I have been lucky enough to have had the best mentor for learning to speak in public, my husband, top TED speaker Sir Ken Robinson.
In fact this inspired my latest novel, Letter from Paris, a tale of love and career transformation where main character India Butler delivers the speech of her life.
If the idea of giving a speech or making a presentation leaves you quaking, take consolation from the fact that even the world's most charismatic professional speakers fight through a degree of nervousness. It lessens with practice, but never completely disappears. You have a message to convey and you want to make it impactful and entertaining. How do you conquer your fear and hold your audience?
So with many hoping for a pay rise at the end of the financial year, I wanted to share my top tips on preparing a speech, overcoming stage fright and keeping an audience in the palm of your hand:
1. Find out as much as you can about your audience. Why will they be listening? What can you do to really connect with them? What stories can you share that will illustrate your message? Start writing your speech with a story that will engage the room.
2. Make it personal, or at your own expense, or make it powerful or emotional, funny or light but you always need to tell a story to engage your audience.
3. Write your speech so that it has three distinct sections - a clear introduction, middle and end. A brilliant way to end your speech is to link back to your opening story.
4. We all know how tedious it can be when a speaker reads from a script and makes no effort to connect with their audience. Avoid this by knowing your material so fully you could give the speech blindfolded. Write headings on note-cards so that if you do lose your train of thought you can look down at them to remember where you were.
5. Watch a bunch of TED videos. Notice how some speakers use strong visuals to illustrate their message. Jill Bolte Taylor holds her audience instantly by bringing a brain onto the stage. Others use cartoons or music. Let your imagination fly. What will best support your message?
6. Tape-record your talk and listen to it critically. Be aware of any ' ticks' you may have developed - the common ones are ' er ' or ' ya know' or 'so you see...' Is your voice squeaky and high-pitched? Are you speaking too quickly? Try again... and again... until your confidence grows.
7. Time your speech so that you know you have enough material.
8. Give some thought to what you will wear. Avoid buying a new outfit for the occasion. You don't want to feel like a trussed chicken in a new suit or to wobble onto a platform in precarious heels. Try on a few outfits that make you feel authentic and powerful and rehearse your speech in them.
9. If at all possible, check out the venue in advance of your talk. Stand behind the podium, or wherever you will be on the stage and get a feel for the room. Do a sound check with the technicians to make sure everything is working well, that the volume controls are correct. Do you prefer a hand held microphone? If so ask for one. Do you know how your voice sounds through it? Make sure you do, so that you don't startle yourself when you first begin speaking.
10. Finally take a deep breath and go out there and do your very best. Be determined to enjoy the connection with your audience and believe me, if you've done your homework thoroughly you will be just fine. Better than that, you'll be great. You will. I promise, you really will.