Glossophobia, the fear of public speaking, affects more people than you’d think, including me. To try and face some of these fears head on, I recently attended a day-long workshop ran by our stand-in project manager Matthew Matheson. Here’s what I learned.

Benjamin Parry
28th June 2017

Over the past nine months we’ve had the pleasure of having Matthew Matheson at Clearleft HQ. Matt’s been manning the project management fort while Clare’s been on maternity leave, and in that time, he (and his dog Scribble) have become a part of the furniture here.

As well as filling the role of PM (no, not Prime Minister, Project Manager!) for some really exciting client and internal projects, he has delivered monthly personal development workshops for the entire Clearleft team exploring themes such as ‘positive mindset’, ‘accountability’ and ‘storytelling’.

Before being joining the research team here at Clearleft, I spent some time as an intern. Attending the workshops during this time was an immensely useful way of understanding how my new colleagues think, work together and onboarding some of the values Clearleft uphold. So when Matt floated a free ticket for his day-long workshop on public speaking I jumped on the opportunity!

All to gain

Working in the UX field, it’s important to be able to articulate your research findings, design decisions and project playbacks confidently and clearly with colleagues and clients. We all strive for a shared understanding and successful communication is key.

I have limited experience with public speaking. Like most people, I’ve had to give speeches and presentations to work colleagues, study groups and family gatherings all with various degrees of success.

Having attended Matt’s other workshops, I was confident that I was in safe hands and would leave with the tools I needed to make the next steps for progress.

Stake in the ground

The attendees met in the 68 Middle Street auditorium bar and made straight for the tea and coffee before being welcomed into the the workshop space. Once inside, we formally introduced ourselves in turn and wrote down on the first of many index cards what we specifically wanted to get out of the session.

Then as a group we claimed a piece of the wall and attached our index card goals.

Mine was:

Develop a go-to toolkit for coping with the in-the-moment fears and stresses of speaking in public

Throughout the course of the workshop we returned to this space to add parts of our growing toolkit and measure our progress collectively.

Superheroes unite!

Each one in our ten-person group had a different challenge, desired outcome, background and career.

During the first few group exercises it became clear we would be helping each other through the workshop to achieve our individual goals and would provide the praise and enthusiasm as a unit. This was very much a team effort.

Getting stuck in

Through storytelling, role playing and conversations, we explored ideas, shared war stories and compared battle scars. We unearthed and confronted some of the things we dreaded most.

I found a few of these particularly useful:

  • Superpower campfire storytelling - Positioned in a campfire circle we each took turns telling a story about the newly bestowed superpower of our choice. I used this exercise to improve ad libbing, I went for broke and, in my eyes failed miserably… it was great!
  • What makes a great public speaker? - After individually listing the qualities of a good public speaker we stood into their shoes and deliver a quick-fire speech. This was my “AHA!” moment
  • Give praise. Receive praise - Probably the easiest of the exercises but the one with the most smiles.

I’ve learned something today

The day ended with a round of confidently presented talks on the passions we’d each identified earlier on in the day. Gone were the nervous shakes, shortness of breath and spiralling traps of self-doubt.

We’d all been through a miraculous journey in such a short amount of time. We were exhausted, but each of us clutching a handful of personal techniques to take us to that next level.

Top tips

  • Get comfortable with being uncomfortable - the fears and anxieties won’t go away, you just need a few ways to deal with them
  • Saying “I don’t know” is okay and more healthy for your conversation - this one is already embedded into the Clearleft culture
  • Visualise yourself being the speaker you want to be
  • Authenticity - present from the heart not what you think your audience wants
  • Know your audience don’t pander to them at the expense of the integrity of the content of your talk
  • Find your voice - both figuratively and literally
  • First impressions matter - practice the first 3 minutes of your talk, the rest will follow

We left the auditorium transformed, more confident and with a plan of action and an accountabilibuddy to make sure we deliver.

My work here is done

Unlucky for us, Matt is moving on to his next adventure; but lucky for you, he regularly runs this workshop alongside an array of others at Improvising Change.

If you have any comments or questions about this blog post or want to share your experiences of public speaking, feel free to email or tweet me!