What's your problem? Public speaking

I've been asked to speak at a B2B conference, but I'm petrified.

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 01 Jun 2012

Q: I've been asked to speak at a B2B conference but I've never done this before and I'm petrified. I know the subject well but I've never liked doing public speaking, having managed to avoid it thus far. How should I prepare?

Jeremy Bullmore: As I'm sure you know, whole books and three-day seminars have been devoted to this daunting topic. With any luck, my very simple suggestions may help you; but they may well not.

Keep your ambitions modest. Don't try to wow them, or do a David Cameron and speak for 40 minutes without notes. Concentrate on your fundamental task of transferring the knowledge that's already in your head to all those other heads in your audience. If you do that well, you'll have done better than most 'confident' speakers.

Spend a lot of preparatory time working out what those audience heads already contain - and, just as importantly, what they don't. If your subject is riddled with jargon, recognise that it will probably mean nothing to them. You'll have to say what you mean in real English; and you'll be all the better for that.

Then imagine that you're setting out almost to recruit your audience; to make them as fascinated by your subject as you are. Enthusiasm is infectious and you shouldn't have to fake it. To get your train of thought right, imagine you're explaining to a friend of your own age exactly why you enjoy what you do.

Don't pile words onto PowerPoint slides and read from them. It might make you feel safe but it will be quite deadly for the audience. Use single word slides only as milestones - and if you've got some telling pictures, then that's even better. And, finally, don't start by telling your audience that you've never spoken in public before. If you focus on your fundamental task of transferring your knowledge to them there's no reason why they'll ever realise.

- Jeremy Bullmore is a former creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London. His book Another Bad Day at the Office? is published by Penguin at £6.99. Address your problem to Jeremy Bullmore at: editorial@managementtoday.com. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.

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