A funny thing happened a couple of weeks ago. I got a call out of the blue from a guy who was running a business conference that I had registered to visit. He saw me on the list of attendees and saw that I was a copywriter. For some reason, he thought it would be interesting if I could do a presentation while I was there. Yikes, public speaking!
While I’ve never considered myself shy, I’ve never been a natural public speaker. Possibly because I never really had to do it that much.
I was lucky enough to be Best Man at my friend’s wedding once. I was extremely nervous beforehand, but the speech was a triumph! I used to present regularly when I worked in sales, but this would be a different level. This was the main stage at the Global Business Expo at Olympia.
No time to lose
Now, I had never done anything like this before, but I’ve always loved the line by Sir Richard Branson, ‘If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes, then learn how to do it later.’
I said yes. Now I had to figure out how to do it. Unfortunately, there was only a week between being asked and doing the presentation. I didn’t have time to go on those amazing public speaking courses that you see advertised everywhere. I didn’t have time to study the great public speakers on TED or on YouTube. In fact, I didn’t have time to do anything, other than writing my speech, making some visuals and delivering it.
Preparation is key
Here’s what I did to get ready for the presentation:
- I did my best to make my speech as accessible as possible. I didn’t know who would be in the audience, but I guess they weren’t going to be experts in dangling modifiers or serial commas. As a result, I wrote my speech in plain, direct English, about accessible themes within copywriting.
- I started with a story. People love stories and remember them easier than facts. To kick off the presentation, I told a quick story of how I ended up writing my first article, because of a deadline emergency at SAGA Magazine.
- I put a call to action at the end. That being, come and talk to me if you need any copywriting done. My speech wasn’t a sales pitch whatsoever, but I thought I might never get this chance again, to present in front of a roomful of business owners. You have to take your opportunities.
- I put some slides together. Visuals help hold the audience’s attention. They’re easy to remember. Plus, as I discovered, people like to take pictures of them on their phones. Not too many slides though, I didn’t want to cause Death By PowerPoint.
- Once I had written my speech and put my visuals together, I practised, practised, practised. I refined the speech when I thought things didn’t sound right, but mainly I wanted to be able to recall as much of my speech, with the right intonation, without any notes. On the day, I was really nervous, but I was satisfied that I could not have practised any harder if I tried.
If you’re still reading, you’re probably wondering how it went.
Well, I planned to get there early. I wanted to go over my speech again, get used to the room and psyche myself up. However, when I got there, they were running over an hour behind schedule, so I had a lot of time to do that! It probably made me more nervous actually, spending too much time in my head.
When I finally got to present, it actually went really well. I told my opening story off the cuff, and that made me settle in. I managed to make my speech, making eye contact with the crowd rather than burying my head in my notes. No one walked out, and I got a warm round of applause at the end. There were even questions from the floor. I was really happy with that, especially when it turned out I could answer them!
There was also quite a bit of interest from business owners in using my services. Hopefully, it will lead to me taking on some new writing clients.
Plus, I got to see my cartoon face on a really big screen.
Public speaking for yourself
So, while I don’t expect the call from TED quite yet, my first public speaking venture was a reasonable success. I look forward to doing it again soon, and I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to test themselves and position themselves as an authority figure in their industry.
As for doing it again soon? If you’re a member of the Business Biscotti networking group, I’ll be back on stage at the Big Biscotti event in Reading on October 20th. Make sure you come and say hello.