Speaking to huge audiences on the radio was an important step to overcoming my fear of public speaking.

It is one thing to speak to a microphone and one or two others in a studio. Standing in front of a crowd or on a stage is something else.

I cracked it by starting small with:

  • a small crowd,
  • a short talk
  • and an easy topic.

My first official public speaking engagement was for a local computer company in Wellington, New Zealand. The company held regular evening events with food and drink for its customers. It would invite speakers.

Find a public speaking subject you know about

The company’s managing director asked me to talk for about 20 minutes on my work as a technology journalist. I can talk on this subject about for hours.

Thankfully, the audience was unintimidating, maybe 25 or so people and the mood was friendly.

When I finished a discussion started which went on for almost another hour. I didn’t realise until afterwards that I chaired the discussion keeping things moving along when it flagged. I just did what came naturally.

Over the next few months I had a few similar speaking engagements, the audiences remained small, but the session length and topics would be different. After around five or six events I was comfortable enough to tackle a larger crowd.

For years I couldn’t speak in front of an audience. I was terrified.

Informal speaking to a small group wasn’t a problem. Put me on a stage in front of a crowd and I’d freeze.

My voice would crack or go up an octave. I’d be muddled, confused and unable to remember what I had to say.

If I had notes, I was too nervous to read them. It was painful. And embarrassing.

I was in my mid-20s and my career was taking off. My fear of public speaking was starting to limit my options.

Then overnight, I cracked it.

The secret was something simple: radio.

At the time I edited a computer magazine for beginners. One Christmas, BBC Radio London asked me to come to the studio on Boxing Day to field questions from new computer owners who didn’t know how to get started.

It was something I was comfortable talking about. There were only two or three of us in the studio and it was a long session, long enough to get over my nerves.

The show went so well, the BBC asked me back. Soon I was getting radio spots on stations all over the UK and national ones too. I had regular appearances on BBC Armed Forces Network and then, the BBC World Service.

At this point I realised I was speaking to a large audience and people found what I had to say was interesting.

This gave me the confidence to speak in public, but to stand on a stage still felt scary. I’ll write about how I managed that in a follow-up post.

Plantronics Savor M1100
Plantronics Savor M1100

Weighing in at just 9g, the NZ$149 Plantronics Savor M1100 is the lightest Bluetooth headset I’ve seen. It is also the most comfortable. The headset is so light there are times when you can forget you are wearing it.

Savor M1100 is small enough to carry in your pocket when it isn’t in use and its elegant triangular design doesn’t make you feel like a prat if you’re seen in public with it stuck on your ear.

Plantronics has done a great job with the audio quality. I’ve not used a better sounding headset.

Crisp and clear sound

Although the three built-in microphones are a long way from your mouth, the sound quality at the other end is crisp and clear. When asked, people I spoke to heard me better than when I use my phone’s microphone. Plantronics says the three microphones provide better noise reduction, although there’s no active noise reduction circuitry.

Listening to music from a phone on the headset is possible – in mono. I found the quality is good enough for, say, a short bus ride. The headset comes packaged with a charger and its own USB cable.

Connecting to a phone is straightforward – a robot voice tells you when you are connected. There is a limited set of voice activated controls, you click a button and have ten minutes to utter a command. There’s also a volume control and an on-off button.

Vocalyst software

Plantronics has packaged its Bluetooth headset with a cloud-like service called Vocalyst. The basic service is free for two years, while a pro version costs money from the outset.

Vocalyst allows you to connect to information services like news or weather reports and have information read out to you. Each time you contact a service you make a phone call.

Plantronics’ sales pitch is that you’ll have plenty of call minutes on your mobile phone plan. This may apply overseas. Here in New Zealand where we pay through the nose for mobile calls that is not a great argument, especially when you can get the same information via mobile data at a fraction of the cost.

Vocalyst is an innovative and interesting idea. It just doesn’t cut the mustard at the moment. Still it is early days and this is just the first iteration.

Plantronics Savor M1100 verdict

Putting the Vocalyst service aside, this is the best Bluetooth headset I’ve seen. I recommend it.

In journalism quotes tell readers information isn’t made up by a reporter, but is someone’s account or opinion.

Not all quotes are equal. The best come directly from an interviewee’s speech and faithfully reproduced. In electronic media these are obvious – you see or hear the person in question saying their own words.

With written media, quotes are either direct or indirect. Direct quotes are shown inside speech marks and are more or less exactly the interviewee’s words.

I say “more or less exactly” because many journalists, myself included, tidy up, taking out the hesitations, the ums and the ahs. This is perfectly OK. What isn’t acceptable is putting words in someone’s mouth – words they didn’t use.

We edit – often the reader only sees part of an interview. It wouldn’t be practical to include every word.

Journalists use indirect quotes to simplify and summarise an interviewee’s words, they improve readability.

The best quotes come from interviews

Most quotes you see in written media come from interviews. Some come from prepared statements.

Organisations use prepared statements to control their message rather than answering pesky questions from nosey journalists whose job is to extract the truth not parrot propaganda.

Prepared statements don’t read like human speech. For some reason people think robotic English makes them sound more sincere or knowledgeable. Often the reverse is true.

Journalists don’t always make it clear when they repeat prepared statements. This isn’t dishonesty. It happens because constantly telling readers where information comes from quickly gets boring.

On the other hand, journalists shouldn’t pull the wool over reader’s eyes.

I tell my readers when a quote is from a statement when I’m writing a news story or feature, but not if I’m writing a two paragraph snippet. Most of the time I also tell readers if a quote is from an emailed response – which may have been written by committee.

There’s a fine line between full disclosure and boring readers. But if the story is controversial or important, take the risk and be candid.