What a match! Novak Djokovic pounded a cross-court winner past Roger Federer on Sunday afternoon to seal his third Wimbledon championship and ninth grand slam title. But what can the world’s most famous tennis tournament teach us about public speaking?
#1. Love your audience.
In a game of tennis the cheers of the crowd make a big difference. When they feel like the audience is behind them, it can give players a big boost. When they loose the audience, Centre Court can be a very lonely place! Standing in front of large groups of people can make us nervous. Put yourself in Djokovic or Federer shoes and imagine standing in front of an audience of 15,000 people (plus a few million more watching from home)… pretty scary stuff!! For most of us the idea of presenting in front of 100 people causes anxiety. So what can we do to make sure that we give a confident performance and get our audience on our side?… Simple. Show them some love!
The big secret is that there is little difference in speaking to an audience of one or an audience of one thousand. I understand that it feels different but don’t let that feeling fool you. Look at the people we consider great speakers, Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, Stephen Fry, they all have different styles and different subject matters, yet they all have one thing in common: whatever the size of their audience, they make every single person feel engaged and special. Treat the people you’re speaking to as if they were your best mates and you can’t go wrong. Just like in a game of tennis, the audience is your friend and they want to be part of your success.
#2. Focus on the task at hand.
It’s easy to get distracted, especially when things don’t go our way or we make a mistake. However, great performers and athletes focus on their objective and don’t let themselves get pulled off course. If we stumble over a word when we are speaking or forget to mention a key point, we can often spend the next few minutes beating ourselves up. When we see this on the tennis court we know a player is in trouble. If they can’t move on quickly they will find themselves heading towards defeat. The key to success is having a strong objective to focus on. If you know what you are trying to achieve – to inspire the audience or to challenge their current way of thinking for example – then you can direct your energy towards that goal when you find yourself in trouble. If the goal is big enough and exciting enough it will outweigh any negative emotion and help you to continue to move forward. Without a strong objective you’ll trip yourself up at the first hurdle and find yourself crashing out of the competition!
#3. Get in the game.
The more you do something the easier it gets. No athlete, whether professional or amateur, would ever advocate competing in their chosen discipline without first putting in many hours of hard work before the event. In the same way that Djokovic spends most of his time training, you have to seek out opportunities to speak in front of large groups. So many people say “ I’m not a public speaker, I’m just no good at it”. The truth is that if you’ve ever had a single interesting conversation with another person in your entire life then you already have all the skills that you need to be a great public speaker in front of thousands of people! It’s just a case of practicing (and working with a good coach) to find out what works and what doesn’t. Djokovic has been knocked out of many more competitions than he’s won but that doesn’t stop him playing, in fact it probably makes him more determined. That’s the sign of a true champion in any discipline!
What do you do to make sure you “win” when you’re performing in front of a large audience? What other professions have you learned lessons from? I’d love to hear your ideas (and what you thought of the match!) in the comments box below.