Let’s Talk: Master Public Speaking
We’ve all read studies that cite public speaking as the number one human fear, before death, spiders or even heights. People would rather die, than face the nervousness of a big speech or presentation. Any public speaking coach would put this famous Jerry Seinfeld quote at the beginning of their presentations to break the ice (guilty!): “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy”. As you read this, you’re probably thinking you are one of those people. We all did. Let’s rewind a bit.
Back in 2007, I absolutely butchered a presentation I was sent to give to students in a famous Egyptian International high-school. The aim was to recruit them to a Junior Model United Nations conference we held every year at our university. I had a week to prepare the presentation, I expected to give it in a classroom of 20-25 students and visit 4-5 classrooms on that day to recruit 50 students. With my Powerpoint ready (the night before), my laptop charged, what could stop me? I had never done this before, but hey, I’m only speaking to high-school kids and talking to them about something I knew in advance they were already excited about. To me, this was enough to be confident. Prepare for what? Seriously (insert condescending GIF here).
So I arrive there on the day, with my big confident ego packed in my bag: I will kill it, I hope people don’t faint from the charisma of my amazing presentations skills. 10 minutes before the allocated time, I reach the school, ready to start with Classroom 1. Surprise. Executive decision by the school to put all 300 Grade 10-11-12 students in the auditorium, put me on a stage with a mic to save time. One more thing: no projector so no Powerpoint so I could keep my laptop (and my diminishing confidence) in the bag. Awkward! Why? Cause I relied 99.9% on the content in the slides. But with no time, I have to start now and well, improvise and try to remember as much as I could.
I start with the exceptionally original “Hello my name is Omar from the Model United Nations team” with a low voice and speaking far enough from the mic to avoid hearing my own voice (if you don’t get weirded out by your own voice we need to talk). Stage, mic, 300 teenagers (who are not very happy with this mandatory break) , 90% of whom are not paying attention to an unprepared 18-year old and 10% that are faking interest and just want to get out. I look at them but they’re not looking back. Most of them are talking to each other (smartphones still didn’t rule the world). Where do I look? Where do I stand? Do I walk around the stage and do hand gestures? I don’t know anyone here. Not the best setting for MY FIRST public speaking commitment. I also forgot all the important aspects of my presentation, the great and fun things we would offer the students during our conference, I hadn’t really rehearsed but I was sure I knew the dates at least. Nervousness, sweat and mumbling, were all part of the experience. Didn’t try to even pull off the joke, too big of a risk in that setup. The nightmare had to end soon.
After the concluding “Thank You”, the damage was done but the fake applause destroyed my ego even more (worse than the fake applause of a biology class presentation or a Trump campaign speech). I got off the stage and well, it was a big flop. I then went down and decided to redeem myself and informally spoke to groups of students about the experience before they go out, basically a repeat of my speech minus the sweat, nervousness and mumbling. I was fun, to the point and they loved it! After 30 mins of speaking to 4-5 groups, 150 signed up! Success! But I was the same person that was on that stage! Why couldn’t I be fun and composed up there? Why did I butcher it? I knew my material so what happened? Why was I so terrified?
It was my first time. I was surprised by the change in setup. I underestimated it. I did not prepare or rehearse. The content was not interesting. I relied on my slides. I got scared that people would judge me. I was thinking of the target rather than the message. Well, probably a mix of all those justifications put together. Later, these things would really help with speeches, job interviews and other opportunities I stumbled upon throughout my life.
Since then and for the last ten years, I have been fascinated with the study of public speaking, the importance of solid presentation skills for life and career, and the ultimate benefits it can bring professionals from all fields, students, entrepreneurs, etc. (everyone really). Great public speaking can create opportunities. Three years later I was selected among a large pool of candidates to interview Her Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan in front of 1200 people (story for another post!) and a lot of other cool things happened in my life.
After my first painful experience, as GaryVee would famously preach: I got my hands dirty, I put in the work and put in the hours to become a decent public speaker (still putting the hours). Most importantly, I made it my mission to coach people about the skill that is public speaking. I coached students, professionals, creatives, entrepreneurs and many others about its benefits and continue doing so regularly.
As I embark on this experience with Digital & Savvy, I will give you guys my two cents on public speaking (and definitely other topics), and why it can change your life.
It’s not talent, it’s hard work.
Egyptian-French Citizen. I most recently helped create exciting opportunities for youth in the Arab World with an amazing team. Previously I have worked at big companies like P&G and JLL. Also previously, I was given the opportunity to work on my passion which is tech and digital startups as the Program Manager of Flat6Labs Abu Dhabi. I love helping people and I am firm believer in kindness and empathy in life and business. I coach public speaking and have a profound conviction that it can change lives (with a lot of hard work). I read books, I love football, music and you’ll find me very up to date with the latest shows and songs shaping popular culture. I also hold a Masters in Public Policy and studied at the American University in Cairo and Columbia University. I speak French, English, Arabic fluently and I’m working on my German and Spanish to be able to speak 5 languages soon (still don’t know why but I’ll figure it out). Lived in Paris, Cairo, New York and now Dubai. Talent exists but hard work beats it every time.