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.

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.)

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.