‘Anyone Can Learn to Speak in Public’: Interview With Steve Bustin
Steve Bustin is a Brighton based speaker and communications trainer, named national Speaker of the Year’ 2015 by The Professional Speaking Association. We caught up with him to ask his advice on how to become a better public speaker, and to find out how he wrote his latest book in under a week.
According to Steve, anyone can learn to speak in public. He explains: “Even a shy person has something to say. A lot of it is about confidence and self-belief and helping them to realise that an audience want you to do well. An audience aren’t sitting there willing you to muck it up.”
“Some people will just avoid public speaking but in this day and age you do this at your peril. Public speaking has become such an essential skill whether you are running your own business or whether you are employed. Even job interviews will often have a presentation as part of the interview process. People who avoid it are doing themselves a disservice.”
He says that one of the most common mistakes he sees is an overuse of Powerpoint: “You do not need slides in order to present. Slides can be really well done, but people overload them with text and they get very dull very quickly. There are alternative tools you can use: bringing in props, using whiteboards and flip-charts, telling stories… The point is to make sure that the audience are not only engaged, interested and awake, but that they are actually listening to what you are saying and understanding it
“The other mistake that people make is assuming that the slides are for them not for the audience. The slides are there to help engage your audience and make it easier to understand. The worst thing you can do is to use your slides as a script. You end up with your back to the audience, reading your slides.”
Steve says that he still gets nerves and that they can actually help him perform better: “Nerves sharpen up the mind, they get the adrenaline running and help you focus. It’s all absolutely natural and gives your presentation or speech energy.”
But he does have some advice for those who’s nerves can get in the way: “The biggest way to combat nerves is to prepare. People often throw together a presentation at the last minute but if you’ve spent time thinking about it, preparing it and rehearsing it then you’ve got far less to be nervous about.
“If your still having trouble then the way to mange nerves is to notice how they manifest. If you are someone that gets shaky then don’t have your notes on a piece of paper, have them on cards. If you are someone who tends to get a very dry mouth then make sure you’ve got plenty of water. It’s all basic stuff but if people haven’t thought about how their nerves manifest then they can’t prepare for them.”
He told us about how he recently handled a tricky crowd: “I was compering a Christmas dinner. All they wanted to do was get hammered and flirt with the person sitting next to them. It was their Christmas party so I could completely understand it. The way I handled it was cutting to the chase. Keeping it short, keeping it sharp and working out what they were interested in.
“They were interested in the awards because they could win them. So cutting out anything irrelevant really helped. This is true for any presentation. Cutting out any fluff which is just padding can always help. I’ve never heard anyone complain that a presentation was too short. People would rather have ten minutes or really relevant, pertinent stuff than half an hour of things they don’t care about.”
Steve’s book The Authority Guide to Presenting and Public Speaking came out last October. He managed to write it in under six days.
“It was a bit mad” he says, “The publisher said we’d have to release it in 2017 because they were just about to launch their 2016 series at the Frankfurt book fair – the biggest trade show for books in the world. Out if interest, I asked how quickly they would need the book to get it into the Frankfurt book fair. She said she’d need it for a week that Monday (this was on a Thursday).
“I spent the weekend clearing the decks of all my other work. I started writing on Monday morning and finished at 6:30 on Saturday evening. Sunday I spent editing, Monday I did the illustrations, and the publisher had it that evening. It was a bit bonkers and quite a good discipline. I found that, for me, that worked well being able to sit down and write it from start to finish.”
Steve is already working on his next book which will focus on PR.