Public speaking is a gift you need to give away

“You need to give your audience a gift. This gift is an idea. Every idea, whether it is highly complex or very simple, should change how people view the world.” — Chris Anderson, TED curator.

Last year, I spoke over thirty times in public. I spoke about fake news, investigative reporting, data journalism, philanthropy, media literacy, migration coverage, newsroom leadership and — several times — Donald Trump.

Now you know that, here’s something you might not know.

I hate speaking in public.

On the night before an event, I’m impossible to talk to. Ten minutes before, I’m physically shaking. On stage, my legs desert me. The hand holding the microphone trembles, uncontrollably. My mouth becomes sandpaper dry.

Networking events and conferences exhaust me. I am not a sociable person. Introversion is my default mode and rooms full of people fill me with terror. They absorb my energy. Often after a speaking engagement, I go somewhere quiet and immediately fall asleep.

In December last year, I decided to reframe how I see public speaking. I came to understand that talking on stage is a privilege. Then I vowed to do two things differently.

Show respect for the opportunities that I have by honing my craft.

Chris Anderson’s Official TED Guide to Public Speaking has been an amazing help. I bought it recently and I have already deployed its advice in two speaking engagements.

For the first time, I’m speaking without slides. Building personal anecdotes into the narrative feels natural. The nerves are still there, but the reaction afterwards has been far more positive.

Chris’ biggest concept is that every talk is a gift, and this gift should change how people view the world. By honing my craft, I’m trying to respect my audience’s time and turn my talk into a gift.

Pass on the privilege.

If every talk is a gift, then I’m going to start giving some of my gifts to other people. Instead of accepting all speaking offers myself, I’ll refer other people.

We all have many colleagues and contacts whose voices don’t get heard. They deserve these chances. This is an easy way to encourage new voices to give their own gifts in the form of new ideas. If you’re an expert in your field and you get passed over for speaking opportunities, come and talk to me.

We often say our job at the European Journalism Centre is to connect journalists with new ideas. By honing my craft and passing privilege to others, I’m doing my job and perhaps helping to change how people see the world. Giving gifts beats stage fright every time.