I just served as a sort of spokesman/performer at the local Rotary Club here in Alexandria, LA yesterday, for the Louisiana International Piano Competition.
Follow a live feed of the performers right now! It’s the second day of the First Round, and the Semifinalists will be announced tonight.
Sorry—too caught up with my promoting. Where was I? Oh, right: about how to speak in public. Well, I spoke about the competition’s importance towards pianists and the city, and played, giving a brief rundown of Chopin etudes (playing the beginnings of several from Op. 10) that audience members could expect to hear, between full pieces. Those full pieces that I played were the Chopin Waltz in C-sharp Minor, Op. 64 No. 2; my An American Toccata (the first time I played it in public!); and Rachmaninoff’s arrangement of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee. I suppose I would say that they all went the best that they could have, given the circumstances. And I spoke between all the pieces, except the last two (always get straight to an encore piece while the audience is still clapping… in my opinion!).
Anyway, I was told shortly after the event that my speaking-&-intertwined-performing was great, yet I have never considered myself a “public speaker.” I thought about it for some time afterwards, and I realized that—ever since I was told to speak about my pieces in certain performances (all thanks to the LIPC’s Tour of Champions, no less)—there is really only one matter to keep in mind whenever it comes to any time when one must speak in front of a great amount of people.
Well, okay: two matters.
1. Keep in mind at least a couple points that you should make about your topic. Having three points is ideal.
2. Don’t be afraid to correct yourself in the middle of your speech or to change things up a bit, right on the spot (such as adding whatever you realized you should have said a moment ago, and literally saying, “Wait a minute…” half to the audience and half to yourself, or pulling away parts of your speech on the spot if you see you’re crunched for time).
These two points combined, if you keep these in mind every single time you speak, will help you eventually shed all of your nervousness when holding the verbal stage in front of people.
For the matter of #1: have something like an unnumbered bullet list in your head of specific things to say at some point in your speech. Let me elaborate on #2: when I mean “don’t be afraid,” I mean that if you are searching for an analogy in your head during your speech, or a comparison suddenly sparks in your thoughts (which connects one idea to another and which you had never expected to realize while speaking) feel free to give yourself entire seconds of silence to think and consider how to best say it. Don’t feel that the audience is pressuring you to speak nonstop. The only pressure coming from the audience is: they don’t want to hear a fake speaker. Or, at least, I don’t want to hear a fake speaker. I want to see a person make mistakes or think and be actively aware in his/her position on the podium (or wherever), rather than listen to a person read off a typed essay, however eloquent he/she may be. It’s scripted—artificial. So the former would earn much more respect from me than the latter.
I believe the best musicians are the most flexible ones, like a classical pianist who would be willing to try playing a jazz piece in front of an audience of strangers if suddenly asked, given the sheet music (or some other reasonable level of basic guidance). I also happen to believe that, entirely outside of music, the best people in general are the most flexible ones.
I strive to be this.