Public speaking tips for people who would rather not…

I’ve done a range of public speaking, all as part of my job. I’ve given lectures before, and taught classes to rooms full of adults that required me to stand next to a slide deck and talk. This is not my most favorite activity, but it’s something that I do about once every month or two. Having a set of slides to rely on has always helped relax me before these events— I know that if I forget everything I wanted to say, I could just read the slides, and — while that wouldn’t be ideal — it wouldn’t be the worst, either.

My preparation for these talks has ranged from minimal to medium. The ones that go the best are ones that I do most frequently (such as the classes I teach, which are the same format/content and occur every few months). The ones I’ve been the least pleased with are the one-time lectures, that I haven’t had enough time or patience to rehearse as much as would take to make them super smooth. And none of those talks were terrible— but I know that I probably could have been better if I had gone over it a few more times.

So, when I knew I was going to be preparing a speech for the ConsanoPDX night a few weeks ago, I knew I wanted to get it right. I wasn’t going to have a slide set to fall back on, which meant I needed to be comfortable with all eyes on ME— which, is not usually my preference. This was the first time I’ve publicly spoken about anything outside of my job— and to have it be so personal, about my experience with brain cancer— it was a challenge. As I was writing, editing and practicing my speech most of the time I was crying. And not cute-single-tear-down-the-cheek crying— but, at times just full on sobbing. And, as it turns out, uncontrolled sobbing is not an ideal look for a public speaker— I needed to pull myself together.

Right off the bat I had a few goals in mind for what I wanted to say, and how I wanted to say it. I wanted to coherently express my gratitude for being chosen to receive this award, share why I am so focused on increasing oligodendroglioma research, and why it is needed, and not weep on stage. Simple yet challenging goals.

And, in the end— I’m happy to report that I succeeded. You can read my speech and watch a video of it here. Since it went so well (thankfully), I thought I’d share how I prepared. So- here you go.

1. I practiced a bunch. Clearly this is probably the most important step. I practiced while video-taping myself on my phone probably 10 or more times, which also gave me a good time estimate of how long my speech would be. I was able to figure out which parts were hardest for me to remember, then focus in on those. This also, of course, helps with getting the right cadence and emphasis that may be hard to get right on the first try.

Screenshot of my practice video. I did this A LOT.

2. I wrote my speech out from memory lots of times. This also helped me solidify my intended word choices— but definitely didn’t/shouldn’t take the place of practicing out loud. I would just sit and type it out before bed and when I woke up.

3. One of the things I was nervous about was not only being in front of hundreds of people— but there were specific people I knew were coming that made it a little more stressful. People I didn’t want to disappoint, people I loved but hadn’t seen in a while, or people who I didn’t know so well but who I really respected— there were a whole range of reasons why I was intimidated when I thought about what it was going to be like. What if I made a fool of myself in this room full of people, and especially all the people who I invited personally? One thing that helped me get over this hurdle was thinking that what I was going to say was more important to all the people who would NOT be there— kind of ignore the real-life audience, and focus on saying what I wanted to say as if it were to other oligo patients, or researchers listening. For some reason this made it a lot less intimidating to me— by focusing on people who were not even there, I was able to kind of ignore the specifics of what had been making me nervous about the event itself. Honestly I’m not sure how I came up with this trick— it kind of came to me as I was falling asleep one night. But thinking about the larger audience of who I would want to reach, rather than who was actually going to be there, helped me become more zen about the whole thing.

4. I did some targeted meditation and visualization. I imagined the worst case scenarios (forgetting my speech, crying uncontrollably, falling on stage, for example)— then the best case scenarios (saying what I wanted to say clearly and feeling proud at the end), and then I focused on these best case scenarios and just planned on that happening. The meditations I did were largely through the peloton app, i did calming and courage guided meditations to help get rid of some of my excess nervousness.

Then I repeated all these steps again. Until it was the time to give the speech! As I wrote about before, I didn’t do the speech exactly as I had practiced— but I didn’t leave anything important out. I’m really proud I was able to do it- and I didn’t cry until it was over! 🙂

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