Have you ever been so nervous you can’t hear yourself because you heart was beating so fast and so loud?
I hadn’t, not until a few weeks ago at the Speaker’s Institute’s Premiere Bootcamp.
Honestly, I’ve never been interested in speaking on stage. I’m more into one on one conversations or talking to a small group of people in an intimate setting. But I’ve always wanted to become a better storyteller and have more confidence when I speak. I think being able to speak with influence is a great skill to have and that is why I went to this bootcamp: simply to be better than before.
I’m glad I did. I learned so much during this bootcamp and met so many wonderful people. I learned not just how to speak better, but also about myself, my fears and my abilities. I also learned a bit about recycling technology, health and nutrition, physiotherapy, psychology, recycling technology, ocean conservation, agile software, and so much more!
Today I thought I’d share some of the key lessons I learned from this transformative event. But first, let me tell you how I got there in the first place.
As with many people who were at the bootcamp, I went to Sam Cawthorn’s one-day free “StoryShowing” event back in June after being invited by my friend Stella, who, I can safely say, is an event junkie. But the event was so impressive that I signed up to their paid weekend bootcamp event on the spot. Already I learned valuable lesson number one – the free event ‘funnel’ works.
Honestly, I think I waited way too long for the bootcamp. Owning to prior commitments, I chose a date that was four months ahead. By then, the excitement from the one-day event had already worn off and the thought of spending the whole weekend learning to ‘speak’ (not to mention the gruesome 8am-8pm daily schedule) was becoming less and less appealing. Thankfully, I had the best accountability buddy in the world: Money. The only thing that kept me from bailing out was the fact that I had already paid for this event, and it wasn’t cheap.
And so, I went, completely unprepared. I had selected a topic to speak about, but apart from that, had done zero practicing or rehearsing. Day one was the worst. I completely flunked it on stage. I felt completely out of my depth, stupid, and scared. It is quite ironic really, because my talk was about embracing the “comfort zone” and – yet there I was, in the most uncomfortable position I could ever imagine, and failing miserably.
However, through this experience, I gained so much clarity not just on my idea, but also with the best way to convey it. Every day of the bootcamp I had to got to speak on stage. And every day I was able to refine my message through feedback from expert speakers and other fellow students. The best feedback I received was from one of the students who said that with my first talk, he disagreed with my idea completely. For the second talk he was not fully convinced but thought that there was something there. But with the third and final speech, he was completely on my side. Same idea, same message, different speaker – me, version 2.0. And with that said, here are the key things that I’ve learned that completely transform me as a speaker, as a storyteller, as an influencer, as an individual. Are you ready?!
1. It’s not about you. It’s never about you.
This was the biggest lesson from my first talk, after I completely bombed.
Imagine this, you’re standing on stage in front of strangers, eyes looking at you, a big digital clock counting down, you’ve forgotten your next line and your hands and legs are trembling. You’re terrified. You don’t want to look stupid. You don’t want to look bad. And you start saying ‘stuff’.
The more you’re trying to make yourself look good, the more nervous you become. You become obsessive with trying to remember every single word, and when you don’t (and trust me, it will happen), you’ll get even more nervous and start saying things that don’t make sense. Game over.
But it’s not about you. You need to free yourself of the fear that you might fail, that you might look like a fool, that you might bomb. Because your audience don’t really care about you, they only care about your message, and how it can help them.
If you forget about your own ego and start thinking about your audience, the people you’re talking to, and how you can give them something valuable to go home with, that’s when you start becoming a better speaker. And it’s quite liberating, really.
“Stop focusing on trying to look good/avoid looking bad and start focusing on making a difference.”
2. Speak from the heart.
I know this sounds very cliched and hippie-like. As a scientist and a professional auditor, I struggled with this idea myself. I am pro-fact, evidence-based, and head-first. In my line of work, I assess and review evidence and facts, not what people say or ‘feel’.
But as I dig deeper into this idea, the more I see the point, especially if you want to be an effective storyteller, or an influencer. Studies have shown that buying decisions are made based on emotion and not logic. Even with what we believe are logical decisions, there is always an emotional part (or whole) made by our subconscious mind. Our conscious mind then uses our logic to justify that decision.
As a speaker, understanding this is essential. Especially when you’re trying to get others to support your idea. You need to connect with your audience by speaking not just to their rational minds, but also to their emotions and their subconscious mind.
‘How to speak from the heart?’ I hear you ask. Well, here’s how you can do it:
- Tell a genuine story from your personal life. “There was this one time when I…”
- Connect the story with your message. “That’s when I realised….”
- Explain how your message can benefit your audience. “This can help you with…”
When you speak from the heart you build a deeper connection with your audience. They’ll be able to relate to you, buy into your idea or see your point of view. It can be scary to talk about some of these personal stories but often, the reason is because of how significant it was for you. And if it was significant for you, chances are, it will be for others too.
3. Notes will f*** you up
If you want to be a better speaker, you must get rid of your notes. Though I get that they might provide you with some level of security and comfort, at the end of the day you (should) already know what your message is. You don’t need your notes, truly. If you absolutely need to have them, then make them talk points, not a script to read from. And if you’re worried that you’re going to forget, stumble and look like an idiot without your notes, go back to point number 1.
I saw first-hand how this played out during the bootcamp. I remember it very clearly. It was day 2 of the bootcamp. Everyone had to do their six-minutes talk on stage. One of my fellow students went on stage and he had his notes with him. You could tell that he was nervous. He was started reading from his notes, and then went off for a while, and when he returned to the notes in his hands, he looked like he might have lost his place among his notes. There was this long awkward pause, and the speaker was getting more and more nervous with every second that passed. I could feel the suspense as the room was dead silent and everyone was waiting to see what he was going to do next.
And then something drastic happened. He tossed his notes onto the table in front of him in frustration. He shook himself and then just started talking. In that moment something changed. He was a completely different speaker. The difference was night and day. He was more ‘himself’, his voice got louder, he became more relaxed and he was much enjoyable to listen to. At the end of the talk someone asked him why he threw away the notes. He said, ‘the notes f-ed me up, man!”. He already knew what he wanted to say. His notes were holding him back!
There are so many more gold nuggets I’d love to share with you, but hopefully these three will get you off to a good start. Whether you need to present at work, give a talk at your local community, or even pitch a holiday idea to your partner, I think it’s worth honing your speaking skills. If nothing else, it makes you feel more confident and comfortable whenever you speak in front of crowd, and that, my friend, is a wonderful feeling.