As loyal followers of the Duchess of Cambridge, we’ve seen thousands of pictures of her that take our breath away: images of flawless makeup, lovely dresses, glossy and gorgeous hair, beautiful smiles. Every once in a while, however, I come across an image of Kate that stuns me in a more unpleasant manner. This is the photograph that brings this stunning sensation most vividly to my mind:
Can you imagine facing such a throng of people? The mere idea makes my heart race, my stomach drop, and the only thought that fills my mind is RUN. AWAY. FAST. After her first public address, Kate was quoted as saying, “I find giving speeches nerve-wracking” (Davies, L., The Guardian, March 2012), so how does she manage this? How does she cope with the pressures of public speaking and public appearances? Just as confident public speaking and public appearances are prominent aspects of Kate’s life as a member of the Royal family, they also are important aspects of our lives as students and professionals. Granted, we may not routinely face a huge crowd of reporters and royal-watchers, but we all at some point or another will need to speak to a group of people about our work. Learning to conquer your fear of public speaking leads to many benefits in both the academic and working world.
Here are some techniques and recommendations that can help you prepare for public speaking and master the challenge.
DRESS THE PART:
When it comes to what to wear for your public speech, comfort is key. This doesn’t mean to throw on your oldest pair of sweatpants and your coziest sweater. Instead, wear something that makes you feel pretty and comfortable. Some women chose a suit, but a nice pair of trousers and blouse or a dress is also appropriate. Most importantly, wear something that you know fits you well and that you won’t have to be tugging up to cover your bra or down to cover your thighs. The same suggestion applies to footwear. Your public appearance is most decidedly NOT the time to try out those brand new shoes that might have you hobbling around in agony after wearing them for 20 minutes! Again, select shoes that you have worn before and know to be comfortable. Same goes for your makeup: clean, professional, and (relatively) easy to apply. The last thing you want to worry about while giving your speech is whether your eyeliner has smudged or you have lipstick on your teeth!
Kate’s sartorial choices for her public speeches illustrate another important idea regarding how to dress for such an event: you want your audience to be paying attention to your words rather than your outfit. For Kate’s first public speech at the opening of the Treehouse Hospice in March 2012, she chose a cobalt blue dress from Reiss – an item previously worn by her mother and long sold-out. The message to the public is clearly to listen to what Kate had to say on this occasion, rather than frantically searching websites to purchase her newest style.
The same notion can be seen for Kate’s first video message, released in April 2013, in which she speaks about the importance of children’s hospices. In this instance, Kate is seen wearing the black Topshop dress with white contrast collar – again an item Kate-watchers had previously seen. In sum, wear clothes in which you feel both confident and comfortable. That way you (and your listeners!) can focus on your message.
PREPARATION AND PRACTICE:
Some of the most interesting articles I read regarding the recent Royal Tour gave brief, behind-the-scenes information about the planning and preparation involved in all the different events. Royal staff members travel to the different sites well in advance of the tour to map out travel times, directions, access points, safety routes, etc. They even plan where the media may set up, determine who will attend the events, and create precise timetables. If it works for the royals, it can work for you and me too! If possible, scope out the location of your public address – know where you’ll be standing, where your audience will be located, and how to work the audio-visual system. Ensure that all of your materials are completed well in advance, so that you are familiar with them and comfortable with them. Additionally, practice your speech in front of a mirror or in front of a friend so you can time how long it will take (and see if you make any goofy faces while speaking!).
There are a variety of calming techniques that can help with nervousness. It’s best to experiment and see what feels most helpful to you. Deep breathing – breathing in through your nose for the count of five and then out through your mouth for a count of five – slows down that racing heart and helps you focus your mind on your breathing rather than your fear. A few moments of meditation or guided imagery can also help soothe your nerves and draw focus inwards. The comfort of a good friend or partner who boosts your spirits can also be beneficial. The goal of any calming technique should be to help you focus on the present and lead your mind away from the anticipation of what is to come.
When I have a public address coming up, I always try to remind myself WHY I have to talk in front of other people. The answer is generally that the audience believes that I have something to say, something to teach them, or something for them to enjoy. I also reflect on WHY I pay attention to Kate’s public speeches: that I’m curious to know her thoughts and feelings on whatever topic is at hand and that I know she’ll provide information that is new and interesting to me.
Another way to think of this is that, whether you are giving a presentation to fellow classmates or leading a meeting in your profession, you are the expert on the information you are giving others. Have confidence that what you are going to say is important to your listeners and that they are interested in your words. Know that you have a worthwhile message to express and that your listeners will give you the respect that you deserve. Finally, try to enjoy the experience. You are facing a roomful of people who are there to listen to an expert – YOU!