Public speaking

First Time Public Speaking

I clearly remember the first time I spoke in public. It was in front of a small group of women at a church coffee morning. There were about 9 or 10 people in the room but as far as I was concerned it might as well have been in front of a huge stadium full of people.

In a past life I was a Dispensing Optician. I was asked to give a short talk of about 20 minutes on spectacle frames. I was to talk on which shape of frames would best suite different shaped faces. All easy enough because this was what I did day in and day out at work.

Knowing my topic

knowing my topic was never going to be a problem. It was what I did. I could talk about it in my practice all day long. So what was it about speaking in front of these people about a topic I knew well that made me so nervous?

Public speaking notes

Copious Notes

About 4 weeks before my first public speaking event. I started to really prepare. I made notes, had headings, subheadings. I used yellow highlighter to draw my attention to the important phrases. And every time i read the notes over I added more things. I probably ended up having enough notes to be able to write a book on the topic. All for a short talk about a topic I knew inside out, in front of a few people.

I soon realised that I was writing all these notes down because I was nervous. It was almost a distraction from the fact that I was going to have to actually speak in front of a group of people. This was 35 years ago when I was about 25. I had never done anything like this before.

Writing the notes was a distraction. I knew I had a great grasp of what I was going to talk about. Writing notes distracted me from thinking about actually having all the attention focused on me.


Once I realised that  I was not afraid of forgetting my lines I started to think about how to overcome the fear of being centre of attention. Most people love to be centre of attention but when people are hanging on your every word it can be uncomfortable for someone not used to it. So I did a bit of research into visualisation for public speakers. But I soon realised that I knew most of what I was reading.

I also knew most of the public speaking techniques like focusing on one person in the audience and pretending I was only talking to them. So I didn’t really need to find out about that.

The breakthrough

My breakthrough moment came one day in the optical practice in which I worked. It was only a few days before my speaking debut. After showing a patent (yes we called customers patients in those days) various frames and telling him what suited him and the likes, my boss came over to me, winked at me and said “you are a natural”. It was a compliment. What he meant was that I spoke to the patient naturally and easily about what shape, colour and style suited him.

I took into account his occupation, when he would be wearing his spectacles and how robust he wanted them to be. My boss was telling me that I spoke to him with ease.

The penny dropped. Yes, I realised that all I needed to do in front of those ten women was be myself. Of course I needed to prepare my talk. I needed it structured so that there was a beginning a middle and an end. It needed to have a purpose. What did I want the talk to be? Did I want to sell something to the audience? No. Did I want to inform them and inspire them? Yes. So once that was all clear in my head I was much more relaxed.  Still a bit nervous but much more relaxed and almost note free. All I had were a few cards with headings on them.

audience applauding

Relax and be yourself

Once I realised that I had to be myself in front of the audience it all seemed to come naturally. Now I hardly feel any nerves at all when I speak in public, which is good as now the audiences are somewhat larger that the one 35 years ago.

Try it for yourself. Once you have your topic knowledge and have done the preparation, just be yourself and your audience will enjoy what you have to say.

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