To build up our team skills and best practices, we have a fortnightly session where we speak about a certain topic or skillset and do activities to help build confidence surrounding that skill. This could be anything from a tool we use regularly in our work, updates from the team about current work-in-progress or practicing how to approach a situation in a project.
These sessions have been around long before I arrived six months ago, and some of the things I've learnt have truly been invaluable. However, this week's session in particular struck a nerve with me in a positive way, because I was literally thrown in the deep end, yet found myself coming out gliding like a swan on the other side. This week's topic? Presentation skills and public speaking.
Public speaking is a skill thought to be reserved for those who naturally have no nerves, love huge crowds or are extraordinarily extroverted. You never think you'll have to speak in public (to me this means more than five people), but think about all of the situations where you might have spoken aloud to a crowd of people in everyday life. There are birthday parties, a time where you're entertaining a gathering of guests, when waiting a table and taking orders for a large amount of people, even when speaking up and answering a question in class at school. Everyone has a voice, subsequently giving us all the potential to be a public speaker. But how do you stand up and say what's important to you? What shakes you with passion when you're equally shaking with nerves?
Believe it or not, I am quite shy. I was painfully shy as a child, but as I grew up my circle of strong and supportive friends helped me find my voice. Now I can talk a leg off an iron donkey with a ‘fuck’ in between most other words. However, get me in front of people and I’m a jittery mess of word vomit (and we're talking worse than Cady Heron about to kiss Aaron Samuels in Mean Girls). Or even worse, I re-enact that scene in Princess Diaries where Mia literally runs away from a speaking podium to vomit in the midst of addressing her peers.
In our session to practice this skill, we picked a menial subject to speak about and had two minutes to write a brief introduction, a couple of points and a conclusion. It could’ve been complete nonsense too, as what we were looking for was style and composure, not factual content. After watching the group each spend a minute doing their presentation, I realised that not only was I better than I thought I was, but that actually everyone, even people I thought always had it together and looked so relaxed when speaking publicly, felt like goop inside.
But what made all the difference was the passion in their voices and their body language as they spoke. Each word was spoken with such intention and understanding of what they were speaking about, and each also had their unique quirks which made them human, like their eyes moving to the side to think or seeing their hands shake slightly. Wow, they feel like all of us.
The skill of public speaking is versatile in so many ways. If you're at a conference or event with an open mic, take hold of that mic and start a debate with the panel. If your manager says something you don’t agree with at a meeting, maybe politely speak up and inform them of your view of why and suggest something different. But this skill goes way past work life too, because it can apply to speaking about pretty much anything. If someone in a pub perhaps starts speaking about something which doesn’t sound right or is factually wrong, perhaps you might decide - confidence permitting - to walk up to that group and speak about that topic. If you're with your friends and feel like you don’t get to have your say a lot, speak the fuck up you wonderful creature — tell them about the book you are reading, a cool activity you've tried or why you feel the way you feel, because they'll appreciate you speaking up.
My point is, regardless of the situation, it's okay to be nervous. Turning those nerves into a voice that a crowd can hear takes a bit of practice, but think of the things you can achieve when you know that your voice and passion can be projected as far and wide as you want it to, in front of whoever no matter of job title or rank. Imagine the confidence gained when you can shout your nerves out as a speech or presentation and show off your badass skills.
If Amelia Mignonette Thermopolis Renaldi, Princess of Genovia can do it, so can you.