There are so many opportunities today in our working environment when you have to stand up and get your message across. This may be in front of a sales force (often made up of more men than women), at a product presentation directed at sales, at a press conference, or even addressing a community group at a social function. In all cases, speaking in public can be daunting.
I married a Frenchman way back and moved from London to Paris where I worked for a number of years for ABC News. During the ’80s, the major television networks such as ABC, NBC, CBS, and CNN all had fully staffed bureaus because at that time Americans were interested in news outside of the States. However, news coverage has changed radically with the times. Adapting to the changes, I worked for ITV NEWS full time before becoming their freelance news producer to cover events in France.
Since then and even now, most American and British correspondents speak little or no French so I’ve had the pleasure of conducting literally hundreds of interviews for them. My background as a TV news producer and the ability to quickly spot the story, zero in on the message and analyze the situation naturally led me to teach media training. I, therefore, know what I’m looking for and sharing my knowledge with clients is hugely rewarding. These clients have included upper management cadres and ambassadors who generally learn fast.
But even people in the public eye sometimes freeze, or tend to ramble, and when I have my TV Producer hat on, I think to myself, “you need me, you need me” … but obviously I can’t say that out loud!
With both English speaking and French clients, I teach in both languages and quite often the media training is preceded by a half-day of presentation skills. Typically, French clients have learned at school to go into the background and only get to the “bottom line” at the bottom line. We have to turn the script around—like a newspaper headline, you need to grab the audience’s attention at the beginning. Otherwise, they will fall asleep, chat, start texting, or read a newspaper. Anglo Saxon clients tend to yawn and raise their eyebrows in despair; I’ve witnessed one or all of these horrors at press conferences.
Overcoming fear to speak up and out
The challenge is, of course, to take the fear and nervousness out of speaking in public. The more prepared you are, the more relaxed you can become. If a speech is more than 10 minutes long, it is acceptable to look at your notes—use bullet points and underline the messages to be stressed. No audience will retain more than three messages and these need to get across. Ted Talks are really worth watching so see how people from all walks of life can stand up and deliver.
Learning effective ways of public speaking will help give you the confidence to stand up and share your story or make your pitch.
Captivate an audience
Some of the worst things a speaker can do to lose an audience are to speak in a monotone voice, use long rambling sentences, read his/her entire speech from notes and even worse, read what is up on the screen via a PowerPoint presentation. The final mistake is to deliver your message at the end of the speech.
Some speakers flop in front of a large audience simply because they are frightened and cannot relate to the crowd. Their fear of public speaking is not about communicating their product or sharing their story but rather how they feel, think or act when all eyes are on them. If you can’t talk with ease, how can you expect them to listen to you? My aim is to teach speakers how to overcome that fear (as best as possible) by understanding it.
How does it work?
Sessions can be one-on-one or in groups of up to a maximum of six people. If a company has more staff to train, I bring in fellow journalists or experts and we do separate workshops after the initial theory session. The presentations are filmed and analyzed together, hence the limited numbers. Too many people around the table means they would get bored.
I have worked in this capacity for all sorts of clients, including ministries, embassies, health and welfare companies. Every client has different needs and we ensure that our sessions are tailor-made to fit their specific requirements.
Taking on the press
If your presentation is successful and leads to media coverage, dealing with a curious journalist or aggressive media offers other challenges. The best way to handle a press conference is, first of all, to be prepared for any questions outside the box. You know your area of expertise but be aware of what the competition is up to or what is currently happening that may impact your service or the lives or business of your clients.
A 10-15 minute opening statement, which can be memorized, is usually sufficient. It’s useful to have another person choosing who can ask questions and telling the audience to identify themselves. A microphone or two if possible ensures everyone hears the question and answer exchange. Journalists or the audience tend to ask questions that were not addressed in your speech or they want to learn more. These exchanges can be both spontaneous and revealing. A good public speaker is prepared for both.
Some questions to ask yourself:
- Do you realize how important preparation is prior to speaking?
- Does the idea of standing up in public to make a speech freak you out?
- Do you know how best to overcome fear?
- Do you know what to drink before making a speech?
- Do you understand that the way you present is as important as the content?
- Do you know how to handle a press conference?
- Do you know how many messages the audience will retain?
- Do you know how to ensure that the audience will be convinced of your sincerity?