Plymouth, UK

Act in earnest

Whilst you’re writing it’s entirely possible to throw everything away and start again if you don’t like how things are working out. If the tone is too harsh or your voice is too light, a quick adjustment can tighten the bolts. Likewise most of those cheesy phrases or clichés are likely to be cast off during the review process and for other ailments, such as awkward rhymes or alliterative phrases that pass you by without notice, a friendly editor is often there to help tidy your thoughts.

At any moment you can shift the momentum of the piece; you might cut out the intro for the end or stretch out the middle parts and futz with the threads that join this organic, clay-like structure until it all begins to make a little more sense.

But with public speaking your words are fixed and ultimately the speaker is naked without that final editing process. Any casual slip up (such as a a string of repetitive words that leak out) are temporarily ingrained onto the minds of those in the audience and I worry that when I get nervous in front of people I’ll begin to repeat adjectives like ‘enormous’, ‘phenomenal’, ‘fantastic’. Yet sometimes I’ve made the error of pointing out those speech impediments as I notice them during the talk.

Of course it’s impossible to stand back after one of these unfortunate mishaps and ask the audience to forget everything they’ve just heard because you don’t like the way it sounds or simply because you let yourself get caught up in the moment. However, I’m starting to think that most mistakes shouldn’t be acknowledged by the speaker during the talk because they break the magic of the performance; these interruptions steal all the momentum out from under your feet and it’s best not to forget that a good audience will shortly forgive you.

Anyway, whilst I was in search for some helpful tools to help me become a better speaker I found speaking.io which was certainly put to good use in my last talk, but I also took a closer look at other reference material for inspiration, such as self help books (gasp!). This is where I came across Dale Carnegie’s The quick and easy way to effective speaking which contains all sorts of great advice on the topic:

When you speak, you are in a showcase and every facet of your personality is on display. The slightest hint of braggadocio is fatal. On the other hand, modesty inspires confidence and good will. You can be modest without being apologetic. Your audience will like and respect you for suggesting your limitations as long as you show you are determined to do your best.

Although I love great portions of this book there’s an awful amount that ruins it. For instance the constant disregard of female speakers and talking about house wives and using ‘he’ all the time and eurgh! shut up, shut up, shut up. Sadly this is one of those books where you’ll solemnly recall how, regardless of all their insights, the combined history of literature, education and publishing is really just the tragic history of mansplaining things to women.