How mindful presenting skills were key to my speech success

To think, four weeks ago I was getting ready to make a speech at the House of Commons. Ok, for ‘getting ready', read ‘getting anxious about a big opportunity’.

I’d been asked to speak at a Commons event: ‘Woman returning to work and the impact it has on the Gender Pay Gap’. I had plenty to say but was worried that I would dry up, babble on, or worse, bore everyone in the room.

So, I asked my friend Maurice DeCastro from Mindful Presenter for his help. Ten days before my speech, I took the presentation I’d prepared to his London office.

Nervous feelings

I was so nervous. Although I knew Maurice personally, to present to a friend who you think will criticise you is nerve-racking in itself.

Also, I had not spoken publicly to a group of people since my corporate career ended 17 years before this request to speak at the House of Commons, so I was nervous!

I could not have been more wrong.

This speech would see me putting myself in the lion’s den for the second time in year

Relaxed start
Maurice made me feel so at ease. First, he got me to talk about something else in my life while he filmed me on his iPad.

I talked all about my experience with the choir I'm in — the House Gospel Choir — and how we got to perform with Tom Jones and Beverley Knight for the BBC last Christmas. This was the last time I pushed myself out of my comfort zone. This speech would see me putting myself in the lion’s den for the second time in year.

Performance audit
When Maurice reviewed the recording, he focused on my strengths. He talked about what aspects of my ‘performance’ made him see me as an expert. He really built up my confidence by pointing out what I did naturally, without thinking.

He showed me (although I was watching the recording back through my fingers) where I made good use of body language — such as my hands, how I stood and my voice — and how engaging it was to him as the listener.

How the audience thinks
Next, he explained to me an audience’s psychology and what they retain and showed me lots of exercises on how to engage an audience. So, I was building an idea of how to keep an audience interested.

Next, I showed him my actual presentation and started to run through it.

‘Corporate Sandie’
I will never forget he said to me: ‘I see Sandie and know Sandie and now you’ve gone into Corporate Sandie… where’s Sandie gone?’ I’d left my personality behind and gone into ‘presenting’ mode. The human element had gone, to be replaced by something serious and corporate.

Every cell in my body rejected this immediately. It would make me too vulnerable to expose what happened to me in 2000

Value of being vulnerable
Maurice knew my ‘back story’ and the reason I created my business, Confidence to Return.
He encouraged me strongly to tell my story as part of my presentation. Every cell in my body rejected this immediately. It would make me too vulnerable to expose what happened to me in 2000, when my corporate career ended. It felt too personal.

Authentic story
Maurice gave me the confidence to bring this out. He insisted that the ‘off the record’ elements were vital to mention in my presentation. This would engage the audience immediately, show my ‘real human Sandie’ rather than corporate Sandie. And it was so relevant, because what happened to me is why I created Confidence to Return.

(I’ll be pushing myself out of that comfort zone in the next article by sharing my story)

Add some history
I also mentioned that I had a family story connected to the Commons. During her career, my nan worked at the Conservative club as head cook. When she retired in 1980, she was invited to No 10 for tea with Mrs Thatcher, and to the Queen’s garden party. I had been thinking about maybe mentioning it and Maurice insisted it should be the first thing I mentioned! I made it a human element by saying, ‘my nan would be so proud of me standing here at the House of Commons…’

Don’t ‘hide behind the slides’
As I went through my presentation, Maurice quickly realised that I was trying to ‘hide behind’ the text-heavy slides.
He suggested using compelling imagery instead of hundreds of words.
I followed his advice and after my speech an audience member spoke to me about an image, and I realised she had remembered the exact detail and context behind it. It worked!

Advice on topics
As an outsider, Maurice could tell me which topics were likely to engage people, and those that were going to have less impact

He reassured me that:

  • I created this business
  • I knew the content
  • I could be confident using images to support my story
  • I didn’t have to reel off a list of facts.

Coping with mistakes
Lastly, he showed me techniques to handle any mistakes on the day. We all worry about our mind going blank or losing our place due to nerves. But Maurice convinced me there are ways to negate or deal with this, if it happens.

Luckily, although I had it ready to use, I didn’t need to put his coping strategies to work. Maybe feeling confident that I had a plan helped keep my nerves away.

Didn’t need my notes
One of the biggest compliments I got on the day was: ‘Do you know you didn’t look at your notes once.’ I hadn’t even noticed. I was so in the present moment and in the ‘flow’, it hadn’t occurred to me.

Another warm compliment was: ‘That was so engaging, thank you,’ as was, ‘You should write a book about what happened to you and how far you’ve come.’

It was a triumph: I'd said what I’d planned to and I enjoyed it.

Time well spent
I spoke for 20 minutes after hours of organising, and it was time well spent. It was a triumph: I'd what I’d planned to and I enjoyed it.

I can’t thank Maurice enough for his guidance and support, and the confidence it gave me. I’d fully recommend his service if you have a big important speech coming up. 

He really is an expert in this field and I believe can truly help anyone.

What type of presenter are you?
A fun, free quiz on the Mindful Presenter website can help you discover what type of presenter you are. Download the PDF to get an idea of your style, strengths and opportunities to improve.

Are you a Commander like Barack Obama or a Facilitator like the Dali Lama? An Analyst like Einstein or a Motivator like Tony Robbins?

Mindful Presenter resources
And look at the Mindful Presenter Learning Centre for other useful, free advice — including TED talks, and a webinar by Maurice on the ‘biggest mistakes to avoid when presenting to senior management’.

Maurice created Mindful Presenter to help professionals communicate their ideas with greater awareness, purpose and impact. It offers powerful methods to develop your public speaking skills.

Sandie Dennis

Confidence to Return: Returning to work is our business.
Call 07939 916779
Email sandie@confidencetoreturn.co.uk
Visit www.confidencetoreturn.co.uk


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