Ask The Expert: internationally acclaimed career journalist Karen Davila shares her tips on public speaking.

Karen Davila is a celebrated Filipino major broadcast journalists known for her thought-provoking, intellectual, principled and well-presented stories. From television to radio, Davila has earned respect deserved acclaim. Every weekday, she talks to her audience through her TV morning news show, Headstart. Her work has been recognised internationally by Unicef and CNN, to name a few. She has worked with the World Economic Forum and the ASEAN on different occasions as a moderator, sharing her knowledge and expertise. With a wealth of experience in the world of public speaking, we turn to her for some tips on how to best our stage-fright fears and to learn what to her, makes a good speaker: 

What makes a good public speaker or speech?

I think the most effective and powerful speakers speak from the heart. People want authentic speakers who are sharing their own vulnerabilities. Speeches aren’t relatable when it feels they’ve been written for you or they’re being read. Great speeches have simple solid sentences that can be remembered. Strong messages that are easy to understand and leave a mark to the listener. Charisma in public speaking is a gift but what one can say can be carefully thought of, studied and written in a way that connects with people.

Do you still get stage fright? Any tips?

Yes, I do! It depends on the audience I am in front of, but I do get butterflies in my stomach. I think that’s a good thing! It keeps you alert and on your toes. Before speaking, I don’t eat a heavy meal, I go over my notes and outline to make sure I don’t miss a key message. I don’t really write speeches, I make an outline or template and write down key points and quotes that I want the audience to remember. It helps when you look at the audience. Remember that you are speaking to people! That somehow keeps the conversation intimate.


How do you become good at public speaking? Build confidence?

First, more than form, you need something to say. What are you trying to say? What is your key message? The message should be more important than anything else. It takes your mind off of yourself and helps you concentrate on what you want the audience to learn. In terms of being in front of a live audience, that takes practice. Breathing, the right use of voice, projection, eye contact, all of these things can be learned, but what is of most value is really the message. Once you have a strong message and advocacy, I think confidence steps in almost naturally because the audience reciprocates it by responding to you.

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How important is to know the subject or topic at hand? 

Public speaking and doing interviews are quite different in the sense that speaking publicly requires you to be an expert on the subject at hand, while interviewing requires you to know all the issues but listen to the expert or source you are speaking to. Overall, there is no replacement for studying, researching, understanding the context of a certain issue. To be an expert takes years, but to speak about a subject with authority can be done with exposure, studying and research. I think you owe that to your audience and yourself!

Who are personalities you look up to in terms of public speaking?

There are a lot of great speakers. Martin Luther King Jr. Powerful speaker because his message was revolutionary for his time. He spoke unapologetically with an indefatigable spirit. Barrack Obama is also a very effective speaker, experts have said - with the tone and rhythm of a preacher. You have to find your unique personal style and work from there. Be inspired but don’t copy. Speaking is an expression of the heart and your own soul. For it to be effective, you have to be you.

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