Monday, 12 April 2021

THE INS AND OUTS OF GIVING A SPEECH | MY EXPERIENCES, TIPS, & RESOURCES | IN COLLABORATION WITH CUMBRIA, NORTHUMBERLAND, TYNE, AND WEAR NHS FOUNDATION TRUST

So, I delivered a speech to some of the Peer Support Workers from Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS FoundationTrust (CNTW) and decided to upload videos of clips of my twenty-minute speech to social media. I received a lovely response and was sent a few private messages asking more about the bits that you don’t see – the behind-the-scenes parts of giving a speech, so I thought it’d make for a good blog post…

My first speech:

I think that my first real speech was for a Time To Change event named Story Camp in 2015 (you can read about it here) – and it was requested after I had volunteered at one of their events in 2014 (which you can also read about here).

With it being my first opportunity to do something like that, I obviously had a lot of nerves and fear at the thought of standing before a ton of complete strangers and talking about my mental illness and other experiences that most people would deem ‘personal’ and ‘private.’

I think that the fact my first speech had been requested could have had a negative impact on me and cause me stress if I felt as though there was pressure on me to do it. But actually, it really helped me in providing motivation to do it because I felt sort-of obliged. As though if Time To Change (a big organisation centred around challenging mental health stigma) could go through the process it would have taken to choose me, the least I could do was take them up on their offer!

There was also the concern of how it would look to others if I were to decline the offer and would it mean Time To Change wouldn’t consider me for any other opportunities?

So, I said yes and before I knew it, I was facing a huge number of strangers from the stage of a lecture theatre in London! Fortunately, there was a podium that I could balance my iPad on it. I had jotted down talking points on the ‘notes’ function and my hands were shaking so much from my nervousness that I thought without the podium, I’d have dropped the iPad.

I think that the biggest thing I’d like to have changed about that speech, would be that my nerves had me so worried that I’d forget to say something or would lose my train of thought, that I ended up reading, word-for-word, from the notes on my iPad and that meant little to no eye contact with the audience. Which is usually an important and appealing factor in making a speech.

My thoughts on it being your idea:

Having that first speech be a request, meant that for quite a long time I didn’t realise it could be something you put yourself forward for. That you could suggest it…

Initially, my thoughts on the idea of this were mixed. I mean, part of me wondered why anyone would suggest something so bold. I thought that it could sound sort of arrogant to make a suggestion along the lines of you considering yourself worthy and deserving of an opportunity such as giving a speech for an important organisation or at an important event.

Why I respect those who make the suggestion:

Over time though, I learnt that using your initiative – especially in creating opportunities for yourself – can actually be a really admirable skill. And I think, as the years in my blogging career have gone by, I’ve grown more and more fond of this quality. I’ve come to realise that if I want I’m NOT Disordered to increase it’s readership, then I should go out there and make it happen. For me, putting a suggestion like this to an organisation or someone linked to a particular event, is an incredibly powerful move and those who do this, should be respected and appreciated rather than – as I used to – deemed arrogant or pushy. I mean, my attitude now is probably the exact opposite in that I wonder if those who sit on their behinds and wait for opportunities to fall into their laps are either lacking in confidence, have made a conscious decision to do so, or are being a bit cocky.

The fear of ‘no’:

I guess that one drawback and hesitation some people may have around this, is the worry that they’ll put themselves out there and be dismissed or met with a negative response. But in being the person to put the idea forward, I have definitely developed my confidence for future suggestions. I feel that with each suggestion, I’ve learnt something different or discovered something that is helpful or something which I shouldn’t do again! And so long as you’re learning, it isn’t a mistake – no matter how negative the reply.

Five tips on coping with a negative response:

1.     Re-read the suggestion you had sent to them and re-evaluate everything about it

2.     Know that it might not have been about you, personally

3.     Try to accept that perhaps that opportunity wasn’t meant to be

4.     Use the philosophy: ‘if one door closes, another one opens’

5.     Start looking for another opportunity!

How support can help in making the decision:

I remember calling my Mum at the Story Camp event I gave my first speech at, and I was sort of hiding in a corner of a room that was packed with people talking as though they all knew one another, and I almost cried, repeating over and over again that I didn’t think I could go through with it. My Mum was – as usual – amazingly supportive and helpful in reassuring me that I had the strength to do it and she encouraged me to take this very rare opportunity.

My Mum’s help and support were pretty monumental in my final decision to do the speech and I’m so grateful to have had her support because delivering that speech has both directly and indirectly led to so many more opportunities and amazing experiences.

I think when you’re having to make a decision about something – anything – speaking to family and friends can be really beneficial. It’s usually helpful – in general – to talk to someone who is sort of external to the entire situation because it usually means they can give a balanced response. Kind of impartial. They can look at it from a step back and that might enable them to be better positioned at being able to really recognise just how many benefits and drawbacks there might be for you and what the gravity of those should mean for your eventual decision.

Why it’s important to self-soothe and distract during the decision-making process:

We all know that making a decision about pretty much anything and everything, can be a harsh process for your mind and body. Trying to evaluate something, trying to come to a conclusion on something difficult; can – in my opinion – very understandably; become stressful, confusing, and overwhelming. These are usually thoughts and feelings that a person needs help and support with when experienced any/all of them.

In the psychiatric hospital I was in for two and a half years, it specialised in Personality Disorders and a recommended treatment for someone with that diagnosis is Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT). In undergoing this Therapy, I was taught so many incredibly useful and helpful coping skills that have gone on to prove beneficial during stressful and hectic situations.

Two of these skills that I seem to use the most are actually also really helpful during the decision-making process, distraction and self-soothing. The first; distraction, is mostly perfect if you find yourself ruminating over the decision and really panicking as you constantly flip through your options and the possible consequences of each decision. I usually distract by watching Netflix, blogging, or reading. Though it’s obviously important that you utilise this coping skill in a balanced way and without allowing it to turn into procrastination or avoidance.

Self-soothing is probably one of my all-time favourite skills from DBT and it’s very basically about providing your mind and body with something soothing. For your body, something comforting like a blanket, pyjamas, fluffy bed socks, being in the warmth, or just generally spending time at home can be reassuring. The tactile comfort is a very pleasant and grounding quality which can really calm you when feeling stressed with having to make a decision.

Five tips for making the decision:

1.     Weigh things up – complete the worksheet!

2.     Talk it through with friends and family

3.     Use self-soothing techniques to de-stress during the process

4.     Ask any questions of the organisation and others involved in the opportunity

5.     Engage in distracting activities to give your head a break


Why research can be important in drafting/creating your speech:

Once the decision has been made to make the speech, I’d say that the first real step should be to conduct some research on a number of different components that could be involved in your speech. I mean, you could find out more about the host of the event you’ll speak at, more about the actual event if it isn’t the first of its kind, about the topic you’ll be speaking about, and about others who have either given speeches at the event before, or those who have spoken about the same topic you will be.

There’s a few reasons research is important. The first, is that it will help ensure that there won’t be a whole lot of repeats of things that have already been spoken about either at this event, or in a way that those listening to you will have heard before. Your speech should really be original, unique, and different in order for it to be memorable, to increase the likeliness of receiving positive feedback, and to result in other opportunities. If you were to repeat things, it might come across as though you haven’t put much thought into your speech and that could give the impression of disinterest and a lack of passion.

Another way research can be important for your speech is that to feel that you are aware of a lot of the facts, statistics, experiences etc around the topic you’ll be speaking about, can really boost your confidence. It can provide reassurance if you are able to recognise that you have a decent amount of knowledge and education in something you’ll be talking about to others. It’s a comfort to know that if there was someone who disagreed with anything you talked about; you would have evidence to ‘back up’ your thoughts. And in a world where almost anything becomes controversial when voiced online or somewhere in the media, that comfort can be a powerful feeling.

I’ve completed a research worksheet below to illustrate and provide example of the information and effort I think you should put into any research done prior to the speech.

The importance of creating goals for your speech:

Prior to considering the order or format of a speech, I think it proves helpful to consider goals for your speech – the things that you’re really passionate about voicing and the impact you hope they have.

For me, having a goal can be prove to be an excellent motivation when faced with nerves, anxiety, and a general reluctance to follow through with the speech. I mean, it’s kind of like with my new book (being released April 20th 2021!) and how much time and effort I put into it, yet it’s turned out that I’ll earn 11p from each copy. I just keep in mind that I didn’t write it to earn a living from it, I wrote it to help people and to encourage others to have a more positive view on blogging and social media and to try to utilise it in a healthy way for themselves to benefit as much as I have. And I guess having goals in giving a speech is sort of the same, in that if I discover an obstacle around the speech, I feel more empowered and capable of facing it because I have a sense of purpose in doing so.

From the beginning of I’m NOT Disordered, I’ve always had the intentions of using my blogging to be of some sort of benefit to others. Initially, this was around improving my friends and family’s knowledge of mental health and my experiences in the hope that it might enable them to provide a more understanding level of support for me. That when those people are trying to help me it might make me think ‘they do know what they’re talking about because I’ve told them everything.’

Then, as the blog’s popularity grew, my goals changed too as I began hearing that my words were reassuring others who have gone through similar things, that they aren’t alone; and that in seeing my recovery, they also realise there’s hope for them too. This lovely response (though I definitely don’t think it’s ‘lovely’ that someone is going through, or has gone through, that) has created a new goal for me because I’ve started blogging more for myself now too. So my other goals are about relieving stress and enabling myself to process thoughts and feelings through blogging.

Usually, my goal in delivering speeches is to encourage others to find the courage to also speak out about their own experiences and to know that in doing so, they could help others as well as finding it beneficial for their own mental health. And this goal, usually helps spur me on if I find myself becoming reluctant or overly anxious about doing the speech.

Should your speech have an order to it?

So, the majority of speeches – particularly the most formal ones, usually have a basic format of beginning with an introduction, stating a number of points, and then finishing with some kind of conclusion.

I’m usually pretty good at the introduction part; I usually just stick to the basics of my name and then the role I play in whatever way is appropriate for the context of the speech. For example, if I’m speaking at an NHS event then I’ll mention that I used to be a service user and that I was a psychiatric inpatient for over two years; but if I’m talking about social media and blogging, I’ll mention my blog’s statistics and a little bit of its history.

Going into the speech and beginning to discuss the actual content, I usually have one key difficulty. I lose my train of thought, but from initial instances of the loss of the point I was trying to make, I’ve learnt ways to cover this up and to reduce the embarrassment this usually causes! If I feel myself getting distracted or starting to make a detour, I repeat something I’ve already said to detract the audience’s attention and use the opportunity to re-group and to gather my thoughts.

Honestly though, I think that even after over six years of speeches, I’m lacking in the art of being able to effectively conclude one! I think that I just seem to get to the end of what I want to say and I’m so eager to (in most cases) sit back down, that I wrap it up with: “and that’s it!”

Then, the majority of speeches tend to wrap up with a round of questions. It provides your audience/listeners with the opportunity to both check something they find questionable or are wondering if they’ve misunderstood it and ask you to go into something in more detail or talk about something you hadn’t covered but which they thought relevant. Being able to leave an event or even just after listening to a speech with the notion that your curiosity has been settled to some degree, can be rewarding. As though your time spent listening to the person, was well spent.

Should you write it or type it?

An aspect that could probably be deemed as fairly trivial; but which I think is important, is the decision – after determining a format for your speech – on how you’ll go about planning the speech. I mean, the question says type or write but that still opens the door for a whole range of different aspects…

I usually write my speeches in a notebook – whichever notebook I’m using at that time – and practice (something I’ll talk about soon) from that. I feel like writing it out, is like a draft of it and I get the feeling that I can cross bits out or add notes in more creative ways than if I’d been solely using technology. Another plus is that paper and pen can’t exactly break in the way technology can and that means there’s so much less risk of losing my work.

Then, as the date of the speech nears, and I feel as though the speech is more concrete and final, I type it into a ‘note’ on my iPhone or iPad. I usually do this because I’m very aware of how easy it would be to forget to take a notebook to the speech location, whereas I’m so much more likely to have my phone or iPad with me.

I also think it looks a bit more professional and prepared to have a technological device in front of you and not a tatty notebook where people can see, and judge, your handwriting!



To practice or not to practice?

This is another part of making a speech that is quite an individual aspect and is usually reliant upon the situation and not just your preferences. I mean, it’s not just about not feeling that practicing it won’t be beneficial – it’s also about occasions where there might not be time to practice.

When I first began making speeches, I was of the impression that you should always practice beforehand. I honestly that was part of the obligatory process. And actually, it ended up putting me off speaking a few times because I didn’t like the idea of practicing. For me, it actually amped up my nerves and anxiety because it felt like more pressure and as though it was another opportunity to completely mess things up. I mean, what if my practice went badly? Would I end up with even less confidence and courage? Would I be reluctant? Would be left thinking that if it could go wrong in front of the mirror or to my Mum, then what chance would I have of succeeding in front of an actual crowd?!

After a few speeches though, I feel that I’ve sort of learnt and got into a groove now where I know that practicing doesn’t help me. I also now know that preparing isn’t the same as practicing; because I definitely believe preparation – particularly in terms of research as I talked about earlier – is important and it’s something I always do prior to a speech. I think that going into a speech feeling prepared and confident in your knowledge of the topic you’ll be speaking about, can be much more useful than doing it over and over again.

There’s also the drawback of practicing that if you do and you feel like you’ve really nailed it, it could give you high expectations for the speech you give when you’re actually in front of everyone.

In all recent speeches (namely one with the CNTW Board of Directors and one with their Peer Support Workers), I’ve kind of winged it and haven’t practiced putting my very rough notes into actual sentences. I’ve found that way much less stressful because when I used to practice I was always left with one of two thoughts; either: ‘what if it isn’t as good?’ or ‘what if I can’t even nail it in the practice?’

So, I found just doing it with only my research and notes as preparation, actually boosted my confidence because it gave me no real expectations; no pressure in thinking; ‘this is what I got wrong in my practice, so I know to do it right now!’

Five tips to build your confidence:

1.     Dress in something that you’re comfortable in, but which is still appropriate

2.     Have an interest and passion in the content of your speech

3.     Reach out to others involved in the speech for moral support

4.     Practice – or don’t practice – depending on your decision in the previous part!

5.     Find a motivation to power through the nervousness

Delivering the speech:

A decision you’ll need to make in actually delivering the speech will be whether to read the speech word-for-word or have your notes or sentences and just allow yourself to go with the flow and elaborate on parts you feel should be focused on more.

Initially, I read directly from wherever I’d put the speech – iPad, laptop, notebook… But then there have been occasions where I’ve been very grateful that I hadn’t memorised – and wasn’t reading from – a speech because I hadn’t completely understood the context of the speech in terms of the event and the role of those attending and had to actually edit and modify my speech accordingly!

Now that my confidence has grown in giving speeches, I’ve found it so much easier to just have notes in front of me and decide what to discuss in more detail and what to leave out completely.

What to do with positive feedback:

1.     Keep a record of it where possible

2.     Use it as motivation to continue improving – don’t rest on your laurels

3.     Use it as a confidence boost for any other speeches

4.     Always show gratitude no matter how many times you’ve heard the comment

5.     Remember it and the power it had when providing feedback for others

What to do with negative feedback:

1.     Remind yourself that it is purely one person’s thoughts and feelings

2.     Ensure that it is constructive criticism

3.     Fight the embarrassment and talk it through with loved ones

4.     Try to remain thankful

5.     Learn from it!

And here’s what I’ve learnt…

Five things I’ve learnt about speeches:

1.     Shy bairns get nowt – if you want to give the speech then make the first move

2.     Each scenario should be treated independently with your decisions able to change

3.     It’s ok to be nervous – or to feel however you feel around the speech

4.     Find inspiration

5.     It’s ok to decide not to practice your speech before delivering it

Now, I hope you like the below video of some clips from my speech to the Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust Peer Support Workers.