5 minutes with an expert on public speaking

Lynne Schinella was an event planner for 10 years before she chose another path as a professional conference speaker and communications expert.

She spoke with CIM ahead of her masterclass at the upcoming PCOA Conference & Exhibition at ICC Sydney in December 8-10.

What can we expect from your masterclass at the PCOA Conference? I presented at the first PCOA Conference and it’s amazing to see how far it’s come and how much it’s grown. Being an idealist at heart I love the theme Anything is Possible.

I’m excited to be delivering a masterclass on presenting with impact on the Sunday before the conference for people who want to get serious about getting better at public speaking. It will be a fast and furious session packed full of practical tips and ideas in content development, audience engagement and building confidence.

I’m also running a session on Tuesday called ‘Working With People You Just Don’t Get’ where we’ll be looking different personality types of Apples, Mangoes, Limes and Bananas. Delegates will get a basket of tips on how to best work with their difficult people so life is less stressful and you get more done.

Why do so many people struggle with public speaking and presentations? Because it’s not normal to want to stand up on stage and be the centre of attention. It taps into an ancient fear. Thousands of years ago if we were standing alone on a savannah with hundreds of eyes looking at us it meant we were lunch. Actors and musicians do it because they are playing a role and can hide within it. To stand up on stage and be you – authentic and vulnerable, is like standing on the edge of a platform 134 metres above a river with a rope tied to your ankle, and jumping. It is not natural.

Is it possible for all personality types to be confident speakers? Absolutely. It’s just another skill to be learned, like flying, or physics or ceramics. You just have to decide to do it.

The most important thing is to embrace your authenticity. Theodore Roosevelt said that comparison is the thief of joy and I think too many of us look at other speakers and think – I can never be like them.

No, you can’t. You’re not meant to be. Because you are not like anybody else on the planet. The fact is the audience are on your side. They’re just so happy that you’re the one on stage, not them.

It’s easy to think that it’s much easier for extroverts. This may be true in terms of confidence but not always in content and delivery. Someone who talks too much, goes off topic, rambles or is ego driven isn’t considered a good speaker. Audiences are savvy and do not want their time wasted. The audience needs to trust you if they are to listen to your message, and to do that you need to be authentic.

If you are a showoff who loves up to ham it up – good on you! But we also need to see the real you so we can trust what you’re saying.

A more introverted or contained speaker can hook the audience into focused thinking. Watch Susan Cain’s TED talk and read her book Quiet.

Are there hacks to becoming a confident speaker? First of all, know your content. No one will listen to you if you have nothing of value to say.

Know your audience and anticipate and prepare for tough questions and/or hostility.

Don’t do talks that are not in your area of expertise.

Prepare and practice, practice, practice. Not in your head. Practice out loud. We speak at a different rate out loud so not only can we practice timing we can practice words and tone.

Film yourself. Find a speaking buddy and film each other.

Lose your ego. It’s not about you, it’s about the audience.

Reframe your inner dialogue to reflect positive outcomes.

Visit the room if possible before you speak. Go on stage, feel it out.

Learn yoga breathing. It calms the mind and the heart with the added benefit of allowing you to control your vocal range.

How did you get into the business of public speaking? I was and am, a trainer. I was bullied into it by other speakers who said I was mad not to include it as another income stream.

Was it a struggle at first? If you had told me when I was 20 I’d be earning my living now as a conference speaker I would have laughed you off the stage. I was TERRIFIED of public speaking. Yes. It was a struggle for a long time.

What unlocked the secret to becoming a confident speaker? There is no secret. I practice, a lot. Even my signature keynote which I give most, I rehearse every single time.

But I will say that I became more comfortable when I stopped making it all about me. We all think the speech is about us – how I look, how I sound, will they think I’m stupid, what if I forget stuff? And in fact, it’s never about you. It’s all about the audience. Do the maths. One of you – lots of them. When I focused on what the audience needed and what I had to share that could help improve life in some small way, then things changed. When you lose your ego you start to lose your fear.

I was able to turn my fear into energy. After all, it’s the same drug, adrenalin, that fuels both. Positive self-talk helped a lot as well. Whether it’s toughing it out through a marathon or any challenge, it’s all about the mind.

Are these skills useful beyond the stage or boardroom?  I see these as life skills. We’re talking about influential, impactful communication and you can prepare any important conversation using the same structure and the same engagement tools.

Think about convincing your other half to go to Greece this year, or your kids to do their homework, or the football committee to take on your ideas.

When you can articulate yourself well in a public space, people see you as confident in all areas of life. It’s an essential life skill.