One day at work…

A weird thing happened at work yesterday.

I was late for my morning shift in the computer labs on campus so I rushed in, put my bags down and started switching on the computers. At first, all I noticed were these five students quietly working on the computers. But as I moved to the front of the room I saw a man pacing in and out of a row of computers, giving instructions to a student. There would have been nothing wrong with that, had the man not been speaking in a distractingly loud voice. It was awkward as the students didn’t seem to mind and kept on working. But I was annoyed and as a lab attendant, I had the right to tell him to keep his voice down.

Under normal circumstances, I would have done just that. However, I couldn’t help but listen to what this man was saying. I wondered if he was a lecturer giving a one-to-one lecture, or a tutor meeting his student to discuss his dissertation.

But a lecturer wouldn’t go ” Stevie baby! Come on, you can do it!”.

I was curious.

After eavesdropping for a while (it wasn’t exactly eavesdropping as the guy was pretty loud), I realised what was going on. This guy was actually a public speaking coach. I had never seen one in action, so I let the guy do his thing and listened in for some pointers.

The student was sitting down in front of his computer, looking absolutely terrified, hiding his face under a long fringe of hair and a cap. The coach (still standing and with that loud confident voice of his) said:

“Come on Steve, you just have to stand up. No need to be scared. I’ve embarassed myself already and nothing bad happened. There’s only a few students here and they don’t mind. You’ll be giving your presentation in front of an audience anyway.”

Steve eventually stood up after several requests. He grabbed his right elbow with his left hand and stared down at his Powerpoint slides, then slowly started his presentation. I felt kind of bad for the kid. He was mumbling and I could hardly hear a thing compared to his big voiced coach. He lacked conficence but his coach kept pushing him on.

Here is some good advice I picked up during the session:-

  • If you have a difficult word to pronounce in your presentation and the audience may not understand it verbally, then always include in on your slide. They will see the word and hear it at the same time. Two senses are definitely better than one.
  • Avoid abbreviations. Try and write the full term. However, if you have to write an abbreviation due to space constraints, make sure you use the full term when speaking (at least when using it the first time in your presentation). This is good for the audience who may not know what it means and for you who may have forgotten what it stands for.
  • Project your voice and articulate. Don’t mumble or look down.
  • Never make last minute changes if you’re not feeling confident and without consulting any group members doing the presentation with you. Try and finish your slides and go through them the day before. Preparing or practicing things in the last minute can make you nervous.

I especially agree with the last one. I love presentations and public speaking but I don’t consider myself a great public speaker. I think it is because most of the time I just wing it instead of preparing myself. I can turn the charm on 100% but I only take in the true meaning of what I’ve written as I’m reading it live. That is NOT a good habit at all. In fact, I have a presentation this week and I’m doing my best to go through it before the big day as it’s not an easy topic to present.

I found the whole experience really interesting. And although it was a bit of a cringe-fest to see what that student went through, I still felt that he was a brave kid to address his speaking problem and seek guidance.

Even King George VI needed a coach! (Colin Firth in The King's Speech)

Essentially, the coach’s technique was to put the client in an uncomfortable position, show him that it’s fine to be in that position by self-demonstration and then encouraging the client to do the same. You go coach!

I’m definitely interested in attending a public speaking session after yesterday. It is a topic that I am really interested in. That said, my next post will include the Do’s and Don’ts of Public Speaking from my experience and from the eyes of professionals. It will include video clips, links to websites and other references. I can’t wait to put it together and hope you will find it useful.



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