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 rachaelclairewest@gmail.com 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 in the upcoming Speaker Coaching course. Email rachael@strategiccreativityatwork.com.au to find out more.

Be a better speaker – the power of stillness

Given the choice, do you choose to speak behind the lectern, or take the lapel mic and roam free? I choose the latter, but recommend speakers I coach do whichever they are most comfortable with.

When speakers who normally prefer the protection of the lectern decide to challenge themselves by going with the lapel mic, one of the things we work on is how they move.

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

But with such exposure, the question “What do I do with my body?” becomes more prescient.

I support and encourage natural movement when speaking. (Aside: pacing, on the other hand, is often distracting for the audience and – in my experience – a sign the speaker is not totally comfortable.)

For natural movement to have its full power when you are speaking to a large group, root yourself first in stillness. Not the contrived sort, or the clasp-your-hands-tightly-behind-your-back-so-I-don’t-pace.

Rather, aim for the kind of stillness that says, “I am here for you, dear audience” (to quote, perhaps, surprisingly, my clown teacher, Rick Allen). “What I have to say is important and I want you to hear it.”

That kind of presence and physical stillness tends to 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.

Delve more into this topic in the upcoming Speaker Coaching course with Rachael West. Email rachael@strategiccreativityatwork.com.au for details.