05.02.19 / Public Speaking for Designers, or, What do you fear most?

“You are killing your company. Your reluctance to go and talk to clients is going to kill this company. OK?”

This brutal feedback was delivered by Kier McLaren, mentor of Chris Do. Chris is the CEO, Chief Strategist, and Executive Creative Director of Santa Monica-based Strategy, Branding, Digital, and Motion studio Blind. This feedback was not delivered to Chris when he was six months into running Blind, but 10 years into running it (beginning 1995). But Keir wasn’t finished.

“Now, when they [clients] come here, they’ll see you, you’re sending a message to them; that it’s not that important to you that they’re here, that you don’t actually appreciate their business, and your employees will leave. Nothing lasts forever. And when they leave, who will the client know? You, or your employee?”

Ouch.

Obviously, it’s no good just pointing out flaws, dropping the mic, and leaving — so, what was Keir’s advice for Chris in order to save Blind?

He wanted Chris to volunteer to do some public speaking. No big deal, right? (Those of you who are uncomfortable with the idea or practice of public speaking have something in common with Chris, who was petrified.)

At the time, Chris had already built a name for himself, so people wanted him to come to talk to their businesses. He had the opportunity — he just had to take it, as uncomfortable as it was.

“It was horrible,” says Chris. “I would say, for the first year, it was absolute torture. I’m going to describe every fear I had prior to going on stage: the heart quickens; I start to get gassy in my throat because I’m swallowing funny; and I’m just a nervous wreck. I’m walking around in circles and I’m thinking ‘what am I going to say, what am I going to say? What’s going to happen? How do I do this?’”

One of the first times Chris was booked to speak, the Keynote file he sent to the organisers of the talk was corrupted, and they only had a day and a half to prep. Imagine this situation, or, if you’ve been in this situation, recall the feelings. All the feelings.

“I was sitting there writing down all of these things. My voice was shaking. My voice broke like I was going through puberty again. It was horrible,” remembers Chris.

“But I kept working on it. Each time I did it. It wasn’t that I was good — I just sucked less, until I figured out my own trick. I said, ‘you know what? When you talk about stuff and you try to sound too smart and you try to sound super-smooth, you sound worse. You get the opposite result; you sound less smooth and you sound dumber.’”

In a nutshell: “Stop trying to impress people and just go with what you know. They’ll forgive you for the words. They’ll remember your energy and tone.”

“So, I made a trick,” continues Chris. “I was really used to doing storyboards, so I treated the presentation, the slides, like storyboards. It was a story. And each frame was just going to be an image — no words on it — so nobody was going to know if I said what I meant to say, so I let it all go. So, the images were a prompt; they were just to remind me what it was I wanted to say. And I’d work on the storyboard, moving the things around until there was flow, like a movie: there’s an establishing shot, then you get tighter and tighter and tighter, and then you transition to the next scene — and that’s what I was doing.”

“There’s a difference between being an extrovert and being confident. I was confident [but is a self-confessed introvert]. I just didn’t like to be around people. I knew the work was good, I knew I was making a lot of progress and it fuelled me. And there are lots of ways I figured that out. I had to train myself.”

Now, that’s not to say public speaking will definitely become second nature to you, and that you will even enjoy it — but if you throw yourself at it with honest motivation, it will become easier and you’ll become more confident. One thing is for sure: the more familiar you are with the content, the more comfortable you’ll be with delivering that content to others. Know your stuff.

Let’s finish by revisiting Chris’ beautiful, concise quote:

“Stop trying to impress people and just go with what you know. They’ll forgive you for the words. They’ll remember your energy and tone.”

—QS

*The content discussed in this article comes from The Futur’s video entitled Overcome Your Fears: Motion Design Industry Changes, Public Speaking, Insecurities.

To view the full video, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rP2iDwSN_v8

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Heath Campbell

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