Lessons Learned on Public Speaking

May 20, 2014

When searching for a persons greatest fears, public speaking generally makes the top 10. As a young professional, public speaking can be a big part of our lives. Employers expect us to be able to make presentations in front of our peers, friends expect us to speak during special occasions, and nonprofits expect their board members to entertain at events. HYPEsters Amanda, Tiffanie and Kevin have some lessons learned to share from when they had to give a speech or a presentation.

"My tip for becoming a better public speaker would be that practice makes perfect" says Amanda. "I am going to start my story by saying that I have been a shy person – I like to stay within my comfort zone and speaking in front of groups is not a comfortable place. Despite being shy, I like to be involved in different groups which often times require me to speak publicly.  When talking in front of a group I shake, my heart races, I breathe heavily and lose my train of thought easily. Back In 2007 I packed my bags and moved to Hartford for work. I did not know a single person in the city and I joined a leadership development program – two things which pushed me to speak up. At one of my very first meetings we met with the Chief Insurance Risk Officer (CIRO). During the meeting I had one question that I really wanted to ask and I was thinking of the best way to phrase it. Right before the meeting was over he asked if there were any questions. I got the nerve to raise my hand, but when I went to speak it was nothing like I practiced in my head. The more I noticed I was going off script the more I rambled on and in the end I had a room of blank faces looking at me confused. I was horrified but our CIRO managed to answer my question anyway. The next week my manager, who was at the meeting, pulled me aside and suggested I go to Toastmasters. I decided to go, and after a few months I was already receiving compliments at how much I had improved at public speaking! Two months later I used the skills and confidence that I had learned and spoke in front of 350 of my peers at an early career development forum. My manager was also at that event and complimented me on my progress. It has been 2 years since I joined Toastmasters and although I still get nervous I have a better sense of control while public speaking."

"Another great piece of advice would be to stay on topic while publicly speaking" states Tiffanie.  "My story goes like this- I just finished my Masters in Global Management and for our final we had to research a successful international company and give a 15 minute presentation. I had a lot of important information I wanted to share including theories that I had learned as well as the research itself that I spent months finding. I found that I had so much to talk about that it was going to be tough to fit it all in the 15 minute requirement. For a lot of people, including myself, when I get nervous I can sometimes get off topic and go onto tangents. During the presentation, I realized that I was approaching the 15 minute mark yet I wasn't even close to stating all the main points that I needed to get across. In that moment I learned that it is important to be prepared.  Being prepared as well as practicing, like Amanda mentioned, are key in making sure you get all of your pertinent points in during the time you have. Sometimes that means cutting certain things out, but assuming that you're the expert on the topic and your audience isn't, they won't know anyway. Make sure you also leave time for questions, that may give you the opportunity to talk about some of the things you had to cut out." 

"Last but not least, know your audience and make them laugh" says Kevin.  "Here is my example of relating to your audience.  I had the honor of being the best man at my brother's wedding, but I was a bit nervous. I wasn't the best at speaking in large groups, but I knew I had to step it up. After continuously revising my speech over a few weeks, I felt I was all set and ready to go. My initial thought was to be funny throughout, but I omitted some jokes and references as they pertained to only a few people, and speaking from the heart goes a long way. To prepare for delivery, I must have practiced and recited the words in my head numerous times during the wedding day, fearing I would forget parts or slip up. When it came time for my best man's speech, I could hear the nervousness in my own voice as I began. Soon after, however, I made a scripted comment pinning the die-hard Rangers fans in the room against everyone else (who all happened to be Hartford Whalers fans), and got a big laugh. Immediately, I felt the nervousness fade, and I finished the speech with ease. People kept coming up to me later telling me they loved the speech. In any case, it always helps to know your audience, and if it's appropriate, get them laughing! It puts them at ease, and will help you feel better about whatever you're talking about as well."

As mentioned throughout this blog, public speaking can be a fear most people have.  We hope these tips are helpful to others in overcoming this issue/ Be sure to  practice before hand, prepare for what you wish to say ahead of time in order to stay on topic and relate your speech to your audience and if you can, make them laugh.

Thank you Tiffanie, Kevin and Amanda for sharing your stories with us!


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