There’s a stat somewhere that says that over 75% of us are terrified of public speaking. This shouldn’t come as any surprise because for quite a lot of people it’s not something they encounter at all in their everyday lives. It’s about as meaningless as declaring 80% of us are terrified of rewiring a house, or performing a quadruple by pass – of course we are, we’ve never done it before. If somebody in a green mask hands you the scalpel and points at a patient’s chest, then chances are you’re going to develop ‘disco leg’, which is the unstoppable urge for one of your legs to bounce uncontrollably as you attempt something way out of your comfort zone. Public speaking is no different but an awful lot easier to get to grips with than removing somebody’s heart and replacing it with an old fashioned alarm clock.
So where to begin with the fear of public speaking? How do you transform a quantity surveyor, graphic designer or tree surgeon into a confident, engaging and entertaining speaker? Easy, you put your head in the lion’s mouth and confront that fear! The first thing to understand is what you are frightened of and then work back from there. What is making the everyday act of speaking, such a living nightmare? It is of course the fear of failure, either not being funny enough or engaging enough and that only ever comes down to preparation. And there’s plenty you can do about that.
A lot of people have little confidence in the tone and intonation of their voice and that’s a pretty legitimate concern; if you sound bored, how do you think everyone else feels? The key to this is to be genuinely excited about what you have to say and how you’re going to say it, and that of course comes down to preparation. If you’ve spent time thinking of a clever or funny way to describe somebody, you’re going to be excited to say it. If you’ve simply written a list of thanks then monotone will kick in and expect blank faces.
You can have all the greatest lines ever in a speech but if you haven’t got the pace right, you might as well be reading out the menu. As I’ve said a fear of public speaking stems from a worry that nobody will laugh or react in the right places and if you’re piling through the speech like you’ve got a bus to catch, then that’s exactly what’s going to happen. Practice a slow steady pace and above all deliberately write in pauses – make yourself stop. Pauses will always do the trick, deliver a line and let the audience catch up. It works.
Like it or not you’ve hit an age where weddings are part of your life and you’re reading to a crowd who will also be seasoned campaigners. In other words they’ve heard all the clichés a million times so if you hit them with ‘it’s an emotional wedding, even the cake is in tiers’ right from the off, then you’ve lost them. Be original. Demand your audience’s attention by not being predictable and clichéd, they’ll appreciate the effort and be hanging off your every word.
Most people don’t have to project their voice in their usual daily routine so this is something that you need to grapple with. Practice speaking out loud at home until you’re comfortable with the sound of your own voice. If you’ve never done this nobody is going to be more surprised than you to hear it on the day. If there is a microphone, use it – the key here is for everyone to be able to hear what you’re saying – anything that amplifies your message is only a good thing.
Stand up comics are funny because they spend hours and hours honing their material, if you put the effort into thinking how things can be described in a funny way, then it’s going to happen. If you leave it until the week before and start googling jokes…it’s time to embrace that well founded fear. Wedding speakers need to remember that everyone is on your side, there’s little expectation beyond saying nice things about everyone and the odd funny, if you start prepping well in advance it can be made as funny as you like. The pressure in these events only ever comes from the speakers themselves, so give yourself a break and do some prep.
Nobody wants to listen to anybody with their hands in their pockets and head buried into a sheath of papers, f you look alert and happy to be there, then that will immediately engage your audience. The best way to achieve this is to know your speech and be confident enough to use prompt cards or at the very least be able to take well timed pauses and look around the room. If it is a last minute job and you’re reading from a script, stand up straight, speak clearly and look like you’re doing your best.
It’s the oil that makes the wedding wheels go round and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t indulge a little before the event, if drinking is your thing. Have a coupe of gentle drinks, relax and allow it to take the edge off your nerves. Don’t overdo it though, as that is the worst crime of all.
Remember everyone is on your side and up for fun, the only person giving you a hard time is yourself and you’ll realize that pretty much as soon as you’re up there talking. So, why not relax, prepare and enjoy it from now?