What can public speaking teach us about how to show up in our lives? I reflect on what the process of honing a TEDx talk has taught me about the skills for living a rich and fulfilling life.
On a grey, frosty morning, I arrived at our rehearsal space to meet the other speakers for the TEDxCoventGardenWomen event coming up this Saturday 07 December. I had read their bios on the conference website and felt a little daunted at the prospect of being in the same room as all these entrepreneurs, activists, thinkers and doers who were each making a difference in the world in their own way.
But I need not have worried. Rona Steinberg of Out Loud Coaching had opened her beautiful home to us for the rehearsal day and the moment I stepped through the door into the warm, welcoming group, I felt like I was simply meeting good friends again.
Improving our Public Speaking
Milling together, munching croissants and fresh fruit, we were all rather unremarkable – just a bunch of friendly, interested folk, curious to learn about each other and hear everyone else’s story. We were all just as nervous as each other about our talks. Had we learnt it well enough to deliver it without notes? Did the structure work? Would our message come through clearly enough?
And that was the purpose of the rehearsal day. Under the expert scrutiny of public speaking coach Sarah Lloyd-Hughes of Ginger Public Speaking and Rona, we each took to the “stage” at the centre of Rona’s living room and gave our talk. We then received two layers of feedback. First we stayed standing before the audience of our co-speakers and the TEDx team who gave us affirming and supportive feedback about our stage presence and the impact of our talk on them. Later, sitting within the circle again, we received very specific feedback from Sarah and Rona on what might need clarifying in our talk and how we might create a stronger impact for our message.
Tips for Public Speaking, Tips for Life
There were a number of recurring themes in the expert feedback that really struck me, especially as they are about pushing at the edge of our comfort zone. My TEDx talk, Rebel Heart, is all about challenging our comfort zone and becoming a rebel against our own restrictive life views so Sarah and Rona’s advice made me a little breathless – which is a sure sign that we are at that scary edge of comfort.
Their advice is worth sharing not just for public speakers but for all of us, as the principles apply as much to how we show up in life as to how we show up on stage:
# Allow Your Passion to Show – all of the speakers have a passion for what they are doing and for their message. That passion drives us and motivates us. We needed to own that passion and let the audience see it.
Showing our passion can take us outside our comfort zone, especially for us understated Brits, but this advice is as true for living as it is for public speaking. Passion is contagious and if we show our fire within, we can spread that fire to others.
# Don’t Be Afraid of Your Emotions – in all cases, the speakers had been inspired to action in their world because of something that affected them personally. Rather than hide the personal emotions behind a “proper presentations style”, we needed to be truthful to those emotions.
Yikes – another one that is scary for those of us who pride ourselves in being tough and rational and in control. (Yup, that’s me I’m talking about…) But when we show our vulnerability, whether in our daily lives or on the stage, we connect others in a deeply human way.
# Stand in the Silence – as speakers, it feels incredibly scary to stand on a stage with a vast sea of faces of looking up at you, with nothing but silence engulfing you. So we tend to gabble on to fill the gap. But if we can stand in the silence, our message becomes more powerful. Because the space gives the audience time to absorb the impact of what we have just said. And we need to trust that they can interpret what is not said as much as what is said.
So, too, in our lives, we can trust to the silence and to the resourcefulness of whoever we are talking to when we are communicating with others. This one definitely makes me uncomfortable and is a huge challenge as I tend to have too many words inside me all batting to get out!
# Enjoy the Applause – it’s a common tendency to scuttle off stage after doing our piece so we can sink back into the anonymity of our seat rather than staying there in the limelight and enjoying the audience’s appreciation of what we have given to them. Standing there in the spotlight for a few more moments, absorbing the recognition of our effort and the acknowledgement of our message can be empowering and affirming.
So, in life, be a rebel against your usual way of responding to appreciation and enjoy it instead when your friends and family or colleagues acknowledge something you’ve done or compliment you or give you an affirming message. Don’t deny it or point out the flaws or mistakes in whatever you’ve done or shuffle around and give an embarrassed giggle. Just look your friend in the eyes and say with gratitude and warmth, “Thank you”.
Ordinary People, Extraordinary Messages
Having met my fellow speakers, I know that their warmth and generosity of spirit will shine through on Saturday, and also their mix of ordinariness and extra-ordinariness. And having heard their talks, I know we are going to have a thought-provoking and amazing day.
The topics range from the wisdom of our grandmothers to female genital mutilation to the power of language to create change and the economics of investing in women – and that’s only some of the talks. The full schedule is published in my post “TEDxCoventGarden Women Programme Sat 07 Dec 2013”.
This is part of a series of essays collated under Rebel Heart – TEDx which documents my preparation for the TEDx Covent Garden Women event on Sat 07 Dec 2013 where I will be giving a talk called “Rebel Heart”. I write about how I came to be invited to give a TEDx talk, my process in developing the talk and the challenges I am struggling with. Also, I explore the principles and ideas that are embedded in my talk and which I hope to bring to life when I get up to speak on the day.
TEDxCoventGardenWomen will be held on 7th December 2013 in Covent Garden, London, shedding light on the issues facing women and brainstorming creative solutions to address them.
This event is part of the TEDWomen global conference held on 5th December 2013 in San Francisco, including a great line up of speakers and live entertainment.
Photo: collage of some of the TEDxCoventGarden speakers and team taken during our rehearsal day, thanks to the organisers.