Lessons in Public Speaking, Courtesy of My Nan
LinkedIn was a quiet place in March. The dulcet tones of Katie Lingo and the Friday posts to which you could set your watch were nowhere to be seen. In the streets, the children screamed. The lovers cried and the poets dreamed.
*Ahem. Not quite. But it’s fun to pretend that people might be wondering ‘where you’ve been’ if you have taken a leave of absence from social media.
March was one of our busiest months to date, and just for fun, I found myself driving back and forth across the M62 to look after my nana. She’s been in hospital, bless her. Said hospital seems to think she can make her merry way to appointments several times a week.
But enough of the self-pity. She’s on the mend and I’m back in York. For all the grief she gave me about leaving doors open and making her squash too strong, she did also teach me some lessons. In public speaking, of all things.
What has public speaking got to do with this?
According to Very Well Mind, up to 77 per cent of us have a fear of public speaking. Known as ‘glossophobia’, symptoms include sweating, high heart rates and a dry mouth. Sort of the same feeling I get when I make my nan a cup of tea.
Cheap plug alert. The day before – literally, the day before – I discovered my nan was coming out of hospital, I agreed to do a talk for the Digital City Festival. No mute button tomfoolery and lack of trousers. We were to drive to MediaCityUK and record it live.
While I was grateful for the challenge of creating a presentation while playing head teamaker, I was also grateful to my nana for her unwitting guidance.
What my nan taught me about public speaking
When I made it back to York, I realised I was speaking at a few decibels higher than usual. Turns out, this would be pretty useful for the recording session.
Lesson one: be loud and proud
Yes, the lovely folks at Badger & Combes made us feel like X Factor stars when they kitted us out with mics. But it’s no use mumbling even if you do have a microphone attached to your bra.
This was something I never understood until I started experimenting with podcasts. As it happens, you can’t just expect the mic to pick up everything for you. Habitz host Mike Winnet warned me that I was turning away from the mic. Well, if I’d have done that while speaking to Nan, she’d have cut my head off.
Lesson two: slow and steady wins the race
You might be shocked to hear that the average speaker churns out 150 words per minute. I learned this the hard way. Training with the NCTJ for shorthand exams, I discovered that 60 words per minute is like pulling teeth. Meanwhile, the NCTJ maximum (120) is easy enough on the ear but torture on the wrist.
Nan will tell me to slow down at regular intervals. And it works – not only can you convey your message more clearly; you can pacify yourself by controlling your breathing. Oh, if I could go back and edit every nervous ramble on a podcast…
Lesson three: put it in layman’s terms
“Your LFTs are normal but your INR levels need monitoring so you’ll need a dose of enoxaparin.” Excuse me? Even with my ‘young’ ears and a reasonable grasp of English, that sounds like nonsense. Now imagine that at age 87 with a hearing impediment.
Dealing with doctors on the daily means you have to confront a lot of unfriendly language. This makes you a translator, in effect:
- You have to do the legwork to find out what this actually means
- You have to reword it and communicate it in a way your audience will understand.
It’s something we touch upon in the presentation – how phrases like “consume content” are a fancy way of saying “watch Netflix in your pants”. They say if you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t know it well enough. That’s advice we heeded in the talk – particularly with Craig’s data vis section.
Lesson four: look them in the eye
“Look at me! I can’t hear you when you’re not looking at me!” That’s a phrase I’ve become accustomed to, mainly because I’m often cowering behind the couch. But it rings true with public speaking – by making eye contact, you can better connect with your audience.
Looking all over the place suggests you’re scrabbling for the next thought (didn’t you come prepared?) or worse still – that you’re lying. Look directly at your audience for sincerity and clarity. Or in my case, directly at the camera. Bloody COVID.
Lesson five: confidence, Katie
My nan has taught me nothing if not to be confident. Despite being a product of the backward 50s age, she’s no wallflower. She’ll tell it like it is whether you’ve got a penis or not.
She also doesn’t sweat the small stuff. One of my favourite stories is her account of The Blitz. “My mother was most annoyed because it broke her sugar bowl.” Never mind the danger to life, eh Nan?
And just for fun…one from Craig
I wasn’t alone in this little public speaking endeavour. My partner Craig, a frankly over-talented fella, also took part. He was particularly good at lesson three, taking our data and putting it into context.
Craig says: “Stick with it. Keep doing it and it will get better.” He’s a self-confessed introvert, and yet he took to presenting with all the aplomb of Dave Benson Phillips. A true natural.
His is perhaps the most poignant of all six lessons. Looking after nan while trying to run a business hasn’t been easy – but it has got better.
If you want to watch our talk at the Digital City Festival, register today and check us out…
Is Your Content Really Worth It?
Tuesday, April 20, 1:30 pm.
1st April 2021