Lessons from public speaking...

lessons for clara

Dearest Clara,

To  be completely honest, I've never been a huge fan of public speaking.  I get nervous.  I tend to have dreams where I worry I forgot what I was going to say — or that I came on the wrong day — or that the audience didn't understand me.  But somehow through my work I tend to find myself presenting a lot — I'm always anxious going into it, but even though it's not my strongest skill, everything seems to turn out okay in the end.  And over the course of these presentations I've learned that:

  • Practice makes perfect: Trite but true.  Figure out a scripting mechanism that works for you and learn your content — practice often, and practice in front of a mirror.  If nothing else, have an introduction and transition to each point you would like to make.  When it comes to speaking, practice pays off.
  • But give yourself a cut off time: There comes a time where more practice and more review and more notes don't help.  Give yourself some space to reset your mind and compose yourself.  Use that time to build your confidence so that you can go into your speech with a clear mind.
  • Speak much more slowly than you think: Trust me, it will sound much faster to everyone else, and it will help you avoid stumbling.
  • Milk coats the throat: A friend who is also an opera singer told me that once, so I always go into a long presentation with a cup of warm milk.  Most people think it's a coffee but really, the milk helps to coat the throat to keep the words coming smoothly.
  • The best presentations feel like conversations: But that doesn't mean they are unscripted.  Good conversations take preparation, and when you ask a question to a public group, make sure you know what the answer you want to hear is in advance.  Think of how you will transition from that answer to your following points.
  • Start strong...remain strong...finish strong: And if you don't start strong, you can still be strong, and finish strong.  And if you don't start strong, or remain strong, you can still finish strong.  Don't let parts of the presentation that didn't go well get you discouraged.  You can always get yourself back up - and people remember the last impressions of a presentation the most.  Make sure your impression counts.

All my love,


[Photo of the lovely Erin Loechner at Alt Summit by Justin Hackworth]