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 – 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.

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.

How to use notes AND look at your audience (inspired by Annabel Crabb)

When a conference speaker reads directly from their notes it doesn’t usually make for the most exciting listening. As an audience member, when someone is looking down you don’t feel connected and it’s hard to pay attention.

“I could have just read the journal article”, you might think.

There’s nothing wrong with notes – except for the fact that almost everyone who does so ends up with monotonous “reading voice”.

The exception is the likes of Annabel Crabb, who I watched read from her notes at the 2017 Women in Mining WA Summit, while remaining gloriously entertaining and engaging. Here are 4 tips for being more Annabel-like fabulous in your next public speaking appearance, by using notes more effectively.

Step 1. Double check that you wouldn’t be better off writing a blog post or recording a podcast than talking to hundreds of people
If you need to read your notes for a talk, would a podcast or written article be more effective? You can reach thousands of people and archive them for later use. If you decide you do really need to speak live, a blog post or recording can capture some of your points as ‘pre-reading’ or followup to compliment your talk.

Step 2. Don’t believe yourself when you say “I’ll have my notes just in case”
Plenty of high-profile speaker use notes (Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales are two great examples). If you will give a better talk with notes, you are allowed to have notes too. But if you are telling yourself you want your word-for-word script in your hand “just in case I lose my spot” you might be kidding yourself. I find this generally doesn’t work. The instant a public speaker with script in hand loses her place and looks down, she starts reading. Rather than a check to re-gain her place she becomes reliant on those notes. Instead: make a conscious decision to use notes or not to use them, and rehearse appropriately.

Step 3. Train yourself out of vague glances to the audience
You learned in highschool that it was important to look up at your audience. It is. But you may have noticed that speakers often look up for a quarter of a second without actually connecting with you.  This serves no purpose because you haven’t achieved the point of looking at the audience: to make them feel connected with you. In fact, this kind of audience “vague-ing” can have the opposite effect: losing your place makes you nervous, so you rely on your notes more.

Step 4. Look at your audience, intentionally, take them in – and then read
As MC at the 2017 Women in Mining WA Summit Annabel Crabb relied heavily on notes. If you’ve watched her on TV she often does this in her interviews – for good reason. But Annabel did not use “reading voice” or throw vague glances at the audience. Instead, she looked intensely at her audience in the pauses. Her gaze was intentional, and long enough to feel she had seen us. She then began to read – but magically not in “reading voice”. My clown teacher would always remind us to be their for the audience. With Annabel, we always felt she was there for us.

The next time you are public speaking, remember that what you are doing is, above all, for your audience. Connect with them, and their energy will fuel you, igniting you to give even more.

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