On public speaking and facing big audiences

I used to consider public speaking as terrifying and I was the girl who would panic and stutter and seem to not know what she’s talking about… I used to be scared that I am not knowledgeable enough to speak to a big audience and that I will make a mistake and people will laugh at me… Very real fears that would result in a nervous ball in my stomach just before I have to speak…

Recently, I realised that I have found a rather unusual way of combating these fears of public speaking and talking to audiences of many unknown faces. I go and dance, that’s right, I dance my anxiety and fears away. So Wednesdays are my dancing days when I get together with a group of dedicated Bulgarian traditional dancer wannabes and we have a bit of fun. We were invited to an event in February to perform a short dance and a few more invitations and performances followed shortly after the first one.

Since then I have noticed a huge difference in my attitude towards public speaking and an actual result is also there: last Monday I spoke about my research in terms of stakeholders, issues and possible strategies to overcome the issues, to a group of ESRC funded students! I was quite calm and collected even though I had to prepare the little talk in a rush and I only met the rest of the students a few hours earlier.

What is it that makes dancing so special for me and my public speaking skills? Here it goes:

  • I use dancing in front of a big audience to prepare me for conferences and presenting. Anything over 50 people would do… and I find it great to be the centre of attention and to realise the potential I’ve got measured in the eyes staring at me (and the rest of the dancers). Public speaking is about having to say something and if you are there, you certainly have what to say, managing anxiety appropriately can actually make you enjoy the moment.
  • While dancing I can practice the skill of making appropriate eye contact – I face the audience and get used to watch the faces, trying to locate some faces that seem more interested. Then I sweep the room with my eyes, then a 3 second focused look.  Eye contact is important when you speak, it’s about contacting and reaching the audience which certainly makes the talk more engaging. After all, enthusiasm is infectious, isn’t it?!
  • I’m not afraid of making mistakes as much because by making mistakes on stage I sort of trained myself to think in the spirit that all goes smoothly if I remain calm. Furthermore, the mistake is done, if it can’t be prevented, focus on being positive about it, it’s a learning experience. Also don’t forget that the show must go on and it’s the impact of the whole presentation that is remembered longer (I think and hope!).
  • In my case, dancing does magic with my anxiety, being on stage feels like it’s my little moment to shine and smile, so I am now doing presentation in the same manner.
  • Dancing in front of an audience has had a very positive impact on me – I always want more! This increases my motivation to do better and to learn on the go so I simply get more opportunities to get on stage. It’s a bit like this with public speaking I suppose. There’s an old saying in Bulgarian that ‘appetite comes with eating’. Simple and true for presentations as well, the more you do, the more you want. From all I have done so far, I have tried to organise my reflections to keep me prepared for the next time.
  • Facing audiences and speaking in public is about practicing and rehearing, however there should be a balance with an element of spontaneity and surprise, this is how great presentations happen…

Guest performance at MBS Horizon’s Cultural Talent Show Nox Ingenii: Night of Talent

What are yours strategies for speaking publicly and facing big audiences? Comments are welcome in the Reply section below.

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