’ve flown enough to have experienced life on an airplane.
Oftentimes, experience will make up for authority. You may not have endorsements or backing or support, but if you have experience, people will listen to you.
If you get up in front of people, you’re going to be nervous. Maybe it’s nervous excitement. Maybe it’s just nerves. Either way, the last thing you’ll want to do is waste your energy pretending to be someone you’re not.
If you’re naturally loud and funny, be loud and funny. If you’re not naturally loud and funny, don’t try to be. Be yourself. People will either like you or they won’t like you. If they like you, you might get to speak for them again. If they don’t like you, you don’t want to speak for them again anyway.
Tell a good story
Everybody loves a good story. Keep that in mind when you’re speaking, and don’t be afraid to turn your life into a story. Present it like a story, and you’ll get people interested. And if it’s a good story, you’ll keep them interested.
We are all stories in the end, you know. The Eleventh Doctor had that right.
Bring an assistant
Not kidding. Bring somebody with you who calms you down. For me, it’s my amazing mom. Even if nobody else in the entire room liked what I was saying, I knew my mom would be cheering for me.
Some people say it makes them nervous to speak in front of someone they know very well, and I can understand that. But I really think it’s worth it to have someone along who is 100% on your side no matter what. It’s good to have that friendly face in the audience.
And, if you happen to be selling books afterward, it’s really great to have someone who can juggle the numbers while you’re talking to people.
So those are my top tips
They’re not complicated, but neither is public speaking. I haven’t done it a lot, but I’ve done it enough. And I expect I’ll be doing more of it (at least, I hope I will be).
So get up there with your notes and your nerves and don’t be afraid to tell it like it is. Just be who you are. And if you feel frazzled and discombobulated and red-faced and tongue-tied, you probably aren’t. If you are … someone will tell you.
If you’d like me to come speak for your group (church or otherwise), send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!