Brave Paula’s lesson for ambitious speakers
by Halina St James
As a Canadian, one of the most heart wrenching moments of the Olympics was when 23 year-old Paula Findlay – in tears – willed her aching body to the finish line of the triathlon.
She’d had a bad year. She’d injured her hip. The slow rehab cost her the chance to get match-fit. Her coach left her just before the games. Just about the worst preparation you could have for the event of your life.
There’s been nothing but praise for Paula’s courage to actually finish the gruelling combination of swimming, cycling and running. And she richly deserves that praise.
But the big question is – should she have even competed? Was she really ready? Sometimes we can blind ourselves by our bravery.
There’s a lesson here for people who want to be professional speakers. Don’t do the big show unless you’re ready. It’s flattering to be asked to give a speech, especially to a big audience. But a hesitant, uncomfortable presentation can spoil your reputation before your speaking career is established.
How do you know you’re ready? You start by looking at yourself objectively. A good way to do that is through coaching. Find someone to help polish up your public speaking, stage presence and presentation skills. But make sure you find a coach you trust. If in doubt, talk to one of the professional speakers’ associations. In Canada, connect with your local chapter of CAPS, the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers. You’ll find a warm and welcoming atmosphere where you can hone your skills and get supportive feedback.
Start slow. Start speaking at smaller local events. Offer yourself to Rotary Clubs, business associations and other organizations. Do lunch and learns.
Build your speaking muscle with practice, practice, practice. Become an expert in your field. Understand what audiences want, and how you can deliver that.
Athletes like Paula Findlay compete in regional, national and international competitions for years before they do the Olympics. Paula has been competing since the age of 10. You have to build up your speaking muscle in the same way, if you want to go for gold.