It’s probably the most important thing that you’ll learn in your life, particularly control over your fear and your anger. And yes, controlling your fear is essential for good public speaking. But don’t try to control the events that happen around you.
You’ll achieve control with rehearsal and experience, through which you’ll start to gain a knowledge of your limitations, and crucially, your strengths. If you’ve done the preparation, then you have your foundation right there (see my post Kung Fu Candour).
What’s the most important quality you need to be both a great martial artist or a great public speaker? One word, people: adaptability. Going with the flow, being in the zone, whatever you want to call it. Charles Darwin said: “It’s not the strongest of the species nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” I think you can apply the same for public speaking; it’s not the ability to project, or the slickness of your Powerpoint, but how you handle the unpredictable.
For me, public speaking is like a martial art. I’m no physical fighter, but I love a bit of verbal combat. I like to think of myself as a mystical, public speaking Shao Lin monk. In reality I’m a coach with tonnes of stand-up comedy experience; I help transform people into confident public speakers with tried and tested techniques.
Being a parent or a stand-up comic forces you to go with the flow, because making your child or audience unhappy is a very undesirable option. By being ready to take the risk of improvising around problems while speaking, you liberate yourself from the pressure of failure, allowing yourself to become relaxed, and confident. And that will come across to your audience, who will sense your demeanour, and enjoy your presentations even more.
You have to accept everything as it happens, embrace the chaos, and gain strength from it (if you’re a parent, you’ll have had to go through this process already at some point). By accepting what you can’t control when speaking, you have greater influence over the result because you retain a level head, giving yourself the best environment for good decisions.
Prepare as much as you can, with adaptability in mind.