Tag Archives: speech

The Show Must Go On: 7 Tips on How to Give a Presentation When it’s the Last Thing You Feel Like Doing!

Professional Speaking Association

For many people, the thought of delivering a presentation makes them feel sick with nerves. But what if you’ve been booked to speak at an event and you are feeling unwell?

I was brought up with a strong work ethic and wouldn’t dream of not going to work unless I was in hospital or dead! I’ve also had many roles in theatre shows where I had no understudy so there was no option but to perform, or I would be letting down both my fellow cast members and the paying public. As the saying goes, “The show must go on.”

However, last weekend during the Professional Speaking Association Annual MEGA Conference, I was starting to worry that the show would not go on, or at least my 45 minute session wouldn’t. The conference ran from Friday until Sunday; my session was on Sunday morning and I started to feel unwell on Friday evening. By Saturday lunchtime I felt like I had been hit by a truck; my body ached, I was overcome with exhaustion and my mind was so jumbled that I could barely string two words together. I was concerned but determined not to let anyone down so on Sunday morning, despite not feeling 100%, I put on my happy face and delivered the session I had been booked to deliver.

I learnt some important lessons as a result – here is a quick overview of what worked for me and what I will do differently in the future:

1. No one needs to know

Regardless of the fact that I was feeling increasingly unwell (and the pressure of speaking in front of 200 professional speakers when I wasn’t in top form), I knew that I would do my best to deliver my session as promised. Therefore, I decided not to let people know that I was struggling with my health and kept it from the organisers – they had enough to worry about already, especially as it turned out that two other speakers had to cancel on Sunday! I’m so glad I was able to fulfil my obligations and I hadn’t worried anyone unnecessarily.

2. Cancel all non-essential commitments

I had been really looking forward to the convention, the speakers, the learning, the networking, the gala dinner and seeing the fabulous Celia Delaney providing the after dinner entertainment. But it wasn’t about my wishes; I knew I had to do whatever it took for me to show up on Sunday morning and give my all to the audience. So I stayed in my hotel room and focused on getting well.

3. Give yourself the time to rest

Our mind and body cannot continue to deliver what we need it to if we don’t give it enough time to rest and recuperate. I had a lot of work on in the lead up to the conference and had been burning the candle at both ends. Eventually I just had to stop and give it some rest or I would not have been capable physically or mentally to deliver a 45 minute presentation to the standard that I and the audience expected. A good night’s sleep definitely contributed to feeling a bit better by Sunday morning. In hindsight, I realise I should have managed my diary better in the lead up to the conference and ensured I had enough rest time.

4. Treat yourself well

Not only do we need enough rest but we also need to fuel our bodies with healthy foods to perform at our optimum. As I had been so busy I hadn’t been food shopping so wasn’t eating well enough to give my body the nutrition it required to function at its best. I had even run out of vitamins! Once again, a reminder to myself to make my health a priority and to balance work with looking after myself.

5. Warm up effectively to give your best

My talk was titled ‘Prime Your Body, Voice and Mind: Off Stage Secrets for On Stage Success’; ironic when I hadn’t prepared effectively in terms of looking after my health! However, the focus of my session was about warming up immediately prior to giving a presentation to ensure you are in a state of readiness and fully present when you step onto the speaking platform. Therefore, I took my own advice and did a thorough warm up of my body, voice and mind. This really helped to lift my energy and enabled me to focus fully on the audience and the task at hand. If you don’t currently warm up before a giving presentation, I strongly urge you to do so and notice the difference.

6. Get over yourself and get on with it

My partner laughs when I use the phrase “get over yourself”, but that’s exactly what you have to do sometimes to get on with it. After an obligatory moment of feeling sorry for myself, rather than dwelling on how poorly I felt it was important to focus on being positive and on doing whatever it took to ensure I was able to meet the expectations of the audience and the organisers.

7. Smile!

Smiling releases endorphins that make you feel happier. Smiling is also contagious so it makes people around you feel good. Smiling, even when you don’t feel like it, is one of the best ways to feel better. I’m known for my smile so I shared it freely with the audience and by the end of my 45 minute session I felt much better. The feedback from the audience indicated that they felt good too!

Was I completely happy with my performance at the conference? No… (If I’m honest, I’m never completely happy and am always looking for ways to improve!) However, given the way I felt the day before, I was really pleased that I managed to find my sparkle and lift my energy enough to deliver the session to the best of my ability. And even better, the audience were none the wiser – they got what they needed and that’s all that matters!

Have you ever had to perform at your best when you’re feeling at your worst? What tips do you have to ensure the show goes on? I’d love to hear them; please do share in the comments section.

If you enjoyed this article, click here to access Mel Sherwood’s ‘Top 5 Tips for Public Speaking Success’

Mel Sherwood works with ambitious entrepreneurs and business professionals who want to speak with more confidence, credibility and conviction. She is a multi-award winning speaker, trainer and coach and the founder of Grow Your Potential, which specialises in supporting individuals and organisations to design and deliver winning pitches and presentations.

Mel’s background includes over 20 years’ experience in public, private and not-for-profit organisations in Australia and the United Kingdom and she has also worked as an actor, presenter and singer. To find out more about Mel’s inspiring talks and programmes go to www.grow-your-potential.com or follow Mel on Twitter @Grow_Potential


Secrets of a Public Speaking World Champion

World Champion Speaker2

This week I had the opportunity to attend a workshop with the Toastmasters International 2014 World Champion of Public Speaking, Dananjaya Hettiarachchi (‘Dan’ for short).

It was a delight to observe him weaving in so many key public speaking skills as he engaged the audience with stories, questions and examples along with general charm and a great smile. Dan shared various tips on preparation, content and delivery and a few secrets about how he beat 33,000 other speakers from 120 countries to win the world title.

Here is an overview of what he covered:

Be Authentic

Whilst we can always learn from watching other speakers, it is important not to imitate another person’s delivery style as it will not be congruent and will come across as awkward and inauthentic. Dan was unsuccessful in winning the title until he embraced and developed his own way of communicating. You can study others to understand the art of speaking but then use your knowledge to find your own unique style that works for you.

Know Your Message

As I wrote about in a recent post, knowing your key message is vital. You should be able to ask every person in the audience what your speech was about and get the same answer from everyone. Therefore, it is crucial to spend time developing and refining your key message. Your ‘foundational phrase’ as Craig Valentine (1999 World Champion of Public Speaking) calls it, should be short and sweet. Short so that it is easy to remember and sweet so that it is easy to recall. By sweet, it should have a sense of rhyme to it. e.g.

  • An apple a day keeps the doctor away
  • Life goes on so you must be strong
  • No more crying, keep on trying

A seven year old should be able to understand your message.

The Hero’s Journey

The hero’s journey is a well-used template in storytelling – a hero goes on a quest, faces a challenge, discovers the solution (in failure), recovers and applies the solution in order to eventually achieve victory. This can be a great structure for a talk, especially if you’re speaking about a universal subject that the entire audience can relate to (essential for winning the Toastmasters International Speech Competition!)

*Note: When sharing your hero’s journey, you can’t be the person who discovers the solution to your own problem; the solution needs to come from someone or something else – a wise adviser, a supportive friend, a parent, a book, a quote, a movie, etc. The solution will be your ‘foundational phrase’ which you should repeat several times throughout your speech.

Connect With The Audience

A good way to connect with your audience and help them relate to your material is to ask them a question; an even more effective way of getting them involved is to ask them to raise their hands to answer the question. Throughout your talk, continue to ask the audience questions that help them connect to your topic. For example, if you are speaking about wanting to be great at water skiing, try saying ‘Raise your hand if you’ve ever wanted to be great at something?’


Your speech starts well before you open your mouth to speak, even as you are walking to the platform; therefore, stand tall and walk with your chin parallel to the ground. If you are shaking the hand of the MC or contest chair (there is a lot of handshaking in Toastmasters!), ensure your handshake is strong and confident, not aggressive or submissive.

Then take your time; wait four seconds before speaking. This enables the audience to finish evaluating you so they’ll be ready to listen when you start speaking. It also allows you to get grounded and comfortable and make eye contact with the audience too. Make sure you smile a genuine smile.

To ensure you don’t transfer your weight from one side to another (this reduces your credibility), shift your body weight forward slightly to the balls of your feet.

Throughout the talk, use open gestures i.e. exposing the palms of your hands. When not using specific gestures to highlight a point, relax your arms by your sides with your palms slightly towards the audience.


Dan also shared five things he has learned during his 10 year journey to World Champion Speaker:

  • Believe – that success is possible. You can’t just wish for it though; you need to want it as much as you want to breathe.
  • Attitude – have the right attitude to risk. Take some risks and don’t suffer from paralysis by analysis.
  • Little things make a huge difference – be aware of the small things that can diminish your credibility and improve them.
  • Learn to be a better person – before you become a better speaker. Be the same off stage as on. Your words mean nothing if you are not sincere.
  • Sustain your success – find yourself a mentor who can support you on your continuing journey.

So that wraps up the words of advice from champion speaker Dananjaya Hettiarachchi. Whether you are aiming to be a public speaking world champion, or to engage your team at your next team update, use these tips and you’ll deliver a winning presentation.

Mel Sherwood empowers ambitious entrepreneurs and business professionals to communicate with more confidence, credibility and conviction. She is a multi-award winning speaker, trainer and coach and the founder of Grow Your Potential, a company passionate about providing the seeds to speaking success.

Mel’s background includes over 20 years’ experience in public, private and not-for-profit organisations in Australia and the United Kingdom and she has also worked as an actor, presenter and singer. To find out more about Mel’s inspiring talks, masterclasses and coaching programmes go to www.grow-your-potential.com or follow Mel on Twitter @Grow_Potential

How To Ensure You Are Understood


Whether you are leading your team meeting, pitching to investors or talking to your partner over a romantic dinner, the ability to be understood is critical. What you are saying may be extremely important but unless your audience can understand what you’re saying your message will be lost. And one of the best ways to ensure that your message is understood is with good diction.

Diction is the opposite of mumbling; it requires the crisp, clear pronunciation of consonants. Improving your articulation takes practice but it is well worth the effort. And the great news is that even just a few exercises each day to strengthen and stretch the muscles involved in speech will have a significant impact. Exercises will also bring your attention to any habitual speech patterns that may need improvement.

The type of exercises I am referring to are tongue twisters. You will probably know many of them, there are thousands to try; each one exercises a different part of your speech and focuses on improving a different consonant.

Following my training as an actor and singer I barely go a day when I don’t do some sort of vocal exercises, and I ALWAYS do some tongue twisters before an important meeting, networking event or presentation. I find that warming up my articulators enables me to feel more in control of my speech and ensures I don’t ‘trip over my words’.

I’ll be sharing some of my favourite tongue twisters below, but before you start I recommend doing a few exercises to wake up your tongue and mouth:

  • Open your mouth wide and then pinch it tightly closed a few times
  • Mouth the word ‘WOW’ stretching it as wide as you can on the ‘O’
  • Make an exaggerated chewing motion as if you were a cow
  • Sweep your tongue around your mouth into each cheek and across the front of your top and bottom teeth then poke it out and move it about a few times

These might feel weird to begin with but they will make a huge difference when you start to vocalise your tongue twisters. A couple of tips for practising tongue twisters:

  • Begin repeating each phrase slowly and carefully making sure that each consonant is crisp and clear.
  • Then gradually increase the speed whilst still maintaining the clarity.
  • If you stumble, start again until you can do it quickly and clearly.

Now try saying some of the tongue twisters below:

  • Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?
  • She sells sea shell by the sea shore; the sea shells she sells are sea shore sea shells
  • I want a proper cup of coffee in a proper copper coffee pot; if I can’t have a proper cup of coffee in a proper copper coffee pot, I’ll have a cup of tea
  • The Leith police dismisseth us
  • Mixed biscuits, mixed biscuits, mixed biscuits
  • Suzy sells sizzling sausages; the sausages Suzy sells are sizzling
  • Red leather, yellow leather, red leather, yellow leather, red leather, yellow leather
  • Red lorry, yellow lorry, red lorry, yellow lorry, red lorry, yellow lorry
  • You know you need unique New York, New York’s unique
  • She is a thistle sifter and she has a sieve of sifted thistles, and a sieve of unsifted thistles because she is a thistle sifter
  • Five flippant Frenchmen fly from France for fashions
  • Betty Botter bought a bit of butter, but she said ‘This butter’s bitter. If I put it in my batter it will make my batter bitter.’ So she bought a bit of butter, better than the bitter butter, and it made her bitter batter better!

How did you get on? You’ll find that some are easier than others, and of course it is the more challenging ones that you should focus on!

To remind you on a regular basis of the importance of clear diction and to give you new tongue twisters to try, I have introduced #TongueTwisterTuesday. Follow me on Twitter @Grow_Potential or facebook at Grow Your Potential for a new exercise every week.

I’m always looking for different tongue twisters to try to please share your favourites in the comments section and I’ll add them to my list.

Mel Sherwood is a multi-award winning speaker, trainer and coach and the founder of Grow Your Potential, a company passionate about providing the seeds to speaking success. Mel’s background includes over 20 years’ experience in public, private and not-for-profit organisations in Australia and the United Kingdom and she has also worked as an actor, presenter and singer.

Specialising in helping others transform their life and their business through clear, confident and credible communication, Mel empowers ambitious entrepreneurs and business professionals to clarify their message, engage their audience and use their body, voice, mind and heart to enthusiastically and authentically express their ‘inner oomph’. To find out more go to www.grow-your-potential.com or follow Mel on Twitter @Grow_Potential

What happens in a coaching session?


I’m often asked what happens in a coaching session and the answer is ‘it depends.’ I work with each individual client to meet their specific needs and this is established and agreed at the beginning of a session. Some clients have a specific pitch or presentation they are preparing for and need some guidance on the structure, content or delivery. We will work through it to ensure that the message is clear, concise and appropriate to the intended audience. If is the delivery that requires work, we will look at how you can use your voice, body and mind to engage your audience and enhance your message. I’ll provide tools and techniques for increasing your stage presence, using effective gestures and incorporating vocal variety.

Other clients may come to a coaching session to overcome their fear of public speaking or seeking ways to effectively manage their nerves. If that’s the case, I’ll ask some questions to help us get an understanding of where the fear or nerves are stemming from. I often use NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) techniques which are extremely effective in creating powerful shifts in perspective and mindset. NLP techniques are also great for ‘anchoring’ feelings so that you can access your desired state at any time; for example you might want to anchor feelings of confidence and calm. As I have a background as a performer I also use techniques from the stage which include relaxation and deep breathing to help with focus and presence, and using your nerves to bring positive energy to your presentation.

Coaching can be booked as a one off session; alternatively we have a series of cost effective packages available to take you all the way from reluctant speaker to rocking your audience.

To find out more about how coaching can help you become a better public speaker, contact results@grow-your-potential.com