Lee Hogan's expert advice on podium speeches and more.
If there is one thing that can make most of us tremble in our boots, giving us sweaty palms and an elevated heart rate, it is public speaking. Whether it’s in front of your class mates at school, in front of a television camera after winning a championship or accepting an award in front of your peers while dressed up in a suit and tie, none of us are immune to the crippling effect of anxiety when the pressure is on. Let’s take a look at a few tips and techniques that might help you deal with the torture of public speaking.
It doesn’t matter if you are hosting a television show, commentating a race or even a competitor being interviewed after winning a race, try to be humble. The last thing people want to hear is you talking about yourself too much. The best example I can give is a personal experience of mine. Quite a few years ago I was on the podium in second or third place for the Melbourne Tennis Centre Supercross. Craig Anderson was the other rider in second or third and another guy that I won’t name had just won the event. Now, normally after winning a supercross, the packed Melbourne crowd of around 15,000 people would be clapping and cheering, chasing after a jersey or autograph perhaps, but after a couple of minutes of this unnamed rider raving on about how he knew he was going to win and the other riders didn’t really have a chance, while thanking a massive long list of sponsors, the packed crowd starting chanting ‘boring, boring’! I wonder if his sponsors were in the crowd if they would have been proud of him for winning the event, or embarrassed with the presentation?
The two main areas to consider when speaking in public is delivery and content. So let’s start with delivery. Delivery is the way you put forward your speech. Whether you use a single monotone voice which sounds quite boring, or you vary the pitch of your voice, emphasizing certain words and phrases to give a bit of life to your speech, while hopefully keeping everyone’s attention in the process. I’m sure a lot of you would have seen some masters at work in public speaking. You only have to watch Getaway on television or any number of today’s lifestyle shows to witness public speaking delivered in an energetic, motivating way.
Content quite simply is what you put into your speech. Saying the rights things at the right time is often the area of public speaking that people concentrate on the most, but what sacrifices is your delivery. Having a good balance between saying the right stuff (content) and putting it across in a good way (delivery) is the secret to public speaking. One of the main things to remember when considering ‘content’ in a speech is to find that fine line between saying what has to be said and saying too much. It is also good to run over in your head a few times what you are going to say before you have to get up and actually do it, but don’t focus too much on the content once you get up there. Have confidence in yourself that once you are up there you will say all the right things. This will allow you to focus more on the delivery and keep you in touch with the crowd.
When you get up to say your piece, try to tell a bit of a story that has a beginning, a middle and an end. Rather than getting up and saying, “I’d like to thank this sponsor and that sponsor, thank you.” You might want to try getting up and saying, “well first of all I’d like to thank everybody for coming and supporting us,” followed by “I’ve got some great sponsors who have been right behind me all year.” And finish off with “and finally I’d like to say a special thank you to…” By putting a beginning, a middle and an end to your speech, it has more of a personal feel to it, rather than looking like you are reading from a notepad.
Like I said earlier, none of us are immune to anxiety when speaking in public. However, there are a few techniques that may help. Practice makes perfect! It doesn’t matter if you practice your public speaking in front of your parents, girlfriend, or even in front of the mirror, which sounds a bit stupid but still does the trick. A handy tip given to me by Leigh Diffey many years ago, was to practice when you are driving by yourself in the car. You might get a few weird looks from other drivers though.
When you get up to make your speech, avoid eye contact with people. If you are already extremely nervous then pick something like a pole or an object that is amongst the crowd to look at. Most people that don’t like making eye contact will look down at the ground, but this gives the crowd a feeling that you don’t care about them. Don’t be scared to put a pause in your speech. Inexperienced people doing public speaking will fill a pause with an ‘um’ or an ‘ah’ but a pause is actually a useful tool to emphasise what you are about to say.
Hopefully that helped some of you in an area that I feel our sport needs quite a bit of work. Just remember, practice makes perfect and don’t feel silly if you find yourself getting nervous. Everyone gets nervous, trust me!