I work in web marketing and social media for Alltech. A couple of years ago I was building a website for a conference we were hosting for dairy and beef farmers. I was surprised to see my name on the agenda. I had been drafted to give a talk on social media for farmers to an audience of about 500 people and I knew that it was pretty crucial that I did well. I took a deep breath and decided that I would be great, I would not allow myself to be nervous. No problem.
Public Speaking Tip #1: Don’t wet your pants!
I had to stop for a minute to remember the last time I gave a presentation. It must have been in graduate school. I had to speak at a large geology conference. I went to the bathroom right before my talk and as I washed my hands I leaned against the edge of the countertop. There was a puddle on that countertop just waiting for some idiot to get too close. It immediately soaked into the front of my pants. I don’t remember anything else I learned at that conference but I do remember that lesson on capillary action.
Public Speaking Tip #2: Get some guinea pigs!
I wanted to make sure I was well prepared for the dairy and beef conference. Creating a presentation is tricky because there are so many things you could say but you have to whittle it down into a cohesive story.
You can spend days or weeks tinkering with your slides, leaving yourself no time to practice. Even if I have time to practice I can’t do it in an empty room. I babble and stutter incoherently, revising each sentence three or four times. I had a co-presenter for this talk which gave me a guinea pig and forced me to practice with an audience.
When it came time and I was waiting to go up on the stage I was sure I had succeeded in talking myself out of being nervous. I felt ready. I started off strong, I switched to my second slide, I looked at the audience. My body did not know that I had decided not to be nervous. My throat started to tighten up a little bit and I began (at least in my head) to sound like a little girl. I hoped no one noticed.
Public Speaking Tip #3: Don’t lock your knees!
I was standing pretty close to the stage with my weight on my right leg. I began to regret that. When my right leg heard the change in my voice it decided to start shaking. It was doing its own little Elvis impersonation. I hoped no one noticed.
After the talk I got several positive (and unsolicited) comments. No one said I sounded like a little girl or that my leg shook like Elvis’ leg. Maybe I did pretty well. I got the second or third highest rating on the attendee survey. Not bad.
I have given several presentations since then and have really grown to like it. This summer I was once again asked to speak at our conference for dairy and beef farmers. It had grown to 700 farmers, my biggest audience yet. I wasn’t nervous but I wanted to make sure that I didn’t sound like a little girl so as I waited for the previous speaker to finish I walked around the adjacent room trying to be as big and tall as possible. I had seen a TED talk that explained how simply being big (power posing) could reduce stress.
Public Speaking Tip #4: Sing What’s So Funny About Peace Love and Understanding.
I also wanted to open up my lungs, slow myself down and make my voice deep. I decided to sing “What’s So Funny About Peace Love and Understanding” in my best Elvis Costello voice. Luckily the sound guy had my microphone muted. I got some funny looks but it worked really well. If anything I spoke a little more slowly than I needed to.
Public Speaking Tip #5: Have your audience give someone a big round of applause.
During my talk I gave a shout out to Dairy Carrie for winning AgChat’s Social Media Farmer of the Year award. She was sitting in the audience and I asked them to give her a round of applause. My boss was off to the side discussing something with the event organizer. He heard the applause and asked the organizer why they were clapping for me. The organizer wasn’t sure either and replied that I must be very good. Surely there were some farmers who were daydreaming when I mentioned Dairy Carrie and also thought I must have said something brilliant.
Thanks to Ryan Goodman of Agriculture Proud for writing a really nice blog post about my talk at Global 2014. If you would like to kill twenty minutes watching the video of my presentation you can find it here.