“Stand up straight!”, “Shoulders back, stomach in!”, “Use power words!”, “Let your eyes go diagonally across the audience in both directions!” We have all heard or read these instructions on how to be a more effective speaker over and over again. Many of us have made lists of the things not to do as well; “Don’t say um!” “Don’t put your hands in your pocket or behind your back!” - and then there are the things we have to remember. “Remember to take a sip of water!” “Remember not to end statements with a rising inflection!” - and so on.
Much of this would be very useful advice if not for the fact that it does nothing to help the speaker’s state of mind. For a large number of people, public speaking is a very frightening thing. Being overwhelmed by fear, it is difficult for them to attend tips about appearance, manner, or performance trivia. These tips help little other than adding an extra layer of complexity for the speaker to deal with in an already nerve-racking process.
Some pundits may preach that nervousness is to be expected in public speaking as it is not a “natural” activity. There are many techniques, they say, to learn and obstacles to deal with. One just has to embrace the challenges. Alas, this is not very comforting, is it?
Many of my clients - professional trainers, university lecturers, seminar leaders and keynote speakers tell me the same thing again and again: “I never imagined that I could speak professionally using my own voice!” With the best intentions in the world, most of us start out believing that there is a formal or “appropriate” way of speaking in public. Subsequently, we unconsciously or even deliberately use a voice in public that is totally different from how we sound in private. This kind of departure from our natural voice adds enormous stress to the so-called “professional” speaking. Public speaking, in the most strenuous form of “professionalism” inspires only fear in people who adhere to such an unnatural approach.
The truth is that most professionals already have a highly sophisticated level of communication skills which they use in their social and family lives, complete with highly sensitive listening skills, ingenuous technique for establishing rapport and making their listeners comfortable. And the best news of all is that most people I know are capable of describing their thoughts, feelings and emotions in a wonderful range of vocal qualities using an almost infinite variety of pitch, volume and pace to convey subtle shades of meaning.
My point is this; if we already have these complex skills and if we are using an entirely different method of communication in our personal lives, why trouble with the so called “professional public speaking style” in which we have little, if any, experience relative to our other natural communications.
The good news is that things do not have to be as frightening or complicated as they appear to be. Public speaking can be similar to the kind of everyday conversations that we have with our families and friends. With this realization, the speaker’s state of mind can change from that of fear to confidence. Over the past fifteen years, I have found that people respond positively to this idea. And with a bit of practice, many have experienced a quantum leap forward in their public speech delivery.
Following are some practical tips to regain natural voice in public speaking:
Practice all of your speaking - whether it is a keynote speech, seminar or training that you are delivering - in a normal conversational tone, at the level that it would require to communicate to somebody sitting across the kitchen table. By taking the emphasis away from speaking “appropriately,” you will automatically engage all of the subtle and complex ways in which you normally convey your thoughts to the people that you care about.
Read the Audience
Also, you will find that, because you are completely relaxed, you will be able to “read” the person to whom you are speaking much more easily. Then notice that looking down at your notes - or taking a moment to gather your thoughts - is an entirely stress-free activity. Am I suggesting that this simple exercise will improve your public speaking? Am I suggesting that this amazingly low level of activity, which feels almost effortless, can possibly help with the highly sophisticated, macho business of power presenting? You betcha!
Focus on Your Audience
Human beings, if deprived of oxygen for less than five minutes, will die. It is the substance most essential for our survival from moment to moment. There is another substance without which human beings cannot live - it is a most precious commodity. Without it children cannot be happy, they cannot learn, they cannot grow - and in the last years of our lives, no matter how successful we have been, most of us would give everything we have ever acquired if someone would just provide us with a small supply of this. This substance which we all need is, of course, attention. It is in our power to give attention to everyone in our lives - and generally human beings are very generous in this, with one notable exception.
Many public speakers are miserly when it comes to giving attention to their audiences. They study their audiences - about their likes and dislikes, their products, needs and requirements. But for some inexplicable reason, as soon as a speaker is introduced, he or she is quite prepared to ignore the audience.
All you need to do is to do the opposite. Put aside your self-consciousness, direct instead your attention to your audience, and adjust your delivery according to your reading of the audience’s feedbacks. To the human beings, there is nothing more compelling than a fresh thought or idea honestly expressed, and nothing more exhilarating than listening to a speaker who reads our response and satisfying our concerns from moment to moment.
Your success as a public speaker is inevitable, because you already know how to be a better public speaker!
These are just a few quick tips on developing a Commanding Presence. For more training on developing a Commanding Presence, managing anxiety, and increasing your speaking skills to the same high level as your writing skills then you should attend one of our Commanding Presence Advanced Communication and Presentation Skills Two-Day workshops.
The workshop is designed to improve every aspect of personal communication skills, from strategy and text preparation to establishing rapport and overcoming speaking anxiety.
Participants are recorded 4 times with feedback from the other participants and personal coaching from the workshop coach. Each receive a USB of their video clips along with a letter of analysis from the workshop coach.
Upcoming Two-Day Workshop Dates in Toronto
Sept 16-17 , 2019 (4 places left)
Oct 21-22, 2019 (4 places left)
Nov 25-26, 2019 ( 4 places left)
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