Billal Jamil Director at Public Speaking Academy writes about his personal lessons after getting through two contests to reach a Division Area Speaking Contest final.
I toyed with titling this article ‘Sour Grapes!’ as it is based on insights from losing at a speaking contest to some very witty, vibrant and polished speakers and speeches. (I was not bitter!) Ironically both two and four weeks before the contest the same words had been attributed to me for my winning performances on two consecutive competitions.
‘So, what happened in the third round?’
Was it the level of competition, was it nerves, performance anxiety or something deeper. I know from my own reflections and feedback from fellow professionals that I was not quite myself. I sounded slightly flat, slightly distracted and my impact was significantly less that before. One of my colleagues described it as ‘going through the motions’ compared to the zeal of the exact same speech in the previous contests.
I wanted to share this not because writing about it is therapeutic (it may well be!) but because the valuable insights I gained are applicable to any speaking professional – whether you are a speaking student, a training professional or a business leader – this is a lesson that can help you make the shift in the way you speak and give you that critical edge.
For those who present daily you will know that there are days when you present brilliantly and days when you are simply not able to get in to the groove no matter what you seem to do. Imagine being able to flick a switch and move in to ‘the zone’ – useful? This mega tip provides an insight in to what happened at the contest finals but also what can give your speech extra edge at any time – the consistency that every professional should aim for.
Desperate to understand what had happened I sat down for a post event drink with fellow speakers, reflecting on the event but also quizzing others for their feedback. One of my colleagues asked; “what if you had been thrown something random off the wall to speak about?” – She looked at me and said ‘speak about that orange juice in your hand!’ Looking at the glass I was holding I started to deliver an instantaneous impromptu speech. My eyes lit up – (it is my speaking specialism, an area we embed in to all public speaking academy courses). I proceeded to deliver an inspirational speech about childhood experience, vivid descriptions of pouring orange juice in to cups and freezing it, with the excitement, anticipation and impatience of the resulting lolly pop for those long summer holidays!
Meanwhile the group had stopped talking and everyone was sat captivated by my animated and authentic speech, I was truly alive, truly engaged and in the moment! I then got the: ‘Why the hell didn’t you do that an hour ago!”
When sharing the orange juice story, vivid memories arose that evoked emotions and all the senses within me. The excitement I experienced was real and lit up my own expressions and body language, my tone, rhythm and quality of delivery all instantly transformed. I reflected how could we capture that advantage as speakers, every time you present?
Lead yourself first and others can then follow
Whilst the competition speech had great content, meaning and structure – Having repeated the speech I had lost my fascination with the memory. I was more focused on sticking to time and ensuring I covered all the material with the techniques I know well. Effectively I had stopped being inside the story and consequently my delivery was losing the authentic edge, the twinkle, the charisma that is normally so hard to define.
By shifting inside the story you are aligned with your story, you are present and in the moment. In fact ensuring you experience your own speech and your message is MORE important than getting your audience to understand it. As a speaker you are a leader and whatever you experience will show and influence what others feel. We know this from watching entertainers and performers, the masters always appear to be in that moment 100% and consequently we as the audience follow the speaker.
So know what triggers within your talk actually genuinely excite you, find the moments that act as these triggers and really delve in to them. When you start doing this frequently it eventually becomes second nature and will genuinely transform not just how you are perceived but how you are feeling in response to your own speech which gives you a huge advantage over other presenters.
In fact it reminds me of what my great Speaking mentor Trevor Hall CBE said:
‘when you are tired of your speech, your speech must be retired…’
words worth reflecting on.