"Build your confidence before you speak, girlfriend!" I warned quietly.
"Go from around me with your public speaking BS!" Julia replied testily.
Now, I want you to meet Julia.
Julia is president of a high-powered regional organization. She organized a mean campaign that left her opponents coughing in the dust. And now she is in the big league.
Before the presidential chair could get used to her expansive rear end, she had four invitations to speak!
And provoked by nothing else but her competitive nature, Julia decided she could pull off her public speaking "career" without any input from me. Her choice.
Can you guess what happened next?
She prepared her first speech, she practiced it and turned up at the event, ready to shake up the organization with her avant-garde ideas. She took her seat at the head table, graciously accepted her programme and one glance later…her confidence took a nose dive!
There were 7 speakers before her. Nobody told her she was speaking right after the government Minister and just before the break. She had no idea there were going to be 150 persons in the audience. Nobody told her she might have to answer questions! And OMG! Is that the Mother of all speakers in the audience?
And that was not the worst of it.
The next day, she tearfully admitted to me that pride kept her from bolting from the room that Saturday evening!
But…was there any way that she could have avoided all this?
Was there a way she could have skyrocketed her confidence before she spoke? And would you really like to skyrocket your confidence before you speak?
I say “yes” to the first and second questions and if you said “yes” to the third question, help is on the way.
The first thing to do when you're invited to speak at at event
When you are invited to speak at an event, even before you think of putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, there are some things you just need to find out about the event.
The trouble is...these thing are not directly related to your speech, they concern your level of confidence so you don't even think of them.
But when you do let them into your consciousness, and take action, it is one of the fastest ways you will skyrocket your confidence before you speak.
So what is the first thing you do to build your confidence before you speak?
The answer is simple.
You collect some information about the programme. BUT not just any old information. You collect the information that will make you comfortable presenting your speech like the pro that the audience deserves.
Don't worry...I'm working right alongside you. So here are 5 questions you must ask about the event and 5 you must ask about the venue, every time, so that your confidence is really high, even before you speak.
The 5 questions to ask about the event before you speak:
1. In what capacity am I being invited to speak?
This question seems rather silly on the face of it. But if you perform several roles in your public life, this question is especially valuable.
The problem is, that many times, in accepting an invitation to speak, you say "yes" without being clear in which capacity you're being asked to speak.
Here's an example:
You are invited to speak at a function sponsored by the local chapter of "The Crime and Violence Association" (CAVA).
The invitation did not say, but you assumed it was in your new role as President of your son's PTA. But the CAVA invited you because you're an ex-police officer.
These roles require two different speeches completely. So being clear about "WHO" was invited to speak will really skyrocket your confidence before you speak.
2. How many other speakers are on the programme?
Don’t be afraid to ask this question.
For me, this is often the question which will determine if I accept the invitation or not.
When there are too many people on a programme, the organisers may end up asking you to cut the length of your speech after you had agreed to speak for a longer time.
If you know how many other people are on the programme, before you reach the venue, you can write two versions of your speech: a long one and a short one.
In this way, if you're asked to cut your time, you can still deliver a boss of a speech!
How's this for building your confidence before you speak?
3. Who are the other speakers and what are their topics?
Many event planners like to keep the identity of their speakers as secret as the combination of their home safes. But it’s in your interest to crack that code.
Just because they are good at hiding the identity of their speakers, it does not mean that event planners are good at choosing speakers.
So go ahead and ask this question. Why? Getting an honest answer to the question “who are the other speakers and what are their topics?” helps you to present information which is not likely to be covered by the other speakers.
Knowing that you are bringing fresh information or looking at old information from a fresh perspective, is enough to help you speak confidently when you stand at that lectern.
4. What is the order of appearance of the speakers?
No…you are not the Master of Ceremonies but you are a speaker on a programme at an event, who is not about to be caught off guard.
When you have this information, it gives you an indication of the likely state of mind of your audience when you speak. This state of mind affects how they will receive and respond to your speech.
Just suppose you discover that you will be speaking after someone who is a trained and experienced public speaker...You would be stupid not be extra careful with how you prepare and deliver your speech.
Just imagine not knowing…
5. Will there be a break for refreshments? And when?
I’ve had the privilege of speaking at many events, in several countries and in many different cultures. In most of them, even more than the speakers, the big attraction was the food.
For example, if you're speaking just before the the refreshment break, you need to deliver your food for thought on a platter of humour, if you will even have a chance of engaging your audience.
So knowing if there will be a refreshment break, and when, helps you to prepare your speech in such a way as to make sure that the audience at least listens to the end.
The 5 questions to ask about the event before you speak:
1. Exactly where is the event being held in the venue?
This is a question reserved for large venues like university campuses. It is not uncommon for you to be given the address of the venue but not the exact location of the event within that venue.
Don't be shy about asking exactly where the event will be held within the venue.
You prepared and practiced your speech. Your hot outfit has been selected and is waiting on the bed in the spare room. You give the car a valet-like cleaning and you arrive at the venue feeling good about yourself. And suddenly, panic sets in because you realise you have no idea exactly where your event is being held.
Driving around a location looking for your event is NOT cool. Nothing will make you even more anxious and frustrated and anything but confident before your speak!
I should know…ahmm well...it happened to me.
2. What is the size and shape of the room?
Ooohh…I learnt about this one the hard way.
Early in my public speaking journey I was invited to replace a well-known speaker. What an opportunity to show off my hot speaking skills! I wouldn't have missed it for the world.
I arrived at the venue, armed with a speech to rock the world. And what did I find? I was set to speak in a large room, with a high roof, really bad acoustics and to an audience whose size was much better suited to a smaller room.
Needless to say my ego and my nerves were shattered. I tried my best to deliver a class speech. But all I ended up doing was praying for a small hole to climb into or for the time to fly.
So what do I do now?
Not only do I ask the question "What is the size and shape of the room?", I go and see the room for myself. And if I can't, I ask for at least a photo.
3. Will I be speaking from a platform?
This question matters because speaking from a platform usually signals it is a more formal speaking occasion.
If up until now all you have been accustomed to is the informal “talk” standing on the same level of the audience, it is good to discover in advance, that this will be changing.
This now requires you to up your game. You need to be aware of platform etiquette. In particular, you need to be especially sure your appearance is appropriate for the occasion and your speech is well prepared and presented.
Turning up at an event expecting a particular setting and finding another is always disconcerting, unless you're a very experienced speaker. Simple as it may seem, just asking if you will be speaking from a platform and preparing for it, will go a long way to make you confident before you speak.
4. Will a microphone be provided – if so what type?
There is something about a microphone that scares a “young” public speaker. I get this.
The first time I spoke into a microphone, I was very sure that that squeaky, frightened voice which came back to me could not be mine. Not when my usual voice was sultry and sexy.
A cordless mic is another story.
Because of how they have to hook you up with this mic, you had better be wearing the right clothes...for starters. I've had an experience where I had to almost undress to be hooked up with a cordless mic.
Finding what type of microphone you will be using, will go a long way towards reducing your nerves and increasing your confidence before you speak.
What's even better, if you're asked, make sure you choose the one that you're most comfortable with.
5. If I need it – what type of multi-media equipment is available?
So you don't see the value of this question?
Wait until you meet a situation where your computer is not compatible with the projector. Or the versions of the software you use and the ones the organisers have are different. Or you're not even familiar with the latest equipment which the organisers have.
When you turn up to speak and find you’re not familiar with the equipment, this is another off-putting circumstance which undermines your confidence before you speak.
So, do you want to build confidence before you speak? Make “If I need it…what type of multi-media equipment is available?” one of your “must ask” questions.
Are you willing to skyrocket your confidence before your speak?
I know that's a dumb question but I had to ask anyway...
I also know that you're thinking back on all the times when you had to speak and you wished you'd ask these questions.
But don't beat up on yourself. You see, you had no idea that you could begin dealing with your public speaking fears, even before you begin to prepare a speech. You had no idea that the more information you can nail down about the speaking situation before you speak, the more you will reduce your fears .
But I changed that for you.
I have given you 5 questions to ask about the event and 5 more about the venue. These will not only boost your confidence before you speak, they will also signal to the organisers that they have chosen the ultimate professional.
I've shared Julia's story and I have to tell you, she's promised to at least check with me when next she has to deliver a speech.
So what's your next move?
Go ahead and accept your next invitation to speak at an event with enthusiasm. Ask these questions even before you hang up the phone. Embrace this new approach and just max it out.
You will find that you can be confident about speaking after all...