How Sir Ken Robinson helped me with public speaking…and before you get too excited, I’ve never actually met Sir Ken Robinson… although I would love to…

How Sir Ken Robinson helped me with public speaking

You may remember a little while ago I gave a TEDx talk – it was actually TEDx Malvern on 25th April ’18. I was delighted to be invited to speak and said yes quickly. And then I remembered something. I’m not all that good at public speaking. I mean, I’m far from awful- but it’s not something I do all that much of. This slight niggle somewhat grew until I really started to believe I was a horrific public speaker. I’ve given lectures before, and that hasn’t even really bothered me – I’ve enjoyed it and it’s made me think, but I haven’t been overly worried about delivering such a thing. But this? Well, this felt very different.

Why is public speaking so scary?

I guess it’s a combination of a few things. It’s the worry of making a fool of yourself and forgetting what you’re talking about. It’s the worry of letting people down who invited you to speak at their event. It’s the fear of the unknown and the anxiety connected to the unknown. It’s feeling under prepared (because there is ALWAYS more you can do). It’s what to wear (genuine thing for me – I’ve blogged about what to wear at TEDx too!). And then it’s the detail. Should you memorise your talk? How many slides should you do? How should you learn your talk? What’s the best way? What if people don’t get what you want them to from it? I mean, what if you’re just not that interesting?! Yep. Public speaking is really scary. Well, it could be.

Reality check

I was getting myself a little stressed about this. I am all for pushing myself out of my comfort zone and, as I said, giving lectures, workshops and smaller events doesn’t phase me. I do a Facebook Live once a week on my Facebook page and can think on my feet. And I ALWAYS have something to say. I know the subject inside and out. I mean, it was about social media and I am a complete social media bore… so that wasn’t the issue.

I bought a book – actually, it’s a really good book that I’m finishing a blog about this for next week – it’s called TED Talks and it’s ‘The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking’, written by Chris Anderson – the head of TED. If you’re looking to up your public speaking game- get this book (and, obviously, read my review of it too!). The book gave lots of advice and was also rather reassuring when it came to stumbles and mistakes. How to deal with them and no lose your mind mainly. That made me feel a lot better. Having a plan for if my mind went blank was very reassuring. I’m OK with things breaking – as in- I was never hugely worried about the slides not working as they were there to enhance my talk rather than play a leading role. But having a plan was good.

And you know what else? If I messed up in a big way. If I stood on the stage and couldn’t find a word in my head to speak… what is the worst thing that’s going to happen? I’d look a bit of an idiot (if you’ve seen me trying to parallel park or negotiate with my twin toddlers you’ll know that I’m pretty well versed in this art), I’d be embarrassed, my ego would take a battering. All true. Would anyone die? Nope. Would it mean I could never work again? Nope. Would it mean I wouldn’t see my family/friends again? Nope. So really low risk. And what if I nailed it or, at least, didn’t make a fool of myself? Now, that’s a worth the effort…

And how does Sir Ken Robinson feature in this?

I was speaking to Karen McConnell and Sophie Callahan – my Glam Squad – about one particular wobble. I think it was that I had decided I needed to learn all my talk off by heart, like a robot. I have never ever done any lecture prep or anything like his. Ever. I tend to have bullet points and ideas that I want to explore – mental prompts, but I don’t learn anything parrot fashion. I much prefer a little ad libing around a framework. Although this is just one way to give a speech, I was concerned that the reading-off-a-sheet idea just looks nasty – and it does… so I settled on cards. Anyway, I was speaking to the ladies and Karen urged me to watch Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk– are schools killing our creativity. I’ll be honest with you – the title didn’t appeal at first. I am interested in education, but that wasn’t what I wanted to hear about at that second. Nevertheless, Karen is rarely wrong and she gets me, so I pressed play and we were off.

Now, education in a TED talk format might sound a little dry – hell – I didn’t even want to press play. But I urge you to watch Sir Ken’s talk. In my mind it’s a masterclass. Not only was I completely hooked a few moment in with his relaxed and conversational style, I laughed out loud more than once, I could have listened to him speak for hours… and I have made four more people watch it since and all have has the same reaction.

Obviously I’m not talking about education and I am not half as amusing as Sir Ken Robinson, but it taught me a few things:

  • Relax
  • Chatty is good
  • Making people smile or laugh doesn’t detract from the message
  • Approachable is good
  • People will root for you if you give them a reason

Also, if you watch the talk, you’ll see that (well, if you analyse it to the level I have!), it’s not word perfect. And by that, I mean it actually is. If Sir Ken had learnt it verbatim and reguritated it parrot style without feeling, emotion or humour… it would have been a very hard 15 minutes to listen to. The human quality, the jokes, the chatty style made me feel he was sharing a thought and an idea and I was literally hanging on his every word. I’m not saying he didn’t rehearse, rehearse and rehearse again – I am sure he did- but he didn’t lose his style.

And that’s what Sir Ken Robinson taught me about public speaking… from just watching a Youtube clip.

Autheticity rules, and while some talks work when someone has memorised each and every word, some would lose their soul… especially if the speaker didn’t believe in what they were saying or felt disconnected from it.


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