Be a better speaker – be yourself

Quieter types in my speaker workshops are usually a bit nervous. They think I am going to make them be loud and vivacious. But if would be a very boring world if everyone had the same mannerisms on stage.

Being an engaging speaking is less about trying to ‘do’ something, and more about bringing out what they already have. In my Engaging Presentations Workshop, one of the first things we practice is “presence”.

“Presence” starts when you tune in to who you are – in fact how you are – before you’ve said a word.

It can be pretty scary to notice how you feel on stage, what you’re thinking about, and how you move (some of the first things we practice) – which is why most people avoid it.

Most of the time, though, the way you move when you are enthused by what you are talking about (which, quite frankly, you should be if you are going to get up and talk about it in front of lots of people) will be a delight to watch. Lots of people I speaker coach are worried they wave their arms around too much; often because someone once told them they should be perfectly still when speaking.

There’s a power in stillness, but when you are moved to move, and you follow that impulse – your audience will see you.  (Which is, after all, why they are there.)

You can get 150 public servants to play (seriously) at a conference

There are a number of clowning games I had only ever taught to groups of about ten – until I opened day 2 of the Local Government Professionals Women’s summit and had 130 women walking around the room, playing.

Play evokes learning

If you think clown is slapstick, my style of clown is more modern and less literal. If you think play is for children or cringeworthy ice-breakers, think about the concept of Lila, or divine play that makes (say) puppies learn the skills for life. For the style of clown I practice, play is fun and can even be silly, but it always evokes learning.

While games can be played to evoke learning in a specific category (say teamwork or communications) the specific takeaways are often unknown until you do it. This means the play-er is participatory, observational and reflective all at once.

You learn more when you play the same game over and over – and over

One ‘game’ we played relentlessly with my clowning teachers was the “walk around the room game”. (I tend to name games rather literally.) Everyone, literally, walks around the room.

This might not sound like much of a game, but it is amazing how much play you can find in something so simple. Even for adults, and especially if done repeatedly, past the point of boredom so you can notice the subtle and unobvious.

The same game can teach you about lots of things

I use the “walk around the room game” in training to warm people up, tune into themselves, notice others, notice their environment, notice how comfortable they are with eye contact, develop complicité in a group, observe patterns, learn how comfortable they are with rules, notice how other people follow rules (or don’t), notice what they notice. The more you play the more you notice.

All from one simple game, with a few carefully chosen variations.

One creative constraint changes everything

At the Local Government Women’s summit the “walk around the room game” was impeded by your typical conference tables and chairs and by a lot of people. Yet it worked, perhaps because of the “creative constraint” that meant people had to work harder to stay aware.

My favourite moment: when I introduced the rule “there must be one person walking around the room at any one time and only one person”. When people think they are following the rules (but aren’t) and when others have responses to that, that’s when things get really interesting.

This is an excerpt from Finding Your Voice, a workshop for women finding their voice in the workplace. Incorporates storytelling, play and reflection. Designed for 120 people. Get in touch to find out more.

Being heard is not about being loudest

When I was a young engineer, I was told to be more assertive. I was given tips like, “Be the first to speak up in meeting”, or “Apply for jobs even if you don’t meet all the criteria”. Apparently the lack of representation of women in the workplace could be solved by being louder.

But speaking up doesn’t mean you are heard. And being heard doesn’t mean anything changes. (Refer the last three decades on climate change.)

I was invited to open day 2 of the Local Government Professionals Women’s summit with a 90-minute storytelling, clown-inspired, historically referenced workshop, Finding Your Voice.

If engineering taught me that being more assertive was not enough, clown taught me that sometimes (in fact, mostly) not saying something is even better.

The silence of clown, or the yogi, or the person with a contribution to make, is not a passive silence. It is a silence of listening. Of observing. Rather than speaking to assert oneself, they speak at the right time for their audience, their students and those they intend to influence.

Finding Your Voice is a workshop for women finding their voice in the workplace. Incorporates storytelling, play and reflection. Designed for 120 people. Get in touch to find out more.

What to do if you stuff up during a talk

“What advice do you have if you stuff up in the middle of your talk?”

This was a question raised after my “Finding Your Voice workshop at the Local Government Professionals Women’s Forum.

I asked the gent in question if he had a specific situation in mind: there’s a big difference between forgetting your words, and the crowd throwing tomatoes because you’ve said something uninformed or racist.

Turned out he didn’t have a clear example of the kind of mistake he worried he might make. Rather, his question reflected a fear many of us have: that something terribly bad (but as yet unknown) will happen in front of a lot of people.

Take a moment now, to think about how many conference stuff-ups you can recall.

For myself, the few negative memories I have are of speakers who were boring, didn’t prepare, went overtime and wasted the audience’s time. Those who forgot their words, cried, or broke a shoe I tended to find endearing – human. Especially if they handled it with humour and grace.

So, my short answer to the question about what to do if you make a mistake: presuming you have prepared appropriately, your audience really doesn’t mind. In fact, mistakes often yield benefits.

People like to see humans
No one goes to a conference to listen to an automaton. If you say something silly, trip or lose your place, it reminds the audience that you are an ordinary person, just like them. Being relatable is useful if you want other people to think they can do what you’re advising them to.

Caveat: The audience expects you to be ready for the talk!
While you are totally allowed to make mistakes, kindliness towards such errors applies only if you have put some effort into planning your talk. If you’re waffly and mumbly ‘coz you haven’t done the hard yards, your listeners will not be so patient!

If you totally lose it, why not let the audience in on what’s happening.
Did you research your topic, rehearse and do everything you could to ensure the audience would get value from giving up their time to listen to you? Great! Then all you need to do when you lose your spot is say something like, “Hmm…sorry, I seem to have missed a whole chunk. It was really important so if you don’t mind I’m going to go back to it!” Breathe in, and resume when you are ready. It might even get a laugh.

Mistakes can be opportunities
I lost my place in this very workshop! Since I am a speaker coach, I thought I should follow my own advice so, after a moment of internal panic, I paused, said to the audience, “I have completely lost my place”, and looked down at my notes until I worked out where I was. An audience member told me later that she appreciated my approach! “Seeing you confused about your slides and finding your place again was really good. It helped us see the human element”.

Bonus advice: Strategic mistakes
When I used to perform clown shows (modern clown) mistakes we made by accident were often so funny for the audience we would work them in the following night. Perhaps I should make losing my place in this workshop a built-in feature for next time.

If you’re relying on a script so there’s no possibility of making a mistake, you may like to check out How to deliver a presentation without notes

Or read more about speaker coaching for your next conference or professional presentation.

3 (more) tips for more confident, live presentations

Annabel Crabb, Leigh Sales and Jamila Rizvi were just some of the impressive professional speakers headlining this year’s Women in Mining WA Summit. With 800 men and women in the audience (three years ago the summit catered to about 300 predominantly women), the discourse about diversity and inclusion has stepped up a notch. A good speaker can help a good cause immensely, so here are three tips from these experts to help you give better, live presentations about the cause you care about:

1. Remember to connect with your audience
In How to use notes AND look at your audience when you give a presentation I explained how Annabel Crabb uses notes, and looks at her audience. The key to doing this effectively is good preparation. Preparation gives you confidence to take in your audience, rather than vaguely glancing at them before looking down to work out what to say next. If you want a technical word for this, use the clown term “complicité”. It’s the non-verbal connection you develop with your audience.

2. Acknowledge other speakers
Professor Bill Wood is invited annually to WIMWA for his rigorous presentation of data on myths like “merit-based” employment. One thing Bill does that I really admire: He continuously references other speakers. This shows Professor Wood recognises his talk is part of something bigger, that he has respect for the other speakers, and that he is prepared enough to be able to pay attention to everyone else.

3. Take off your high heels
This one comes direct from Jamila Rizvi. I’ve never heard it before but it’s wise counsel. “Nothing like high heels to make you feel unstable,” Jamila said in her conversation with Leigh Sales. If you don’t have the ankle strength to own stilettos like an Amazonian, leave them behind and let your strength and presence show through your great talk.

If you’re not yet prepared enough to think about which shoes you’ll be wearing start with Tips for giving great presentations: my experience as a TEDx speaker coach

Or read more about speaker coaching for your next conference or professional presentation.

How to deliver a presentation without notes

Image: Henderson Graphics

Most TED talks are delivered without notes. This only happens because speakers prepare, prepare and prepare some more. My own TEDx talk commanded almost full time preparation for a fortnight before, not to mention weeks prior of evenings and weekends.

It is possible to speak eloquently without notes. Here are 3 tips for preparing to present without notes.

1. Use key headings as rehearsal prompts
Once your talk is more or less on track, write down the key point of each paragraph. Transfer these to a single page and use them prompts to practice your talk. Look at the key point, take it in and “feel” what the paragraph is about. This should take at least one breath. Once you feel anchored, look up and speak from the heart.  Repeat for each paragraph.

2. Aim for a memorised talk, delivered naturally
A talk you have only just committed to memory can sound tentative, even rehearsed. Once you really know your words you will feel more comfortable being yourself. Rehearse individual paragraphs over and over until you deliver exactly what you want to say, naturally. Your precise words may vary, but you should feel that your tone of voice, body language and words combine to express something you believe in. If you can’t deliver a memorised talk naturally, it may be that your words do not accurately reflect what you believe deep down. Go back to the planning stage and re-assess your key messages.

3. Get comfortable with pausing to think
When you forget your words in front of a big audience, it’s tempting to rush on and hope no one has noticed. Unfortunately, this usually has the opposite effect: you talk faster and even less coherently. Better to breathe in, take in your audience and mentally re-find your place. These pauses feel like forever for you but are a mere blip for the audience. And actually the audience usually loves pauses because they have time to digest your important words! Resume your talk on a breath out.

Delivering a talk without notes and that actually makes a useful point takes time. This investment pays off though as a good talk can be delivered again and again to new audiences.

If you do need to use notes (which is completely allowed and not a sign you are a more fallible human being) read How to use notes AND look at your audience when you give a presentation.

Read more about speaker coaching for your next conference or professional presentation.