posted 25 Aug 2010 in Volume 13 Issue 10
Prolific conference presenter and workshop facilitator David Gurteen, on how he overcame his public speaking demons
When I was at infant school, I attended special classes as I had a tendency towards being ‘highly strung’. I was a nervous child and prone to cry at the slightest provocation. I recall my grandma making two rag dolls – one for me and another for my brother. So that we could tell the two apart, she drew tears running down the face of my doll. Then, from the age of about 13 to 17, I had a bad stutter and I lived in dread of being called on to read the house prayers that took place every month – but somehow, it never happened. Thank goodness.
By the time I went to university, my stutter was gone and I don’t recall being particularly ‘nervous’ in my late teens or early 20s. I grew out of it. But the one thing I did still dread was the thought of public speaking.
In my earlier career, I didn’t have to give any big talks but in my 30s I do remember a presentation course and giving a talk at a large technical conference in the
In my late 30s, I had to give more talks but I was still uncomfortable and would avoid them if I could. And then in my 40s, when I started to work for myself, my confidence grew. I recall my first big talk in July 1994 on ‘trust and computer-based communications’ at a Lotus Notes Users Group Conference.
Today, each year, I give many talks, run knowledge cafés and facilitate workshops. I enjoy them immensely and look forward to them. So what changed? Well:
I gained confidence with age and experience;
I learnt to be myself;
I learnt to not worry what people think of me;
I learnt to say ‘I don’t know’, when I can’t answer a question; and
I learnt to tell stories and anecdotes that are easy to remember and engage the audience.
I recall my first after-dinner talk. It was 30 minutes or so, had no slides and, of course, it needed to be a little humorous. I simply decided to tell the story of how and why I networked. It was a story – a series of anecdotes – and it was authentic.
I would rehearse it in the shower in the morning and then go downstairs and just pretend I was giving it, record it on my iPod and then play it back. I never wrote it down or made notes. I did this several times over the course of a few weeks, adapting and tweaking it as I went. On the morning of the talk I got up, switched on my iPod and without any pre-thought I just gave the talk, recorded it and played it back. It was fine. During the dinner in the evening I barely gave the talk a thought. And when the time came, I just stood up and delivered it – just as I had in the morning. It went well.
What drove me to overcome my fear of public speaking? Well, when I worked in the
I had things I wanted to say. I had thoughts, views and ideas that I wanted to express and to share. And other than writing, what better way than to speak and help spread the ideas that I thought important?
This was the prime motivation in overcoming my fears and speaking. In the early days, I decided it didn’t matter how good or bad I was. What was important was what I had to say. I knew that over time, with practice and experience, my speaking skills would get better. I feel they have and hopefully I am having a little more influence, for the better, on the world than I might have had otherwise!
David Gurteen is founder of Gurteen Knowledge and a member of the Inside Knowledge editorial board. He can be contacted via his website at www.gurteen.com