When the spotlight's on you ...

“I’m likely to have to make an introductory speech to a group of my peers on an assessment day. Help! I don’t want to make an idiot of myself right at the start of the day. What can I do to be more confident with this and give myself a better chance?”

This was asked by Kerri at an undergraduate group training session last Wednesday and the issue is a source of anxiety to many people. The need for an ‘off-the-cuff’ introductory speech can crop up relatively often at work, so it’s always worth putting some effort in to this.

Personally I recommend using the ‘Spotlight’ process which I developed specifically to help with speaking. The basic version of this is as follows.

Your first step is to write out long-hand what you wish to say using pen and paper. Put some structure around your content, have a beginning, a middle and an end. Ensure there’s a conclusion or a point to it all. Try and add some something interesting about you or a strange fact or something unusual.

As you write, use well defined paragraphs. Think of them as ‘building blocks’. If you have to do two minutes, write enough for three. You’re handwriting because it’s one very good step toward internalising information.

You should write all this in the same way as you would speak it, don’t worry about normal grammatical correctness. Hear your voice as you draft it. Re-draft it when you’ve finished.

Next, stand up and read it out to yourself. Start by smiling confidently. Pull in a very deep breath and then speak slowly and carefully, don’t gabble or slur. Let your voice rise and fall with the tempo of what you’ve written. Speak with conviction. Leave pauses between blocks.

Repeat twice more, recording your voice at least once, if you can. Get used to hearing the sound of your own voice and learn to feel confident with it.

Have a break for a while. When you start again, do so without your notes. Make sure you stand up. Imagine yourself actually facing a group. Set out chairs with cushions, if that will help you get into character. If you get flustered or stuck at a certain point, don’t start again. Recover and push on through, just as you would have to in a real situation.

Afterward, review your performance. If you think you can do it better, try again. Repeat this until you’re very confident that you can remember what to say and can deliver it clearly. By drafting your speech in the way you’d normally speak, your delivery should sound entirely natural, rather than being just read out or like a robot working off learned lines.

There are a three additional things to try. One is to video yourself, if possible. Another, if you’re feeling brave, is to perform it to a friend, once you’re comfortable. This latter is particularly helpful as it steps you up yet another notch in readiness for the real thing.

The third thing to try is start varying which blocks you use in your speech. Timing yourself, give a thirty second version instead of the full three minutes. Don’t work it out beforehand, just try it on the fly, choosing which blocks to use. Now your problem is that you have too much to say, isn’t that a great feeling? Now try again with a one minute thirty second version. Then a two minute version. Now a one minute version.

Time yourself on each occasion. Get used to mixing and matching your content, as required. Hopefully, after all that, you’ll be on fire and champing at the bit to stand and deliver on the day – nobody is going to stop you!

A final word. When you finish – smile, say or nod a ‘thank you’ and sit down or walk back to your place confidently.

In any case, this sort of practice will stand you in great stead to deal with that ubiquitous “can you tell us a little bit about yourself’ interview question.

Let me know how this works out for you. Good luck.