As I learned on my own public speaking journey, it's not about perfect delivery, it's about something else - stories.
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My own public speaking journey and the power of storytelling

Last Saturday I went to see TEDx live at the Royal Festival Hall. The day was packed with speakers who represented the full gamut of personalities and communication types. There were your heavily academic researchers, your passionate CEO's, your activists and impassioned advocates. It was a wonderful day, and I came out with a lot to think about, but one of the aspects that interested me the most was which talks had that palpable 'magic spark' and why. 

While all the speakers had something of value to share about their experience and interests, not all the talks were compelling. The difference between those that hooked and held attention from the start, and those that struggled to hold onto the audience at all, came down to a simple fact of content - Personal Stories.

A talk was even more powerful when those personal stories were coupled with a clear sense of direction: what they wanted the audience to take away.

The talk that stuck with me the most was delivered by a beautiful young woman who was incredibly articulate, who opened our eyes about intersex, people who are born with both sets of genitalia. She argued that the need to classify someone as male or female can make things truly painful for those born as intersex, who as babies are forced into one or other gender by doctors and worried parents, and then have to live a life on expensive medication, when nothing was actually 'wrong' with them in the first place. An incredibly powerful, eye opening talk, but what really made it hit home, was that she was intersex herself. And she was passionate about changing hearts and minds to make life easier for others born as intersex. 

When a person's passions and personal story are tied up with their subject matter, it is like presentation gold dust. 

It's funny that something as simple as sharing our personal story can have such a profound effect, isn't it? But whatever the topic, it's stories that pull us in and make it relevant to us. 

Why? Because our emotions and the human struggles are universal, and stories have these emotions right at their heart. Stories work because they get us to connect with the speaker on a feeling level, not just an intellectual one. When our heart and feelings get involved as well as our heads, then a speaker has our full attention.

Watching TedX made me reflect on my own public speaking journey. Several years ago,  I used to get panic attacks doing public speaking. As such, I pushed myself to go on Toastmasters.

I found out on that journey that so many people think great public speaking is about being a polished speaker and perfectly nailing the delivery. Yes that helps, but it's only one part of it. The most important thing is about having something important to say, and telling it with stories.

When I gave my first speech at Toastmasters I was really nervous. I had written a speech about my personal story, including things I had learnt on my journey that I wanted to share with my audience. I ended up winning the competition that day, not because I was polished, but because I was passionate.

So if you have a speech coming up in any arena - from wedding to work - remember to use your story and passion to connect with your audience. Connect with the heart as well as the head, and you are guaranteed to make an impact. 

- Emma 


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