And death came third

The title of this blog post is also the title of a book I read a few years ago (check out “…and death came third” by Andy Lopata and Peter Roper).

And while it might be cryptic at the first glance, it is merely the rank in which death appears on a list of the things people are most afraid of. Number one on that same list is “Walking into a room full of strangers”, and number two are “Speaking in public”. In this blog post I will address the latter.

I openly admit that I used to fear this second item on the list, too. And it is still not my most favorite thing in the World, but I have gotten used to it by now. However, most people are really afraid of this sort of attention. And just last week at the Kursuslex Meetings & Events Fair I asked one of the exhibitors if she would like to present her field of expertise on the stage of the Learning Lab where MPI Denmark resided. Her honest answer was “No thanks, I’m afraid to!” – and it was just a two minute presentation in a relaxed atmosphere. Kudos to her for being straight-forward and honest.

Everybody else is doing it

In my work life, I often interact with people who are used to being on stage, be it on TV or as high profile speakers within their field. And I will share a secret with you right here: They are sometimes nervous too!

I have had the pleasure of having a rather well-known Danish TV person speak at some of my conferences, and the first time I met him I thought he was quite arrogant – didn’t really look me in the eye, didn’t really say anything, and seemed like he was just too important to be there. After a while, I realized that he was simply uneasy with the situation, and he stayed quiet until on the stage where he acted his own self. And after the speech, he was actually a nice guy.

A few pieces of advice

If you are preparing for your first on stage appearance, I would like to share a few pieces of advice that I was given when I first started speaking in public. It is simple and useful advice – and it is totally free! No need to consult expensive speech coaches…at least not until you ‘climb the speaking ladder’ and decide to do this professionally.

Anyway, here goes:

  1. Speak louder than you would think you should. You might feel that you are shouting a bit but that is not the case. Your voice needs to reach the back of the room.
  2. Speak more slowly than you would think you should. When you are nervous, you tend to ramble which might leave attendees not understanding what you are saying.
  3. Dress in something you feel comfortable. I know, I know…wearing your PJ’s and that old worn hoodie doesn’t give the attendees the best impression of you J But if you don’t normally wear high heels, skirts, or ties, then don’t. Somebody asked you to be on that stage because of what you know, not because of what you wear.
  4. BREATHE! If you take only one piece of advice from this post, let this be it! You might think that pausing to breathe will seem weird, but on the contrary: Pausing will underline your message and give the attendees an opportunity to process what you just said.

We are all afraid

Once you are on that stage and the nerves are about to take over your sanity, remember that the attendees are also ranking death third on that list, and that they are really happy that they don’t have to be up there – and impressed by you because you have taken the stage.

Some attendees would even rather die than ask you a question from the back row while the other attendees listen. And here lies the basis of a totally different blog post: How to involve the participants with technology/how to give the attendees the opportunity to ask questions without being in the spotlight.

I will get back to you on that one in a later blog post.