Review of our First Presentation Skills Course in Red Magazine
(Red Magazine, July 2004)
SELF-HELP FOR CYNICS
So what's your problem? Whether you dread speaking in public or just want to get a date, there's someone willing to solve it - for a fee. We sent three intrepid writers to find out if self-help really works...
"I want to speak in public confidently" ... Tory Young
It’s not that I’m phobic about public speaking, exactly. Just that when I so much as think about standing in front of a room full of expectant faces, all the saliva in my mouth disappears, I start to blush furiously, and my hands hang heavy and motionless.
So, because I don’t want to spoil my best friend’s wedding, at which I’m due to give a speech next month, I decide to take the matter in hand and get some help.
After a trawl of the Internet, I choose the First Presentation Skills course run by Skillstudio. Held in a business centre in central London, the day-long workshop promises to equip the novice public speaker with confidence, the ability to make an impact with their audience, and – most importantly – the route to conquering nerves.
When I arrive, my five partners in public speaking for the day are already there: two men and three women. As the day unfolds, I learn that two are on the course to help promote their own businesses, one is preparing to sell real estate on the Costa Blanca, and two need to learn to give presentations for new jobs. We sit in a nervous circle while Liz Banks, an accomplished public speaker and our trainer, talks us through the day ahead.
After some ball-throwing games to break the ice (cringey but effective), we take it in turns to stand in front of the group to introduce ourselves. As I get up for my turn, I feel my pulse speed up, my palms get sweaty and all the blood in my body rush to my cheeks. I garble my words and speak too quietly but I’m incapable of doing anything else.
Liz talks us through some nerve-calming devices. Tongue twisters to warm up the mouth, deep breaths to pace yourself, and a deliberate pause before speaking all really help, she says. Of course, none of these are rocket science, but when we take turns to try out her suggestions, they are surprisingly effective.
Body language is also key. I’m inclined to slouch on one hip and I instinctively put my hands behind my back: advertisements that you are feeling nervous, apparently. The trick is to stand upright, hands by your sides; the optimum position for conveying confidence. The answer to “what on earth do I do with my hands?” is: use them. Punctuating your words with open movements animates and emphasises your point. Smiling helps, too, as does walking around your space, which makes you feel and look as if you own it.
The other sign of a good speaker is eye contact with individuals in the audience (though not for more than three seconds, which counts as staring). It is a nerve-wracking thing to do, but some more circle exercises reveal just how effective it can be in engaging your audience.
We all come with a topic for a five-minute presentation. To help us structure them, Liz hands us three different forms that will break up the presentation into three parts.
The first gives a series of suggestions on how to make a “strong opening”. An outline of the points you will make creates “signposts” to help the audience navigate your talk and stop them from getting bored.
The other two sections concentrate on “keeping a clear focus” and “creating a strong ending”. It sounds very formulaic – and it is – but it’s also a great way of avoiding that terrible flailing feeling.
After a few more exercises, it’s time to give our final presentation to the group. Watching everyone in turn, I’m amazed at the degree to which we’ve improved.
And, to my surprise, when my turn comes, I actually enjoy it. I find that putting some of the tips we have learnt into practice works wonders. I feel like I am in charge of the situation, rather than hurtling along on a one-woman trip to verbal oblivion. I even find myself ad-libbing a few jokes.
I leave feeling quietly confident about my new persona as a public speaker. I’m even looking forward to doing my speech at the wedding next month. And in the meantime, I’ve put the word about on the circuit that my services are available as an after-dinner-speaker – for a small fee, of course.
(By Tory Young. Reprinted from pages 79-80 of RED Magazine, July 2004)
Liz, Alison, David, Julia, Chris, Neal, Mike, Sandra, Sally and Steve