Why you should re-consider using your smart phone for speaking notes

We use our phones for everything, from alarms to metronomes. Referring to your phone while you are giving a talk is one thing I recommend you don’t do.

1. When you walk on stage with your mobile phone, you look like you are – walking on stage with your mobile phone
You know your phone is your notes system, and your audience will probably work it out pretty quickly, but they don’t know this the moment you walk on stage. First impressions are made the instant you appear on stage so a phone in the hand may signal unprofessional, or that you can’t put your technology down.

2. Looking at a small screen narrows your gaze
If your audience is tech savvy and phones-for-notes the norm, there is still an issue that will distance you. Each time you glance down at your phone for your notes, your eyesight narrows. Think about what happens when you look at a work screen then lift your gaze to the horizon – it takes a moment for your eyes to readjust. To have a good connection with your audience you need to be able to take them in, to include them all in your awareness. When your visual field (and therefore attention) narrows, so too does your ability to hold the attention of every person in that room.

3. You hold a phone lower than paper notes
When speakers look at mobile phones, my observations is that they bend their neck considerably, closing themselves off to the audience. We tend to hold paper notes higher, giving more open body language.

4. You’re swiping when you should be engaging
Most screens are pretty small, so you’ll generally need to swipe up and down to follow your notes. This means your eyes are away from your audience for longer. It also means you are doing more than looking at your devide – you are interacting with it when you could be attending to your audience.

5. Mobile phones take our brains into another zone
When was the last time you used your phone just for the task you intended and didn’t find yourself checking four other apps while you were there? Habits are hard to break, so you may find a moment on stage where – despite your best intentions – your brain has thought about what else you could do on your phone. It may be a nano-second but it’s enough to break your flow and lose your audience.


Rachael has been a facilitator, speaker and speaker coach for over 10 years. She coached two TEDx Perth speakers to standing ovation and has helped numerous graduates and executives prepare talks and panel appearances that raise their professional presence. Email rachaelclairewest@gmail.com to find out more.

Be a better speaker – listen closely to your audience

Nothing taught me more about public speaking and facilitation than studying clown. Ironically, clown is a practice that involves very little talking.

In clown, we listen closely to how we are feeling because we know the audience will pick it up. It’s vulnerable, but also the key to wrapping the audience around your little finger.

This step in listening – first to ourselves and then the audience – is possible after ‘getting comfortable with being uncomfortable’, which I covered in the last post.

‘Fake it until you make it’ only takes you so far
What I learned in clown about listening goes against much of the advice I see given to public speakers. If the clown ever fakes something (which she often does) she let’s the audience in on it. This brings the audience in to the show – think engagement. Faking it, by contrast, sets up a divide.

Listeners know when you’re genuine
While starting with a smile can work magic, actively covering up your discomfort on stage can look a little weird. It’s like trying to convince a good friend you’re fine when you’re not: either your friend will pick up your true mood, or interpret your behaviour as a sign you aren’t happy to see them.

Tune into your audience
If you’re trying desperately to look tough and happy when you’re very, very nervous, you’ll get tied up in your own thoughts. Get comfortable with the discomfort, and then turn your attention to your audience.

Break down the fourth wall and let the magic happen
The fourth wall is the imaginary line between actors and audience in a stage production. Clowns break down that wall, by being part of the audience and vice versa. Develop your skill of listening to bring your audience past that wall. They’ll get more out of the talk, and you will feel it.

Delve more into this topic in one-on-one speaker coaching with Rachael West. Email rachael@rachaelwest.com.au to find out more.

Be a better speaker – get comfortable with being uncomfortable

I’m yet to coach a speaker who isn’t worried they will forget what they’re saying. I personally don’t think it’s a massive problem if you do forget your words – or fall off the stage for that matter. The audience will get over it.

But if you are worried you will do something stupid, you can end up doing some weird stuff on stage.

Now, one argument says you should stand up straight and smile and no one will know you’re shaking inside. It’s not a bad tool to have up your sleeve. But I’ve found a more powerful option:

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Imagine this scenario:
You forget your words mid-talk.
You pause and it feels awkward.
Half a second passes. For you, it feels like an hour.
You still haven’t said anything.
You don’t want the audience to suspect you’re uncomfortable so you try to mask your panic and push on.
In a bid to stay composed you talk faster to fill the gap.

In fact, this can happen when you haven’t forgotten your words. It can happen when you’re worried you will.

Instead, get comfortable with the uncomfortable. It’s normal. But most importantly, the moments where you are comfortable with uncomfortable are the moments you can listen to your audience, playfully feed off their energy and deliver a really engaging talk. Not just one where you look confident.

Delve more into this topic through speaker coaching. Get in touch at rachael@rachaelwest.com.au

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.)

Be a better speaker – the power of stillness and natural movement when you speak

Given the choice, do you choose to speak behind a lectern, or do you like a lapel mic so you can roam free? I choose the lapel, but recommend new speakers I coach do whichever they find most comfortable.

Sometimes, speakers who normally prefer the protection of the lectern challenge themselves to use a microphone. We then do some work on how they move on stage.

Standing on the open stage lets the audience see you. This is powerful.

It also raises the sometimes awkward question, “But what do I do with my body?”

I encourage speakers to allow natural movement.*

To find your natural movement, and its full power, first root yourself first in stillness. The stillness I am talking about is not contrived, and it’s not the clasp-my-hands-tightly-behind-your-back-so-I-don’t-do-something-stupid kind.

Rather, stillness is relaxed and open. It says to the crowd, “I am here for you, dear audience” (I quote my clown teacher, Rick Allen).

“What I have to say is important and I want you to hear it.”

When you find that presence and physical stillness, you force emotion into your voice, and expression into your face (in a good way!). Many conferences are so large these days that speakers are projected onto a large screen, making it even more potent for your audience.

For more about being a great speaker, sign up to the blog (see sign up form to your right) or email rachael@rachaelwest.com.au to book a speaker coaching package.


*Pacing, on the other hand, is often distracting for the audience and – in my experience – a sign the speaker is not totally comfortable.

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.