So many people avoid making eye contact in groups, it’s almost an epidemic! Ease with making eye contact is all about relaxing. When you relax, your audience relaxes too. And relaxed people are more receptive to hearing your message. It really is in your best interest to learn how to make gentle, sustained eye contact if you want to deepen your interpersonal communication skills.
In order to relax your whole body, you need to relax your eyes first. Imagine your eyes lazing in hammocks, heavy and supported. Miraculously, when the eyes are relaxed, the brain sends a message to your body, saying “You are safe and can relax.” And so, you do.
Let go of believing you have to connect with everyone at once in the group. Public speaking is not a multi-tasking competition. Allow yourself to relax and sink into your talk, just like you are swinging in a hammock. Be with 1 person at a time. Watch your words land on their face for you to see the connection between you. That’s really enough. You are not going to “lose people” if you aren’t gazing at all of them, all of the time.
Here are 4 steps to help you relax into making gentle, sustained eye contact:
Relax your eyes first and let your body follow,
Move your whole body and eyes to connect with 1 person,
Maintain gentle eye contact for approximately 3 seconds-ish,
Then move your body, eyes and words to the next receptive person. And so on.
That’s it. Relax your eyes. Soften your gaze. Make it an invitation, not a staring competition. Share the love around. Invite connection with one person at a time. Don’t run, stay steady. Pretend you are a lighthouse, tall and visible with an important job to do. As the speaker, you are the role model, so role model the kind of communication you want in return. Start with relaxed eyes and allow your muscles and your intentions to soften. Let the people in! And the people will let you in, in return.
This is one of those occasions when I can say, “Do Practise This At Home”. The dinner table is a good place to start making eye contact before you let loose on a bunch of strangers.
“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/ )
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.
Surprisingly good! 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 humourous 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 say “surprisingly good” 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.
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.
The Calm Barometer is a simple scale from “1” to “10” I’ve developed which you can call on anytime to determine your current level of anxiety versus calm. When we fear or avoid something, our perspective shifts out of true proportion to the actual event. Will you really die / pass out / be laughed at if you speak to others or in front of a group? Use the Calm Barometer to provide you with an immediate reality check. You can even visualise yourself moving up to a “ Relaxed 10”.
When your body is grounded, relaxed and balanced – your heart, mind and spirit are grounded, relaxed and balanced. You can learn to ground or centre yourself in your body using the breath. Managing your breath allows you to control speaking nerves, create mental clarity and be present with your listeners. When you then speak in public, you speak from this inner place of balance. When you are relaxed and receptive, your audience is relaxed and receptive too.
The Calm Barometer Audio Recording (2 minutes):
Try this now: think about a challenging presentation or situation. On a scale of “1 – 10” where “1” is “very anxious” and “10” is “very relaxed”, where would you rate yourself on the Calm Barometer today?
This is the ONLY “public speaking” book I recommend. Buy, clutch to your bosom, then set it free as you step forward unfettered by fear! I’m a big fan of Mr Lee Glickstein and his work. His book is beautifully and simply written, filled with oodles of personal growth and public speaking-related stories, transformations and practical examples. The 13 chapter headings entice with titles including “Vibrant Vulnerability: The Wisdom Of Not Knowing” and “From Agony To Ecstasy” Tapping Into Your Own Natural Power”.
The 13 chapter headings entice with titles including “Vibrant Vulnerability: The Wisdom Of Not Knowing” and “From Agony To Ecstasy” Tapping Into Your Own Natural Power”. “To be heard, you have to be here, now” is how Lee sums up the power and simplicity of presence. This book changed my life and caused me to finally find my groove as an authentic speaking coach.
This book changed my life and caused me to finally find my groove as an authentic speaking coach. Highly recommended. Gush, gush, gush.
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!
I share this video for conveying confidence, credibility and authority more than any other TED Talk.
This is a brilliant 20 minute talk from Amy Cuddy for understanding how to make simple physiological changes to transform the way you feel and how others see us. Perfect for those who need to lead, influence, get a message across or feel more confident in any situation.
Impromptu speaking requires a high degree of trust and willingness to let go of a fear of judgment, memorising, quests for perfection or “being right”. When speaking, your job is to let the story stream through its course, flowing around rocks or impediments in its path and trust your words will pour out juuuuust right for that moment. It is also called “speaking off the cuff” or “leaping without a net”. For some people, it is also a moment of public speaking fear, requiring specific coaching in just how to do it with ease.
Examples of impromptu speaking include: handling questions and answers at the end of a talk, being asked to contribute something at short notice, an invitation to introduce yourself to a group or new people or filling in for someone else “on the spot”.
I have 3 pieces of advice for easeful impromptu:
1. Prepare In Advance
2. Don’t Over-Think (KISS)
3. Only Talk About What you Know
1. Prepare In Advance
Impromptu speaking increases it’s fabulous factor by smart forward preparation. If you know you will be at an event requiring you to say a few words, well, take the time to prepare mentally, physically and emotionally those few words. The better your “headspace”, the better your confidence with words.
The key is to not rigidly memorise, but to trust you do know your material and prepare a strong foundation with the main points. Then simply adapt the content to fit the context of the moment. This keeps you fresh, real and credible. Impromptu literally becomes a dance of spontaneity while the structure holds you in place ensuring sense and relevance.
2. Don’t Over-Think (Keep It Simple, Silly)
One of the most powerful pieces of advice I can give you is to “get out of your head and into your body.” Fear and unhelpful beliefs (for instance, “I’m no good” and “no one is listening”), start in the mind and will stay there, making themselves very comfortable if you label yourself as a fearful public speaker.
Nervous anxiety is a normal physiological response to fear and presumed danger (for instance, sweating, feeling sick, fidgeting, going blank). Your mind generates a fear response if it presumes it’s under threat, even to a situation like speaking in public.
Did you know that your body’s response to excitement is very similar to your body’s response to fear? Try changing the language you use to describe yourself and your state: “I feel nervous about public speaking” becomes “I feel excited by public speaking.” Same response, different word.
You can also try:
Plant your feet on the floor and use a stance that makes you feel stable and strong. When you need to reground yourself during a speech, stop, take a breath and feel your feet on the floor. As soon as you are back in your body, you become present and relaxed.
Use a relaxation exercise like Inner Calm to breathe more evenly. When you feel fearful, you tend to breathe from the top of your chest in short shallow bursts – reinforcing the message to your brain that there is something to panic about. When your body perceives there is no danger and it can relax, your breathing will deepen and slow. So, show your mind it has nothing to worry about, and relax your breathing and limbs. Some people find it helpful to place their hand on their belly to remind themselves to breath slowly and evenly.
3. Only Talk About What You Know
If you are going to speak in public, it’s because you have something to say. You will run into trouble if you give a speech about something you know nil. If you don’t know enough, find out. Make it easy on yourself by only speaking about what you know. Consider what you do know about a topic, and speak from that perspective only. This builds trust, authenticity and confidence.
Rather than assume you have to be an expert before you speak in public, first plunder your own resources. You are the sum of so many years of experience. It’s easy to forget or underestimate the goodies you have within you. Just like many clients I’ve coached for job interviews, they often forget they have great skills, because they take them for granted and no longer value or even see them.
When you trust yourself to relax into easeful impromptu speaking, you will no longer need your notes.
Impromptu Trust Challenge Are you up for a challenge to trust yourself that you will always have something to say?
Try this now: take out a dictionary or book and just let the page fall open. Whichever word your eye falls upon… that is your word to talk about for 60 seconds. Pause and wait for a personal story that relates to the word. The key here is to not plunge in and pour out everything you know about that word in 20 seconds and then peter out with nothing left to say. Take your time, it’s not a test, you can’t fail. Give your listeners a break. You do not need to fill every second with words.
If this challenge is easy for you – great!
If not and you need to flex your impromptu speaking muscles this year, feel free to make an appointment to work with me via Skype or phone. I have 6 places left in my diary for private coaching for the month of March. Here’s the link for more information: Public Speaking Coaching Programs
Best wishes for a “hands-free” 2015. Geraldine