I was sixteen-years-old when I gave my first TED talk. What did I do to deserve this opportunity? Absolutely nothing. Was I some child genius or a winner of an extravagant international award? I wish that were true.
The truth is, I just had something to say.
It’s funny, that speech was in front of nearly 500 people at North Westminster’s Massey Theater and I had zero training in public speaking. It’s just a habit of mine to put myself in extremely uncomfortable situations. It pushes my personal limits.
Still don’t believe me? Check out my TEDx Talk below.
Okay, I still cringe watching this video. But what was the trick? How did I get this opportunity to present a topic I cared so deeply about in front of a massive crowd?
I actively sought out the opportunity, and said YES.
I didn’t stop myself by thinking about my lack of experience or training. I didn’t try to make excuses as to why I couldn’t do it, but rather why I should do it. After all, experience has to start somewhere.
If you limit yourself, you will never be able to learn from your own mistakes.
It frustrates me to see people (especially younger people) limit themselves because of their age. So what, you’re sixteen or even younger than that? If you have something interesting to say, I’m all ears.
Now, nearly five years later, I have spoken on CBC national radio more than once, participated in several panel discussions, and have given 20+ talks at various community fairs and conventions. It was a journey that had to start somewhere. It even sparked this newfound love for advocacy.
Just a little disclaimer, I still have a lot to learn in terms of public speaking and by no means have I mastered this skill. I’ve just acquired enough experience to have built a solid foundation.
With that said, here are some pointers that I have picked up along the way:
Don’t Fight It, Embrace the Fear
During my first TED talk, the stage director handed me the mic to thread below my shirt. I was so nervous that my hands were trembling uncontrollably. I dropped the mic several times on the floor before properly attaching it to my clothing. She gave me a quick smile and signaled me out on stage.
It’s okay to be afraid.
If you’re anything like me, an absolute perfectionist, the thought of messing up might be petrifying. But trust me when I say this, the audience is a lot more forgiving than you might think.
Here’s an example of such a scenario:
During my first radio interview, I remember losing my voice for a split second on-air and then turning away from the mic to quickly clear my throat. I was so distraught by this sudden biological urge, that it made it hard to think clearly for the rest of the interview. It felt as if I had coughed for a full 30 seconds. The entire time I kept looping that split-second cough in my mind. It distracted me from answering the questions properly.
When I returned home, I immediately asked my family whether they had heard it. What cough? They asked.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Granted, this one is a given, but worth re-mentioning. When I first gave a TED talk I put WAY TOO MUCH pressure into writing the perfect speech. I didn’t stop to think that public speaking is about conveying a message. You don’t need to have every word memorized, just be well-versed in your topic.
I spent so much time trying to write what I would say, I only gave myself five days beforehand to practice. Don’t do this. You will sound like a robot on stage.
I now find it easier to create a framework for how I want to present the topic and then list key talking points.
Most of my scripts now look a lot more like this:
Add in key points and use flashcards to help you practice. I also recommend standing in front of a mirror to make your body movements less awkward.
Every time you give your speech, it should not sound the same. With time, you will understand the format well enough to deviate from it.
Try NOT to Move
This one is hard. I have found that during most of my public speaking opportunities, I love to pace back and forth. I look like I’m wandering aimlessly across the stage. Don’t do this.
I once received advice from a veteran public speaker: make each and every movement intentional.
Flailing your arms or crouching is not the way to go (advice that should have been given to past me). Try not to move. It’s harder to do than it sounds.
With that said, you don’t want to be as still as a statue. If you have projected images, point backwards at your slides to re-direct the audience’s focus.
You also want to engage the audience you are speaking with. It may be difficult depending on who the crowd is or how many people are present. But, if you try asking the question: show of hands if X.
I guarantee that they will respond.
Give Yourself a Pep Talk
Before any talk, I have now developed this habit of looking in the mirror and hyping myself up. Sometimes, you just have to fake it to make it. Same goes with anything else in life.
Do you really think that we all have it figured out? Gosh, no. Everyone is just making things up and going along with it. It has definitely been one of my greatest realizations in life.
I have also realized that we can’t always expect other people to praise us or say kind things about our work. We spend so much time in our heads, speaking to ourselves. So, maybe try monitoring this dialogue.
Are you saying positive and uplifting messages when you look at yourself in the mirror? Or do you constantly doubt yourself?
Such a large component of public speaking is confidence. I can’t stress that enough.
Speak x5 Slower Than You Think
I am such a fast speaker. It sounds as if someone has hit the fast-forward button on a remote. If there’s any advice I can give, it would be to SLOW DOWN.
A trick that I have picked up along the way is to purchase a Sea-Band for anti-nausea.
Okay, before you freak out, I know that it is meant to cure sea sickness. But hear me out, it can also can be used to remind you to slow down your speech.
It sounds absolutely ridiculous, but this dollar store purchase works wonders for digging a small plastic ball into your skin. It even has the added benefit of reducing nausea!
The average speech rate according to International Toastmasters (which I highly recommend checking out for more speaking tips) is 120 – 140 words per minute. A medium speed is 120; whereas a rate near 200 words per minute is considered fast.
It takes lots of practice to speak at a good pace, but this skill can definitely be acquired.
At the age of fifteen, I would have never pictured myself standing in front of a room of strangers giving a TED talk. But that year, I chose to do the impossible. I was not afraid to challenge myself.
From that experience, I have learned so much about public speaking. I even had the opportunity to meet some of the most incredible speakers. I can now thank my former sixteen-year-old me for putting myself in a place of extreme discomfort.
Public speaking is not a hard thing to do, you just have to have confidence in yourself. You are your own limiting factor.
Alright, I think it’s about time to end my ramble and for you to spread your own wings. I believe in you, good luck out there.
Did you like this article? Check out my other blog post 5 Tips for Learning a New Language.