I had the pleasure of giving my underage drinking talk once again this week. I sped off to Ohio University right after work on Monday. I met a few different people this last weekend who set me up with the speaking gig. I was very excited to get in their school just a day after meeting them. School is ending soon so getting as many of these opportunities as possible over the next two weeks is of dire importance.
I made it to the university with about 40 minutes to spare. The students were extremely gracious and invited me in to share a drink with them. This distracted me in those last 30 minutes before my talk and got rid of whatever nerves I had. I went into the talk just excited to meet new people and discuss an awesome subject.
My approach to public speaking is completely different from just a few weeks ago. I still focus on projecting and making sure my energy levels are high, but in the end, it’s just a conversation. The times that I saw it as a speech, I would freeze up. My personality wouldn’t come through in the talk and I didn’t go off the cuff. It was all scripted and going off book seemed to imply total disaster.
I told a few of the same stories, but a great deal of the talk was on the fly. I was able to joke around freely and keep things light. It was far more comfortable for me and it facilitated a much more lively discussion. I want to stress that I’m not saying from now on I’ll just go into my speeches cold. The reason this approach worked so well was that I have a good amount of knowledge on the subject as well as many different stories to back up my points. I was able to use whatever I needed according to how the group reacted.
Another very important reason for why I felt so comfortable was that I didn’t use Google Slides or Powerpoint. I had one sheet with a few key points written down in very large letters. But again, I didn’t need to use that very much. I knew the point I wanted to make and I had the ammunition I needed to make sure it was delivered effectively.
I don’t plan on ever using slides again unless the talk clearly has a need for it. The times I’ve used slides I felt tied down to them. I couldn’t improvise. It felt rigged, scripted, and really just a little awkward. It’s almost like there’s just too many components to keep track of. Now, of course, it should be easy to get over this. Just running through the talk a few times while using the slides should solve the problem. But even if I could use the slides effectively, I wouldn’t.
I spoke with a friend about this before my speech. He told me he never uses slides. He said when you turn on a projector, it’s like people slip into movie mode. They’re ready to watch the slides instead of listening. It limits your ability to control the audience’s attention. I thought back to the talks I’ve attended that have had slides and this is absolutely true. When it’s just you and the crowd there’s nowhere for them to hide. You can look them directly in the eye and there’s nowhere else they should be looking. It’s a powerful difference and it really changed this talk for me. I don’t really understand why slides are used so often. It seems like the main reason in a lot of talks is to show some graph to give the speaker credibility. There are better ways to do this.
Overall, it was a fantastic experience and probably my favorite speech I’ve given. The improvement that I’ve felt in just 5 talks has been absolutely huge. Public speaking is the number one fear for most people. That first time is terrifying. The second time is still pretty damn scary. After that, the curve shoots straight up. If it’s something you want to get comfortable with, you just have to do it.
The benefits of feeling comfortable with public speaking and delivering successful speeches are incredible. It’s given me more confidence talking to strangers, coworkers, prospects, and my superiors. It’s also been a very personally fulfilling experience. I’ve seen quite a few speeches in the past few months that were frankly just bad. These were given by grown adults who are experts in their field. It’s a pretty damn good feeling to know you are far better than they are, with just a fraction of the experience. If it’s something you can do, and do well, you will be in a group with an extremely small percentage of the population.