We had developed a concept for an airport wireless information console and it was my turn to present it to a couple of hundred students, design professors and local business gurus.
At 20 years old, I stood before my audience in Osaka Design College, gave the nod to our Japanese translator and began excitedly introducing our team’s vision to the rest of the room.
In the minutes running up to this, there was no hesitation, thumping heart or somersaulting stomach. And during my presentation, the core feeling was happiness, to have been given the opportunity to present to such a prestigious crowd.
This trip was an opportunity I grabbed at university and as my career spanned the next 20 years, I ran group workshops, hosted overseas conference calls and conveyed marketing strategy at client pitches. I literally buzzed from interacting with people.
Although never an extrovert character, I didn’t think twice about engaging in conversation before sending an email and made a conscious effort to have face to face meetings instead of making a call.
I’m a ‘people person’ so I am told, which explains why I thrive front of house too when I’m not office locked, stroking my keyboard nine to five.
So why is it, now I’m doing work I love with piles of experience behind me, do I sometimes question how well I can connect with my audience verbally?
Not on a one-to-one or small group basis, but to a large crowd.
Have I been silenced by the online revolution of social chat, drop boxing and email tennis?
Been disconnected from the corporate world for too long?
Lost confidence now I’m over 40 (just!)?
Or could it be down to negative programming as a child?
Whatever it is, it turns out I am not alone. In fact, some of the most successful high profile business people, actors and speakers will agree that their verbal communication skills have been ‘acquired’ and only with thanks to some serious personal training.
So when a ‘Speak without Fear’ workshop popped up in west Wales, I jumped at the chance to sign up to a full day session, run by the talented and knowledgeable Serena Flynn (professional actress) and Lisa Smith (Yoga teacher/trainer and owner of St Davids Wellbeing).
How hard could it be?!
In at the deep end
Granted, what I didn’t give much thought to whilst bumbling along the coast road to St Davids, was the practical format of this workshop. Just 15 mins in, Serena was asking us to stand up and tell the group our story.
What, you mean right now…with no prep…aren’t you going to train us first?”
were some of the thoughts dancing around my head.
Of course, this was for a good reason, to benchmark how we felt and performed at the start of the day compared to the end. Doing this was not as fearful as it may appear. We each stood and shared our story as professionally and passionately as we could, to a wonderfully supportive audience. A group of considerate angels, each about to walk in our own ‘fight or flight’ shoes.
It’s not about the words
Following feedback on our first brave attempt and some useful tips on the physical aspect of presenting, Serena asked if we’d ever listened to a poor speaker who has captured the audience with their personality alone? We could all think of a few and this is what cemented how important it is to capture the audience with our presence.
It’s not just about the words.
Lisa helped us prepare mind and body, educating us to breathe, stretch and physically ground ourselves before any words left our mouth. Serena taught us about the effect of eye contact.
Crucial stuff and a powerful lesson learned through doing.
Food as fuel
In our breaks we drank herbal tea and grazed on slow-release, naturally sweetened snacks. We shared our morning learnings over an Ayurveda inspired Khichari lunch – a scrumptious mix of rice and moong dal with cardamom, turmeric and other Indian spices.
We discussed the importance of ‘you are what you eat’ and how we can tactfully fuel our bodies to help us focus and prolong fatigue.
Ask the audience
Our afternoon consisted of content preparation and useful (sometimes cringeworthy) feedback from the group as we attempted to project our best voice from one end of the room to the other.
Raise the volume, lower the volume, use your arms more, try to fidget less, it’s ok to pause, try a grounded stance, keep that eye contact, etc.”
The personal coaching at this stage from Serena and Lisa was fabulous, providing bespoke tips and techniques to capture our audience.
For me, the key take away was,
If you want to be seen and heard, then be prepared to look and listen”.
In a nutshell, this workshop BLEW MY MIND. Serena and Lise tactfully delved into the minds and habits of six considerably different delegates, installed emotional and physical techniques into each and by the end of the day, had effectively coached us to tell our story, confidently to the rest of the room.
Thank you Serena and Lisa for a hugely engaging (and surprisingly emotional) workshop. I look forward to joining Fearless Speaking Part 2.
Watch this space to hear about the next stage of speaking without fear.
You can also learn more about Ayurveda (the science of living well and the oldest healing system in the world) in Lisa’s workshops
You may also find this online course useful.