Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Public speaking smackdown
For me, writing is easy and speaking is hard. It's hard to keep all your topics together, to avoid the "ums" and "uhs." You need be relaxed but polished. And engaging. And to read the crowd and know when you're losing them.
Despite my five years at the head of RI's Jewish paper, and all of the board and business committee meetings I've led, I've still found public speaking to be a considerable challenge. That's why I joined Toast Masters, and I think it's been a big help. (Note: When you read the word Toast Masters very fast, it seems like "Taoist Masters," which, I think we can agree, is Rokkin.
Due to my new job, I've been asked to speak in front of large crowds twice in the past month at conventions. DC is awash with conventions - there are literally multiple conventions in town every day year round. But that doesn't make it any less scary when you're speaking in front of 500 people, all eyes on you.
Above right is a pic from my latest one, when I was on a panel of "Young Government People" talking about the different expectations in regards to technology that happens between generations. It was me and six others in front of a large crowd towards the end of a day-long conference. Right after this event was the open bar, and yet the room was surprisingly filled. All my preparation for the event turned out to be for naught, so I had to improvise. I remembered some good advice a colleague had given me for panels: "Don't try and sound smart. Just talk from experience. Tell them what's it's like to be you."
Which I did. The other panelists were more seasoned than me, but I still kept up OK. I found a lot of my journalistic career anecdotes came up, as well as stories from the beginning of my government career, and a few more recent events. I also found myself telling a lot of improvised jokes, which seemed to go over exceptionally well, I'm happy to say.
Example: One of the other panelists (representing the "Older Generations") was from Texas, and he used a cowboy / herd analogy to talk about leading a group into uncharted territory regarding social media. My response, "Wow. Seriously, younger people are very intimidated by cowboy metaphors." The crowd cracked up. I wasn't sure if I had come across as insulting or not, so I added, "Seriously, we do."
I emailed him later to say congrats and he told me my material was great and that I sparked some good discussions with my smart-ass remarks, so perhaps my humor has a place on the podium after all.