Jeff Stephenson, P.E., is the Team Leader of [...]
Often people ask me, “How did someone as introverted as you get so comfortable with public speaking?” Actually, it feels quite normal to me since I’ve been put in front of people my whole life.
My parents, Wallace and Pearl DuVall, were Southern Baptist missionaries in Nigeria when I was a young child. In those days, they often spoke at mission conferences and would sometimes bring their children up on stage. Granted, my only responsibility in those days was to put on my missionary clothes and smile. But that experience helped get me comfortable with the idea of being in front of an audience.
After my parents left the mission field, my father served as an associate pastor in a church in Georgia. Now a PK (preacher’s kid), I continued to be encouraged to speak, sing, and even act in dramas.
Through all of that practice, I think the thing that influenced me most was watching my parents speak in public. Each one had a distinctive style, and they always took their preparation very seriously. I observed the time that they would spend working through their notes and deciding what they would present. Later I would watch the audience as they listened and note the parts of the presentation that seemed most effective in keeping their attention.
Those years of early practice and watching my parents ingrained some core beliefs in me concerning public speaking:
- I have a story to tell that is uniquely mine. I do best when I tell my story in a way that is consistent with my personality. Being genuine is the first step in capturing an audience.
- There are people who want to hear my story. First, they are glad they are not the one speaking! Second, they want to learn something new. Most often they will listen attentively and be gracious with my shortcomings.
- There is no substitute for adequate advance preparation. Being asked to speak is an honor, and I show my appreciation by preparing thoroughly for the event. Good preparation is a way to acknowledge the investment that my audience will make to listen to me. Lack of preparation dishonors that investment.
I love to hear the variety of styles that people use when they speak in public. The best speakers give us a genuine taste of what they are like when they are not on stage. You might think of that speaking style as their “missionary clothes”. When they put them on and smile, I’m ready to listen!
Read more about the science behind public speaking in this guest blog post by Bill Bugg.
Sain Associates, Inc., is headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama, with offices in Cullman, Alabama, Pulaski, Tennessee and Mandeville, Louisiana. Sain is a site engineering, traffic/transportation engineering and planning and land surveying firm with experience in more than thirty states.