Most people hate public speaking – it’s up there with the worst of people’s phobias – worse than spiders or snakes even. I used to be in this category and would shy away from anything that involved standing in front of an audience. Yet here I am pretty much every week getting out and about the UK talking at various seminars, conventions in fact pretty much anywhere that people will listen to me.
So what’s changed in my little world??
Well I guess the primary thing that’s changed, is that I now know what I’m talking about. I think one of the greatest fears that we all have, is being made to look a fool – only being surpassed by being made to look a fool… in front of an audience of your peers.
Most people’s first taste of public speaking comes when you are at University when you get up to present your work to you classmates. The down side of this situation is that there is usually a complete arse of a tutor also in the room – just waiting to rip the p*** out of any mistakes that you make.
He stands there lording it over his obsequious pupils who all titter at his inane jokes and preen themselves in some vain attempt to get his attention. Then he just cuts you to pieces with some acerbic witticism that he’s been just dying to use…all the more painful because he’s usually correct and you really don’t know what you’re talking about.
This is the down side doing an art based degree – when my artistic skills were not up there with my plant knowledge and horticultural ability. I was always on the back foot to the more ‘art-y’ types who knew nothing about plants but could sketch and draw with no effort.
This was one of my early life lessons.
The tutors insisted that the artistic and presentation skill were secondary to the plant knowledge and design skills required to be a landscape architect – yet every time there was an assessment the artistic ones got the top grades …and the more horticultural based projects were marked down.
So… if it looked good and was drawn well – forget the content and the reality of whether it could be built …give it an A****
All the more painful to stand up and present…. in front of drawings that were not ‘works of art’ but rather works of horticulture.
My first taste of public speaking was therefore not exactly filling me with confidence.
Shoot forward a few years and I found myself being asked to talk about my work with invasive non-native species. I nervously stood in front of my first audience – but instead of sarcasm and criticism – I was met with intelligent questions and an attentive crowd… and every question that they asked I knew the answer to.
Massive confidence builder.
I have grown from this point; to a situation where I have been known to enjoy the whole presentation experience. I still get a few colly wobbles and occasionally get an awkward question…. but I’m yet to be asked something that I can’t give a sensible answer to.
So take my advice if you do have a public speaking phobia – get up and speak about something you’re passionate about – speak about something that you know the likely questions that will be asked… and have the answers to hand.
Most people want you to do well and very few want you to fail (apart from that prat of a tutor that I had in Leeds)…