As 2016 Public Speaking World Champion – What would I do if I were to start over?
As I stared hard at the blank piece of paper, one thought kept gnawing at my mind – “How am I supposed to condense the ups and downs of my 15-year Public Speaking journey into a concise article? How do I even begin?”. Just then, a fleeting notion flashed across my mind “If only I was born with the natural flair of a competent writer…”. I smiled. If there is one thing that has been consistently influential to my public speaking success, it would be the ever-present dilemma of “Nature vs. Nurture”. My pen began to move freely on the paper. If I were to start over again…
Before I continue, I believe it would be very presumptuous for me to even suggest that this article contains learning points that will undoubtedly result in winning the World Championship of Public Speaking (year 2016). Instead, what I hope to do, with this article, is to share with you the experiences and takeaways that have shaped me into who I am today. If you find this article relatable or applicable to your ongoing road to success, share it – then it is with great content and certain humility that I believe I have achieved my purpose.
Even A Professional Started Out As A Novice
Before I embarked on my Public Speaking journey, as a reserved individual, I was clearly on the side of “Nature”. Whenever my teacher posted questions to the class, keeping my head down and avoiding eye contact were almost instinctive reactions. As for group projects, I would voluntarily retreat to the back-end role of editing reports and designing slides. Additionally, I found myself constantly overshadowed by the more vocal classmates. Truth be told, I admired them. This further reinforced my then mindset that the courage and ability to speak well are innate. The turning point came when I was 14 years old.
Miss Abey, my then Civics & Moral Education teacher (right above), offered me an opportunity to do a fire safety presentation in front of a class of 40. Up till now, I still cannot comprehend how she convinced me to do it. More importantly, upon the conclusion of my presentation, Miss Abey turned to the class and commented “Class, this is how all of you should present next time!”. That was a life-altering experience. In hindsight, I realised that it was not about whether I had excelled in the oral presentation then. Rather, it was the first step forward that I took beyond my comfort zone that truly mattered.
If I were to describe the aforementioned event as a crack in the floodgates, what really threw the floodgates wide open was another subsequent opportunity (again, afforded by Miss Abey) to speak in front of 120 schoolmates, the English Language Head-of-Department, the Principal and the teacher-in-charge of Debate. Without holding back, I stepped up to the plate once again. What followed was me being shortlisted as a member of the school’s debate team and I have been running my mouth ever since.
At the end of the day, it is crucial to grab the opportunities available to us and push ourselves beyond the limits. It is only by overcoming our fears of stepping beyond our self-circumscribed boundaries and comfort zone that we will be able to ride on the momentum and strive progressively for betterment. Once overcoming the inertia, the next step is to practise diligently. 2001 World Champion of Public Speaking, Darren LaCroix, precisely expressed this principle in his iconic motto: Stage Time, Stage Time, Stage Time.
We gain competency and eventually, mastery, not merely by reading public speaking books and listening to great speeches, but through hours and hours of actual speaking. The art of Public Speaking parallels that of any other sport such as swimming and cycling. You cannot learn swimming or cycling by simply watching someone else do it or by reading a book. You will have to put in the effort; practise it.
Referring back to the dilemma of “Nature vs. Nurture”, indeed, talent coupled with effort results in Public Speaking skills being attained; this is the stage where the disparity is most apparent. However, for these skills to lead to achievements and consequently success, effort is required throughout. In light of this, I would like to leave you with three tips in which you can put in effort into cultivating: 1. Think Positive, 2. Keep A Word Bank & 3. Rehearse And Rehearse.
Tip #1: Think Positive
Wait a minute Darren. Isn’t that too much of a cliché? I hear that all the time. Surely, I am not spending more of my time to learn something that I already know. Indeed, it is true that many of us have heard of this piece of advice “Think Positive”. However, how many of us really understood the impact it brings instead of the lip service most people proffer? How many of us actually know how to think positive? And how many of us actually believe in it or have seen it in action?
Allow me now to illustrate with a quick exercise that you can try in the comfort of your own home. Ready a stopwatch. For the next one minute, think of nothing but a Blue Elephant. Think about the size, the contours, and the intensity of the colour of the blue elephant that you have just conjured in your mind. When the time is up, I want you now to close your eyes and think of anything else other than the Blue Elephant; not even for a split second. Do so for one minute. What is the result? Are you able to keep the image of the blue elephant away from your mind? It is nigh-impossible!
The reason behind this phenomenon is that our brain is a fascinating organ. It is capable of remembering things and not forgetting even for as short a period of time as one minute. Imagine the cumulative minutes and hours, sometimes even days, months or years that we fixate on negative thoughts. It will translate into reality!
As the famous saying goes, “An Act to a Habit…a Habit to a Character…and a Character to a Destiny”. Thus, it is important to visualise positive things instead of negative ones. You would not want the negative thoughts to stick like the image of the blue elephant.
Suppose, you tell yourself “I shall not forget my lines on stage”; “I shall not tremble with nervousness when I am on stage”; “I shall not trip over the words that I use in front of my boss”. More often than not, the outcome is that you WILL forget your lines on stage and et cetera. Scientific research have shown that when we feed our mind with a “negative” such as “Do NOT”, it will omit the word “NOT” and instruct the body to perform the act that you least desired to occur. As such, the solution I would like to proffer is to phrase things in the positive. Instead of saying “I will NOT trip over my words”, say “I will speak smoothly”. Instead of saying “I will NOT forget the lines”, say “I will remember my lines”.
Therefore, the first habit of a highly effective public speaker/ story-teller is to think positive as that will translate into positive acts, leading to positive outcomes. Of course, on top of changing the words you use from the negative to the positive, there is another technique that you can employ to ensure greater speaking success, corporate meeting & presentation, social networking and job interviews. Prior to the event itself, visualise yourself completing your speech. Picture yourself doing so, in a confident fashion. Picture the smiles on the faces of your audience; and picture the desired outcome being fulfilled. Echoing the words of Andrew Matthews, international bestselling author of the book Being Happy!: “Your mind is a magnet; you attract what you think”.
Tip #2: Keep A Word Bank
You recall when you were young, your English Language teacher had probably advised you to keep a book or notepad documenting all the new words that you have learnt. It could be words on a sign that you found interesting or one which your classmate used in show-and-tell session. Likewise, World Champions of Public Speaking exhibit a common habit – they have a bank to store words, phrases, sentences, funny anecdotes or quotes that they have encountered. This could happen while travelling to work or even shopping for groceries. Over the years, you will find your bank deposits accumulating substantially that will serve you well in your professional speaking career. It is a conscientious effort that you have to execute religiously. Good speech materials will not be able to pop up overnight. They have to be accumulated.
The entire point of documenting the word or phrase or story in your bank is so that you have a powerful and diverse source to tap your winning speech materials from. Of course, I can almost hear you exclaiming in your mind aloud “Ah, but didn’t you just say that captivating stories are understandably memorable? I can most certainly remember them. I have a good memory.”. Well…you are quite right.
However, barring the possession of an eidetic memory, it is quite impossible for you to remember every single intriguing occurrence for the past 10 years and it might be too late for you to try and recall it the day before your presentation. As the famous Chinese saying goes “Even the faintest pencil mark is superior to the best memory”. Hence, always remember to have your Bank with you no matter where you go.
Tip #3: Rehearse And Rehearse
The hallmark of an excellent speech is that it can be executed even with eyes blindfolded and ears muffled. Not easy at all. Multi-fold rehearsing is essential. As the saying goes “Practice makes Perfect”. However, what is not often advised is the proper and most effective way of rehearsing your speech prior to your actual presentation. There are three prominent points that you can note:
Firstly, make sure you have your speech written out – word for word (as what I am doing now). Understandably, your natural reaction would be that such methodology is counter-intuitive especially after what we have been indoctrinated since young with the constant reminder: Never ever write your speech in prose. Always do it in point form. However, penning down your speech allows you to exercise the economy of words where the pain-staking and meticulous arrangement of words will enhance the strength in the delivery of the core speech message. Additionally, although this may just be a personal opinion of mine, I feel that hand-writing your speech adds a bit more poignancy to it.
Secondly, ensure that you have an experienced and reliable mentor with you to provide you with feedback at every phase of your preparation. Your mentor will help to accelerate your learning curve by sharing with you areas for improvement such that you avoid tried and tested but ineffective aspects. Getting a good mentor is a discernible pattern amongst the many World Champions of Public Speaking.
Thirdly, remember the time when you heard some speech guru advised you to practise your speech in front of the mirror? By and large, that is useful as it heightens your awareness of your flaws and it is always more potent to observe your own flaws first-hand. Be that as it may, practising or rehearsing in front of a mirror is not the best idea as you have to take the conscious effort of looking at yourself in front of the mirror without having the space to take on more exaggerated body language. Thus, the best solution is for you to invest in a video camera and video-tape your performance. By video-taping your own performance, you can review your entire performance to study the appropriateness of your body language for subsequent fine-tuning.
Extra Tip: What if, despite effective rehearsals, I happen to forget my speech halfway?
There may still be times when you are unable to locate your next piece of presentation content. The ability to carve out a secure space for you to review your materials is a key component of creating your routine for handling such mental barriers. With the help of “respectful transitions”, you may continue to make valid points for your audience while giving your audience an honest and sincere response.
Start your ‘respectful transition’, for instance, with a recognition or apology and then restate how important your issue is. For instance, you may say, “I do apologise as I seem to have lost my train of thought. Let me reiterate that the goal of today’s discussion is…” Next, describe how you will present the “blocked” point and the action plan, for example, “I’ll need to quickly check my materials, but once we’re done with that, we’ll investigate…“. To wrap it out, ensure that you’re still committed and provide reassurance to your audience!
WATCH: “Mental Block!? Here’s How You Can STILL IMPRESS When Your Mind Goes Blank!”
To wrap up my speech…
There is a whole host of factors involved in moulding a successful Public Speaker. I would like to conclude by sharing not yet another controllable factor, but an uncontrollable one – Fortuity (i.e. luck). I was fortunate to be furnished with speaking opportunities at the budding stage. I was fortunate to be showered with guidance and encouragement in the Toastmasters family. I was fortunate to compete with strong fellow district champions. I was fortunate to receive much-cherished guidance from my mentor, Ed Tate (2000 WCPS). Putting luck aside, I hope the tips shared above will be that spark you are looking for to ignite your public speaking/ presentation/ communication success!
If you’re keen on going through the signature presentation skills training courses that I have designed:
Click for more about our (weekly group classes) Public Speaking Courses for Adults
Click for more about our (2-day) public speaking/ presentation course for adults
Click for more about our (weekly group classes) Public Speaking Course for Kids / Children