The fear of public speaking is a common one - and it’s an art few master with ease. Yet being able to captivate an audience is a crucial skill. Addressing a crowd, big or small, is likely to happen in your life or career at least once. Whether it is a pitch, presentation or best man speech, presenting with panache can be decisive. The difference between a good pitch or a bad one can mean investment or bust, respect or ridicule, progress or stagnation. It can take time to develop, but there are some principles to help you present yourself convincingly. And that’s where Simon comes in.
Simon Bucknall is the author of The Best Man Speaker, a professional public speaker and coach, whose mission is to help people deliver the best business pitch to the greatest best man speech. He is also a regular mentor at the Chivas Venture Accelerator Week. Returning for his second year, on Tuesday 14th March, Simon will address 30 of the brightest entrepreneurs from all over the world, as they begin their Chivas Venture journeys. His workshop, which takes place at the Skoll Centre at the University of Oxford, is designed to help them prepare for the road ahead and the live pitch event in Los Angeles, in July.
Last week we caught up with Simon, who gave us some handy tips on public speaking and recalled how one of last year’s Chivas Venture finalists brought a tear to his eye.
You’ve been involved with the Chivas Venture for a couple of years. What do you enjoy about the competition?
The diversity and energy of the entrepreneurs is a key thing. They’re from all over the world. There’s such a desire to make things happen.
Of the past competitors is there a pitch that has really stuck in the memory?
Last year, Wakami’s Maria Pacheco, from Guatemala, was one of the very few pitches I’ve ever heard where the emotional impact brought me to tears. It wasn’t because it was a sob story, it was just the sheer emotional intensity of her and their vision for households in Guatemala. It was the concept of a house, with a window and a garden, and children playing outside. It was so moving, consolidated by the fact I have young children myself. It connected with me on a personal and professional level. The best pitches will always find a way to connect on a deep seated emotional level. You can tell when a speaker is sincere and that is very powerful.
Public speaking is an artform, what is your one, must have tip?
Remember that the speech, the pitch, the presentation, whatever you call it, should be for the benefit of the audience not the speaker. It’s that simple. Audiences have such a sensitive antenna they can detect if the speaker is self indulgent, if it’s fake or if they are preoccupied with how important they are. But a speaker who is there to genuinely be of value to an audience, that comes before anything else.
How do you overcome the fear of public speaking?
For starters imagining the audience naked is risky. One of the most valuable things you can do physically before you go up to speak is to take some slow, deep, quality breaths. Good breathing is key because it helps to settle the adrenaline and calm the body. Nerves, in the end, are the symptom of adrenaline. It can be managed, it can’t be eliminated but it can be managed.
Is there a sense many people address public speaking the wrong way, that essentially you’re telling a story?
The idea of what the story or the journey you want to take the audience on is a great way to think about it. It’s something that is often missed especially in workplace presentations where people tend to get bogged down in the manuchi of data and the factual evidence. Stepping back from the content and think, “what’s this presentation or speech really about?’’. One of the first questions I ask people I’m working with is “what is the change you want?” The answer to that questions sets up a journey. It’s not about what content you want to cover.
You got into public speaking after a speech went wrong. What went so wrong?
It was my leaving drinks for my first job. It was just horrible. I was breathless, shaky, my mind was racing, hot face, flushes. I literally forgot to breath properly. I ended up hyperventilating over a table. I forgot to breath out, I just kept breathing in.
Why is public speaking so intimidating to most people?
Format wise it’s unusual. You’ve got a crowd of people all listening to you rather than say a group of people around a dinner table. Secondly, the big issue is that people subconsciously assume that when they’re speaking in public it’s all about them. It’s me in the dock with a judge and jury looking at me and it’s not that, it’s about the audience.
Your book is called The Best Man Speaker, why is a best man speech something that is so easy to get wrong?
Because traditionally there is such pressure on the best man to be funny. Especially in relation to the best man and his friends. That pressure to be funny that is placed on the shoulders of best men who often don’t have experience of speaking in public can result in some very strange things. It’s one of the catchphrases of my book, “no best man gave a great speech by making the friends laugh and the bride’s parents cry.” And in the worst case none of the friends laugh and the bride’s parents still cry.
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