We are a word-based society. Your ability to articulate your thoughts with clarity, precision and flair is an essential life skill.
If you are a public speaker, you will also be a writer. If you are a writer, judging by the number of authors I’ve worked with, you will also be a public speaker. Eventually. Those books won’t sell themselves.
My number one business activity is speaking and listening to clients. My number two is yes, you guessed it, writing. I always have a fat notepad by my side. I know many professionals have the same division of labour. When are we not composing emails, reports, articles and notes?
I decided to read and review “On Writing” because I’ve seen it referred to in so many Recommended Reading Lists for writers wanting to work on their craft. “On Writing” is entertaining and offers straightforward advice. And yes the author is the famous horror writer, Stephen King, so it’s filled with personal anecdotes and insights about his inner life as a writer.
One of the things I appreciated about “On Writing” was the author’s repeated acknowledgement of his love and gratitude for his wife for her support and honesty. It’s easy to get caught up with ourselves and forget the family and friends who keep us up upright on bad days. Stephen King describes the up and down reality of his life as a writer and it’s work, not glamour.
These 3 “On Writing” tips made me smile and change my wicked ways:
Declutter! Everything irrelevant and redundant must go! At least 10% will be rubbish!
If your message is meant to be engaging and energising, aim to write in active present tense, otherwise the slow slip into irrelevant boredom begins.
Choose a physical writing location allowing you to be relaxed, focused and yourself. I set up a beautiful office, desk and client-seating and promptly avoided the place like the plague. I’m much happier and productive curled up on the lounge.
These 3 tips are also perfect for being a relaxed, confident presenter:
Be engaging and engergising by actively remaining in the present moment.
Be yourself to do your best work.
There are many goodies within this book. I do have to stop myself from rewriting and cringing from everything I wrote previously. Ah well. Sounds like a ghastly speech I gave 5 years ago. “On Writing” is available on line, good bookstores and will likely be stocked at Writers Festivals.
It’s true! Here’s a bad experience of my own turned into a good story:
I was second speaker at a conference, talking about the elusive mystery of work life balance. So elusive, the first speaker was missing. He eventually turned up twenty minutes late and spoke AT the audience instead of WITH them. I had to re-energise, re-engage and refocus a hostile audience. I gained a lot of value from that crappy experience. It propelled me to morph into a specialist public speaking coach.
He Lost Me At “Hello”
Here’s how I translated that bad experience into a two minute introductory story:
“It was hot, it was sticky… it was a tropical conference at the top of Australia. pause A government minister was to open the conference and he was twenty minutes late. He shuffled in apologetically, flanked by four flunkies and hid behind the lectern. He studiously read a long paper written by someone else. He spoke quickly, his eyes down. Who was this man? Why was he here? pause I had no idea what he was talking about because he didn’t appear to be saying anything in ordinary English. I couldn’t tell where he was going or what was the point. I found the audience much more interesting. There was a lot of glazed eyes, long suffering sighs and checking of text messages… pause I didn’t hear the rest of his speech because, “he lost me at “hello”.
bigger pause Two important things I learned at that hot, sticky conference:
One, when a speaker fails to acknowledge and personally connect with his audience, they switch off and stop listening. Two, when a speaker fails to make his message customised and relevant to the audience, they switch off and stop listening. pause What is the point of speaking if no one is listening?
bigger pause As I was the speaker following him, I felt jittery. He was not only over time, but he’d lost our audience. This meant I had to work hard to regain attention and respect from the audience and keep my own spirits up after a dismal start. pause The turning point for me was the realisation that there is a big market to show speakers how to connect heart to heart with an audience and to keep them listening.
bigger pause The result of that turning point experience is my public speaking course, “Free Your Inner Public Speaker”, which you are now experiencing.“
Being Personal Is Being Real
When you begin your speech with sharing a personal story, it begins a relationship with your audience. Start with a simple, graphic opening line. Pause to let the audience catch up and have their own experience of relating to what you said. Briefly tell the rest of the story. Tell what you’ve learned from that experience and how it relates to the purpose of your talk. Engage their interest first. Then explain how it is relevant to them. Make eye contact one person at a time.
Drop Trying To Be Clever
Don’t struggle with trying to put something “clever” or “perfect” together (that’s a “should” coming from your head). Instead, take a leap to trust your instincts (coming from your body and heart) that what tumbles from your lips will be good enough. It’s your true story in glory and simplicity. Your story telling just may a bit of polish.
The key is to practise again from a fresh perspective, using what you learned from your first story telling practise. Ask yourself each time: What flowed and felt good? What didn’t?
And Don’t Forget To Pause
Taking the time to pause often while you speak, gives you time to gather your thoughts, tune into your feelings and speak from that place. It allows your listeners to catch up and travel along with you.
Sometimes speakers feel nervous or believe they don’t have anything of value to say, so they too speak quickly or nervously fade away. Which are fabulous ways to lose your audience. The “pause” draws people in – they want to be with you, because you are with them. Pausing is natural and normal and feels like relief.
Now It’s Your Turn
Choose a story from your past, it may be twenty years ago, it may be yesterday. Choose a turning point for you, a significant learning that caused you to change, grow or overcome a problem. Or maybe you didn’t overcome it. Perhaps that was the valuable learning.
Take a closer look at the format I used for my turning point story above, “He Lost Me At Hello”. Let that rest gently in your head like a memory, not a lesson.
Right now I want you to resist writing out your turning point story so it doesn’t get caught up as a carbon copy of the one above. Writing things out perfectly often leads to memorising and sounding like a stiff piece of cardboard. Trust yourself you can tell your story, what you learned from it and what you can therefore share or teach others, because… you were there… how could you forget?
Distill The Essence
Start by recalling the story… identify what you learned… and then distill the essence into something you find valuable and can assume your potential listeners will too.
Now say it out loud. It’s ok to ramble a few times. It’s may be easier to practise with some one else. Get the guts out, then reduce and create a story telling picture. Remember to pause as you recall it and to allow listeners to share in the picture you are painting. Another benefit of saying it out loud first, is your language will sound more natural.
“I’m not fitted to give concerts. The audience intimidates me, I feel choked by its breath, paralysed by its curious glances, struck dumb by all those strange faces.” CHOPIN
“The Confident Performer” shares this stage fright quote from pianist Frederic Chopin and was the reason why I bought this highly focused little book. So many of my public-speaking clients sound just like Chopin, yet never go near a piano or even a stage.
The author, David Roland, is a performance psychologist. He uses this book to specifically teach mental preparation techniques for any kind of performance including dance, song, theatre, music and sport. The number one biggie for most people, stage fright, he covers particularly well. He includes two excellent scripts to build a habit of relaxation before performance (and life), both autogenic and progressive muscle relaxation.
I like these words from David Roland on page 80: “The very nature of performance requires the artist to expose himself publicly, which usually leads to the experience of stage fright – something every artist needs to manage. Being open to evaluation by an audience is something that does not occur in most other occupations.”
These two points ring true for people seeking confidence in public speaking. Fear of exposure and of being judged by others can be paralysing (or as Chopin said,”struck dumb”). And yet, without taking the risk of exposing one’s true self, there is only facade, a barrier between you and your audience. And they feel it. Listeners miss out on the real you, you miss out on them and everyone misses out on the magic.
You can lessen the risk of stage fright by tapping into the power of mental rehearsal. Psychophysiogical practise transforms fears and hopes into practical reality.
To end with Dr Roland’s quote from cellist Jacqueline du Pre: “Walking on stage – the recognition, the applause, the rumble of interest from the audience when I appeared. It never occurred to me to be nervous. I thought of the audience as a group of friends who had come to hear me play, and I found that very moving. I just played, and enjoyed it. Thinking about the notes would have spoiled the enjoyment. the work was all done beforehand.”
(David Roland has since recovered from stroke trauma and more about his brain-training work can be found on his website: http://davidroland.com.au/ )
When I read the back cover of this book I thought, “Aha! Maybe I’m not a neurotic weirdo who doesn’t fit in with the mainstream, maybe I’m just a highly sensitive person ! At last, an explanation for why I am as I am. Maybe if I read it I’ll learn how to be ”normal” like everyone else.
Mmm, maybe not. The author reframes high sensitivity as a positive and valuable attribute, one that is somewhat maligned and unrecognized in today’s extroverted, fast paced, noisy go go go western world. Go? Go where? Who cares? Let’s just go! The relentlessness and pointlessness of it all just wears me out and it turns out, it also wears out the 15-20% of the population who share this genetic feature of high sensitivity.
Notice I said “western” world? In the east, sensitivity and shyness are prized as a sign of intelligence and value. Notice I said “20% of the population”? Fascinatingly, 1 in 5 of the animal world populations are also hard wired for high sensitivity. It ain’t just a human quirk of our current narcissistic obsession with ourselves forever searching for why we are so special.
And I guess in that last rather poisonous sentence I wrote, is the root of why I felt uncomfortable reading this book and struggled with writing this review.
I like thinking I’m different and special. It’s always defined part of who I am. Even the general sense of rejection and weirdness has shaped me and I’ve turned it into something useful. You think I’d be thrilled to read an explanation that justifies why I’m so blooming sensitive. I know very well what a curse and a blessing I possess. Why I see, feel, hear, think and overwhelm so much. I remember waxing lyrical as a child about why I disliked the letter “K” so much and seeing the blank incomprehension on faces around me. I get ridiculously excited about colours, am deeply in love with fuschia cherry pink and can pick out every ingredient in a recipe by taste. I have wild flights of imagination that cause me to rise and rise… and fall. Sometimes, it’s a long way down.
What I gained from this book is a sense of permission to embrace my sensitivity, yes, revel in it. I no longer need to develop a stomach ache to avoid going to a party. I can just say, “God no! A party. How revolting. I’d rather make a cup of tea and create a flower arrangement for every room.”
I also liked these words from Elaine Aron on page 218 which seem like a good framework for psychologically healthy travel through life: “The pursuit of wholeness is really a kind of circling closer and closer through different meanings, different voices. One never arrives, yet gets a better and better idea of that which is at the centre. But if we circle, there is little chance for arrogance because we are passing through every sort of experience of ourselves. This is the pursuit of wholeness, not perfection and wholeness must by definition include the imperfect.”
What I don’t like about this book is the author’s suggestion that highly sensitives are developed from the “Priestly Advisor class”, those who wisely advised the “Warrior Kings” who ruled for millennia in numerous cultures. Presumably, every one else is an insensitive pleb. I feel this rather romantic suggestion cruels the credibility and strengths of this well researched science-based book. Mind you, as I write this, I’m thinking, mmm, “Who am I to stop someone exploring their ideas?” I don’t know. I just didn’t like it. You may love it.
High sensitivity in any population is a very useful survival attribute. Kind of like the canary down the mine. They are sensitive to dangers that miners don’t perceive until it’s too late. The highly sensitive person is the one who notices changes in patterns, in vocal tones, in levels of movement. They notice subtle differences and bring them to the attention of those who don’t. Depending on the kind of culture you are born into, if you are highly sensitive your skills are either valued or dismissed. And you may go through your life with a strong sense of value or a strong sense of valueless-ness.
If you’d like to learn more about your sensitivity (or lack of it!!!) and how to use it to your advantage, read the book or visit the instantly gratifying website for the highly sensitive person. Take the Sensitivity Test. It makes things very clear in about 2 minutes: http://hsperson.com/
I’ve just returned from my annual silent meditation retreat and once more am reminded just how naughty is the mind and flighty are the emotions! I know I’ll do anything to get out of sitting in meditation sometimes. A cup of tea is suddenly vitally important. Or perhaps the garden needs weeding. Anything really, to avoid the discipline of intentionally doing nothing but observing in silence and stillness. Geez, I’m not making an attractive case for meditation am I?
And yet, I return, again and again to this ever changing, vital practise. Because deep down, I know, it’s good for me on every level. Actually I love it, I just need a reminder of it’s WOW Factor now and again which is why I go to an annual retreat. Sort of like a “top up” to my personal practise.
Anyway, as a result of years of meditation I realised that a deep relaxation practise brings sooooo many benefits including calming nerves and clarity of mind. Gosh! Perfect for nervous public speakers!
Inner Calm is a 6 minute relaxation exercise I developed specifically for nervous public speakers and those who want to speak with greater clarity, presence and authenticity. Because when you are comfortable in your own silence, you can hear your Inner Voice. That’s your authentic voice, the one that gets ignored and forgotten. And it’s the one you can trust and the one that others truly want to hear.
Many people who avoid public speaking are fearful of their physiological response to fear, not the act of public speaking itself. In reaction to any kind of fear, threat, anxiety or stress, our bodies may respond with:
A pounding heart and pulse, sweating or trembling, scattered or racing thoughts, unable to think logically,
nausea or a feeling of passing out, desire to sleep or, run away, racing thoughts, often negative or anxious,
feeling surreal, disconnected or a blank mind, anger, agitation, aggression or panic and overwhelm.
These are commonly reported reactions to public speaking. They are also the same symptoms of panic, fear, stress and anxiety. To spend your life avoiding public speaking because of a fear of these symptoms is like shooting the messenger.
The good news is you can change your old fear habit by changing your psychological and physiological responses. I’ve created specially designed relaxation and visualisation tools to help you tap into your inner speaker. These include Calm Barometer(mentioned in a previous post) and the Inner Calm Exercise.
Inner Calm Exercise
To take control of speaking nerves and restore calm and clarity, simply practise the 6-minute mindfulness exercise, “Inner Calm” every day to build a habit of inner calm. It will help you to:
Manage nerves when you are about to speak or present
Gain an accurate insight of your current stress level
Get “out of your head and into your body”
Ground and centre yourself in your purpose
Think and articulate clearly with a coherent flow
Be focused, present and connected for the “big moments” in your life.
How To Begin
Begin by reading through the Inner Calm Exercise below and listen to my MP3 recording to hear how it’s done. This exercise simply involves counting the breath evenly from “1 to 10” for 3 rounds. Find a quiet place where you can sit comfortably and won’t be disturbed.
“Close your eyes, rest your hands in your lap, put your feet on the floor and let your body sink down into the chair. Take a light, even breath from your chest. Release gently. Notice how your body feels right now, the pace of your breath, your pulse, and the kinds of thoughts you are having. Take another light, even breath in and release it slowly on the out breath. Feel your body sink deeper into the chair, knowing it supports you. Know there is nothing else you need to do right now and nowhere else you need to go.
Now we begin the Inner Calm exercise by counting the breath evenly from 1 to 10… and we’ll do that 3 times…
Mindfully breathing in, 1, Mindfully breathing out, 1.
Mindfully breathing in, 2, Mindfully breathing out, 2.
Mindfully breathing in, 3, Mindfully breathing out, 3.
Mindfully breathing in, 4, Mindfully breathing out, 4.
Mindfully breathing in, 5, Mindfully breathing out, 5.
Mindfully breathing in, 6, Mindfully breathing out, 6.
Mindfully breathing in, 7, Mindfully breathing out, 7.
Mindfully breathing in, 8, Mindfully breathing out, 8.
Mindfully breathing in, 9, Mindfully breathing out, 9.
Mindfully breathing in, 10, Mindfully breathing out, 10.
And now, take a natural breath in and out, no need to count it, and acknowledge that you have completed “1 round.”
Repeat counting the breath from “1 to 10”, twice more…
And now to finish, I invite you to take a light, even, uncounted breath to complete the Inner Calm exercise. Become aware of your body sitting in the chair. Feel your feet on the floor and stretch out your toes. Notice how your body feels right now, the pace of your breath, your pulse, and the kinds of thoughts you are having. Notice any changes from when you began… Bring your awareness to the present moment, take a light breath in and out, open your eyes, stretch your body, and know you carry Inner Calm wherever you go.“
While you are doing this exercise silently in your mind, you may find your mind wanders. This is perfectly normal. Just gently bring your mind back to “1” and begin again. Don’t make a guess and start at “5” to get through the exercise faster! The more your mind wanders, the more scattered you are feeling. The more you are able to count your breaths from “1 to 10” in a complete round, the more inner calm you are feeling. Please know you cannot fail this exercise. You can only learn more about yourself, your current state of calm and how much control you have over changing it.
How did you go? Practise every day for long term results, insights and personal growth.
The key morsel of Scared Speechless is the clear and simple language explaining the psychology behind public speaking fear. It goes way beyond the standard explanation of “Your stress response can’t tell the difference between a sabre toothed tiger and an upcoming speech.”
Scared Speechless offers logical, down to earth and humorous explanations to help you understand why in the past you were scared of speaking and how to change it for the future using neuropsychology.
I was surprised at how good this book was because if you are anything like me, your first reaction to yet another “how-to-public-speak” book is yawn. I’d rather pluck my eyebrows.
Also, it arrived unsolicited in the mail from the publicist, so I wasn’t expecting much. I assumed it to be a typical over-marketed “How To Be Awesome On Stage In 1 Minute” hyped-up American rave.
Instead, I enjoyed Scared Speechless’ easy to read, straightforward words; the authors clearly want to generously help as many people as possible. It’s designed to be universally accessible to people of all ages and walks of life from young adults and up.
I picked up some useful gems from Scared Speechless, which I’ve already put to use in my workshops. I’ll only give you three so you’ll have to read the book to get the rest:
Practise your speech non-verbally (yes, mime!) with your body to express your meaning first. Then practise with words. Your body will remember your meaning and underscore your words with natural gestures. (Moving also helps you to “unfreeze” should this happen to you.)
Prepare your speech to be READ rather than SAID. In other words, write it out loud. (Ever noticed the difference when you’ve heard someone READING a speech as opposed to talking directly to you? Which is the more powerful?)
Use “clothing cognition” to your advantage, that is, dress to support your message. Wearing high-heels or bare feet will impact how you deliver and the impressions you create. (If you want to expand your delivery style, practise wearing different hats or shoes. A Police Officer will likely speak and behave differently to a Graphic Designer. As to whether it’s true or not, doesn’t really matter, it’s what you and your listeners BELIEVE.)
If you prefer a weighty academic tome of jargon and unpronounceable technical terms, this book is not for you.
Scared Speechless is down to earth, practical, fun and enlightening. A good read for nervous speakers on a quest to change their relationship to fear for once and for all.
And that Question dear reader, speaks to one of our deepest fears and is the key to the fine art of self introduction. Being able to introduce oneself with ease and memorable panache at a meeting, networking event, professional seminar or party is one of my Top 5 client requests. Are you wondering why?
The Fear Beneath Self Introduction
The fear is primarily of social rejection. What if you are not good enough? What if they don’t like you? What if you are judged and found wanting? Most people peddle a no-thought-out self introduction that walks the tenuous line of trying to not to stand out too much and yet, stand out enough to be remembered.
What would happen if you just dropped over-thinking and self consciousness and turned your focus from yourself onto… them… your listeners… your audience… colleagues… potential friends?
I’ll tell you what will happen… you will become a Self Introduction Super Star! And for those of you who just cringed (me included), I’ll rephrase that to something suitably less hyped… you’ll forget the fear and effortlessly introduce yourself… because self introductions are not really about you.
Generally, a Self Introduction takes between 30 and 180 seconds. About the time it takes to brush your teeth, answer a text message or have a blood test. A brief rah rah and then it’s all over. But, it is important, yes?
The Impact of A Poor Self Intro
Ooooh dear, are you shrivelling with the memory of a time you really “stuffed up” introducing yourself or remembered the compassion you felt when someone else struggled like a butterfly on a pin in front of the group? Oh how we don’t want that for ourselves. And yet, it does happen to all of us, some of the time.
Common Self Intro Mistakes Quiz
1. Forget to mention your name.
2. Ramble and get gonged off for going overtime.
3. You don’t really “end”, just fade away as you sink into your chair.
4. Say too much too soon and overwhelm. (My downfall)
5. Be mind numbingly boring… because you are bored.
6. Apologise for existing before and after you speak.
7. Sound just like everyone else and be just as forgettable.
8. Inappropriately list your achievements like a verbal CV.
9. Launch into a high powered selling tirade.
10. Fail to explain who you are and why anyone should listen to you.
Tip: Know Your Listeners First
When listeners ask themselves “who on earth are you and why should I care?, what they really looking for in a self introduction is:
• Credibility (how are you qualified to speak and why should I listen to you?)
• Relationship (how are you related to me and people I trust?)
• Need (what’s in it for me? Do I need you now, later or never?)
How do you fit this all in 60 seconds and still sound relaxed and enthralling? Sounds like a lot to bother with doesn’t it?
So Why Bother Learning This Fine Art?
1. It creates a positive, memorable first impression.
2. It helps listeners understand who you are and how you can help.
3. It is courteous, professional and respectful of people’s time.
4. It helps you stand out by identifying your unique point of difference.
5. It builds confidence in yourself which is radiantly attractive.
It’s Not Hard When You Know How
Here’s a great example I’ve used before because I like it’s picturesque brevity:
“Hello, I’m Wendy; I help people find their toes. I’m a weight loss consultant.”
See how these 2 short sentences introduce Wendy and explain how she can help you (if you need to find your toes) in a memorable and creative way? And here’s another of my self introduction favourites demonstrating a clear point of difference and personality:
“You know how people often struggle at tax time… well I fix that. I’m a specialist bookkeeper for small business. My clients call me “The Tax Queen” but really, my name is Julia… and I really do love tax and computers!“
Use Your Physical Presence To Introduce Yourself
And you don’t need to just use your mouth to introduce yourself. Most listeners have other senses to engage. Ever had someone call out an endorsement when you speak “She’s great!” Trust and engagement spread like wildfire because some else said it, not you.
Take a confident physical stance. Yes, re-watch the Amy Cuddy video on power poses. Hold eye contact, use gestures, voice and props. Some examples:
• If you are a photographer, bring your camera “This is what I do” and explain how you’d take a photo of the group in front of you… “If you want an angle that shows…” If appropriate, do it and offer it up as a social media post later.
• If you are a physical therapist, say “Neck and shoulders hold the most tension. I’m going to show you how to fix that. Turn to the person next to you, ask their permission, and if ok, press this point and massage… pause…my name is Gregor… yes no joke, I’m a Swedish physio… and I help clients release pain and get back to normal.”
And so on. Don’t get fixated on verbal gymnastics. Use your body to speak.
Be Clear, Be Honest, Be Brief
Self Introductions appear to be about you.
But Self Introductions are really about your listeners.
Use clarity, honesty and brevity to explain who you are and why they should care.
I wrongly assumed this biography was the “book version” of the well known 2002 movie, “The King’s Speech”. I was hoping for insight into the innovative speaking techniques used by Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue in his work with King George VI of England, 1914-37.
Whoops. Instead, the book is a sentimental and thoroughly researched history of the author (Mark Logue’s) grandfather Lionel, his relationship with the King and the WW1 and WW2 era in England and Australia.
An unexpected highlight was learning about the era’s emphasis on character development and community contribution through the ability to speak well. Lionel Logue could sell out the Town Hall with his evening recitals. For the first time people who “wanted to get ahead”, took elocution lessons. With the advent of radio, awareness of the power and importance of voice became universally understood especially for families clustered around the radio listening to war updates. Later in business, it was paramount to articulately persuade and present well.
Orators are made, not born. And so the Public Speaking Industry begins.
After reading the book, I borrowed the dvd movie, “ The King’s Speech .”
Wow, what a movie. Gorgeously shot, acted and directed. Such feeling, such subtly, such understatement as the English do so well. I can keep raving, but I won’t. My husband’s tearful High 5 at the end says it all.
The movie tells the story of Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue’s role in helping King George VI handle his fear and reduce his stutter. King George VI had a strong stammer that caused him endless fear and worry about speaking in public, especially when it was broadcast by microphone. It affected his self confidence and unfortunately caused others to lower their expectations of his abilities. Which of cause turned out to be a huge mistake. Sound like a familiar pattern to you, dear reader?
Lionel’s stand out “technique” for me as I have observed with my own clients, is the power of the pause and use of rhythm. The simple (but not always so easy to do) act of slowing down generates a magical sense of calm control and relaxed spaciousness. Presence and gravitas emerge effortlessly.