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The Scottish Network of the Institute of Translation & Interpreting

Public speaking: A fate worse than death?

Did you know that many of us actually rank the fear of public speaking (or glossophobia, just for us wordsmiths) above that of death? Fortunately for those of us in ScotNet who might suffer from this affliction, Mairi Damer came along to help at our final in-person meeting before lockdown – our spring workshop in early March. Beth Fowler was among the attendees and reports back here on a lively, interactive morning.

Mairi the “old punk rocker” telling us how it’s done

I’m an old punk rocker.

No, not me (I’m more of a disco queen myself), but that got your attention, didn’t it?

And that is precisely what Mairi Damer, the self-confessed punk rocker in question, wanted to drill into us during her presentation on public speaking at this year’s ScotNet spring workshop: it’s all about making an impression.

Public speaking isn’t something that comes naturally to a lot of us, but Mairi, whose company Word Up Communications specialises in helping you get your message across, had plenty of handy hints to share. She is adamant that speaking in front of an audience is a skill that can be learned and, believe it or not, with a bit of practice, you might even enjoy it!

Be memorable

The first of Mairi’s tips was to try to add some personality to what you say. That’s where the bit about being a punk rocker came in. It makes you memorable. Of course, you shouldn’t ramble on about yourself when you’re supposed to be focusing on corporate strategy or statistics, but a little nugget of personal information might just stick in people’s heads more than anything else you say, and it helps people warm to you as a person.

Elevator pitch

This being an interactive workshop, our first task was to prepare the famous “elevator pitch” – a 30-second or one-minute opportunity to sell yourself and your business. Mairi advised us not to see this as a hard sell, but as a chance to make an impression. Banned from starting with “My name is X and I’m a translator/interpreter”, we had to try to come up with a strong opening with a bit more pizzazz. After a coffee break, we worked on slightly longer three-minute presentations about what we do for a living. Several brave volunteers stood up to speak to the group, with Mairi and the rest of us offering feedback after each presentation.

Now for some of those practical tips. Always prepare. Very few people can just stand up and wing it. Have notes in case you lose your place. You might not need to use them, but it’s better to have some anyway. If you use cards, number them (sweaty hands drop things easily!). Try to give some structure to your talk – a good tip is to return to the initial theme at the end to round things off neatly.

The three Ps

And don’t forget the three Ps of preparation:

Practical: if you can, find out about the room you’re going to be speaking in. How big is it, will there be a microphone, a lectern, a projector? What are you going to wear? If possible, have a practice run.

Physical: immediately before you are due to speak, do some deep breathing, jump up and down or swing your arms about to dispel those last-minute nerves.

Psychological: give yourself a pep talk. What you have to say is interesting, you do have something to offer and you can do this.

Put on a performance

You might need to put on a bit of a performance. I don’t mean jazz hands, just try to come across as the best version of yourself, you on a really good day. You might not feel it, but acting a little bit brighter than usual can help you actually feel that way and steady your nerves.

Now that we’ve unearthed some very competent and confident public speakers among our ranks, I’m looking forward to seeing who’ll be leading future ScotNet workshops.

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