Skiing and Public Speaking

I recently returned from my last ski trip of the season, and realized that skiing and public speaking have a lot in common.

Since most of my friends don’t ski, I ski by myself and I tend to be a chicken.  I stick to the green, or easy slopes, unless I’m with an instructor who can coach me as I wend my way down an intermediate slope.

On my last trip I had been skiing for three consecutive days, lugging  my heavy ski boots in a backpack to the slopes, a bit of a walk at over 9,000 ft. elevation.  While I generally walk a lot, lately I haven’t been getting much exercise, other than a couple of other ski trips.

On the third day of my trip, I decided to ski more than usual.  I was getting a little stiff, but wanted to tackle a small, steeper hill that I had done in previous years.  I made a turn and leaned backward (a defensive stance that says “I’m afraid.”)  I wiped out – skier terminology for falling.  My confidence was badly shaken.

The following day, still reeling from my fall (which was a minor one at that) I went to another peak which required far more walking at a higher elevation.  I headed for the easy slope, which had a “Magic Carpet,” a conveyor belt designed to ease kids onto the ski lift.  Well, I nearly fell before I could get on the lift.  Arriving at the top of the lift, I felt fear and was stiff from overdoing the skiing the previous three days. I was falling into all my bad habits, I had a negative attitude, was not skiing well, and knew it was time to call it quits.  I was deeply disappointed in myself.


Upon my return home, I realized that I had forgotten to take my own public speaking advice which could have helped me out.  So here are some hints that I learned from my ski trip:

• I do much better with an instructor or a coach who can guide me and give me confidence.  So too do many speakers.  A coach can help you be your best and give you confidence.

• I hadn’t prepared myself adequately for the amount of skiing I wanted to do.  Just like skiers, public speakers have to develop stamina and confidence through a regular practice routine.

• When I got tired, I reverted to old bad habits.  So too, it’s easy for speakers to go back to old habits that are comfortable, such as mumbling or speaking too fast out of nervousness.

• I let my fall spook me out instead of realizing that falling and making a mistake is part of the learning process.  Public speakers too make mistakes.  It’s part of being human, and you have to dust yourself off and go on undeterred.

• After my fall, my body was stiff and tense.  When you’re nervous everything closes up and your muscles tighten.  Had I taken a minute for some deep breaths, I would have relaxed my body and improved my mental attitude.  When speakers get nervous they often tighten up.  Deep breathing helps relax both muscles and mind.

Will I let this experience deter me from skiing next year?  No way!  I have almost a whole year to think more positively, to practice and prepare, to remember to take deep breaths when I ski, and to develop more confidence.

As a public speaker, it’s important to know that you too will make mistakes,.  Don’t focus on them.  Just dust yourself off, and go on.  Who knows how many heights you may conquer if you persevere!

Microphone Tips

It’s a mistake many people make when public speaking.  You’re part of a program or a panel.  You get up to speak and you can’t be heard, you’re too loud, the microphone, or mic, is too high or too low.

To avoid being “caught by the mic,” arrive early and try to check microphone levels before the audience arrives.  Then, try out the mic.  Is the mic adjustable?  Can you change the height and angle?  If so, you’re in luck.  If not, don’t worry.  You will just have to compensate a bit.

  • If the mic doesn’t adjust and you’re too tall, don’t stoop down to it.  Try lowering you chin slightly as if speaking into the mic.
  • If you’re short and the mic is too high, ask for a small platform that you can stand on.  If one isn’t available, just stand as tall as you comfortably can, lift your chin, and speak up to the mic.
  • Try out words with letters that “pop,” such as p, t and d.  If the mic distorts, and sound levels can’t be adjusted, try standing slightly away from the mic.
  • If you can’t be heard well, concentrate on talking to the back of the room to help you project better.

Whether you’re short, tall, a loud or soft speaker, always pronounce your words clearly and support your voice.  Our “Techniques for Effective Public Speaking” teaches you how to project and support your voice so that you always sound your best.

What not to do

Interesting how some “experts” make speaking 101 mistakes.  This post was inspired by a You Tube video of a public speaking “expert” delivering a presentation to a conference based on his new book.  The presentation was so boring that I turned it off after slightly more than a minute into it. 

Just as you can learn from good speakers, watch for things you don’t like, and avoid them in your speaking.  Here are some of the mistakes this speaker made:

  • Keep your hands off  your face.  This speaker started by unconsciously rubbing his face.  Whether it’s pushing the hair out of your face or scratching an itch, keep your hands off your face.  It’s distracting and signals insecurity.  When I was acting years ago, we were taught that if we had an itch, we had to ignore it.  Good advice.
  • Don’t tell a joke if you’re not good at it.  It’s no joking matter. The speaker made a feeble attempt at a joke.  No one laughed.
  • Finish your sentences.  This speaker would start a sentence, then go on to another one without finishing the first thought.  This gives your listeners a sense of being disorganized and disjointed.
  • Limit your presentation.  The You Tube video went on for nearly 15 minutes.  The introductory minute was so bad that there was no way I could sit through 14 more minutes.  People today are time-challenged.  Less is more.  Better to leave them wanting more than wishing you would stop.

Why did this speaker do so badly?  It was obvious in only a few seconds that he hadn’t prepared.  He may have been tired, and obviously thought he could “wing it.”  This is one of the worst mistakes people make: thinking you can get up and just deliver something without practice and structure.

No matter where you’re speaking, your audience deserves more.  Think through every presentation, outline it, practice it.