Dr. Gary Genard is pleased to announce an exciting new direction for Public Speaking International: the launch of The Genard Method of Performance-Based Public Speaking Training. Watch for his new website with great content and resources to help you become an exceptional communicator.
Launch date is next week!
Serving the Needs of Public Speakers Everywhere
In 2001, stage actor and communicators professor Dr. Gary Genard founded his Boston-based speech coaching and training practice. The company has grown substantially, built out a new training facility, and is about to establish a new presence in the arena of theater-based public speaking training.
Listen to Dr. Genard explain The Genard Method in his new introductory video:
Dr. Genard would like to thank his clients, mentors, colleagues, fellow actors, and all who dare to share their unique ideas through speeches and presentations. He has learned from all of you over the years as he established and continues to refine The Genard Method of Performance-Based Public Speaking Training.
Be sure to look as well for his latest book coming out in May 2014 from Cedar & Maitland Press: Fearless Speaking: Beat Your Anxiety. Build Your Confidence. Change Your Life.
Thanks to all!
You're really ready for this speech or presentation, aren't you?
You have great content—and you know it cold. Your listeners will absolutely benefit from the information you'll be giving them; in fact, you think it will change their lives for the better. So the last thing you want to do is weaken your message by using language you could just as easily do without.
In the spirit of combining your great message with effective delivery, here are 25 words or phrases you should avoid like the plague (gee, I guess I should have included clichés). Anyway, here they are, each with a brief explanation for their inclusion in this list. Keep in mind that there will be times when you might want to use a word or phrase below for specific effect. Generally speaking, however, stay away from the following:
- "I" or "me". The presentation is not about you, period. Self-consciousness and anxiety aside, it's about the audience. Replace every "I" or "me" with "you," "we," or "us." Keep the focus on your listeners rather than you.
- "A little bit." This phrase waters down your content. "I'd like to talk a little bit about . . ." pales next to, "Let's discuss the industry trends we need to consider."
- "Just." Similar to #2. Compare these two options: a) "I just want to say that I think we face some problems"; and b) "Listen! — Our backs are to the wall regarding these profit margins."
- "So . . ." Often uttered as the first word out of a speaker's mouth. (Now you're thinking back to your last presentation, aren't you?) But "so" is a continuation of a previous thought. And at the start of your presentation, nothing has come before.
- "Talk about." Used repetitively in a monotonous way: "First, I'll talk about what our competition is doing. Then I'll talk about why we have to think differently. Then, I'll talk about our new initiatives." Then, I'm sure you will all shoot yourselves!
- "My topic is . . ." To engage listeners immediately, you have to launch your presentation strongly. (See my article on "12 Foolproof Ways to Open a Speech.") An opening that blandly announces your topic will fail in this respect. What's engaging about telling people something they already know?
- "I've been asked to speak about." A variation of #6, and usually an attempt by the speaker to seem important.
- "Sorry if" or "Sorry for." Uh-oh. The speaker is apologizing for his or her presentation? "Sorry for this lengthy explanation. I couldn't figure out a way to say it simply." Okay, I invented that last sentence—but isn't that what it sounds like?
- "Excuse the eye chart." (Variation: "I know this slide is really busy.") Boy, haven't you heard that one before? Here, the speaker actually is apologizing for making a PowerPoint slide incomprehensible. If a presenter can't speak to everything on a slide in the time he or she shows it, the slide doesn't work. It needs to be boiled down or broken up into more than one slide, or the speaker needs to tell the audience the full data are in the handout.
- "I'd like to start out with a story." A story is one of the flat-out most effective ways to open a speech or presentation. Its effect is considerably weakened, however, if you announce that you're about to tell a story. I call it "introducing the Introduction."
- "There's a funny joke . . ." Well, there may be. But you're setting yourself up for failure if it isn't funny. Zero-sum game and all that. Believe me, if you simply start with the joke, it'll have much more punch. Even better: use humor rather than a joke. It won't contain a punch-line, and it's much easier to relate to your actual topic.
- "Excuse me if I seem nervous." Although some people think saying this will get an audience on your side, I think announcing your nerves is a bad idea. Most nervousness isn't visible. Let the audience make the decision as to whether you look nervous. If they don't notice it, why give the game away?
- "I'm not good at public speaking." Then go away.
- "I'm not a speaker." Yes, you are. Aren't you giving a presentation? Besides, you don't need to be a speaker unless you're on the speaking circuit. Just share what you have to say with us. We'll probably love it.
- "I've never done this before." You guessed it: this is instant death to your credibility. Again, do a good job and we'll L-O-V-E you!
- "Here are our key differentiators." A fine phrase except for the salient words. This language is so overused that your "key differentiators" in your industry probably aren't any such thing.
- "I've divided them here into three buckets." Unless you work on a farm or are planning to kick said bucket as part of the entertainment value of your talk, I would avoid the "buckets" cliché.
- "Bear with me." (Not "bare with me," which would actually be interesting.) Typically said when the speaker is experiencing technical difficulties. We all do, of course. Why not have a back-up plan for keeping your audience interested if the technology doesn't cooperate? I tell my clients—and I really mean it—that they should be prepared to give their talk if they leave their laptop with their slides in the cab on the way in from the airport.
- "The next slide shows . . ." Transitions are vital elements of your speech or presentation. They help audience members negotiate the logic of your argument. You need to think about how to organically link your previous talking point with the one you're about to introduce. Don't appear to discover yourself what the next topic is when the slide pops onto the screen.
- "Moving right along . . ." Truly the worst example of throwing one's hands up in the air because you don't know how to transition to your next point.
- "Obstacles!" Or "Projects," or any single word or phrase that blurts out what you're about to discuss next. Find that organic transition, per Item #19 above.
- "I think I've bored you enough." Oh, let's hope you haven't bored your audience at all. And if you have, do you have to twist the knife this way?
- "I didn't have enough time . . ." Whether what you say after these words is ". . . to prepare," ". . . to figure out what your needs were," or ". . . to do the necessary research," you shouldn't be clueing your audience in to this startling reality.
- "I'm running out of time, so I'll go through this quickly." It's probably not a good idea to announce to everyone your lack of time management skills in this presentation, wouldn't you say?
- "That's all I have." "And so I didn't give any thought to considering carefully how to end a speech vividly and memorably. So I'll just jump off this cliff, and take you all with me!"
Do you have any death-dealing words or phrases to add to my list?
What happens when you have to prepare a speech in almost no time flat? Where can you turn for help? . . . Right here!
My cheat sheet "How to Prepare a Speech in 15 Minutes" will have you up on your feet speaking successfully in a flash. Use this quick-fix tool to analyze your audience, decide on your central idea, and choose an organizing format from the three I provide. Then you can keep the above in mind concerning avoiding awkward language. Download this essential cheat sheet here:
Fear of public speaking manifests itself in a number of ways. Nervousness and feelings of anxiety, of course, are often at the top of the list. (To reduce your nerves and increase your focus, download my free cheat sheet, "How to Calm Your Nerves before Speaking.")
In a previous blog, I pointed out the need to go beyond one's thinking to be able to speak with skill and confidence. An important area from my acting career that I discussed is the body in performance—that is, the need to be on our game when we rise in front of others.
In today's blog, I'd like to discuss the last of the three essential areas to work in to eliminate speaking fear: the focus and mindfulness needed to be truly present and reaching listeners.
Whenever we experience stage fright, our focus becomes fractured. Though we'd like to attend to getting our critical message across, we become distracted by fear, anxiety, and self-consciousness. So how can be bring ourselves back to where we'd like to be: a degree of focus and mindfulness necessary to reach the hearts and minds of listeners?
The three exercises below are a great start.
Exercise #1: Focused Relaxation
This first exercise is excellent for achieving a relaxed state, slowing your breathing, and learning not to listen to intrusive "self-talk" that will interfere with your focus while speaking. That's quite a list of benefits for a simple 5-minute exercise!
- Find a quiet place. Sit comfortably in a well-supported position, feet flat on the floor.
- Close your eyes.
- “Listen” to your breath for the first minute as you breathe slowly and calmly. Let your body teach you how breathing nourishes and sustains you. Fill your lungs completely with life-giving oxygen.
- Once you're breathing slowly and calmly, focus your awareness on a visual image in your mind's eye. A simple shape and color work best: a yellow circle, a blue square, a green triangle, etc. "See" that object with as much clarity as you can.
- Thoughts, feelings, and images will rise in your consciousness. Notice them but don’t engage with them. Instead, bring your focus back to your image. Do nothing; simply let your awareness be.
- Your breathing will become slower and deeper. Notice with your mind and your body what this state feels like. Maintain this level of calm and focus as you go about your daily tasks. Call upon it when you speak.
Exercise #2: Contemplating the Shadow
Another helpful exercise—and a reminder to be rather than do—is to contemplate this Zen saying:
“Man stands in his own shadow and wonders why it’s dark.”
When it comes to overcoming fear of public speaking, are you standing in the way of your own becoming? It's common to blame "the other" for our speaking fear: the high-stakes situation, the audience of strangers, the unusual scenario of speaking to a large group. But in a great paradox that comes to us from the world of acting: We are both the center of attention in public speaking and the least important person in the room. To become a great speaker, you must forget yourself in your message!
Exercise #3: Opening Your Senses
This exercise is designed to dissolve the invisible wall that exists between you and your audience. In speech anxiety, your natural response is to escape—to create distance between you and the cause of your discomfort. Yet this is the opposite of what has to occur: to reach and persuade listeners, you must approach them, not run from them.
True presence in public speaking, then, literally starts with being present. You must therefore teach yourself to be present! An excellent way to do so is to allow yourself to open up sensually to your surroundings—to experience the here-and-now not only intellectually but physically. Here's one way to do so:
- Lie on your back, with eyes closed and arms and feet uncrossed.
- Follow your breath, as in the Focused Relaxation exercise above. Give yourself over to your breathing—let it fill your consciousness.
- Focus your awareness on the present time and place. Listen to the sounds around you. Smell the air in this room. Become aware of the sensations of the floor underneath you and the air on your skin. Does this place have any taste associated with it? If you opened your eyes, what would you see? For a few minutes, fill yourself with this sensual input. Now let this place and time dissolve in your consciousness.
- In their stead, go to a favorite location in your mind—a beach on a summer day, a field in springtime, a hammock in early autumn, a cozy fire in a ski lodge after a day on the slopes. Once again, open yourself completely to what you're experiencing through your senses in your imagination.
- Spend five or ten minutes enjoying this place. Then slowly let it dissolve in your consciousness, as you come back to the location where you’re doing this exercise. But keep the level of deep relaxation and sensory input you’ve achieved. This place is the same as it was before, except now you’re experiencing it much more fully. Let it flood into you.
- Keep this feeling inside you—your new ability to fully experience a physical response to the world around you. The goal is to be more open, receptive and welcoming to all things, including your audience.
Interested in more ways to improve your focus for successful speaking? To gain maximum stage presence and impact, download my free cheat sheet, "10 Ways to Stay Fully Focused when Speaking." My theater-based techniques will help you stay in "The Zone" for more confident and powerful presentations. Download the cheat sheet here:
If you fear public speaking, you already own one of the most effective tools for reducing your anxiety and building your confidence. And it's so close you literally can't see it.
It's your own body.
Body language is essential to understand and employ to help overcome speaking fear. That's true concerning both movement and gestures—what we traditionally think of as body language—and the "language of the body" in terms of our physiological response to stage fright.
Enlisting one's own body as a tool to eliminate speech anxiety is less understood than perhaps any strategy for coping with this problem. That's partly because so many of us are untrained in the performance aspects of public speaking.
Let's look more closely at this juncture of the body and the art of spoken performance.
The Body in Performance
Many people who suffer from fear of public speaking focus almost exclusively on overcoming negative thinking. Cognitive restructuring of this type is an essential element of eliminating speaking fear. As I discussed in my last blog, turning negative self-talk into positive thinking is helpful in establishing the right frame of mind for speaking in public.
The practice is not the be-all and the end-all of eliminating speaking fear, however. Two areas of equal importance are the physical aspects of performance, and the focus and mindfulness necessary to be fully present and connecting with listeners.
We have a body for a reason when it comes to spoken performance: to support and amplify what we're saying. Think about the times you discuss topics you're passionate about—do you stand stock still, without gestures or facial expressions? Of course not; your body gets into the act, animating and giving life and spirit to what you're saying, making your argument stronger and more convincing.
Now imagine trying to overcome speaking fear by only thinking about it without any awareness of body language, movement, or gestures. Clearly, that's impossible—yet anxious speakers do so all the time. If you're one of them, start thinking about your body as an essential tool of public speaking.
Always practice on your feet—and present that way whenever possible. Become friends with a large mirror or video camera or your smart phone, as you find ways to give physical expression to what you're saying. After all, your audiences respond strongly to visuals—and the strongest visual you have is yourself.
The Physiological Effects of Speech Anxiety
Along with body language, "the language that the body speaks" during speaking anxiety is another area you need to become familiar with. I'm speaking here of the physiological effects of stage fright: sweating, rapid and shallow breathing, pounding heart, shaky voice, and the rest of the cascade of responses that make you want to fight or flee this "dangerous" situation.
Again, seeking to eliminate speaking fear through a purely analytical process, without countering the physical aspects of speaking fear, is an impossible task. You can apply a rational process to your fear all you want, but it won't help you much when you're vomiting backstage.
So begin to understand and speak this "language of the body." As a start, learn diaphragmatic breathing—the foundation for developing presence of mind to stay calm and centered in the midst of speech anxiety. Use this 5-minute technique to calm your fear of public speaking. And practice muscle relaxation so you know what such a state feels like, and can apply it when you're getting tense and nervous before speaking.
Grounding Yourself and Using Space
Finally, discover how to use space effectively to become grounded and give yourself confidence. "Grounding" means standing with your feet at armpit- or shoulder-width to create a stable and steady platform from which to launch your ideas.
If this seems like a minor matter, try delivering a speech with your feet touching like a tin soldier, or with one leg crossed in front of the other, or leaning noticeably on one hip. You'll begin to understand why "how you stand affects your standing with your audience."
Once you've established a steady stance, you can move with purpose. And understand, you should move, not stand statue-still believing your content is powerful in itself (because of course it isn't—your material needs your body to enliven and strengthen it in delivery). Occupy a different spot for each main point. Move toward a questioner as you begin your answer. Approach the screen if you're displaying visual information. Move up and down the aisles, or around the boardroom table, to get close to every part of your audience.
The speaker who commands his or her performance space is one who both demonstrates and feels confidence. Let that be you.
Ready now to actually boost your presence and charisma through body language? Project complete confidence and authority to move your listeners. Read my free cheat sheet, "6 Skills Building Exercises for Effective Body Language." Discover how to use your body to connect with and influence audiences. Download the cheat sheet here:
Are you overly nervous or self-conscious about speaking in public? Many of us are—and too often, we blame ourselves for the fear and anxiety that results.
(To reduce nervousness and increase your focus, download my free cheat sheet, “How to Calm Your Nerves before Speaking.”)
Fear is not rational, of course—it’s a visceral response that comes from the sense that you’re in danger. One of the reasons fear of public speaking, or glossophobia, is so difficult to overcome, in fact, is that it’s such an irrational process.
Of course, speaking in public is rarely a dangerous situation. Yet your mind may perceive it that way. The fact that you react so strongly and inappropriately just makes speech anxiety that much more difficult to deal with.
A Three-Pronged Approach to Overcoming Speaking Fear
However seemingly intractable speaking fear may be, you can’t escape the need to restructure your thinking. Otherwise, your erroneous thought processes will keep you in a state of anxiety and unrealistic expectations. As if you didn’t have enough to worry about concerning the actual speaking situation, you bathe yourself in negative self-talk that diminishes your confidence while increasing your sense of helplessness.
So you need to change that negative self-talk into positive coping statements.
But that isn’t enough. If altering your thinking were sufficient, that’s all you’d need to do to develop overwhelming confidence. Over the past decade and a half of helping professionals deal with speech anxiety, I’ve come to realize that dealing with two more areas of speech performance are needed. The three essential areas to work in to eliminate fear of public speaking are these:
1. Cognitive Restructuring
2. The Body in Performance
3. Focus and Mindfulness
In this blog, I’ll discuss the first of these three critical areas. The two blogs to follow will deal with the second and third areas.
In one sense, you create your own fearful response to public speaking. If you substitute your fears for reality, you’re creating a frame of mind that’s much harsher than the actual speaking situation.
To break out of the cycle of a) undervaluing your worth as a speaker, b) overestimating the negative response of your audience, and c) believing that listeners are judging you instead of the value of your message, you have to change your unhealthy thoughts into constructive thinking.
This process of re-routing negative thinking into productive channels is called "cognitive restructuring." For you as a speaker, it simply means changing from a negative mindset into positive territory in terms of public speaking.
Tools for Changing Your Thinking
How can you do so? Here are three ways to change your negative cognition:
Overcome Worst-Case Thinking: Worst-case thinking means imagining that a truly awful outcome is going to occur despite little or no evidence. One way you can overcome such thinking is to create a chart that lists in one column all your "worst cases." In another column, write down what is most likely to occur. "I'll forget everything I'm supposed to say" will realistically become "I'll share this valuable information I have on this topic" or something similar. Voila! You'll help train your thoughts into a constructive rather than self-limiting path.
Develop Positive Coping Statements: Familiarize yourself with the negative self-talk you typically create and listen to. For each such counterproductive statement, compose a helpful mantra instead. For instance, “I’m just not a good public speaker” can easily become, “I can learn the skills of effective public speaking.”
Channel Your Thinking: Practice the valuable skill of downsizing a negative outlook by first creating a less negative viewpoint, then moving into positive thinking. You might think of this as a learning-to-walk-before-you-can-run approach. If you’re likely to say to yourself, “Audiences see I’m nervous,” you can change that thought first to “Audiences can’t see I’m nervous,” and finally to “Audiences see I’m confident.”
By working in the area of cognitive restructuring, you’ll be changing your role from that of your own worst enemy to your own best friend as a speaker. Not a bad person to have in your corner!
Now that you're using positive thinking for more successful speaking, learn how to improve your focus as well. To gain maximum stage presence and impact, download my free cheat sheet, "10 Ways to Stay Fully Focused when Speaking." My theater-based techniques will help you stay in "The Zone" for more confident and powerful presentations. Download the cheat sheet here:
In my last blog, "Body Language: What Are You Revealing when You Speak?," I shared my view that to move an audience, you need to do more than deliver information. Importantly, you also need to engage, move, inspire, or otherwise lead your listeners to action.
Let's look at some of the other ways body language reveals who you are as a speaker and affects an audience's response to you. We can call them The Body Language Rules for More Powerful Public Speaking.
Key Decisions Audiences Make
How can you achieve the goal of activating audiences? To begin with, you have to positively affect the decisions your listeners are making about you. After all, in one way or another every talk involves persuasive speaking.
At every moment in your speech or presentation, your audience is judging your trustworthiness, the importance of what you're saying, and your values and those of your organization. These judgments strongly affect whether listeners are willing to be persuaded and influenced by you, i.e., to be led to action by you.
Body Language as One of Your Key Speaking Tools
Among your most powerful tools for maximizing this interaction between you and your listeners is body language. (To learn how to use body language effectively, download my free cheat sheet, "5 Secrets of Powerful Body Language.") To understand why this is so, consider how strongly visual our culture has become. Television, movies, video games, smart phones, Pinterest—the list is long of visual stimuli that rule people's attention spans.
To speak with influence, then, you have to look good as well as deliver important information. And that means using one of your primary communication tools—your body—effectively.
Body Language Can Be Obvious or Subtle
Previously, I discussed stance, facial expressions, and gestures: three areas of body language that are obvious and easy for speakers to understand. "Easy" does not mean unimportant, however. As I often say, how you stand affects your standing with listeners; and countenance and gestures are powerful tools of amplifying and supporting meaning.
Yet there are more subtle uses of body language. Not so obvious at first glance, they also support your relationship to your material, your message, and not least, your audience.
Three Rules of Body Language: Space, Objects, and Proximity
Did you know you can and should be using your performance space productively when you speak? Each time you stand, or even sit, in the presence of listeners, a certain space is yours "by right" as a speaker. This speaker-audience equation, of course, includes meetings, speaking to your team, panel discussions, and other situations aside from formal presentations. Methods of using the performance area to your advantage include space, objects, and proximity.
Space: Here are three ways you can use space to clarify or support your message:
- Choose a different spot to deliver each of your main points. In a small performance space, this may mean taking just a step or two before each point.
- If you're discussing a chronology, move from your audience's left to their right as you talk about each stage or element of a timeline. In Western societies, left-to-right is how we read, and your audience will follow your time progression easily.
- If you're outlining sides of an argument or alternatives, stand in one spot for one side of the argument, in another place for the alternative, then remain where you are or go back to your original position, depending upon which side of the argument or alternative you agree with.
Objects: An analogy from the theater helps us here, in an actor's use of props. An inexperienced actor is often self-conscious about using a prop ("I have to handle this thing as well as act in this scene?") And so, as we actors say, the prop uses the actor. Experienced performers accomplish the opposite: they not only know how to handle the prop skillfully, but they actually use the prop to reveal an element of their character.
The same applies to your presentation or speech: Do you use the lectern, "clicker," PowerPoint screen, model you're demonstrating, handouts, product sample, or elements of your technology effectively?
The most important object on view for your audience is, of course, yourself. Are you using any of these visual elements, as you should, to strengthen your message or the action you require from the audience? The key word here is "Practice!" until the object becomes part of the flow of your narrative, and looks natural in your hands.
Proximity: The word for the cultural aspects of the spatial distance between people is proxemics. Your nearness to or distance from others affects their response to you—a process that's often strongly determined by culture.
In terms of public speaking, you need only remember this rule: your audience will generally respond more positively to you if you are close to them or remove any obstacles between you and them. Approach your listeners whenever possible, so they feel a physical connection to you. Arrange your performance space with listeners sitting around you in a "U" shape, if possible. Walk up and down the aisles in an auditorium (again, if it's appropriate and easy to do so in your presentation).
And take every opportunity to come out from behind a lectern. It's one of the few actual physical obstacles that diminish your relationship with audiences and keep you distant from them.
Ready to boost your presence and charisma in presentations through your body language? Project complete confidence and authority to move your listeners. Read my free cheat sheet, "6 Skills Building Exercises for Effective Body Language." Discover how to use body language to connect with and influence audiences. Download it here:
What does your body language reveal about you when you speak in public? More than you think!
(Download my free cheat sheet, "5 Secrets of Powerful Body Language" to learn the key areas you need to understand to use body language effectively.)
In terms of what you show through body language, it's something of a good news/bad news situation: You may be revealing something you'd rather your audience didn't know. Or you could be using nonverbal communication productively to aid your impact and influence with listeners.
Why not align your use of body language with the latter scenario?
Stance and Movement Tell Your Audience How You Feel
I thought of body language and what it reveals last night, watching Bruce Dern's excellent performance in the film "Nebraska." When I was acting professionally, one of the first tasks I always attended to in creating a character was to get the person's walk right. In other words, if I understood how that person walked, I knew I'd gain an important insight on how that character viewed and responded to the world.
In "Nebraska," a key to Mr. Dern's creation of Woody Grant is his distinctive shuffling, world-weary, stubborn and determined walk. Whenever this actor decided on Woody's style of walking —early or late in the creation of the character—I'm convinced it was a key decision that gave him an essential tool for communicating the essence of this man to the audience.
In your public speaking and presentations, be aware that the same equation applies concerning how you look at the world. To move an audience, you need to do more than deliver information. You must also invite listeners to share your vision, and to let them know that you enjoy the opportunity to open your world to them, at the same time you welcome connecting with their needs. The way you stand, move, and relate to the audience in physical terms either makes this connection work, or misses the mark.
How specifically do you do this? Use good posture, and move with purpose rather than wandering. Employ inclusive gestures that literally reach out to your listeners. And take every opportunity to reduce the distance between you and your audience, letting them know you truly want to be close to them.
Your Gestures Should Amplify Meaning
Another way to use body language effectively as a speaker is simply to understand that your body is an important tool of communication. We are not brains encased in bell jars, sending thoughts to each other telepathically.
Audiences watch what we show them when we speak in person, in teleconferences, via Skype, or in videos—and how could it be otherwise? The answer to the common question, "What do I do with my hands?" is simply this: use them to support what you're saying at that moment, and to amplify meaning. Make your gestures few in number, clean, and well defined—and always in support of something important that you're saying. Listeners will more than likely retain that key part of your message.
The Subtle Signals You Send
When you use body language as a tool that supports both your relationship with your audience and the meaning of what you're saying to them, you'll be able to tap into the more subtle benefits of nonverbal communication. Stance, facial expressions, and gestures are applications of effective body language that are easy to understand.
(To get you started boosting your presence and charisma in terms of nonverbal skills, download my cheat sheet, "6 Skills Building Exercises for Effective Body Language.")
More subtle are the ways you can use space, proximity to your listeners, and objects to enrich your relationship with your listeners and your material. That's the subject of my next blog.
Interested in other ways to engage audiences for maximum impact? Don't make the mistake of just delivering information instead of inspiring listeners! My free cheat sheet, "5 Ways to Captivate an Audience" will help you achieve true speaking success. Learn how to speak dynamically to the most important audiences in the world: yours! Download it here:
Can something as simple as breathing improve your public speaking, ability to think, and sense of comfort and well-being? Experience shows that it can—and that knowing how to achieve these benefits is easier than you may think.
A Guru's Wisdom
It's a lesson I learned many years ago. In the period of my life when I was acting professionally in New York, I enrolled in a course in meditation at Manhattan's Himalayan Institute. Something the teacher said one day has stayed with me ever since.
“I don't believe we have an epidemic of heart disease in this country,” he told us: “I believe we have an epidemic of breathing disease.”
You could call that a “breathtaking” statement on its own! It certainly resonated with me as a stage actor, since breathing and breath control were central to my art.
What this guru was saying was that for many of us, our hearts are starved of oxygen because we have poor breathing habits. Naturally, a heart deprived of an adequate supply of oxygen will fare poorly. As important for anyone who gives presentations: those same careless breathing habits adversely affect public speaking performance.
Breathing for Public Speaking
Why? Well, an intriguing fact about public speaking is that breathing for speech differs from "vegetative breathing," or breathing for life. The latter is passive and usually unconscious; while the former is active and needs to be controlled.
Breath is not only the energizing force used by the vocal folds to produce spoken sound. It is a tool which controls everything from the power you use when you speak to the way you sustain sound and manage rhythm, cadence, and often, the effect you're aiming for emotionally. In English, for instance, the most important words—the ones that need to be “punched”—usually come at the end of a phrase or sentence.
"To be or not to be: that is the question."
Hamlet's famous line illustrates the point beautifully.
This means that as a speaker, you use controlled exhalation when you speak that is much longer than the “quick in and out” inhalation-exhalation cycle of breathing for life. To control your exhalation, you require full breaths that provide the reservoir of air you need. Simple!
The Benefits of Diaphragmatic Breathing
The easiest way to take full breaths that can power your speech, of course, is through the use of the diaphragm in "belly breathing." It's much more effective than shallow breathing in the upper chest or by raising the shoulders, two breathing techniques that simply waste energy. Here's how to use diaphragmatic breathing.
As a speaker, then, you need to breathe more deeply than in vegetative breathing. This is often a distinct challenge in public speaking, when adrenaline and self-consciousness may entice you to breathe rapidly and shallowly.
Getting an adequate amount of air to sustain vocalization is only one benefit to breathing for speech, however. Filling your lungs fully can actually slow your heart down, calming and centering you. Diaphragmatic breathing, then, is one of the relaxation techniques you can use not only when you're presenting, but throughout the day.
Additional Advantages to Productive Breathing
Try this exercise yourself: Get a baseline pulse rate at your wrist, then take a huge intake of air. Pause for five seconds, then let all the air out in one exhalation. Your pulse rate should slow perceptibly, letting you know that full deep breathing is calming the heart.
Another benefit of breathing fully and deeply is that it oxygenates your brain. Your brain needs that level of oxygen to fuel your brain cells so you can think clearly and quickly. When you're speaking and need to think on your feet, this is a huge benefit.
So practice relaxation exercises, meditation, or mindfulness techniques—anything that teaches you to breathe slowly and more deeply. You'll not only be calmer and more relaxed, but you'll be more centered and ready to speak. Equally important, you’ll avoid the “caved in” appearance that shallow breathing can create. Best of all, you’ll be supporting your voice and helping to give it power.
The Benefits Are Infinite
One other suggestion: As you learn to breathe slowly and diaphragmatically, concentrate on making your inhalation and exhalation continuous and unbroken. That is, try to eliminate the starting or stopping that may occur as you move from inhaling to exhaling.
Instead, imagine that your breathing rhythm resembles a figure "8" on its side. That, of course, is the symbol for infinity. There is no break anywhere. Unobstructed breathing is like that: a continuous flow of life-affirming and energizing fuel for your mind, body, and spirit.
It's also, of course, the true source of your speaking power! The flow of energy can also help loosen the mental blockages that may be part of anxiety about speaking in public, and even help prevent an imminent panic attack.
All told, not a bad list of benefits from something so "simple" as breathing, is it?
Want to be in “The Zone” when you speak—relaxed yet completely focused at all times?
To become a dynamic rather than a nervous speaker, download my free cheat sheet, "How to Calm Your Nerves Before Speaking." My theater-based techniques will help conquer your nervousness and stage fright to make you a more powerful speaker . . . even if you have just 5 minutes to spare!
Ready for the way business communication will be conducted from now on?
If you answered yes, you probably realize that video will be part of that future. Or if not video, then webinars, podcasts, or online learning. In other words, some form of virtual engagement for your business or other pursuits will increasingly be part of your professional life. And that means learning the art of speaking virtually.
The Future Is Here. Do You Recognize It?
The world of business, nonprofits, and government is constantly evolving—and one of the most important changes today is communicating in the virtual environment. Increasingly, then, you will be called upon to conduct your business virtually.
That may mean an array of applications, from webinars, teleconferences, video conferencing, or video appearances where you speak to audiences in front of the camera. You will need to be both an informed consumer and a provider of the product in some or all of those cases.
Video in particular will be a key driver of personal and organizational success. In fact, it already is. Consider the following:
The average American adult spends an average of 19 hours per month viewing online videos. Sixty percent of videos viewed are consumer products videos. Fifty-two percent of people say those videos helped them make a decision.
Are you ready to offer the videos you and your organization need to join this stream?
The Virtual You
You may have read articles or books on preparing an online or virtual presentation. But have you given any thought to how to speak in those settings? If you’ve participated in webinars, you probably realize that the spoken performance in these offerings rarely matches the content being delivered.
To conduct business in the 21st century, then, you need the awareness and skills of an effective performer. That’s good news on two fronts: first, these are the same public speaking skills you’ve heard about all your professional life; and second, you can draw upon these techniques without learning something new and exotic for the videotaped and virtual speaking you’ll be doing.
The World of Virtual Business
If you accept the fact that your customers, colleagues, and the rest of your industry will increasingly receive information virtually in the 21st century, you’ll be poised to learn how to speak in that world.
One way to do so is by strengthening your relationship with your virtual audience. And that means performing effectively in that environment. Tools to do so include vocal dynamics, body language, use of language, and “speaking visually” (painting word pictures in listeners’ minds). It also means keeping your audience’s attention when distractions compete for your listener or viewer’s full engagement.
Another essential skill in the virtual environment is leading your online audiences through your presentation. Have you participated in webinars where you don’t know where to look on the screen while the presenter is talking? Instead, tell your viewers where to look on your slide, since you’re like the camera in a movie that directs the audience’s gaze exactly where it needs to go.
One Last Word: Video!
If you’re not convinced yet that video is in your future, consider this fact: Videos are 53 times more likely to get indexed than text-only content. (And you have to have a ‘big pop’ in the first 15 seconds, because that’s when a significant drop-off in viewer interest occurs.)
You can tap into the video universe in different ways: on a website, in a blog, on online video sites, in social media, email marketing, online advertising, and embedded in QR codes. If the performance skills you need aren’t in your DNA, a good speech coach can help you learn them. What matters most is that you get your mind in the right place, knowing both that the future is here, and you should be a part of it.
When you're ready for your video, conference call, or podcast, don't make the mistake of delivering information instead of engaging your audiences! Get ready to attain true speaking success. My free cheat sheet, "5 Ways to Captivate an Audience" will help you enrich your relationship with listeners. Learn how to speak dynamically to the most important audiences in the world: yours! Download it here:
 Source: Presentation by Melissa Albano-Davis, “Video Marketing and Optimization,” at Constant Contact event, “Get Social Media Savvy for 2014,” Waltham, Mass., December 10, 2013.
 (Albano-Davis, 2013).
Need a focusing technique to improve your public speaking? Start here:
Imagine you're an 11th century Scottish general who, returning from battle, is accosted by three witches. You're told you're destined to be king. Mesmerized and consumed by ambition, you assassinate the rightful king (while he's a guest in your house), and descend into increasing paranoia and savagery.
Think you'd need to be focused to pull that off on stage eight times a week?
Why Theater Tools are Ideal for Public Speaking
It isn't only the lead role in Shakespeare's Macbeth that requires that level of concentration, of course. Nor is the need for complete focus in performance limited to acting, since it applies to any of the performing arts.
Which brings us to public speaking.
When we speak in keynotes, business presentations, meetings, sales pitches, and any situation where we present our ideas, we are center stage in the arena of performance. That requires a level of focus beyond the ordinary. (To calm your nerves, even if you only have 5 minutes to spare, download my free cheat sheet, "How to Calm Your Nerves before Speaking.")
Yet often, the ability to focus is the one skill we have difficulty with in public speaking situations. Our expertise, content knowledge, passion, and even the willingness to serve our listeners' needs, aren't usually in doubt. But occupying "center stage" in the spotlight of speech performance brings on self-consciousness, nervousness, and the feeling of nakedness.
It's hard to stay focused and hitting on all cylinders—at the time when you most need to do so—when you're experiencing this level of vulnerability and anxiety.
How then can you increase your focus and dedication to the task at hand? The tools of the theater, as they are in so many aspects of spoken performance, are at your command. Among others of these tools, actors access some of the best focusing techniques that exist. Here's one that's easy to use, and that even has applications beyond your speeches and presentations.
The Actor's Box
Paradoxically, this exercise calls for you to think consciously about issues that are most likely to disrupt your focus when you need it most. It's called the Actor's Box.
The Actor's Box is imaginary: a cabinet that's custom-made to hold those intrusive thoughts. Here's how it works:
Imagine a box small enough (in your imagination), to carry around with you whenever you need to speak in public. Just like an actor, you will use this cabinet as a temporary home for the thoughts and concerns that are most likely to spoil the performance you're about to give.
The reason these thoughts have the capacity to do this is because they are the very concerns that are on your mind at the moment. Work or personal matters, pressing deadlines, health issues, and items of any kind that preoccupy you are the culprits who you'll be introducing to your Actor's Box.
The idea is for you to bring along your imaginary box and use it just before your public speaking appearance. Here's what to do:
Using the Box
Ten or fifteen minutes before your talk, find a quiet place where you can be alone. Put the imaginary box down next to you.
Turn the imaginary key and open the door.
Now spend the next few minutes thinking of the things that are on your mind or bothering you. The type of worry or concern doesn't matter—it simply needs to be a thought you don't want to bring "on stage" while you're speaking.
In each case, think about the concern or worry for a minute or so. In other words, give it some attention. If a decision is required, tell yourself that you'll make one . . . later. After you've given each individual concern or worry some time, put it in the box.
Repeat this step for up to a half-dozen things you'd rather not have on your mind as you speak.
Shut the door to your imaginary box and turn the key. Put the "key" someplace safe!
Your worries are now tucked inside your Actor's Box. Since you've granted each of them some face time (which they were clamoring for), they'll be quiet for the time you'll be speaking. In other words, they'll behave themselves. Of course, if you had unwisely ignored them, they'd surely intrude at the moments you need them not to do so!
Finally, if it slips your mind to let them out out of the box after your presentation, don't worry. They're stubborn little characters, and they'll find their way back to you without any problem whatsoever.
Looking for additional ways to be energetic and focused as a speaker? To gain maximum stage presence to impress audiences, download my free cheat sheet, "10 Ways to Stay Fully Focused when Speaking." My theater-based techniques will help you stay in "The Zone" for more confident and powerful presentations. Download the cheat sheet here:
Image credit: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/photo_21254605_open-wooden-chest-isolated-on-white-background.html'>merznatalia / 123RF Stock Photo</a>