I'm still scared of speaking in public

It must be around 4 years ago I first heard about Chaucer Speakers Club. I remember a man named Jim visited the BNI group I’d set up and gave a very confident and clear presentation. He spoke of his involvement with the Chaucer Speakers Club as a place where anyone can visit to learn ways of improving their presentations. You can deduce how well presented that 60 seconds was as I remembered it until I met Jim again when he joined Rotary at the same time as me in March this year.

Last week Jim gave a presentation to our Rotary club on what makes Jim, Jim. He bought with him 3 visitors and those visitors made notes throughout his presentation to give him constructive criticism at a later date. He brought 3 people just to criticise him speaking on a subject he should know well? Yes, and they all came from the speakers club.

So, 4 years after meeting Jim I joined him tonight for a Speakers Club meeting. About a dozen of us met in the Kent and Canterbury Club and I must say it was a very refreshing meeting. There were 3 people prepared for long presentations of around 7 minutes. I say prepared, two were prepared in advance and with specific goals of achievement, for example, one had to present a topic with humour. However, one person had the unenviable task of presenting for 7 minutes on a topic she was to be told just 10 minutes in advance.

After these three had spoken, another three members gave a critique of each presentation. Stating the goals, highlighting good and bad within each part, the critique was like a presentation in it’s own right. Then a short interval and some 2 or 3 minute presentations on a topic given on the spur of the moment. Geoff (who is also a Rotarian with Jim and I) acted as compare nimbly starting a theme of music then responding to details within each presentation to create the next topic. For me (he had asked me if I wanted to speak on a topic before hand, and despite the fact I force myself to do it so often I still have a fear of presenting things) he said in his booming orators voice, “I recently discovered that the Whitstable Players are having trouble recruiting songsters,… Steve, ..tell us why you haven’t yet joined.”.

I thought I made quite a good start. Everyone else had a formal introduction..”Mr Topic Chairman, Speakers, …” and on they went. I figured that I already had an introduction with Geoff’s question and beside I had no idea what title’s were being used so having stood, I looked at some of my audience and went straight in with “Perhaps the reason I haven’t joined the Whitstable Players that I’d never heard of them until now. Now I know about them they’ll have to join a long line of things waiting for me to do. Jim invited me to the Chaucer speakers club some 6 years ago…..”. No one knew the 6 years was an on the spot over estimate and Jim never corrected them (though I guess my impression on him at that meeting was far less than his impression on me!).

I continued into describing my first presentation, which was really a Christmas reading in front of the High Sherif of Kent and how, as I read that for the first time, my knees shook so much I could feel both sides of each trouser leg and how I had begged to do the reading again they year after so I could do it better. I said how I have to work on something until I truly understand it and that I couldn’t join the players until I have some other things completed. I finished with a sentence something along the lines of “On the subject of presentations, I still have to learn to speak slower.”. And then sat down to polite applause.

After everyone had spoken on a topic, a member gave a review of each presentation. I was quite correct that I speak to fast – it’s a known flaw that I’ve been working on for years.

At the end of the meeting another member gave a critique on the meeting as a whole. Picking up things both good and bad with the way the chair had run the meeting, how the critique of the 3 minute topics took 13 minutes when the member knows the goal is to critique in 7 minutes. Analysis was on the verge of over analysis yet at the same time was full of gems, not just “That was poor”, “That was poor because….. try…..instead”. Really useful things to have as feedback. Things in a lot of company people just wont tell you for fear of offending.

It was so refreshing to see the whole meeting honestly review itself in different ways. Some very accomplished speakers were plying their trade. They knew they were good but they were seeking out ways of being better. No skill in life is easy and this club is like a training ground for speakers as a football player will practice penalty shots.

At the end I got more feedback from Suzie who reviewed all the mini topics. In addition to speed, when pushed she identified a limited vocal range. Going so fast also gave me little time to make full use of gestures. This nugget in itself might help me slow down – ensuring a gesture is put to full and good effect. I also found out that of my 2 minute target time (they gave the new boy a smaller target) I spoke for exactly 1 minute and 48 seconds. Not bad! Especially as I didn’t look at their traffic light timing system as no one had explained it to me. It would have been too much to think of anyway.

All in all this was a great meeting to have been to. Everyone supportive, a real fellowship of self improvement at work. Oh, I haven’t mentioned the several hundred page binder they have which sets the challenges and the skills to work on. Turning the art of presenting into a science of subtle but definitive objects.

On reflection, I’m still scared of speaking in public, but I’m better at speaking than kicking a football – The difference is just where I’ve been training myself.