I STILL remember my first ‘proper’ public speaking gig. It was at The Dorchester, London, on a stage, complete with lighting and sound system, in front of a 400-strong audience.

I hadn’t asked for this gig. It was pretty much thrust upon me by my job back then. I found out only a matter of days before, so had precious little time to prepare and, what was even worse, the event was being filmed and live streamed across the globe.

The stage where I cut my teeth as a speaker.
The stage where I cut my teeth as a speaker – the ballroom of The Dorchester Hotel, London. Nothing like being thrown in at the deep end!

I was to act as compere for an awards event, alongside a celebrity host. I’d have to come up with a script and stand at a podium. And I’d have to do this in front of hundreds of people who knew me, by reputation if not in person.

I remember practising in front of a mirror over and over again. I remember trying to pace myself. I remember getting up on that stage, in full evening dress and heels, my then long hair primped, curled and bouffanted to within an inch of its life. Did I mention the heels?

I remember being assured that I wouldn’t see many faces because of the lighting, then looking down from the stage into a sea of anticipating eyes. Whoever tried to reassure me about a lack of vision from the stage was fibbing!

I remember taking a sip of water and trying to calm the tremble in my hands and – worse – the tremble in my voice. Smile. Make eye contact. Breathe. Pause. Slow down. No, speed up. No, slow down again. Stop looking at your watch! Breathe!

Positive feedback

Suffice to say, I got through it, and I had really positive feedback but, as my own worst critic, I cringed when I watched the footage… the footage that was still being hosted online for all to see. I watched it over and over again. I saw how I needed to learn to manage my pace, I heard the occasional wobble in my voice, I saw how much ‘perfection pressure’ I was piling on top of myself, and how much this added to my nerves.

My first speaking gig was a baptism by fire – and it was one of the best learning and development experiences a speaker could ask for.

Whatever the size or demograph of your audience, each one is just as important as the last. These are they people who’ll provide word of mouth testimonials for you and encourages others to book your time.

UK’s #1 Inspirational Breakthrough Speaker (it says so on my website, so it must be true)

I’ve evolved a lot since then – grown, honed and improved. I’ve spoken to audiences at major venues such as the NEC and Olympia, through to big outdoor festivals, sport stadiums, corporate events and smaller gatherings such as business groups and community organisations. There’s no fear now. I absolutely love public speaking, so much so that I now coach others to do the same.

11 changes I made to unleash my awesome

Here’s what’s changed since that first gig was thrust upon me… 11 changes I’ve made to unleash my awesome as a speaker. They might help you too:

1. I no longer speak when I’m told to, about topics I have no desire to address. I’m now self employed, in charge of my own destiny, and absolutely in control of when and where I choose to speak, and what about.

2. I no longer speak to a script. I don’t even use prompt cards. I’ll have a handful of points in mind and the rest of the presentation flows around those. Flow, for me, is absolutely key – I don’t want to be prescriptive and tied to the rigidity of a script. If I know my subject well enough, I should be able to just get up there and do my stuff.

3. I like to properly engage with my audience – I prefer to work with the energy in the room and adapt my presentation accordingly. This, for me, is the biggest issue with scripting and prepping to a brain-based idea of perfection. I can’t be in flow and working with my audience if I’m obsessing over sticking to a script. Good public speaking is as much about heart and instinct as it is about sticking to topic. Have an outline to work within, but don’t paint yourself into a prison of perceived perfection.

4. I no longer wear heels! I dress for comfort and to be on brand. My brand usually includes jeans, trainers, a t-shirt (one of my own design ones – usually with something positive on it!) and either a smart jacket or one of my branded ones. Sometimes that smart jacket is one of the pinstripes from my corporate days – it’s a nice anchor and a talking point… a throwback from the days of golden shackles, coupled with my ‘freedom’ uniform of jeans and a tee! Whatever your personal brand is, be comfortable in your own skin.

5. I still put lots of effort into preparation, but in a very different way. There’s no speaking in front of a mirror or worrying about the lighting!

I now research my audience as much as possible, get a feel for what might switch them on, create engagement and be useful for them long after I’ve left the stage. I spend time visualising the event, playing the presentation out in my mind, tweaking and adjusting where needbe – and it’s not just about the words I’ll be using; it’s about energy, flow and authenticity.

By the time the event rolls around, I’ll have played it out in so many different ways I’ll have a good idea of what to expect, my confidence is solid and I won’t be afraid to switch direction on the spot and work directly with my audience. Two way conversations are just as important – even if I’m the one on the stage.

6. Podiums. They’re useful to put a glass of water on, but I no longer stand rigidly behind them. I move about quite a lot when I’m speaking – it keeps the energy flowing. If anyone here has done NLP, those floor anchors can work wonders too!

7. I’m far more at ease with being flexible – if something isn’t working, or the energy in the room is dipping, it’s the speaker’s responsibility to notice that and do something about it! In fact, it’s down to the speaker to make sure that energy doesn’t take a nose dive in the first place. Another black mark in the rigid script column!

8. I’m me! I speak about things I have direct experience of, that I can speak about with heart and authenticity and move people with. If I don’t believe in it, the audience won’t believe in me.

A lot of the stuff I talk about comes from really personal breakthrough stuff – my best material comes from life; I sometimes refer back to escaping an abusive relationship, or changing my life after breaking my back, or how my breakdown turned out to be a breakTHROUGH, or how I leapt from the safety of a high-flying corporate career into the unknown of self employment to follow my dreams. I keep it real and I’m not afraid to go deep and to show my vulnerability.

Every life in that room is real. Every life in that room has the potential to be touched, helped, healed or encouraged by my words, and – for me – it would be an insult to just spout cliched motivational quotes that have been used a gazillion times before, or churn out the same old ‘rags to riches’ story every third motivational speaker resorts to. Be real. Be you. Be true.

9. I know that energy is always on tap for me to pull on and inject into my presentations and I know how to access it.

10. I enjoy it. Every moment. From that quivering editor propelled onto a stage she didn’t want and wasn’t ready for has emerged a woman with a real story who absolutely loves public speaking. And you know what? If I can learn to love it, you can too!

11. Self belief is crucial. That’s why, for me, I only speak about topics I know inside out and/or feel passionately about. And if you’ve reached the point where you want to start getting paid for your gigs, you need to know who you are and be able to communicate that confidently.

UK’s #1 Inspirational Breakthrough Speaker? Where did that come from? It’s not a ‘real’ title – it’s one I made up and claimed; people kept referring to me as inspirational, both in media coverage and in person, as well as referring to the breakthroughs I was facilitating for people… I just put them together and created a niche that didn’t exist before. Guess what? People started to refer to me using those words and more bookings came in on the back of that.

Look at what happened when Brad Burton started referring to himself as the UK’s #1 Motivational Business Speaker. Same thing. Work out what your niche is, what you’re good at, then go all out. Just be sure you have the knowledge and ability to fill the giant shoes you’re creating. Believe in yourself and dominate that niche.

Need some inspiration? Check out the speaker agency I’m assigned to – www.SpeakerSeeker.biz – you’ll see every speaker on the books has a speaker headline/nickname that matches their area of expertise. What would yours be? Use it!



PS: You might notice that this blog has been updated to include 11 points, rather than the original 10. I like to come back and share more Inspiration with you when it hits. You’re welcome.

Leave a Reply