professional development

One way to put your brain on “autopilot” and get comfortable when tackling public speaking

Dominic Powell /

Public speaking is a daunting but often necessary task for entrepreneurs and business owners alike, and keeping cool, calm, and collected when presenting can sometimes be a tough ask.

Drawing on the experience of a seasoned public speaking veteran, Harvard Business Review senior editor Daniel McGinn outlined in his book Psyched Up an easy way anyone can help keep their nerves in check when they step upon a stage. In an excerpt from the book, published in Inc, McGinn describes the routine used by regular public speaker and WithMe founder Jonathan Jenkins.

Read more: Why you should never use these seven words in a presentation

“If you attend a conference where Jonathan Jenkins is speaking, you’ll notice how calm and confident he appears. The second thing you may notice about five minutes into his talk, is how the speech makes an abrupt pivot,” McGinn explains.

“Jenkins’s introductory remarks are autobiographical. He talks about how, growing up in Texas, he wanted to be a cowboy. Only after he’s related his personal story does he segue — sometimes smoothly, sometimes a little jarringly — into the specific message of that day’s particular speech.”

McGinn says Jenkins often does multiple speeches a week, sometimes to venture capitalists asking for investment, and sometimes as conference keynotes. According to McGinn, Jenkins considers fewer than 100 people listening to one of his speeches to be a “small group”, while a “large” speech is one delivered to more than 1000 attendees.

“For nearly every talk he gives, he uses this standard autobiographical introduction, a well-honed, memorized set of remarks he’s used hundreds of times. As a result, Jenkins doesn’t have to think about what he’s saying during the first few moments of a speech,” McGinn says.

This “autopilot” approach is what McGinn calls a “clever hack” that allows Jenkins to minimise the stress of presenting to hundreds of new faces by falling into a comfortable memorised routine before launching into the heart of his speech.

“Jonathan Jenkins has found a way to turn a stressful activity that’s prone to overthinking into a rote, turn-your-brain-off moment,” writes McGinn.

“It’s a technique worth remembering as you approach the high-stakes events in your career.”

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Dominic Powell

Dominic Powell is a journalist at SmartCompany and a tech and music geek. When he’s not writing, you can find him reading or browsing record shops.

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