This past week, I was invited to speak at a conference for one of our software vendors at work. This is the first time I have ever been invited to speak "professionally", and it was an absolute blast. I am one of those people who seek out speaking type gigs, not shy away from them. If you give me a topic and put me on stage, I will speak about it. I love to be in front of people.
There were several other speakers at this conference, most of them were sales-type people presenting a demo of their particular product, but there was one in particular that really caught my eye. She was the founder of a consulting firm that studies our industry and is considered an expert in many different facets. Of course, I have very little doubt she is very good at her job. Companies pay her a lot of money to consult for them, and she does this well enough to make a pretty good living off of it.
But she was a terrible public speaker. Just awful.
She was awkward. She had terrible timing. Her strategy to "connect" with the audience was to use mid-90's vernacular, such as "totally rad" (and wasn't a bit tongue-in-cheek about it). I fully expected several Wayne's World references.
She was very animated, but it came off very forced. She tried to pry audience participation out of us, and only when someone felt so uncomfortable they would respond, would she move on to the next point. When she attempted to use humor, it only made it worse. At one point, she referenced "Bada Bing, Bada Boom" from the Sopranos (and every other Italian-American stereotype out there), but instead she said, "Bing Bang Boom", with no clue that she had mis-quoted it.
But this isn't the problem. My biggest problem is that she obviously thought she was the greatest public speaker out there of all time. You could really get the sense that she thought we were privileged to see her speak. It truly was painful. You could slice the tension with a knife in the room, because you could feel everyone feel sorry for her all at the same time. It was as if she went to a "public speaking for dummies" class and took every single tip and tried to cram them into a 45-minute session. To make matters worse, she went almost 20 minutes over her time, keeping everyone in the room from going to lunch.
I don't bring this up because I want to admonish her. She is actually pretty good at what she is paid to do...consult. She just needs someone to be truthful with her, but since she is the founder and CEO of the company, there is very little chance someone will say that to her.
If you are afraid to speak in public but have to, just be yourself. Don't try to do something outside of your comfort zone. Most people would rather listen to someone be a bit nervous than have a fake speech crammed down their throat. Have fun with it, and be yourself.