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Staying Cool in the Spotlight

Staying Cool in the Spotlight

In honor of Sunday’s Academy Awards, our resident public speaking experts offer advice on what makes a great speech. First up, Account and Video Production Manager Ann Hadfield, a veteran TV reporter and producer, offers her tips on how to achieve – and more importantly, project – confidence. Tomorrow, we will hear from Albers vice president and certified speech judge, Dani Hatfield, about the key things every person giving a speech or interview should know and do. Then, on Monday, Ann and Dani will share their recap on the best and worst speeches of the evening.

When Sally Field took the stage to accept the 1985 Best Actress Oscar for her role in Places in the Heart, she said, “I can’t deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me!” The line alluded to her dialog from the movie, Norma Rae, but Field’s nervous earnestness as she uttered it has caused it to forever more be remembered as the more unctuous sounding “You like me, you really like me.”

The sentiment not only affirms everything we think we know about the celebrity thirst for love and approval, but it has dogged Field for the last 30+ years and has been parodied so often that even people born long after she said it know exactly what it implies.

Ann Hadfield, our account and video production manager who also has a background in broadcast journalism, says that Field may have avoided the mishap if she had just rehearsed, really rehearsed, a little more. “Any time you’re speaking to a group, you should practice what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it with another person. Maybe if Sally Field had practiced with someone, she would not only have felt more confident, but she would have realized her speech didn’t sound the way she thought it sounded.”

But, Ann says, there’s a fine line between practicing and memorizing. “It goes against what we think practicing means, but if we try to memorize, we get caught up in what comes next and we’re more likely to make a mistake. You’re better off just knowing what you’re talking about and maybe jotting down some key words, and then being critiqued by a trusted advisor.”

Having someone you trust in the room when you are giving your speech or interview will also help calm your nerves, especially if you don’t know what to say next. But even if you can’t find a friendly face, there are ways to keep yourself from faltering.

First, Ann suggests taking the pause if you need it. “It will feel a lot longer to you, but it won’t be noticeable to the audience,” she assures. She also says it helps to have a comfortable filler prepared in your mind in case you really get stuck. Even just a toss-off comment like, “Oh, I haven’t had my coffee yet,” will win your audience’s sympathy and buy you a moment to collect your thoughts.

As for topic, Ann recommends taking a page from Oprah’s book. “Oprah always has her thoughts compiled, and she’s always really powerful because she has a passion for whatever she’s speaking about,” Ann says.

Ann adds that this year’s new policy of having the people the winners wish to thank scroll across the screen during their speech will improve the quality of the speeches. “Not only will it help ensure they don’t forget anyone, but it will make what they say more interesting than if they are just listing off people.”

Ann’s Tips For Oscar Winners and Other Public Speakers

Keep breathing: Short breaths are noticeable to the audience. Take slow, deep breaths to keep yourself feeling calm and not sound winded.

Pace yourself: Speak more slowly than what seems normal. People tend to start speaking too quickly when they’re nervous.

Be interesting and entertaining: Feel the tone of the event and tailor your presentation accordingly.

Practice, practice, practice: Don’t just run through what you’re going to say once or twice. Work with a trusted advisor and start to prepare weeks in advance.

But don’t memorize: Knowing your message points and being passionate about your topic will make you seem much more spontaneous and sincere – plus, it will help you avoid tripping up.

For more information about public speaking and media training, please contact Gina Pappas.