What My Dentist Taught Me About Communication

How To Convey Calm With Body Language

True confession. I have panic attacks at the dentist. In fact last time I went I was so embarrassed I didn’t go back for 5 years. Hence my 4 treatment visits this year. Luckily I’m rich. Well, not any more.

The thing is, apart from now being the proud owner of immaculate hole-free teeth, I learned a lot from my new dentist. He embodied the Art Calm Under Pressure. And it wasn’t just the generous supply of Rescue Remedy flowing like champagne from the dental spit cup. It was so much more!

1. Glide, Don’t Run
Nothing generates fear faster than abrupt, staccato movement. In body language terms it implies: “I’m busy!”, “I don’t have time for you!”, “Lets’ do this fast!” or even, “Danger, Will Robinson!” Darting, shifting or avoiding eye contact does not inspire confidence; instead they suggest a lack of mindful presence – the dentist would rather be somewhere else or you have a big big problem in your mouth that’s going to require a semi trailer and a crane.

On the other hand, a smooth glide says “I”m with you. I have time for you. I am paying you attention and do not intend to go anywhere else.” Willingness to make eye contact builds trust and rapport and you know, they are in it for the long haul. They truly see you and even understand your muffled questions. Their movements are languid and unruffled, suggesting an inner, saint-like calm.

Am I laying it on too thick? Well too bad. It worked for me! And of course, I joyously embraced (great distraction) analysing the parallels between nervous public speakers and nervous dental clients.

2. Reframe In The Positive
This dentist of mine kept up a steady stream of praise and positive feedback. I noticed when he said: “Oh this is going so well. Just a little bit longer”.  My cynical mind vaguely registered he may be telling porkies, but in that moment I chose to suspend suspicion and go with the trust option.  He gently suggested it was a good idea to buff and polish to finish it all off. “Buff and polish” sounds delightful, like a luxurious manicure you can only afford to get in Bali.

I now describe myself as a “Buff & Polish Survivor.” Two long months later and a lot of sensitive-teeth toothpaste have allowed the trauma of dental jackhammer ripping through my jaw bone, of trying to remember to do yogic breathing but really, just praying to a god I didn’t believe in, to get through it.

OK, I’m not intending to make a case for using misleading language. What I relearned was the power of language to influence and persuade. And how powerfully it can be used to settle anxiety and induce calm. And it can be used for the power of good or evil.  Just choose wisely folks.

3. Build Confidence
Working with nervous people necessitates sensitive interpersonal people skills and the ability to build rapid trust (“trust me, I’m a dentist!”). My dentist was very smart. He set out a plan of 4, sixty minute sessions. We began with the initial consult, a modern X-ray (boy things have changed in 5 years) and a tooth and gum brushing lesson (use a 45 degree angle on your gums). He even gave me a Utube link to watch professional teeth brushing.

Session 2 comprised of a review of my new teeth brushing skills (I got a gold star) and a simple upper jaw filling plus 1 needle. Easy. I breezed through the second appointment without even crying! A first!

Oh dear. Sessions 3 and 4 he had strategically left to last. By building my confidence in handling dental treatment I was amazed to experience hell in the dental chair. 3 needles at one point had to be administered. But handled it, I did. He was wise to leave the worse to last because if they had been first, I would not have returned and my panic would only have deepened.

The thing is, I survived. I’m a better public speaking coach for it. And, I have fabulous teeth. When I am coaching and training clients to work with groups, especially of a diverse and sensitive nature, I share the insights I was reminded of at the dentist:

1. Glide, Don’t Run – Slow down, relax and be present.
2. Reframe In The Positive – Choose your words carefully as they carry impact.
3. Build Confidence – Learning requires risk taking and that requires confidence and trust.

Have you booked your next dental appointment?  If so, I encourage you to observe your dentist carefully for the unexpected pearls you may pick up. In the meantime, feel free to join me at my one day workshop in Newcastle on June 29th or 4 day Public Speaking Goddess Retreat in Bundanoon NSW on Nov 22-25, 2016. And yes, nuts and ice cream will be on the menu so get your teeth done at least 2 months before!

© 2015, Geraldine Barkworth, public speaking coach. This article or review is the author’s opinion only. www.goddessofpublicspeaking.com.au

Video Review: How To Use A Paper Towel, by Joe Smith

Ever tried to convince people to change their behaviour? How did that go for you?

Watch TED Talk, How To Use A Paper Towel 5 minute video by Joe Smith and learn how to:

  • build a case for change by using practical evidence and visual props;
  • physically demonstrate the ease of making the recommended change;
  • link to change to a higher purpose that benefits us all and uses inspiration to motivate;
  • invite group participation by making learning fun, easy and memorable… and building a habit.

Joe Smith, a USA lawyer, has a thing about reducing the outrageous waste of using too much paper towel when you dry your hands. Small thing to you perhaps, big thing for forests and pollution. In just under 5 minutes, Joe teaches the audience How To Use A Paper Towel with his simple technique – “Shake and Fold”. By asking the audience to call out the steps he simultaneously engages their attention, reinforces learning, increases ownership and makes it fun.

I’ve been using his technique now for years. It works! Saves paper and gives me a glow of virtuous satisfaction every time.

Watch How To Use A Paper Towel and learn not only how to dry your hands efficiently, discover how to imprint a persuasive argument and promote positive behaviour change in less than 5 minutes. Tip: Notice he introduces only one idea and sticks to it.

TED Talks: Ideas Worth Spreading.

(c) 2015-17, Geraldine Barkworth, public speaking coach. This video review is the author’s opinion only. www.goddessofpublicspeaking.com.au

The Powerfully Confident Voice

Simple Vocal Techniques

The powerfully confident voice communicates far more than mere facts and data. It conveys subtle unspoken messages in vocal tone, pace, attitude and emotion.


Audiences assess how authentically aligned you are with your topic, how confident you feel,
 your opinion of them and thus they can draw conclusions about your competence, capability and sincerity through the tone of your voice. Use your tone to handle challenges confidently.


If you speak too quickly many people will miss your message because they are still processing your Point 1 when you have moved onto Point 3. If you speak too slowly or without variation, they may fall asleep. Use vocal variation to tell the audience when something is important (slower) or when you want them to take action now (faster). If you are speaking to a challenging person I find it wise to slow down, switch on all your senses and listen to what they are not saying as well. Your ability to read people effectively is enhanced when you are in control of your pace.


Whether you or audience members are angry, nervous or relaxed during your presentation, always speak with firm compassion. You just don’t know what kind of day a person is having – they could have been up all night with a crying baby, have just lost a loved one, may have been told to come to your workshop and they don’t want to – don’t assume their less than positive attitude is personally directed toward you. Keep your voice level and neutral and drop assumptions.


As the leader, keep your emotions well managed so they do not interfere with your presentation. Treat everyone equally and respectfully. If a participant is rude, keep emotions in check and role model emotional maturity through behaviour and voice. If you fall to pieces, who will keep the audience safe and on track? Let firm compassion flow through your powerfully confident voice as you speak to yourself, as well as your audience and people in your care.

(c) 2015 Geraldine Barkworth, public speaking coach. This article or review is the author’s opinion only. www.goddessofpublicspeaking.com.au

2015 November Talk Tip

Goddess of Public SpeakingClarity Is Your Rudder

Clarity of purpose acts like a rudder, steering listeners through the main points of your presentation in logical progression. Logical progression provides illumination, building understanding if not agreement. Understanding builds acceptance of different points of view to hold the interest of listeners through to the very end.  www.goddessofpublicspeaking.com.au

The Spotlight Effect On You

No One Notices Your Bad Hair Day

It’s true! According to social psychologists, the Spotlight Effect is the tendency for people to believe that others pay more attention to us than they really do. Simply put, the Spotlight Effect occurs because we are egocentrically the centre of our own universe. And because we think we are fascinating, we assume, we must be fascinating to everyone else! However, everyone else is terribly busy being the centre of their own universe, so really, no one notices your bad hair day.

Quick Quiz

  • If you trip and fall, do you quickly look around to see if anyone has noticed?
  • If your shirt has a small stain, do you find yourself covering it up with your bag?
  • If you say something brilliant at a meeting and no one else comments on it, do you find yourself getting annoyed or doubting the validity of your contribution?

How did you go? If you answer any more than one “yes”, you are NORMAL. These everyday examples of the Spotlight Effect, affect all of us, some of the time.

Legends In Our Own Mind
Spotlights magnify and enlarge and what is under that lens appears… bigger. So big, that we are sure others will be able to see us in all our glory, good and bad.

People generally overestimate their impact on others. I see this often with clients who assume that everyone in the group or audience has superhuman powers of perception and can see how nervous / incompetent / unprepared / a fraud they really are. Not so.

Groups Not So Scary
Interestingly, when people are members of a group their attention is split between themselves as an individual and that of the whole group. Ever spoken up in a group and felt “ignored”? Or felt the pressure of “so many eyes” that your every move will be scrutinised? Again, not so. At least 50% of the group’s attention at any one time is focussed on the whole group, not on you. It’s not that your contribution isn’t valued, it’s that there are so many contributions for group members to focus on. You just can’t have all the attention all the time.

Nervous About Looking Nervous
Research has found that an audience does not notice you are nervous as much as you imagine. You are often the only one who knows. People routinely overestimate that their internal states (feelings and thoughts) are leaking out and that others can see. They become nervous about looking nervous and that others will think less of them.

It’s a bit like worrying about not falling asleep. The worry increases adrenaline, activates the stress response and you have trouble falling asleep. When people worry about public speaking nerves, adrenaline courses through, the stress response activates, generating sensations of fast beating heart, shortness of breath, constricted throat, feelings of panic, trembling limbs, shaky voice and so on. The fear of social judgement flags potential embarrassment, magnifying the Spotlight Effect to make speaking in public a bigger deal than it needs to be.

Your brain is plastic, which means that anything you have learned in the past can be unlearned. If fear is getting in the way of you achieving your potential, this article “Overcoming Your Fear” by Verity Chadwick at Neuronation explains how you can learn how to change it by changing your brain.

Give Yourself A Reality Check

1. Transfer your attention away from yourself to others. Remind yourself that the Spotlight Effect works both ways. You are not the centre of their universe; they are! Remember that in a group, everyone’s attention is split, so you will be doing well if you receive even 50% of their attention.

2. Shift and broaden your perspective by asking yourself: will I remember this moment in 5 years, 20 years, or at the birth of my first grandchild? And, will this audience group remember my presentation in 5 years, 20 years or at the birth of their first grandchild? I think you know the answer.

3. Listen and watch body language from your audience group when it’s feedback time. If someone says: “That was really good” and smiles warmly at you…. well, believe it. Notice if you habitually ignore positive feedback and focus on “the awful experience.” When we focus on the fear inside, we miss the valuable, character building, good stuff on the outside.

You Can Choose To Ignore The Spotlight Effect On You

Consistently speakers rate themselves as more nervous than what their listeners would rate them. Next time, why don’t you choose to listen to your listeners first, rather than the grandiose, fear-mongering, exaggerations generated by your personal Spotlight Effect?

© 2015, Geraldine Barkworth, public speaking coach. This article or review is the author’s opinion only. www.goddessofpublicspeaking.com.au