“Hello – public speaking isn’t really my strong side, so I just hope I can get through this.”
So said Naomi Osaka, the newly crowned Australian Open champion and now world No.1 tennis champion.
Who would have thought that giving a speech and press conference could be more nerve racking than winning your second Grand Slam final?
Yet despite having the Australian crowd well and truly behind her, the notoriously shy 21-year-old Japanese star followed a great victory with some noticeably awkward public speaking moments.
So, what can we learn from Naomi’s uncomfortable time in the spotlight?
1. Don’t rely on your notes
Naomi had a speech prepared, which is always recommended. But it’s not something you can rely on in the heat of the moment. And you needn’t worry about memorizing it anyway – the audience doesn’t know the content of your notes or your preparation, all they’re focused on is the real you, live in the moment.
2. Mind your body language
No matter how introverted, over awed or inexperienced you are, positive body language is crucial in communication.
One of the simplest and most powerful things you can do is SMILE. Even if you have to ‘fake it until you make it’, a smile can be enough to keep the audience on your side while you gather your thoughts. In Naomi’s case, it would have kept the audience focused on her incredible tennis, not the post-match formalities.
As you can see from the one-minute mark of this clip, Naomi’s nervousness was evident from the moment she walked towards the microphone.
To her credit, Naomi was upfront and humorous about her nerves, which got a laugh. But it wasn’t enough to mask her obvious anxiety. Her lack of positive body language told the audience that Osaka’s off court readiness ranked well below her on-court performance.
3. Keep the focus on them
Tennis players on the world tour are some of the most media and presentation trained athletes in the world. A key learning and secret to their success is that they enjoy their speeches and make them about the audience instead of themselves. If it’s not about you, how can you be nervous?
The first trick they always use is to thank the crowd with cliché lines like ‘you’re the best crowd in the world’, ‘this is my favorite tournament in the world’, ‘I couldn’t have done it without your support’ and so on. While the crowd cheers hysterically you can smile, gather your thoughts and thank the next group of people. Keep going until everyone is thanked, and you’ve bought yourself plenty of space to be ready for showtime.
Osaka actually used this tactic quite well:
“Huge congrats to Petra… “You’re amazing, and I’m really honoured to have played you in the final of a Grand Slam”.
“Thank you everyone, and I’m really honored to have played in this final.”
It was beautifully said and well received by the audience and her competitor. Unfortunately, though it was her least nervous moment, she had her back to the audience the whole time. Overall it still made good TV, but the live audience was looking at Osaka’s back.
We can learn a lot from Osaka’s on and off-court performance. Being a serious talent and a lovely person will only get you so far. But if Osaka applies herself to learning the art of public speaking with the same vigour she applies to her tennis game, she will not only play like a world champion, she will speak like one too.
Founder and Director of Good Talent Media