I sat in my little metal folding chair absolutely petrified. My hands were sweaty, my posture slumped, and I couldn't hear a word the presenter was saying. All my faculties were consumed with the fear of my impending doom.
What was so downright terrifying?
I was about to give my first official public presentation.
I was eighteen years old and an engineering co-op student at General Motors. More for our benefit than anything else, at the end of each semester we co-op students were required to give a presentation of our work assignment and accomplishments that term. They were horrid affairs, to be sure, with a dim little old-fashioned bulb-type overhead projector, and amateur flimsies comprised of lots of really unimportant information. One by one each victim would get up and grind through a horrid three minutes. Soon, it would be my turn.
My memory blanks out at this point. Perhaps it's some sort of protection mechanism, the kind of thing that eliminates our past tragedies from memory or at least preserves our self-image by refusing to remind us of what dorks we once were! At any rate, I can't recall one detail about that presentation except for how scared I was beforehand.
It didn't go away any time soon, either. Year after year we'd go through the same drill and I'd be wigged-out-scared each time.
Fast forward to today, where I basically make my living speaking in front of audiences around the world. I give somewhere around 50 public talks a year, and have been doing so (and often more) for almost 20 years. Now, I don't even break a sweat. I am not only NOT scared by speaking in public, I actually relish each moment!
First, the proverbial "time on the water." Anything we do a lot will eventually become comfortable. Notice I said "comfortable." Just because we ultimately get comfortable at doing something that previously scared us to death, however, doesn't mean we actually get good at doing it!
To become good at public speaking, I've learned (and continue to learn) that one has to accomplish several things. I've written and spoken a lot on this elsewhere, so for this short article I'll just condense it into a nice little jingle taken from the world-famous smash hit song, Old MacDonald, as in, "Had a farm." We all know how the next part goes: "E - I - E - I - O!"
Let's use that little bit of wisdom in the form of an acrostic (I know, I know, I hate acrostics, but this one was just too cute and memorable not to do! Give me a little slack here, sheesh.)
E = Educate - this means to teach the audience something they didn't know before. It should be a good reminder to deliver real content, something valuable, insightful, helpful, or profound.
I = Illustrate - this is one of the most important things to remember; you haven't told them until you've shown them. Use stories and illustrations to drive points home.
E = Entertain - if you don't make it fun, it won't be memorable. Worse, if you don't keep their attention, they won't even hear enough to remember any of it anyway. So be entertaining, engaging, and fun.
I = Inspire - this is where the emotional component comes in. Remember: the difference between being articulate and eloquent is passion. Eloquent speakers share their passion as much as their information.
O = Outcome - What action do you want the audience to take as a result of your talk? If you don't give them marching orders, you can be sure they won't march anywhere other than away from your podium.
There are millions of little, simple guides like this one, but I have to make the case that this little jingle from Old MacDonald just might be the most memorable. I hope it is. And I sincerely hope that when you next have the opportunity to speak in front of people, you think of this little acrostic and don't just have the jingle running through your head (because that would be annoying).
"And on this farm he had some chicks . . . "