My Interview with Sarah Lloyd Hughes

I’m delighted to feature an interview with Sarah Lloyd Hughes. Sarah is a popular speaker on confidence and inspiration, an award winning social entrepreneur, founder of Ginger Training & Coaching and author of “How to be Brilliant at Public Speaking” (Pearson). She has also featured as a TED speaker.

Sarah Lloyd Hughes

In this post we discuss Sarah’s experience on the TED stage and the techniques she teaches about:

  • Overcoming nerves
  • Preparing for a speech
  • Creating something memorable
  • Engaging an audience with stories
  • Presenting with visual aids
  • Using body language to enhance a speech

Can you tell us about the journey that led you to creating Ginger Public Speaking?

I always knew I was a creative person. I like being around other people and am interested in the way other people communicate. So in 2009, having decided to retrain as a coach, I began running a couple of workshops about public speaking. I also wrote an e-book on my approach to public speaking. As luck would have it this e-book was picked up by a literary agent on LinkedIn. The agent had a book deal with Pearson ready to go but the authors had just dropped out, and so I was offered the amazing opportunity to get a foot on the publishing ladder with my first book.

As more and more people came through our training courses, word began to spread. In a nutshell that’s how Ginger was born.

One of the things you mention in your book is that good public speaking comes from within the speaker themselves. Can you explain what you mean?

Often the traditional approach to public speaking training tends to be a little bit mechanical. It tends to encourage you to be someone that you’re not. So here is a brilliant public speaker; do what he/she does, that kind of thing.

At Ginger we promote an approach that puts authenticity at the heart of everything, in other words being yourself when you get up to speak. Everyone has a moment when they’re being themselves – a moment when they’re really powerful, really passionate, really convincing. We aim to create more of those moments. The simple fact is that we don’t need to copy someone else when we speak. A much better way is to learn how to access that authenticity within ourselves. Public speaking comes from within!

Sarah Lloyd Hughes

What advice do you give to people who just don’t have the confidence to speak?

Really to just do it, even if you’re afraid. Often getting a real boost of confidence happens simply by realising that you are essentially the same as a professional speaker. There is no difference in terms of whether or not you feel nerves.

It is worth noting that some of the best known speakers embrace nerves. Take the example of Brene Browne. You’ll notice from her TED Talk on Vulnerability that when she speaks she says “Wow look at you all. I feel really nervous today”. In that moment she allows the audience to warm to her. She turns any nerves to her advantage by letting the audience see her real personality. She wins them over and it really helps her speech. So really the trick is to embrace nerves.

Learn more about the fear of public speaking here.

Do you have some strategies that will help people to appear less nervous?  

One really important strategy is just avoiding being so ego-centric. We only feel fear because we are thinking so much about ourselves. What I recommend for my clients is instead of worrying about yourself and feeling as if you’re being criticised put yourself in the audience’s shoes.

The audience more often than not is not thinking too much about the speaker; they are just present to get benefit for themselves. If you adopt the audience’s mindset you can do a better job as a speaker because you can give the audience what THEY want, rather than what YOU want.

How did you prepare for your TED talk?

When I set out to prepare for this speech the first thing I asked myself was what is it that I really want to say? What is the focus of my talk? How can I give the audience a unique insight? The TED promise of an idea worth spreading meant that my talk needed to deliver something different, something a little special. I was trying to find something that I had enough passion for, that related to my life and my experiences. The talk built up naturally like that.

While preparing I also tried to create distinct sections to help my memory. If your ideas go off in different directions it’s very difficult to remember your content. On the other hand, if you’ve got a logical sequence then you can remember the speech much more easily. As each draft gets shorter you get to the point where you’re dealing in bullet points and that was also part of the process of how I prepared for my talk.

My general advice to clients is to rehearse the meaning of a speech rather than the words. It’s not about individual words, it’s more about how you create a journey for the audience. Personally when I’m preparing for a speech the most important part is collecting my thoughts together, putting them in a logical order, and making sure that the audience’s interest build and builds.

Check out the ultimate guide to speech preparation here.

You raise an important point about audience engagement. What other suggestions do you have to keep people interested during a speech?

TED talks are brilliant in particular for two reasons. Firstly because they create one idea worth spreading. And it’s much easier to remember one idea than seven. In fact, studies have shown that if you give an audience too much choice they will choose nothing at all. That’s the paradox of choice and it’s very relevant in public speaking. People remember much more if you offer one clear message. So really focus on one idea to help with your audience engagement.

Secondly you should turn that idea into a unique experience for the audience. So think about what you can do that is different, that will get the audience to remember what you say. My test for whether or not something is memorable is firstly, can I remember it, and secondly can I contact it back to the original idea. If you can’t connect it back it’s not memorable in the right way.

Find out more about connecting with an audience here.

Slides are a very popular tool, particularly in business presentations. What’s your advice on how to use slides effectively?

I think that slides should be used in a mindful way! It’s supposed to be a visual aid not a crutch for the speaker. I’ve seen so many presentations where the speaker stands to the side of the stage looking at their slides and it’s almost as if the slide has the power. But the truth is that people get inspired by human beings, not slides!

If you want to test that theory firstly think about how much impact a video of you speaking has compared with when you are there in person. You are always more inspiring when present. Secondly experiment by switching off the slides at some point during your presentation. If you try that with an audience who are used to watching slides, switching off the PowerPoint is like watching a bunch of zombies wake up! It’s an amazing feeling; something different has happened and you’ve now got their complete attention.

For more check out the 2 part series on visual aids here.

Can you outline some ways we can use body language to enhance our speech?

A question of body language is a question of awareness. My approach is to get people to understand what impact their eye contact, gestures or movement have for the audience. Broadly speaking if you want to be a speaker with more energy then that’s going to mean bigger gestures, more movement on stage, sparkly eye contact, upright and open posture. Whereas if you are trying to bring gravitas to the room then we’re looking for you to be firmly settled into the ground, your gestures and eye contact become slower and more definite etc.

Check out my 3 part ultimate guide to body language here.

What is your final advice to Communicate You readers?

It’s not as bad as you think – you can actually enjoy public speaking. Jump right in!

Catch-up with some of the other posts in the ‘Expert Interviews’ series here.