Well, I thought I had learnt everything there was to know about public speaking.
And you’d think so after having been speaking for over 10 years and having now delivered 1,735 sessions since I gave my very first professional talk on 8th February 2005.
But last week I learned three things in relation to speaking (or at least I was reminded of them) at a Teachers’ Conference in the South of England.
First of all, at the last minute the organiser told me that I wasn’t going to be able to show my slides during my talk.
This meant I had to be even more descriptive than usual.
When I first started speaking this would probably have caused me so much stress that I would have gone to pieces.
Especially as when I first started out I relied on my slides as way of reminding me where I was in the talk and where I was going next. This is something I would urge against.
We should know our talks inside out. Relying on slides as a way of remembering, simply highlights that we haven’t prepared enough. But the first point I want to make is that we have to be adaptive as speakers. Actually we need to be adaptive no matter what we do.
Sometimes ‘stuff’ just happens; the show must go on and if we are willing and able to roll with it then our audience will be none the wiser. Which is what I did and although it wasn’t the same talk that I usually deliver they never knew. Worst of all I never got to show the stunning images of my wife and three gorgeous children. Hey Ho!
Secondly, you can imagine how foolish I felt when I arrived at this venue wearing black tie believing that it was a black tie engagement.
Now there was some breakdown in the communication as I was the only one wearing black tie. It was probably down to me; in fact it was definitely down to me.
The notes in my diary stated business dress but I was so busy rushing around that I had simply got it wrong.
But it did highlight my final point before I sign off.
As speakers, and especially professional ones, we cannot afford to under-dress.
If I had turned up in shorts and a t-shirt I would have had my audience concerned more with what I looked like than what I had to say.
I know there may be people out there who will write to me after this post to tell me that it doesn’t matter what you wear and you should feel comfortable in dressing how you wish. I disagree.
I recall once speaking at the Harrogate Conference Centre for a couple of women who had recently left The Apprentice on TV and one of the women (who frankly should have known better) walked on stage to introduce the day in bare feet. I think her shoes may have been causing her problems so she decided that she would be more comfortable not wearing shoes.
If I had been coaching her I would have urged her to try out her shoes before the event and not back stage moments before she entered stage right. Thankfully I looked smart and hopefully I did not have anyone distracted while I shared my message. Lesson: Better to over-dress than under-dress.
And lastly, this was an after-dinner speech, which meant that I didn’t get on until just before 10pm.
We had arrived at 7pm, which meant by the time the three-course meal had been served along with tea and coffee, the audience had been drinking alcohol for close to three hours.
There was an event back in 2007 that I spoke at, that first highlighted how difficult speaking late can be when the audience has been drinking alcohol.
Some people were the worse for wear and the odd person was being inappropriate. I’m not suggesting any of the teaching staff had been inappropriate…. well, ok I am.
There was one gentleman who was sat with his wife who seemed to be a little uncomfortable as I spoke. So much so that he spoke to his wife for most of the talk. Afterwards I approached him to ask if all was OK only to be told to “Go away” by his now drunk wife.
All a little uncomfortable for me and the organiser informed me that this particular teacher was a just as problematic in school.
So last week I decided that I would no longer speak after dinner and that the only time that I would speak at such an event if I were to be asked, was if it was before dinner and more importantly before people became drunk. Only speak if you are completely happy with doing so.
Of course you may be one of those people who has to speak but is terrified of doing so and I’m not suggesting you turn down every single opportunity to speak because you will undoubtedly be unhappy about speaking.
But if this is you then I urge you to grab the bull by the horns and get along to one of my legendary speaker training events where we will have you feeling far happier to speak than you are now.
Click here to find out more info & to secure a ticket to the Leeds event: on April 24th
Click here to find out more info & to secure a ticket to the London event: on May 16th