Earlier this week I had a speaking engagement – a short one.  Well, meant to be 30 minutes but because of an over-run from the speaker before me ended up as 22 minutes!  Had I been in a position where I was using slides and timed myself to that structure I could have been in trouble – but – fortunately, whenever possible, I don’t speak that way.

Why is it that using slides and giving myself too much of a structure doesn’t work for me?  So many people who have to speak in front of large audiences cannot understand how I can just get up there without any notes and only a vague structure and free flow.

It took time for me to have the confidence to do it this way because much of my ‘education’ in public speaking was about the structure, the overheads, the practice and so on.   And it was not just about the big issue of finding the confidence but recognising that, for me, this was the only way to make it work successfully.  And yes, despite the cutting short with no notice, just a 5-minute card being shown to me, I did get really fantastic feedback.

Twenty years ago I would not have been able to stand up and speak in front of a group of 6, let alone the largest group where I have presented to about 1000 people.  At that time my confidence was so low that thinking I would have to speak in front of even a very small group I know that my voice would have been trembling, my hands sweating, probably close to tears and complete panic going on inside.  So what is it that changed?

I had one of those wonderful ‘ah-ha’ moments where suddenly something became very clear to me.  I won’t bother to share the whole story so you get weary reading this but suffice to say that my elder daughter had asked me to go and speak to some of her clients and I couldn’t let her down – even though at the very last minute she told me there were to be 40 people not 4!!!  As I was driving down to the venue a friend who was with me in the car asked how I was feeling about the upcoming talk and upon me saying I was terrified asked me why.  My response was long and crazy but included such things as – ‘they’ll think it’s a load of rubbish’, ‘I’ll forget what I have to say and they won’t understand me’, ‘they’ll blame Lucy for wasting their time to come and hear me’, ‘they won’t like me’, etc. etc.  I will never forget what he said to be next – it truly was like a silver bullet straight between the eyes!  He said ‘ why are you thinking about you?’

I realised in that moment that every time I had a confidence problem I was thinking about me, thinking about ‘get’.  I have no control over ‘get’ at all, I only have control over what I ‘give’.  My reputation is not inside of me and what anybody chooses to think about me is little to do with me and I certainly can’t control that.  My life changed in that moment and focusing on what I can ‘give’ became my life.

Think about it for one moment in very simple terms.  Imagine you are about to take on a new job and someone asked you to describe how you want the job to be.  I am sure you could come up with a wonderful list – a supportive boss, one who listens, great colleagues, a job that stretches me and allows me the opportunity to make a difference etc. etc.  Then ask yourself how much you can actually control that and the answer is not a lot.  However, ask yourself what you can give to that job to help it become the job of your dreams and you begin to realise how much you can give and influence it to be an amazing career choice!  How often do we focus on how we can get the best from our team, our colleagues, our partner?  Perhaps asking yourself a different question may be worth considering – ‘what can I give to my team, my colleagues, my partner to create the best relationships possible and free them to become the best they can be?’.

So – when I go on to that stage, all I think about after I have planned the first sentence is ‘what can I give to this audience, or a few people in it, that will make a real difference to the way they think and can add real value to their lives in some way shape or form’.  I let go of everything else and I speak from my heart with real authenticity, openness and honesty.  Do the nerves go entirely – most definitely not – but – when I am waiting to go out there and feel the butterflies doing cartwheels around my insides I ask myself ‘who am I thinking about right now?’  If the panic is beginning to set in the answer is always the same – my thinking has slipped to the wrong place and I change it and ask myself ‘if I knew that I can give some really great ideas to a few people out there what would I want to share and how might I choose to get the message across?’

Penny has worked with businesses like Sage and Argos to inspire long lasting positive change within the company, in order to take steps towards success and leadership. Contact her at The Living Leader to book an appointment or to book her to speak at one of your events.