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It is full of advice, not just in black and white, but in our new series of videos. We look at everything to do with speaking in public, from dealing with nerves, to making the most of your voice. It is all just one click away, and gives a flavour for what we at voicebusiness can do for you.
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With a bang not a whimper . . .
Why start a speech or presentation with a predictable first line? Is that going to make people sit up and listen to you?
"Good morning everyone. . . thank you for inviting me. . . my name is. . ."
All very well later, if you need them, but to waste your first precious moments on 'housekeeping' lines? What will draw your audience in to listen to your topic? You don't have to be predictable. You don't have to be outlandish either, but try not to make the first line the one the audience expects.
Try one of these: a question, a quote or even something like 'Imagine a world where . . .' filling in your own vision for what would change when people adopt your ideas.
Like an arrow from a bow
I think it was well-known voice teacher, Patsy Rodenburg, who described sending sound out to your listeners as being like 'releasing an arrow from a bow'. Sound travels in an arc and we need to release sound out and direct it towards the people we are addressing - particularly in presenting or meeting situations - and not just assume it's going to reach people by itself. If we don't, we're losing impact. If you've ever experienced hearing a speaker but feeling oddly disconnected from them, you'll know what I mean.
Somehow people have no problem finding an energised sound and sending it swiftly in the right direction when their child is in danger of being mown down by a lorry. Yet these same people often don't think to send sound to an audience. This is not necessarily about volume, although this can help, or clear articulation or pace all of which will help. It's more about committing yourself to a mental reaching out to your audience. And thinking of your voice leaving you, arching up into the air and travelling towards your listeners - like an arrow from a bow - is a rather perfect way to visualise the process.
Presenters will often ask "What should I do with my hands?" It's interesting how people can feel awkward standing with their arms hanging loose from the shoulders, hands at their sides. Hands jingling loose change in a pocket, hands behind the back, arms crossed . . . none of these lead us to think the presenter is particularly relaxed.
However, the person who can stand in a balanced way, arms by their sides, with their eyes and faces alert, welcoming and focused seems to me to exude confidence. These are the people who are able to use their hands to gesture with fluency and ease, when they chose to, because they are also content to leave their hands at rest when they are not needed for emphasis.
Practice, practice, practice
Do you remember the TV ad, set in New York, where the woman asks the workman "How do I get to Carnegie Hall?" to which he replies "Lady, you gotta practice…"
Good advice to those making speeches or presentations. Practice, practice and practice. Out loud. As you do so, you will begin to hear how written and spoken words differ. Something which looked fine written down, suddenly sounds odd when it's voiced. Think of your voice as a musical score; its mood and sounds reflecting the meaning of what you say. What's more, the more you practice, the easier speaking in public will become.
If you think you're too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito in the room . . .
Anita Roddick, businesswoman & humanitarian, founder of The Body Shop
With our training and coaching work, we find that creating the environment where people can consider new ideas, experiment and make their own discoveries can lead to far greater long-term benefits than simply running a training session, telling them what to do. Whilst it is our job to help people equip themselves with additional skills, we are very aware that each and every one of us is a valuable resource for others to learn from. When people come up with their own solutions - maybe by watching and listening to others and/or using tools we provide - they can understand, own and remember the process.
In most areas of life, when you allow people to stretch they invariably will. Impose a view and watch them switch off the creative parts of their brain. Sometimes a light touch is better than even an experienced heavy hand.
Use Your Voice
When I was a child I could always tell when my mother was trying to impress someone on the phone by the voice she used. Sound familiar? Throughout our lives we use different voices when talking to different people or in different situations. A mother talking to her baby might be the same woman as the CEO of her company, but you can bet your bottom dollar she does not use the same voice in both contexts.
Adopting voices can be ways of masking feelings, such as the booming manager who wants to appear more confident, or the 'little girl' voice employed inappropriately by a mature women who hopes to avoid censure for any mistakes made. Quite apart from this, voices, like bodies, can suffer from an inactive lifestyle, becoming dull or flabby. Some people also over-protect their voices, making them sound weaker than they really are.
How to sound authentic and natural? Be imaginative with your voice/s. You have three octaves of notes to choose from and all sorts of variation in pacing, rhythm and intensity to play with. Just like your body, when you exercise your voice it becomes full of energy and bounce. Otherwise you might get stuck with an overly professional/little girl/boring voice you don't much like, simply through habit.
Not so fast . . .
One of the key difficulties listeners encounter is the speed with which public speakers, presenters, announcers and even interviewees blurt out what they want to say. Off they charge like rabbits out of a trap, unaware that their listeners have given up trying to understand them and are happily thinking about the state of the world or what they'll be having for tea.
So when you are making a speech, an announcement or answering questions at an interview - take your time. There is absolutely no rush. People will take in far more of what you say if you not only speak clearly without gabbling but also allow people to hear each thought you express without moving on too fast to the next one. The spaces you leave between your thoughts are as important as the words themselves.
Gottle a Gear
Is your jaw tense? Why might this be significant? Try speaking a phrase normally, then repeat when tensing your jaw. Feel the difference? A tense jaw rarely permits you to speak with real clarity and most of us tense our jaws to some extent at least some of the time.
Why? We all hear "Big boys don't cry" "Don't make so much noise" etc throughout our lives. The quickest, and usually subconscious, way to prevent us expressing emotions or inappropriate noise is to tense our jaw.
Think of your bottom jaw as resembling a false beard, hooking over your ears. The bottom jaw is hinged onto your skull. When it feels tense or tight, think of letting the jaw drop. Try closing your eyes, clamp both rows of teeth together and feel how much tension you can generate. Now start releasing the bottom jaw and imagine the space enlarging between the teeth at the back of the mouth. Let the jaw drop further and further, letting your mouth open in order to accommodate this fall. When it has fallen as far as it will go, gently close your lips together. Feel how much more space you have in your mouth? We shape words using all parts of the mouth, which is why we need space at the back as well as the front. As well as helping us speak more clearly having a released jaw is a whole lot more comfortable!
Ever been asked, at the last minute, to take on a speaking engagement originally intended for someone else? You've stepped into the breach and find yourself making remarks like:
"I'm sorry so-and-so isn't here to address you tonight…" or "X can't make it, I'm afraid you'll have to put up with me.." or even worse, "I'm not such an expert on/I don't know much about. . ."
What might be the effect on your audience? Make this kind of apology and you can bet your bottom dollar they'll be saying to themselves:
"Aw..what a shame. Who is this person?"
"If you don't know much about this then why am I listening to you?!"
Your job as the speaker is to give the impression that it's the culmination of your life's work to get an opportunity to address this crowd. Nothing could give you greater pleasure, as you were born to deliver this speech. Make them glad it's you and, above all, never apologise for being who you are. Apologise and they won't make allowances, they may simply assume they are wasting their time listening to you.
When you watched those amazing divers preparing before spectacularly launching themselves off the high boards in the Olympics, did you notice how they took time to ensure they were utterly balanced, both physically and mentally?
Presenters - take a leaf out of their book. Never begin a presentation until you are physically and mentally balanced. PLUS ensure that you establish a non-verbal relationship with your audience before you start to speak. They need to know that you feel good about being there and are pleased to be addressing them.
Dive in too early and you could end up doing a belly flop!
If you were to count them, how many people do you come into contact with in an average week? Now count how many of those you'd consider to be enthusiastic? 90%? 50%? 5%? If the last figure is the one nearest to the mark, think how disastrous it would be if this were reflected in the proportion of presenters or public speakers exhibiting this trait?
When I'm asked, 'How can I show enthusiasm for this subject' my answer is 'How can you not?' After all, if you're not enthusiastic about your subject, how can your audience be? You've got two choices: be enthusiastic in your delivery or don't speak to audiences in the first place! If the subject isn't dear to your heart, find a way to make it so. Enthusiasm is contagious.
Communication is like a loop
Last month we talked about the usefulness of feedback. Now think about when you are conversing or presenting. If you don't take notice of the response to what you say, it's a bit like you're playing tennis by only concentrating on what happens on your side of the net. There has to be a response. You can't be a communicator without someone to communicate with, in the same way that you can't be a teacher without a pupil, or a prime minister without a country.
The best way to change others is to change yourself. If you've had a very silent audience when you were expecting laughter, what does this tell you? That the audience was not moved to laugh, so now you can investigate why the message you thought you were sending out was clearly not the message received. What could you do to reach a different outcome? What could you do next time?
Perhaps the response was much more alert and encouraging than is usually the case. What were you doing differently? When you are speaking in a meeting, what responses give you helpful feedback on what to say next? We are really communicating when we notice the response, work out what it tells us and, if necessary, send out a new message.
There is no failure, only feedback
None of us enjoys being criticised. Think about it. You've slaved away over your presentation or other piece of work and then someone comes along and tears it to shreds. How do you describe such people?!
Actually, the word I'd use is 'helpful'.
We act or react according to our beliefs, but NLP shows us how we can easily change our beliefs when they are counterproductive. When you believe that criticisms means you've failed, how do you feel? (Depressed, defeated..) When you turn this around and believe criticism is there to help you, how do you feel? (Positive learning opportunity, choice..) So if you believe or act as if you believe that 'there is no failure only feedback', think how much easier it is to take or give criticism. How much more willing are you to take risks?
Amongst a sheaf of complimentary course feedback forms I recently received came a mixed review from one participant. Something I said had really got his goat. My first, negative, thought was, "Oh he got the wrong end of the stick". Then I thought again and realised I had framed my argument in a way that was obviously either unclear or simply unacceptable to that person. This was extremely useful information for a trainer to receive! Next time I run that course I will take great care to explain this point and also acknowledge that not everyone will agree with me.
I can use what he told me in a very positive way. I am therefore grateful for his criticism because, rather than make me feel bad, I can use his feedback to help me do my job better. When any of us receives hard or negative criticism we can view it in a positive light because it can be helpful. It's all about belief.
Words of Wisdom
A man without a smiling face must not open a shop
Ancient Chinese proverb
What's in a name?
How often do you miss someone's name when they are introduced? Are you ever guilty of not saying your name clearly? It's funny, but many of us are almost embarrassed about giving our names. It's as if we want to get the experience over with as quickly as possible. How frustrating is it to be the listener who misses the name?
A simple technique for helping you speak your name clearly is to imagine your first name is in one hand and your second name in the other. Practise now, giving your names as if you were offering an apple in the palm of each hand. Can you hear how clearly you are saying it? Try again, just thinking the names in your two hands.
Bear this in mind when you introduce yourself. A name is far more than simply a piece of information. Saying your name confidently also conveys an attitude about who you are and what you feel about yourself.
Heart thumping..breathing somewhere up around your shoulders..you try to speak and some strange squeaky voice emerges which doesn't sound a bit like you…
You look out at your audience and suddenly fail to remember who they are…and then who you are…
Your mouth has gone dry…your palms are sweating…
All of the above are normal reactions to what our bodies perceive to be a threat. Our subconscious doesn't distinguish between the threat of a wild tribe about to attack us and an audience. The good news is that you can do something about it. Some simple exercises - shaking out arms and hands, circling shoulders, even jumping up and down - coupled with deep, natural breathing can work wonders. Concentrate on breathing out (releasing breath) rather than trying to get great quantities of air into your lungs. (Then come on one of our Stand & Deliver courses and find out more!)
Hub you godda coldb too?
With so many bugs around at this time of year it's almost impossible to avoid catching a cold or chest virus. But what if you need to use your voice in an important meeting? For running training? To make a speech or presentation?
The best option is to use your voice as little as possible, to let any possible inflammation subside. If this isn't an option then DO think of keeping your voice as low and relaxed as possible. Avoid any temptation to raise it or, even worse, DON'T push your voice to try and dispel any huskiness.
If you need to use your voice in a more formal setting, DO warm it up with some gentle humming. (Helps clear a stuffy nose too.) Then DO crisp up your articulation to help your voice become clearer without any increase in volume. A few tongue twisters can work wonders. DON'T try to talk over noise. DO take your vocal level down and imagine you are talking to deaf people to help remind yourself to shape sounds clearly instead of introducing more volume.
DO drink hot lemon and honey. Take a small jar of honey and a teaspoon out with you, as it is marvellous for sore throats and especially for soothing tickly coughs.
DON'T try whispering instead, as it will still hurt you. Much better to talk quietly. DO give yourself a break and rest your voice when you don't need to speak.
Space...the final frontier?
When someone says they would like more 'presence', what does this actually mean? More authority? To be more in control? A previous Hot Tip talked about the importance of the presenter's energy. Energy plus vitality or emotional intensity and an understanding of how to create a feeling of ease when moving through space, perhaps gets us nearer to defining this elusive quality.
We react differently to different spaces around us. Imagine how you feel inside a very small room compared to standing on top of a hill. Not the same, is it? Now consider how these feelings affect your mood and therefore your body language. How we stand and move affects how others perceive us.
How do we view presenters who wander aimlessly or repetitively compared to those who look 'at home'? Whom do we relax and listen to? When a presenter looks and feels secure they help their audience feel comfortable too, perhaps because the audience is experiencing a kind of sympathetic, kinaesthetic response.
It's useful for presenters or those taking part in public events to consider space as a dynamic area, full of wonderful possibilities, rather than an empty vacuum. Picture yourself moving through mist or dry ice. Become conscious of the air around you and how it moves as you move. Imagine how the whole space is being transformed by how you relate to it. When you feel comfortable your audience senses it immediately. Relating with ease to the space enhances your presence and can make a big difference to how your audience relates to you.
Who'd like a worm for Christmas?
It's that 'Oh what am I going to buy my sister for Christmas?' time of year.
You like a particular jumper. You might say to yourself - "I like it therefore she'll like it". Presenters and public speakers often do the same thing - 'I would like to hear about this therefore my audience will too.'
That wise writer and trainer, Dale Carnegie, once wrote about how he loved to go fishing in Maine, USA. He mentioned the fact that he was very keen on strawberries and cream but, for some odd reason, the fish seemed to prefer worms. So when fishing, he forgot about what he would like and, instead of strawberries and cream, dangled some big fat worms on the end of his hook.
Now imagine you are talking to an audience. What 'big fat worms' might interest them - not to mention your sister?
With over 20 notes in our speaking voices how is it that when we get in front of an audience we can revert to robot-like monotones? A simple way to prevent this is to remind your brain what it has at its disposal, shortly before making your presentation. Take a tip from a cat and Miiiiaaaaoooooowwww! Swoop up and down your vocal scale and feel your jaw opening up and letting loose all those lovely open sounds.
Curiosity's place in setting the heather on fire
Remember as a child your delight in exploration and discovery? 'Hey, if you press this a light comes on! Press it again and it comes on again. And again. And again…'
The pleasure of being curious is never lost on scientists, it's what their life is all about. They are encouraged to ask questions and explore possibilities. Does this always happen in the business world?
One of the main killers of curiosity is disapproval. If a child tries something different and is told 'We don't do it like that here', 'Don't get dirty', 'Don't climb that' 'Don't touch', they believe that risk and exploration are unacceptable. Despite new, enlightened teaching methods there will be many amongst us who can nod at Albert Einstein's remark, "It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education."
How different is this to a presenter wanting to find new ways of reaching their audience and being told 'We do it this way here.'
We come across many presenters who feel they have to adapt their (natural) style to the 'industry standard', identikit, bullets-on-slides approach encouraged by managers in their company. When our spark of curiosity is extinguished, we play safe, using the same unmemorable methods as everyone else. We don't rock the boat but we don't inspire anyone either.
It's hard to please all of the people all of the time. Sometimes it's worth risking disapproval in order to set the heather on fire.
Big Face : Little Face
Facial muscles can tighten up very easily, especially when we're tense. When your face adopts a (defensive) mask you are effectively depriving yourself of one of your foremost visual aids, an animated face. What do people look at first, when they meet a person or watch a presenter? What kind of judgements do we make about people simply from their facial expression?
Here's a quick exercise which can help to release facial tension:
Firstly, rub your cheeks, release your jaw and smooth your forehead and temples with your fingertips. Now you're ready to begin.
- Open your eyes as wide as you can and cross them.
- Make your face as big as you possibly can and open your mouth wide too.
- Hold for 3 seconds.
- Now make the smallest, screwed up, mean little face you possibly can.
- Hold for 3 seconds.
- Repeat the whole sequence at least 3 times.
Afterwards your face feels wonderfully free. You are also smiling - you can't help it after such a seemingly silly exercise. Your face has relaxed. Try it before going in to make a presentation or into an important meeting. Just remember to do it before your audience sees you!
Knees and your voice
How you stand affects how effectively you breathe and the quality of your voice. Honestly! Try standing with your feet apart and lock your knees. Take a deep breath in through the nose. Now stand with your feet parallel and roughly hip width apart and take a deep breath in through the nose. Feel the difference? Try the same and this time make a sound each time. Again, can you hear the difference in quality?
When you lock or tense your knees you prevent the breath dropping down into the lower torso. You are also pulling in the back muscles, putting your body out of alignment. Strained voices, stilted movement, knee joint and back problems can ensue. Did you know that the knee is more likely to be injured than any other joint in the body?
So do yourself a favour, remind yourself to release the tension in your knees when you stand, as you wait for the kettle to boil or the bus to arrive. Gently jiggle them backward and forwards to remind yourself to let go of the tension. It's fine for them to straighten but not to feel tense or hard. Take care of your knees and your body and voice will thank you!
Anyone for tennis?
It being Wimbledon time of year I'm reminded of the fascinating book 'The Inner Game of Tennis' by W. Timothy Gallwey. Once a promising young tennis player, Gallwey found he was losing matches because of inner opponents such as nervousness, self-doubt and the inability to concentrate.
He asks you to imagine your mind divided between Self 1 (the teller) and Self 2 (the doer). When Self 1 criticises 2: "You idiot, why did you do that?" what does that do to Self 2? Gallway's contention is that as soon as we try too hard, over-analyse and slip into negative self-talk, our performance diminishes. Watch world class tennis players making exceptional shots at the net because they don't have time to analyse the situation and decide on a plan of action; they simply respond, using all their skill and experience. Once they try too hard, they can tighten up and miss shots.
When we are unconsciously competent we are non-judgemental. (To use another analogy, you don't congratulate yourself every time you pass a traffic light or park your car, though you might have done when you were learning - when you were consciously incompetent.) When we become unconsciously competent - ie when we can do something without having to think about it - we tend to perform at our best because we don't interfere with what we are doing, we simply do it.
When you allow your mind to work without the interference of Self 1 / your own ego, you can truly concentrate and this is when trust develops. Self-confidence follows as you trust yourself to be able to take the desired action - driving the car, playing an unreturnable backhand or delivering a compelling presentation.
So...presenters! When we were small we had excellent posture, free voices and vivid imaginations. Let your mind and body do what they are more than capable of doing, physically and vocally. Get some help to recapture those old skills, then trust them to work and you can concentrate on building rapport with your audience and delivering an exciting presentation. Game, set and match.
Oh I'm not in the mood...
...for delivering a presentation…or for meeting new people at a networking event…or for talking to my colleagues…
Sometimes we just don't feel like making the effort. It's as much as we can do to push a piece of paper across the desk or lift a coffee cup. But what if your promotion depended on the quality of that presentation or you missed the opportunity of a lifetime by not attending that networking event?
What does our mood reveal about us and how easy is it to change it?
Mind and body are linked. Your posture, how you breathe and move and express yourself physically, all determine what mood or 'state' you are in. But so does how you picture things in your mind. When you feel alive and powerful you view things differently to when you are tired or ill. So these two factors interact with each other to create our state. The calmer our state, the more rationally we think; the more stressed or destructive our state, the more irrational we become and the more emotional energy we disperse.
We are changing our states all the time. States can be as brief as the blink of an eye or can last for days and they affect how well we do things and how people react to us. Some useful research shows that if change your physiology you change the emotion you are experiencing. So you can change your state by working on your posture, releasing tension, breathing and using a positive as opposed to critical inner voice.
Might it be an idea to consciously consider changing your state the next time you have a bad hair day but know you have to deliver a presentation or meet new people? This is the same principle as going for a brisk walk and thinking about your favourite things! Importantly, it works.
Conflict and three little words
"The person with the most behavioural flexibility in any given situation is the one with the most influence over the outcome"
Gregory Bateson, Cyberneticist
Life is full of conflict. When you ask 'Why?' a person acts the way they do they often feel that they have to justify their actions. When you want to know the reason for their behaviour it might be more useful to use the words 'What' or 'How'.
If you feel yourself about to ask 'Why..?', try substituting a 'How' or 'What' and see what happens.
When you ask 'How', this obliges a person to talk about their behavioural processes rather than asking them to justify themselves/their identity.
"I don't understand how what we are doing here can cause you to be so annoyed. Can you explain how this works for you"?
This is not a challenge, but a request for an explanation.
'What happened?' is less confrontational than 'Why did you do that?'
If you fight fire with fire, what are you likely to get as a result? As Master NLP practitioner and trainer Reg Connolly puts it:
"If you find yourself arguing with an idiot, make sure that they aren't doing the same thing."
Perfecting a pitch
What is the most important question you can ask yourself as you put together a pitch for business or to attract investors?
A pat on the back to all those who answered WIIFT? (What's In It For Them?) An even bigger pat if you went a step further and imagined yourself in the potential client or investor's shoes and came up with WIIFM? (What's In It For Me?)
These are so much more important than WIWTWTW (What I Want To Wow Them With) or SHMAFASICGIOP (See How Many Astonishing Facts And Stats I Can Get Into One Presentation).
Most pitchers want to explain the wonderful way in which they are going to deliver their product or service. As a general rule, those you pitch to are far less concerned with the process you are going to adopt and far more interested in how you will excite them about your product and reassure them that you can deliver. It doesn't mean you don't tell them about your product, its potential market, the competition and the cost but it does mean your underlying objective is to make them feel excited, reassured and ultimately compelled to choose you. In a nutshell, make the pitch about them rather than you.
Keeping or getting back attention
Audiences daydream. We all do it; we can't help it. In fact, it's what makes us successful animals, because we think by association - one thought, triggers another, triggers another, triggers another... So however riveting a presenter may be, there will inevitably be parts of their audience who are thinking about their holidays, work schedules and what they're going to have for supper. Presenters need to understand this and deal with it. This is why how you structure what you say is so important.
Delivery is key, of course. Think of being a presenter as being a bit like a fisherman. You have to keep casting out your line and reeling your audience in. It often takes only a slight change of pace or vocal tone to bring people's attention back to you. The important thing is to keep introducing changes and avoiding being stuck in a rhythm.
Presentations are a bit like a cake ...
If you throw a few ingredients in a bowl, don't really bother to stir them and only shove them in the oven for five minutes it shouldn't really be a surprise if you haven't got a particularly appetising cake! Yet people do the equivalent with the preparation of presentations all the time.
'If you always do what you've always done you'll always get what you always got'
It's up to you to judge how much of a priority you want this to be. How important is it what sort of impression you create with when presenting? You're the only one who can judge how important this is to you. Different people will have different priorities. If you decide it is more important than you previously thought, spend more time on preparing yourself as well as your material.
Wee, sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beastie... Not!
One of the most useful ways of exercising your vocal muscles, sharpening up your articulation and generally strengthening your voice is by reading aloud. And, with the annual celebration of his life and work falling in this month, what better material to use than a choice extract from the work of our national bard, Robert Burns?
As well as making sure that people can actually hear and understand what we say, the sounds we make as we speak make a considerable difference to how others interpret what we mean and influences how they react. Great poets like Burns understand this. In the past we used to read aloud to our children and to each other and use our voices in other creative and energised ways, such as singing in the parlour or the pub. When we are not using our voices expressively we sound less interesting and meaning becomes less clear. It is essential for those making presentations to rehearse out loud and it is an excellent way to help introduce variety of pace, intensity and tone into any speaker’s voice. You can’t read Burns without expression!
- To strengthen articulation - make sure you are enunciating every syllable you read.
- To help you focus sound - fix on spots in the room at different distances and send phrases to them all in turn.
- To add variety and richness to your voice - allow it to soar and dive with the poetry or prose.
Do this in the privacy of your home and your mind will retain a memory of how you sound. When you present for real you can simply concentrate on the meaning of what you want to convey and let your subconscious look after the rest. You will be amazed how your voice takes on more colour.
Five minutes of practise a day, reading out loud, will make an appreciable difference to the strength and power of your voice. Winston Churchill did it and so did Abraham Lincoln and they are still regarded as two of our greatest orators.
Let your voice out and you’ll find that your general confidence level will lift too. No cow'rin, tim'rous beasties in sight.
Christmas Hot Tip
We could write a Christmas Hot Tip like – If you’re making a speech at the office party, try to do it sober. Your audience might remember your performance even if you don’t... Or Christmas parties are useful places to network… Or Try to talk to everyone in your team at Christmas and address them all by name… - but what we’d rather say is HAVE A GOOD REST.
You’ve worked hard all year. Give yourself some time off. Even if it’s you cooking the dinner, looking after the kids or elderly parents, clearing up the mess - make sure you also have time for you. Renew and rejuvenate. You deserve it.
Most people in social or networking situations tend to behave as 'hosts' or 'guests'. These are not official titles, but how we react to the situation and to the other people there. 'Hosts' start conversations, put people at their ease and make sure others' needs are met. They tend to be few and far between.
'Guests' make up the majority. They wait for someone to offer them a drink, come and talk to them and introduce them to others. Some guests feel so shy and out of place it is all they can do to keep from bolting out of the door. They often wait for a 'host' to rescue them.
How can we turn ourselves from 'guests' to 'hosts'? A simple way is to be active, without being pushy or disturbing others' interactions. Look out for other people: talk to the shy person in the corner, offer to get someone a drink - start thinking host. We've all got it in us.
The Presenter's Energy
No-one ever went to a presentation hoping to be bored. One of the easiest way for a presenter to send their audience to sleep is to present with a low energy level.
It is important that energy springs from a body as free as possible from unnecessary tension. Energy begets energy. If you are feeling low in energy, manufacture or summon it up. Go for a walk, swing your arms and legs, run up and downstairs. Get the blood flowing and your energy flowing with it.
Why is it so important? Audiences tend to rein in their individual energy. By the same token, a presenter needs to compensate for this and become a bigger, more energised version of themselves. An energy deficient presenter or communicator does not appear enthusiastic and can even appear uninterested and uncommitted to what they are saying. Why should your audience be interested if you don't appear to be?
Eye Contact Part 2
Imagine that your eyes are like headlamps or that you have a beam in the centre of your forehead which works like a lighthouse. When your light shines upon sections of your audience it lights them up brightly to begin with and then gradually fades out. If your gaze does not return to them they will eventually sink into darkness. Try not to make the sweep of your gaze too uniform, but do ensure you cover every part of the audience fairly regularly.
Eye Contact Part 1
When you are making a speech or presentation, or even making a point to others at a meeting, it is essential to make effective eye contact with your audience. If we do not feel that the speaker has looked at us we feel excluded. On a basic level, we feel they don't like us!
You don't have to look at them all the time, but try to engage with people regularly. With small audiences a useful tip is to pass your gaze over them, lingering long enough to silently say their names.
With larger audiences you need to ensure that you are slowing your eye contact down even further. It is impossible to look at every person, so mentally divide your audience into sections (eg 4 or 6 or 8 sections for the larger audiences) and pick a representative of the section to make contact with. Pick a different representative next time you look at that section. It is curious, but if we are members of a large audience and feel a speaker has acknowledged someone near us it counts almost as much as if we're looked at ourselves. If the speaker misses our section completely we soon lose interest in what they are saying.
..are able questioners and attentive listeners. We all relate well to people who put us at our ease, whether in meetings, networking or day to day situations. As the great Dale Carnegie puts it in How to Win Friends & Influence People
"To be interesting is to be interested"
When you meet someone for the first time, ask questions the other person will enjoy answering. Encourage them to talk and listen to their answers.
"Remember that the man you are talking to is a hundred times more interested in himself and his wants and his problems than he is in you and your problems. His toothache means more to him than a famine in China that kills a million people. A boil on his neck interests him more than forty earthquakes in Africa. Think of that next time you start a conversation."
We can whisper all of the sounds we make in ordinary speech. A 'stage whisper' is produced in the same way as an ordinary whisper but applying more energy in the lips, tongue etc, but with no forcing of breath from the throat.
A stage whisper can be a useful tool for a presenter
1. To practise a presentation, as near to out loud as possible, eg in an office environment.
2. To help time a presentation accurately
3. To warm up the articulating organs in order to help presenters speak clearly
But never whisper to save your voice. Rather than help it can tire your voice and lead to further damage. If your voice is tired, don't vocalise fully unless you have to. Put your energy into articulation rather than volume.
Set Up Not Set Back
Whilst most people are aware of the importance of the phrase 'Preparation is all', how many of us apply it to how we deal with the space in which we may be speaking?
We call this 'stage management' of your own event . Time and again we hear people say that they 'just turn up and work with what's there' or 'I leave it to my PA' or 'I've never even considered that I could change anything about the set-up'.
The person whose reputation is on the line is you. Try following these simple steps:
1. Check with the person arranging the event what the room set-up will be. Is it arranged how you'd like it? Is the set up likely to help you deliver your speech well? If not, ask them if they could change it. For example, some speakers arrive for an evening talk and find the set-up is groups of 8 at round tables. This is not a comfortable arrangement for the audience and deflects attention and focus away from the speaker. The only time it is necessary is if this occasion is actually a dinner.
2. Can everyone see and hear you? You can always ask for a rostrum. You can always request a microphone. Do this in advance. All it takes is a phone call to the organiser. If in doubt, make the request.
3. If you ask for a radio mic you will not get stuck behind a mic stand or a lectern but will be free to move as you choose.
4. If you don't like lecterns, ask them to move it before your speech. It only takes a moment for someone to shift it to the side. You can put water and your notes on a small table instead - and do away with what is all too often a barrier between you and your audience.
5. Most importantly arrive early. With the best will in the world, your request could have gone astray and the set-up is not as you'd like it. Allow the time to enlist the help of the organiser or friendly janitor to change things. Assume you will need to do this. If you arrive in good time you will also be able to prepare yourself for your performance.
Why leave something so important to chance?
Releasing Tension In The Back Of The Neck
Many of us go through life with almost permanently tense necks. Use a pc/laptop? Drive a car? Get stressed? Feel your voice is not as relaxed as it could be? This short exercise is for you
Try to keep this exercise flowing and let your jaw relax
Stand or sit in a balanced position. Imagine you have a felt-tip pen sticking out at right angles from your nose. Keeping your body and neck still, describe a circle on an imaginary sheet of paper held in front of you. Make the circle bigger and bigger. When it is as big as possible, reverse the direction.
Now describe a figure of 8 with your pen, keeping your body and neck still. Make the figure of 8 bigger and bigger. When it is as big as possible, reverse the direction. Feel your movements massaging the base of your neck, releasing tension. Now imagine your head is a ping pong ball balancing on a spout of water. Feel the difference?
Why is it so important for presenters and public speakers to avoid tension in the neck? Tension in the muscles at the back of the neck will also affect the throat and jaw. Try speaking and feel how much is happening in this area as you do so. Tension causes a tightness in the voice and can bring about strain. It can also prevent you from projecting in larger spaces. Keep the whole neck and jaw area free and your voice will flow and be heard.