What makes great public speakers stand out? What are the speaking skills you need for a successful presentation? Whether you are a bestselling author who has presented their book to tedx events a million times or this is your first presentation, you cannot inspire others unless you know some very basic speaking secrets that can teach you how to give talks like the best speakers in the field.
The first piece of advice you have probably been given so far is to practice relentlessly, and although this is good advice, you need to know what to practice, or you may be not advancing your skills in the right direction.
If I were to ask you to introduce yourself in front of an audience of strangers you most likely would feel not especially comfortable to be isolated from the crowd and to be alone and kind of stranded with lots of pairs of eyes staring at you. For most people this is the kind of situation that makes the fight or flight or freeze responses start to be activated.
So if that's you, don't worry about it. One of the things that I will be teaching you is some fundamentally simple techniques that you can use so that you're a little bit more in the driving seat so that you can ride the crest of those hormonal shifts rather than be at the mercy of them.
Although the essential learning for this needs to be embodied so you can understand how it feels in your own physical form, in your own voice, in your breath, in your sense of yourself in the space, it can be useful to also point out the principles that underlie transformation in this area. In this article we will be focussing first of all on the body.
When speaking it is important you are as comfortable as you can in a stationary position. If you are used to doing large events, it's great to be able to move but what I encourage you to do is to be conscious about when you're moving and when you're not. So for example, if you wanted to say something dynamic, you might choose to move, but then you would want to return to your still place. So whenever you move you have a place to return to so that you don't end up with a random way of moving, but instead you have a fundamental connection with the ground under your feet.
Stand with your feet hip distance apart. Let your feet spread and let your knees soften. Be careful not to lock your knees. To understand what this mean consider this: if you push your knees back as far as they can go, they won't go any further and you will feel then the tension in your thigh muscles build up. Now let your kneecaps soften. This doesn't mean you have to bend your knees, it's just about having a softness and flexibility in your knees. Spread your feet as much as you can.
See if you can feel the surfaces of your feet against the floor, your toes, your backs of your toes, the balls of your feet, the sides of your feet in your heels. Standing at your full height, imagine that there is a string and that string comes up from the centre of your head and it's coming up to the sky and dropping down like a line all the way through the centre of your body and entering the ground between your feet.
Open the shoulders, allow the arms to be as soft and relaxed as they can. Close your eyes and have a real strong sense of the attention being in your feet, bringing all your attention to your feet. Get a sense of the distribution of your own weight. Do you feel your weight is even between your left and right feet? Try to distribute your weight so it's a little bit more on the ball of the foot rather than on the heels.
Imagine your foot is like a three pin plug where the two pins are on the ball of the foot and the single pin is in the heel. The three pin plug goes into a socket and the grass in the ground under ground underneath your feet. So you've got a very strong sense of a connection with the ground under you. If you want a natural image you can imagine instead that your feet are like the roots of a tree.Have a sense of your body weight and the ground under you supporting you because to create a sense of authority, of personal presence, of sense of gravitas, it starts from the ground up. So balancing your mental energy with the energy that goes into the earth is really helpful.
Trying to keep your body as straight as possible take your weight forward onto your toes and then around onto one foot, the on the other. And then try to go around the back. You can't do a very big arc of a circle when you go onto the heels without your toes lifting off. See where your own edges are and notice where your heels start to lift off. Take yourself on a little exploratory journey. Play with gravity and your balance. Make your circles like a corkscrew, smaller and smaller until you feel you have come to your center.
Open your eyes and have a little look around. Drop your chin very slightly. Have a look around the room having a look around at everybody. Check that you are not on your back foot because it comes across as under energised. It comes across like you're not ready. Be on the front foot, get a sense of readiness and enthusiasm.
To create the conditions in which people want to give you their attention you need to know how to make an entrance. First of all it is important to be as calm as possible. You will always experience a bit of nerves but to avoid getting into a panic it is essential you spend some time before your speech or presentation taking a few diaphragmatic breaths.
When you do this you stop the panic response because you switch on the parasympathetic nervous system. The diaphragm is a big dome shaped muscle that cuts us in half. It moves out and down and it causes the abdominal muscles to rise on the inhale and fall on the exhale. Lots of people are so used to taking the breath into the upper chest that only the chest moves. So place your hands on your abdomen and see if you can soften around the belly a little. Now, as you inhale through your nose make sure your belly moves out, as if you were inflating a balloon. As you exhale slowly push all of the air out of your lungs until there is no air left. Make sure your out-breath is longer than your in-breath.
Stand up straight with your eyes on horizon rather than your feet. Breathe in to prepare.
Breathe out and as you do, take a few strides forward into the space. Stop in the middle of the space.
Ground yourself. Put your three pin plug in the ground or root your legs into the earth like a tree. Breathe in. This breath in is the one that is the most challenging because that's the one that says: 'I'm here. I have a right to be here. I'm taking you all in. I'm comfortable in my own skin.'
As you breathe out, introduce yourself and your topic.
Remember: One breath, One Sentence. Give your audience a chance to take in what you have to say by taking a pause and breathing in between sentences.
You cannot inspire others and give ted presentations or ted talks like the great ted speakers without the right mindset. As you land in the space and make eye contact with the audience you need to remember that you are there to connect with each member of the audience one at a time.
Whether there are two, twenty, two hundred or two thousand people in the audience what is important is forming a meaningful connection with each one of them one at a time. So do look at your audience before you even begin your speech and be curious about them.
Your job is to take care of your audience. The more comfortable you are on stage the more comfortable they will be. You are their permission slip to be themselves because the more you are authentic the more you give them permission to do the same. So switch your focus from yourself to making your audience feel good. This will also help you feel a lot more relaxed and help you distract you from any anxiety you may be feeling.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Your job on stage is to take care of your audience. Speaking is not about you. It is about sharing your knowledge and making your audience feel good.
A lot of people when they get centre stage do not command attention. Your body says more about you than your words can ever do. Get your body in the right space and it will help you get your mind in the right space too, build rapport and make you and your audience more comfortable. Here's a list of common habits people engage in when introducing themselves or the subject of a presentation.
Want to know more? Find out how hypnotherapy can help you find your authentic confidence on stage.
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Whether you are an actor, a musician, a comedian or simply need to give a talk or a presentation at work, sometimes you may feel so nervous about performing or speaking in front of an audience that even the thought produces fear in you and you'd do anything to avoid it. Even the most seasoned performers can experience this, and it is due to the emergency part of our brains (the "amygdala") interpreting your circumstance as a threat and switching on the fight or flight response.
When we are blocked in an area of our lives it often is due to the fact that we feel safer that way. We may feel unhappy but that is easier to deal with than our fear of the unknown. We begin to change when the pain we experience in staying stuck is bigger than the anticipated pain of change.
A lot of fear comes down to our negative core beliefs : deeply held beliefs acquired some time in the past due to painful experiences. Becoming conscious and challenging these beliefs is the first step in the process of change.
For a moment, think about something you would really like to do or be right now but don’t feel able to. When you’ve got that, write it down. Do that now. Maybe you have always wanted to be an artist so write down “I am a capable and talented artist”.
Now, in all probability a voice in your head has just emerged to criticize this statement bringing up all sorts of reasons why this is either impossible or a bad idea. Positive affirmations can give us a sense of safety and hope if we let them but at first you will probably feel they sound fake, embarassing or not right. No surprise there. If you have spent all your life bludgeoning yourself with negative beliefs such as “I am worthless” or “I am not good enough” or “I must be perfect to deserve success” anything else will sound unfamiliar and syrupy or cheesy . So saying to yourself ” I am lovable just as I am” or “I am capable and confident” will surely sound untrue at first.
The problem with not accepting a belief because it doesn’ t sound right though is that feelings are a result of thoughts and if you want to change a feeling you have got to change the thought first. It’s a bit like the idea of “fake it til you make it”. You can’t wait to feel it to believe it, you gotta believe it to feel it! Luckily there are some ways to get around this obstacle, but all of these do involve a certain willingness to suspend judgement and take a leap of faith, as well as engage our rational mind doubting limiting old beliefs.
So what is that critical monster in your head saying when you tell it you already are what you want to be ?( After saying your affirmation: i.e. “I am ok just as I am” )
Listen to the objections that come your way. What s the cruel voice saying inside your head ? “so you’re ok as you are… ah ah sure you are!”, “who are you kidding?”, “You are ugly”, “You will never change”, “You can’t do anything right”, “No-one will ever love you unless you are perfect”, etc etc… You will be amazed at the rotten things you can come up with. Write them down. These are your personal negative core beliefs.
Once you have written them down you can start having a good look at where these beliefs come from: Mom and dad? Your school bully? The boy/girl you were in love with when you were ten? Teachers that pushed you too hard? Your little jealous sister ? Scan your blurts for possible sources. Time travel back into your life in five year increments and list by name who influenced you the most in each block of time.
Once you have identified these challenge their opinions. What self serving reason could they have had to have done or said what they did do or say? How did their own worldview influence them ? What did they believe about themselves ? What messages did they grow up with ? Remember this is not about blaming or condoning, just understanding and distinguishing their beliefs from what yours would be if you hadn’t accepted theirs as true. If there is still a lot of emotional energy involved in recalling these memories you might have to release it first so you can forgive them and yourself and move on.
Keep in mind that it is also possible your negative beliefs may come from subtle non direct messages received from your environment or from an experience of something that happened to you where others were not directly involved:
Maybe you felt different because of a situation you found yourself in; maybe you were abandoned by a significant other; maybe you fell ill and became isolated; maybe you were born with something that set you apart from others and you yourself came up with the negative conclusion that you were not Ok just as you were: the possibilities are endless and very personal.
Whatever your monster is, after it has been brought up to the light of day you can start working on challenging its critical voice and changing those negative beliefs that keep you stuck and unhappy. If you would like help with a practical cognitive behavioral approach to this, read this article about “how to get rid of negative core beliefs”.
Some people seem to be natural public speakers: they appear charming, cool and confident; they stay relaxed and calm throughout the entire experience. For a lot of people, it is exactly the opposite: they fear public speaking more than most other endeavors and they find speaking in public a nerve wrecking experience. So what makes someone feel one way and not the other?
Are you born good at speaking in public or can you overcome your fear and become a confident public speaker?
The answer to this question has to do with our brain and its neuroplasticity: that is, the capacity of the brain to change itself. In order to understand how this works, it is useful to know a thing or two about how emotions get processed in our brains and influence the way we behave.
The Amygdala is a very primal part of our brain that is geared for survival. By allowing us to recognise danger and immediately react to it, it makes us more likely to be able to avoid it and thus survive.
There are two parts of the Amygdala: the right side is responsible for registering risk in an immediate, profound and nonverbal way as if it were to say "oh-oh"... pay attention now!
Anything bad that has happened in the past gets registered here and since the amygdala is very alert to changes in the environment when something is seen as dangerous (whether new or related to the past 'bad' event previously registered) it gets activated. When this happens we become scared and as a result, our sympathetic nervous system gets aroused in what we call the fight/freeze or fight response. We experience this as getting a fast heartbeat, sweating, and a general feeling of being 'on edge'.
After the 'panic' physical response has been triggered the information about the event is sent to the Hyppocampus (the part of the brain that deals with the exact details of the experience) and then it all gets sent to the pre-frontal cortex so that we can analyse what happened.
People with panic and high anxiety levels have a bigger Amygdala than most. Whether this is because they were born with it or whether it developed as a result of trauma is not known but what is important to know is that is why these people might feel easily triggered by changes in the environment perceived as threatening.
The good news is that there is another part of the Amygdala whose role is to help us 'un-learn': the left side. This side is responsible for comparing information as if it were to ask "Is what's happening now exactly the same as what happened before?' If the answer is no, it tells the right side to knock the fight or flight response off so that we can get back to normal.
The thing is, sometimes the fear that has been triggered is so high that it over-rides everything and the left side cannot get the message across to the other side. So in order for the right side to register that we are indeed safe, we first need to be able to calm our automatic reaction of 'panic'. How do we do that? Simple: we breathe deeply.
This works because our autonomic nervous system has two branches: one that causes arousal (sympathetic) and the other that calms us down (parasympathetic). The two cannot be activated simultaneously, so if one is activated the other cannot be. In other words: if we have started the process of calming ourselves down we cannot possibly stay aroused. Conscious deep breathing immediately activates our parasympathetic nervous system. When this happens we gradually become calm enough to allow the left side of the amygdala to 'think us out of the danger zone'.
Identify the initial panic trigger event and compare it with the present. Realise they are not the same. (This can be something as unrelated to public speaking and simple as forgotten experiences of being bullied at school or criticised by a parent. They are often unconscious but as they still affect your present behaviour they need to be identified and reframed first and this can be easily done with hypnotherapy)-Make a decision to consciously breathe deeply for at least one minute (better if five) before the event and if necessary during the presentation
Prepare enough to feel competent (just like musicians or actors you need to warm up and feel prepared before you 'perform' so make sure you know your subject well and are confident with the content of the speech)
Rehearse physically and mentally (mental rehearsal is very successfully done in hypnosis as the brain does not distinguish between fantasy and reality; when done in a hypnotic trance the rehearsal can be as powerful as having experienced a positive imprinting experience of being a good public speaker)
Focus on the interest you have in the subject matter you are discussing to the exclusion of everything else. Self-consciousness is all about worrying about how other people are responding to you. You cannot be self-conscious if you are totally concentrated on something else that actually interest you. (The capacity to focus on one thing to the exclusion of everything else can be taught with hypnotherapy and it becomes easier with practice)
Imagine what you want to happen not on what you don't want ! (The subconscious is a goal-striving mechanism that responds to images and it does not understand negatives- if I told you not to think of pink elephants what are you thinking about? - So ask yourself: what is the best most positive outcome you would like from the experience? i.e. being successful, delivering a greatly inspiring speech, feeling elated and excited rather than scared and humiliated )
Above all express perfect confidence in your capacity to change. If you don't believe it, who will? You can change and if you truly want to, you will!