Public Speaking: Unlocking Your Potential (Part Two)

Trent Dunham interview with Nils Smith

Whether you love it or hate it, as a leader, public speaking is almost always a part of life. That’s why I wanted to talk to one of the best out there.

Here is more of my interview with my friend, Nils Smith.

Trent: A big part of speaking to a group is being prepped and ready. Not everyone can just jump up on stage and talk for 30 minutes without some type of preparation. How do you prep for a talk?

Nils: I’ve gone through different phases when it comes to how I present. When I was at Community Bible Church, I remember our worship pastor saying, “No one is allowed to have a music stand. You need to learn whatever we are playing by memory and not just read from a sheet, so you can lead effectively and be fully invested.”

That spoke to me. I felt as though I needed to be able to present without my notes. Now initially, I was very obsessive! I would almost write out my notes line by line. Whereas now, I literally just follow my slides as I present. The more you do it, the easier it gets.

I start with an outline. Here are the three key points with the end in mind that I want people to learn. Then, I simply talk it out.

Typically for a new presentation, I will give it at least three times somewhere private before presenting it live. And then my rhythm is a slide just about every five minutes. I’ll let the slideshow drive the direction and stay as practical as possible. Even if you start with a philosophy, you have to walk away with practical application.

Nils: So Trent, what’s your process?

Trent: Well, it’s not too dissimilar. I usually allow the slides to drive my content, because often there is a stat or a point that jogs my memory.

I was speaking at an event not too long ago and we tested the AV ahead of time and all was well. Now, AV can be your best friend or your worst enemy. I walked up to speak and the presentation did not work. I was dead in the water with no slides.

So, it is great to be driven off of the slides, but if you haven’t really studied the content and something goes wrong, you’re all of a sudden on an island. Everyone in that room is looking at you. You’re on.

Fortunately, about halfway through my talk, someone was able to get the AV to work and I finished the talk with slides. But talk about being put on the spot! So as a presenter, you have to at least have a framework in that moment to not lose the room.

My gift lies in putting the outline together and knowing the content. I’m not very good at bringing something graphically to life. Thankfully, we have a team at D+C that excels in that!

I’ll put an outline together and kick it to that team so they can bring it to life. Then, I can go back and rework as necessary. It just takes the talk to another level. A complementary creative aspect helps drive the point home.

Trent: Any other advice that you have for someone who is not used to speaking to groups?

 Nils: If you’re uncomfortable with public speaking, that’s not a reason to avoid it. If you have something to say that’s going to be valuable for people, then embrace those opportunities.

Coming from an introvert that doesn’t want to do it, it would have been easy for me to say,  “Speaking is just not my thing.” But I took the leap, and now it’s something that actually energizes me.

I’m still anxious in front of larger crowds. But it has helped me learn to articulate. It’s helped me even in one-to-one communications to become a better communicator. Because the best way to become a better speaker is to speak.

Trent: Absolutely. And another benefit to me is having my talk recorded so I can go back and watch the game tape. What was awkward about the way that I presented the content? What mannerisms do I revert to in a moment when I don’t know where I’m headed?  When did I start to lose the room?

It’s never going to be 100% perfect, but if there’s one thing you can improve on, it’s a great discipline to keep.

For more insight on how to be a better communicator, be sure to check out the Dunham Podcast episode, Public Speaking: Unlocking Your Potential.

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