When my brother asked me to be his best man, I was incredibly honoured – and completely terrified. Along with organising an unforgettable stag do and remembering the rings, I knew I would have to make a speech – something I’ve avoided doing since my performance as the Innkeeper in a school nativity at the age of 8 (a long story, but safe to say it scarred me for life).
Even the prospect of a public speaking course was about as appealing as the Victoria Line during rush hour, but I realised I had to do something if I was going to justify my brother’s faith in me. So a few months ago, one Thursday evening after work, I joined a public speaking course with Debrett’s.
The prospect of a public speaking course was about as appealing as the Victoria Line during rush hour
The group was fairly small – there were only 6 of us – and very friendly. There was a start-up founder due to deliver a pitch to investors, and charity fundraiser whose promotion meant he had to speak to rooms full of potential donors.
The session was led by Rupert Wesson, who heads up the Debrett’s Academy and happens to specialise in public speaking. We started with the trickiest part – how to banish nerves and appear confident (but not over-confident), and learned about the psychological effect of smiling and the importance of pauses.
We then moved on to cover some more technical topics, such as how to lay out notes, how to use visual aids, and how to deal with Q and As. While not all of this applied to my best man’s speech, I could see how it could be useful for work.
Rupert told us that it didn’t matter if we were reliant on notes or a script – that thorough preparation would stand us in much better stead than trying to ad-lib. One of my favourite tips was learning how to speak away from the page rather than reading directly from it, enabling us to make eye contact with our audience for longer periods.
There was plenty of opportunity for us all to practice, and because we were all ‘in it together’, this didn’t feel as intimidating as I had expected. We were also given a handbook to take away with us, with room for notes, which made it easier to go back and review some of the things I had learned afterwards.
When the day itself finally came around, I can’t pretend I didn’t feel nervous, but it wasn’t like the dread that had been hanging over me before the course. A small part of me was even a bit excited.
When the day itself finally came around, I was nervous but excited
Mercifully, the speeches were at the beginning of the meal rather than the end, and as per Rupert’s advice, I stuck to just one glass of champagne during the reception.
As my brother sat down to thunderous applause, meaning it was my turn, there was a brief and horrifying moment where my mind went completely blank. But I remembered Rupert’s advice and paused for a couple of moments, smiling at the audience (most of whom were smiling back), and in that moment I realised that they were all on my side.
The seven-and-a-half minutes seemed to fly by, and before I knew it, I was inviting people to charge their glasses, and my brother was hugging me, and I could finally relax and enjoy my smoked salmon starter (and about nine more glasses of champagne...)
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