How To Handle Audience Drama Queens

“Difficult” Is In The Eye Of the Beholder

Knowing how to handle audience Drama Queens , Know It Alls and Power Players rapidly catapults your skill in sensitively working with groups and workshops. I tend to give so called “difficult” people a long rope unless the integrity or safety of the group is threatened. Handle each challenging situation from the beginning with strong boundaries and agreements. Model your expectations of the group with your own behaviour. The group will watch you closely to see how you handle difficulties. There is no neat solution and “difficult” is in the eye of the beholder. Don’t be too quick to judge; social anxiety is easily triggered by group dynamics.

Here’s how I handled 3 different situations:

1: “Drama Queen” Wants Maximum Attention!

During a workshop on “gracious self-promotion”, one participant came in late to the front of the room, asked if anyone wanted a throat lozenge and loudly knocked over her water bottle. It rolled dramatically across the floor. All eyes followed it instead of me! Mind you, her behaviour was absolutely fascinating and brilliantly self-promoting! Throughout the workshop she kept shaking her head and sighing melodramatically with numerous toilet breaks and requests for information to be repeated. Information which she then proceeded to disagree.

I decided she wasn’t genuinely distressed but had mistaken the workshop for her lounge room. In both breaks I asked her privately if she was ok. Her mysterious response was to nod without speaking, would not look me in the eye, turned her back and walked away. She appeared to want attention publicly, and then rejected it when it was offered privately. As Facilitator, I chose compassionate damage control. I did this primarily by redirecting audience attention using clear body language and an authoritive tone. I also gave her a couple of public opportunities for attention, which she mysteriously spurned. The relief in the room was politely palpable when she left us early.

2: “Know It All” Stages a Coup!

In a small group of 20 business owners who had come to learn about communicating with presence, one man had an answer to every question, even rhetorical ones! Soon I started saying: “Now this is something I want you to think about silently… to yourself…” but he still felt his thoughts were worthy of sharing. Other participants were starting to sigh, eyes began to roll and bodies shifted away from him. I didn’t shut him down immediately because his contributions were interesting and I wanted to encourage interaction. However, when one person begins dominating, the group can become confused as to who is the actual leader. It was me or him.

When he next tried to butt in and talk over me, I gently put my hand up in a soft “stop” position, said abruptly: “One moment please”, and turned my body away from him and faced the rest of the group. I then finished my words and directly engaged other participants to tip the balance of energy and power. I asked inclusive open questions like, “Mary… what are your thoughts about…?” After that, I continued to respectfully acknowledge him in the same way I did everyone else. And we both settled down with egos intact and the group stayed on track.

3: “Power Player” Tries to Dominate!

During a small group brainstorming session, one woman ignored my directions and took command of a group. She had chosen to join a group of inexperienced juniors. She loudly took centre stage, reassigned roles and changed the focus of the exercise. Five other groups worked cohesively with a flurry of conversation and the smell of texta pens in the air.  Her group however was unnaturally quiet. The participants sat far apart, their bodies drooping. All texta pens, paper and ideas were exclusively under her control.

Rather than embarrass or confront her in front of the others, I apologised for making a mistake. I explained that each group needed more diversity in age and experience. I asked 2 senior, confident participants to switch to Ms Power Player’s group, then invited 2 younger ones to leave. This totally changed the dynamic, destroyed her budding power base and restored momentum to the exercise. And I’m happy to report, everyone then got a fair go and everyone’s voice was heard.

How To Handle Audience Drama Queens

Be alert for mental health issues. Keep in mind that “difficult” people like Drama Queens, Know it Alls and Power Players are a great learning opportunity. Luckily these behaviours show up in the minority, perhaps 5% of any group or audience. I’ve found the other 95% of the group relished the workshop more because of what they learned. The interplay of power and drama and display of your interpersonal communication skills is better than TV!

 © 2013-20, Geraldine Barkworth, authentic speaking coach. This article is the opinion of the author only.

Wake Up Your Listeners!

Banish Boredom With Stories

Oh dear. It’s your turn to present. You hope it’s not going to be too boring. Treasurer’s Report. Working Party Analysis. Policy Revision Announcements. Facts. Figures. Data. Your shoulders droop in anticipation of everyone’s boredom, including your own. But wait! There is a simple way to wake up your listeners!

Turn Boring Into Compelling

Facts and figures are devoid of emotion and imagination. That’s their nature.

But people remember feelings before facts. Humans need to care, to feel a connection that is personally relevant and real to them. The simplest, most direct way to accomplish this, is to place your facts and figures within the context of a story. Stories banish boredom.

Compare These Two Presentation Starts…

  • “Welcome to our talk on Manual Handling. As you know, we deliver it every year to keep our company accreditation. We will run through the importance of a safe workplace, hazards to look out for, common accidents and the procedures to follow should an event occur. Statistically, 98% of accidents are…”


  • “I’m 10 years old, lying beneath my push bike. There’s a big truck coming my way and I’m sprawled on the highway… What I learned from that experience, was the importance of maintaining my bike. My brakes had failed and the tires were bald. I knew, but kept putting off fixing them. My dad was with me that day and he dragged me off the road in time… But dads aren’t always with us and now, it’s up to us to look after ourselves and our colleagues. Today, we’re going to work together to keep our workplace safe and accident free.”

Be Personal

When you begin your speech by sharing a personal story, it begins a relationship with your audience. Start with a short, 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.

Honesty Rings True

Keep your story honest and simple. You should be able to remember it, because it happened to you or someone you know. Declutter and hone the main point of the story. This is a case of less is more.

Remember To Pause

Taking time to pause when you speak, gives your listeners time to absorb your words. When speakers talk too quickly, listeners can’t keep up and lose interest. It’s disrespectful, inefficient and a great way to lose your audience. Pausing is a natural and normal part of conversation; it draws people in. Pausing is inclusive.

What Happens After the Story

Adults and children recognise that a story is a metaphor for a life lesson. It’s core of wisdom offers a benefit. That’s the WIFM. Once you’ve given something of value and engaged the interest of your listeners, provide backup with facts, figures and proof. When an audience cares, they will listen to your data.

No one will be bored when you spell out the relevance and consequence of how that Treasurer’s Report, Working Party Analysis, or Policy Revision Announcement, directly impacts them. Start with a story and wake up your listeners.

© 2020, Geraldine Barkworth, public speaking coach. This article or review is the author’s opinion only.

Introverts and Extroverts: Who Makes A Better Speaker?

Introverts and Extroverts Have Their Own Advantages

Extroverts and introverts make outrageous assumptions that public speaking is a walk in the park for extroverts. They’ve got all that confident outgoing energy, verbal gymnastics and think fast on their feet, don’t they?

Not so. Extroverts may be more willing to jump up and talk in front of a group, but they don’t do it any better.

Humans love to label, sort and classify. Are you outgoing and confident? Are you a freedom loving Sagittarian? Which university did you attend? Giving someone a label enables us to quickly quantify who we are in relation to them. I’m guessing it relates to power and allocation of resources. And perhaps that’s a useful way to prioritise in a crisis. But day to day, labels become limiting when stereotypes morph from opinion into “truth”.

I think there is danger, not so much in labelling whether someone is an “introvert” or an “extrovert”. The danger is society insisting that one personality style is better than the other.

Introverts and Extroverts Short Quiz

Who hasn’t read a magazine in a waiting room and filled in time, by completing one of those “Are You an Introvert or Extrovert?” short quizzes? If it’s been a while and you’d like a refresher, here’s a typical example:

Do You…?

  1. Prefer open plan offices or your own private space?
  2. Enjoy team brainstorming or prefer to nut things out on your own?
  3. Like meeting new people at parties or spending time with one close companion?
  4. Gain energy being around people or do you feel more nourished by quiet reflection?
  5. Or, do you enjoy both?

Notice how these questions are “either / or”? They imply you are either at one end of the spectrum or the other. You are either an extrovert (the first half of each question) or an introvert (the second half of each question.) To summarise:

  • Extroverts gain energy externally,thriving in highstimulation environments. After a long conference day, extroverts are usually keen to kick on for drinks, dinner, parties, anything!
  • Introverts gain energy internally, thriving in lowstimulation environments. If an introvert can stand an entire day at a conference, they usually prefer quiet down time in the evening on their own or with a friend.

The Power of “Quiet”

According to Susan Cain, the author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in A World That Won’t Stop Talking”, there isn’t a spectrum, rather a cross-over of individual personality traits influenced by your environment. For instance, you can be a “shy or anxious extrovert” or an “outgoing or socially confident introvert”.

Reading“Quiet”was a revelation. I was surprised to discover I am an introvert who acts as an extrovert when needed. While I enjoy delivering workshops and running retreats (professional environment), I look forward to finishing them so I can snuggle up with a book by myself. (personal environment). If you are intrigued, read Susan Cain’s book or watch her TED Talk.

Introvert Advantages: Thoughtful, Strategic Listeners

Do you know the phrase, “It’s the quiet ones you have to look out for”? I find that’s the frequently the case with quiet, understated introverts who consistently emerge as charismatic speakers. You can hear a pin drop when they speak. Introverts surprise themselves and everyone else, at the power and impact of their carefully chosen words, delivered with natural authenticity.

Introverts, Tap into these Strengths:

  • Use your powerful listening skills to signal you hear and understand your group. The best speakers are the best listeners. Everyone deeply wants to feel heard. Use your listening and observational skills to your advantage.
  • Introverts are often deep thinkers, creative, persistent, methodical – think of artists, scientists and IT innovators. If your personal style to is to be more thoughtful, detailed and different to mainstream, use it for the occasions when it will be appreciated. Learn to not overthink moments like, “the 30 second self intro.” Be concise and thoughtful.
  • Introverts often confess to me they are scared of Q & A and cannot think and speak well on their feet. The solution is easy: slow down, repeat the question to gain thinking time. If you don’t know the answer, have a few phrases on hand such as, “Great question, thank you. I’ll have to get back to you on it.” And make sure you do.

Extrovert Advantages: Energy, Speed & Enthusiasm

Working with extroverts is often a quick and exciting process as they grab whatever I offer with both hands and apply it before I finish speaking! I find extroverts often need to learn restraint and boundaries; knowing when to step in and when to step away. Extroverts benefit from understanding that less is more and too much, is overwhelming.

Extroverts, Tap into these Strengths:

  • Slow down (at least between sentences and ideas) so that people have time to digest your ideas. With your bountiful energy, many gems will be lost in the whitewash unless you prioritise. Aim to be short and sweet.
  • Positive, upbeat energy is great for unifying and lifting the group but has short term impact. It’s best used for entrances and signifying direction and tempo changes. If you are giving a longer presentation, watch you don’t wear yourself and your listeners out by an unsustainable, fast paced monologue. Disconnected people stop listening.
  • Become a better listener and a keen observer of body language. Both will keep you on track to ensure your group are still willing to go along for the ride with you. Remember that everyone is not the same as you and people process information at faster and slower rates. Prepare your presentation to accommodate all types of people.

Why Not Bring Out Everyone’s Best?

People process information differently. Some like it fast; others prefer it slow. Some people like to drag it back to their cave to think about it for a few weeks; others pounce, digest and move on in moments. And everyone absorbs information in differently; hearing, seeing and doing. If you only cater to one style of personality preference, you’ll miss at least 50% of humanity.

I believe Western society currently favours extroversion. A few examples: Group activities, open plan offices and the job interview process, suit people who are willing to promote themselves, speak up quickly, engage in small talk and share ideas and spaces to problem solve. And just to throw a few more generalisations about introverts and extroverts  into the mix:

Extroverts thrive on social interaction and may feel bored when alone for too long. They are often seen as talkative, assertive and enthusiastic, enjoying noise and interaction. Extroverts often think, talk and jump on board new ideas quickly. Extroverts generally enjoy group activities, join clubs, like parties and want to be part of a team. They like to collaborate, create networks and actively seek out new friendships.

Introverts on the other hand, thrive on lots of solitary time to nourish and nurture ideas and creativity. They prefer low stimulation environments – private, quiet, calm and natural. Introverts are not necessarily shy, they enjoy their own company or a couple of close friends rather than loud groups. They tend to be more methodical, pay attention to details and can be slower to answer questions… because they are taking time to think about it.

Both Introverts and Extroverts Need to be Heard

Here’s a couple of ideas to bring out the best in introverts and extroverts:

  • In an office or communal space, create a mix of open plan and private nooks. Let people gravitate to where they are most comfortable and will do their best work. And to contribute in different formats, such as written or spoken.
  • When presenting to groups, especially workshops, ensure you create a mix of individual reflective exercises, small group and large group activities with emphasis on everyone having taking a turn. Invite and offer choice, don’t demand.

We need all types of people and their voices. Those who think and those who do. Those who listen and those who talk. And those who do a bit of everything in between, sometimes referred to as “ambiverts”. Don’t assume the loudest or the quietest voice is the best one – Give everyone a chance to be heard.

(c) 2016-20, Geraldine Barkworth, Australian public speaking coach. This article is the author’s opinion only.

Inner Calm No Public Speaking Alarm

6 Minutes a Day & You’re Away

The first few days of a silent meditation retreat, I want to run. I feel twitchy. How can something as simple as sitting still cause so much agitation? My mind goes into hyper drive. I need a cup of coffee. And a cupcake to go with it. Then what about that gardening idea I had? With the rocks? Mmm. I better make a couple of dozen cupcakes to fuel the landscaping empire taking shape inside me.

And once again I have successfully distracted myself from the discipline of sitting in silence and observing my busy mind.

This racing mind and internal turmoil gives the nervous system a work out. It is tiring. Sometimes we have to wade through this mucky process before we finally stop working so hard. Eventually, we get to a point of “just being”. I’ve learned the quicker you stop struggling and start to surrender to the process, the easier it is to hear your inner voice. It’s the only short cut I’ve found. Weirdly, when you give up control, you gain it back.

And that’s the story with handling jitters, anxiety and a nervousness, like public speaking fear.

Midnight Brilliance

When I stop trying to construct, analyse and plan to the nth degree, some other part of my mind kicks into the void and presents some brilliant ideas! Of course, sometimes it’s a bit like those midnight brainwaves you scribble on a notepad beside your bed in the dark. Next morning, you try to decipher something in Chinese about a cabbage or your insight is so mundane it was not worth breaking sleep for. On other revered occasions, you truly do come up with something useful and beautiful.

My 6-minute Inner Calm exercise for moderately nervous speakers, was one of those special occasions.

Inner Calm is a short relaxation practise which allows speakers to communicate with greater clarity, presence and authenticity without getting tripped up by nervous jitter.

Fear Background Facts

Many people who avoid public speaking are fearful of their physical response to fear, not the act of public speaking itself. In reaction to any kind of fear, threat, anxiety or stress, 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 some of the commonly reported reactions of nervous speakers who prefer to avoid or get speaking over with as quickly as possible. They are also the same generic reactions to panic, fear, stress and anxiety and not anything to do with the act of speaking in public.

Relaxation is a Must-Have Skill

A good speaking coach or therapist can show you how to change your fear response (activated flight, fight or flee) into a relaxation response by switching on your parasympathetic nervous system.

Learning to change your mental, emotional and physical habitual responses requires practise. A good way to begin, is to learn how to restore calm to your nervous system. Once you feel calm, perspective, rational thinking and a greater sense of control return. Restoring calm is the purpose of my Inner Calm Exercise. For some nervous speakers it will be all you need, for others, you may need more assistance.

If you feel nervous or prefer to avoid speaking in public when asked, please play with this exercise below. I created it specifically for you! But first, a list of extra incentives should you need them:

What Inner Calm Will Give You

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.

Here’s How to Begin

Begin by reading through the Inner Calm Exercise script below. You may find it helpful to have a friend read it out loud or you could record your own voice taking you through the exercise while you learn it. Alternatively, you may like to listen to my MP3 recording of a short sample of the Inner Calm Exercise.

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.

The Inner Calm Exercise Script

“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 you have completed “1 round.”

Repeat counting the breath from “1 to 10”, twice more…

And To Finish

And finally to finish, I invite you to take a light, even, uncounted breath to complete the Inner Calm exercise. Next 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 can carry Inner Calm inside you wherever you go. “

Inner Calm Troubleshooting

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.

What Was Your Experience of the Inner Calm Exercise?

When you are still and deeply relaxed within yourself, you will hear your intuitive authentic voice. It’s the one voice you can always trust and the one that others truly want to hear whenever you speak in a public space.

Practise every day for long term results, insights and personal growth. And keep a notepad by your bed.

© 2016-20, Geraldine Barkworth, public speaking coach.  Opinions are of the author only. You may reproduce if kept entire.

Love of Words

Get Your Vocal Groove On

I have a love of words and come from a word-lovin’ family. Jokes were pun-based, semantics quibbled and the dictionary at hand to clarify and demystify. Those who regularly read my articles will notice I can’t resist the allure of alliteration or a light rhyme. It’s not intentional, my brain, trained early, sits happily in the vocal groove of rhythm and pattern.

No One Ever Died From Too Big A Vocabulary

What about those not born into logolepsy? (“obsession with words”) My dad would studiously correct my English and say, “Geraldine, it’s… get out the way, not get out of the road!” I still think of this as petty pedantry, ludicrous logomarchy (“argument over words”). I would find refuge in persiflage, (“light banter”), happily batting the verbal ball back and forth until all was smooth once again.

So often language reflects our personal and cultural beliefs and the geography we just happen to be born into. Is there really right and wrong with words? Besides my dad, who makes up these rules anyway? Language changes like fashion and political correctness with every nano generation.

Dyslexia & Somatic Public Speaking

My husband has mild dyslexia, (“difficulty with spelling and reading words”). His brain is wired differently and he’s brilliant at thinking creatively left of field. In order to spell a word correctly, he needs to remember how it exactly looks to write it. My rabbiting on about how ancient grammatical rules and linguistic sounds provide spelling clues, mean absolutely nothing to him.

Consequently, I now pay more attention to clients with dyslexia and other perceptual and cognitive differences and use a more creative, less written word focus to public speaking. It makes me realise how written word oriented, in fact, prejudiced we are in western society. The written word is regarded as a cornerstone of education, but whose education?

I’ve switched to working more somatically, using the whole body to communicate message and self-expression through tone, gesture, props, purpose and activating the senses.  It’s much more visceral, cutting through the blah, blah, blah. Our brain processes movement and tone before it gets around to interpreting language. There is a time lag.

Why wouldn’t you tap into communicating every way you can and use the written word as practical backup and reinforcement? As a lover of words, I am not diminishing their beauty, merely pointing out that communication is so much more than words and the written aspect, is just one form. Many of my clients worry that their inability to write at Pulitzer Prize level means they will fail when speaking in public. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Just Make It Up!

I reckon lethologica, “when you can’t think of the word for something” primarily shows up when:

  1. You are having a menopausal moment;
  2. Your brain is over processing or you’ve wound down to catatonic;
  3. You are part of the trend to just make something up, to stray from the truth, embroider, embellish or even lie to cover up that which you just don’t know or care about. To make real, fake.

And To Make Fake, Real

The belief that it’s ok to just make something up and get away with it on a grandiose scale relates to one of my favourite words: mephobobia, (“the fear of becoming so awesome the human race just can’t handle it and everyone dies.”) Imagine the audacity to fuel that much power and influence.

My other favourite crazy word is shoedipity, (“The act of wearing incredibly uncomfortable shoes because they look fabulous.”) Love a bit of silliness and yet truth is reflected here. Who hasn’t worn something just because they thought they looked great… until they saw a photo 10 years later?  With both mephobobia and shoedipity I think of the fall of the Roman Empire, luxuriously imploding from self-indulgence. A case of Maximus Supercillius perhaps?

By the way, fusing parts of words together is called blending or portmanteau. Examples include hangry (“hungry and angry”) and spoodle (“spaniel and poodle”). Compounding, (“the combining of two entire words”) include the self-explanatory “website” and “housemate.”

“No, We’ve Never Met Before…”

Oops! I say this often at introductions as I remember voices before faces. Squinting at someone across the street or over a handshake, my memory revives once I hear their dulcet tones. Naturally, I tartle often, (“to hesitate while introducing someone, because you have forgotten their name”).

Of course this misadventure may lead to joyous snarfling, (“laughing so hard you snort, then laugh because you snorted, then snort because you laughed!”) My husband says I am a snarfler. Luckily it is a delightfully infectious state. Or at least to other snarflers. Maybe someone should set up a Snarfling Appreciation Society? And perhaps a sub-group for those who simultaneously lose bladder control?

Fear of Long Words

I nominate snarfling as a cure for people suffering from hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia or, (“fear of long words”). I confess I cut and pasted this word rather than type it out and suffer a misspell. I wonder if it also manifests in the dumbing down of language and ideas, simplifying everything to the lowest common denominator. “Jack jumps over a log”, “I am the best in the world!”, “You are so stupid I will make this easy for you.” Twitter twitter tweet tweet.

Flavours For The Ears!

I work over the phone and skype often without being able to see my client and read their facial micro expressions. I just hear their voice. Some of the most powerful sessions I’ve experienced come because there is no visual distraction. Just listening to the voice allows me to focus oh so clearly on my client’s tone, word choice, language pattern, the space between words, speed and pace, what is said and what is unsaid. So much feeling is conveyed through tone alone. It’s like flavours for the ears!

Mirror To Our Souls

How could you not feel a love of words when they reflect so much of ourselves? Words are like a mirror to our souls, not always pretty, but honest. I think we have far too much shoedipity and mephobobia going on. And not enough snarfling or greng-jai, a beautiful Thai word for which we have no equivalent in English. It means, “being aware of other people’s feelings with the reluctance to impose upon them.”

Stay tune for a later article extolling the beauty of my favourite non-English words and their delightful meanings. Words have the power to leap across time, culture and emotion to break us and to bring us together.

©2020 Geraldine Barkworth, Australian Public Speaking Coach. The views in this article are the authors’ own. You may reproduce my article if kept in its entirety.

The Perfection Trap

How To Find Beauty In Your Flaws

I was watching day time TV. The world champions of ice skating whizzed around the rink. The magical whirls, the fantastical costumes and above all, the search for the perfect “10”.

Like most competitive sports, only First Place is venerated. Crushing disappointment for everyone else. I saw it in their crumbled faces, dejected shoulders and the commiserative knee squeeze from the coach. Only Second Place!

Why Oh Why?

At the end of the icy flurry, what I wanted to know was: why do we worship perfection? Why is the pursuit of being Number One still so important to us?

And, what would happen if we celebrated the quest, the journey and the process instead? Or the thoughtful gathering of all the small steps and how they come together to form a new story?

Perfect Public Speaker

I am a public speaking coach. Which means I help my clients individually learn how to manage speaking nerves. And I show them how to step up to the front and reveal themselves in a public space with well-crafted words and genuine presence. For some, that could involve giving a speech at a conference, or speaking up and standing their ground in a room full of challengers, or promoting their new book at a business breakfast.

Every person who works with me has a unique problem. We rework their issues into an inspiring Quest. And that Quest takes the bold yet fearful client on the classic Hero’s Journey. They are required to step up and face the inevitable challenges, fighting their internal and external dragons. Just like a good story, they face their fears, test their courage and try something new and scary. Our Hero learns an extraordinary amount about themselves. In the end, my clients do win something but it’s not always what they expect. It’s very exciting… but then, it’s over and they’re on to the next thing. Because now, they can.

Now is a good time to define our topic of the perfection trap, so we will begin with, what it is not.

Definition of Imperfection

“The state of being faulty or incomplete”. Gee, no wonder the fear of being less than perfect sends so many people into years of therapy! Now let’s investigate definitions of “Perfection”.

Definition of Perfection

  • “The action or process of improving something until it is faultless or complete.” Think of those tireless champion ice skaters, desperate for a hot chocolate but focussed on one more Triple Fling.
  • “The condition, state, or quality of being as free as possible from all flaws or defects.”  Think of the predictable sameness of machine mass production.
  • And a non-standard definition, rather Buddhist, is that Perfection is impossible because nothing is ever complete or finished; it’s always in a state of constant change.

According to the last and my favourite definition, Perfection is a temporary state. Why then do we strive for something so ephemeral? I think perfection is boring and an illusionary trap. Without change or growth, stagnation occurs. Give me imperfection any day. At least there is room to move and opportunity to be yourself.

While western society is currently obsessed with winning, being the best, the fastest, the biggest, the greatest, etcetera, other cultures have a different relationship with Perfection. I’d like to talk to you next about a couple of ancient ideas from Japan and the Middle East.

Japanese Art of Kintsugi (kint-sugee)

The Perfection Trap How to find beauty in our flaws

Do you know what this Japanese ceramic pot is an example of?

It was a beloved family pot and it had an accident. Rather than toss it away, they repaired it using the Japanese art of kintsugi, using gold to fill in the cracks and hold it together. Now, the family’s favourite pot wears its history with pride. It has a valued story and place.

Kintsugi is an example of the Japanese idea of wabi-sabi, “seeing beauty in the imperfection”. I share this perspective with clients who struggle with the perfection trap. Perhaps I should just invest in a can of gold spray paint.

The Persian Flaw

The Perfection Trap How to find beauty in your flaws

Traditional Persian rugs are intricately handwoven by families who’ve kept the skill alive over generations. With all that practise you would assume they’d be close to perfect. However, the faith of Islam believes that only God is perfect which means carpet makers intentionally place subtle mistakes in their rugs.

Are you rushing off to check the status of your own rug? Never fear, deliberate flaws are difficult to spot and are often placed in the pattern. Interestingly, mistakes add value to a rug. Imperfections prove it is authentically handmade and truly unique.

Weird Robot Face

The Perfection Trap: how to find beauty in our flaws

Everyone feels uncomfortable when confronted with the perfectly mirrored face of a robot or manikin. Our skin crawls because deep down we know no human face has perfect symmetry. One eye may be higher than the other or the teeth slightly crooked.

Humans are hardwired to prefer imperfection in faces; to be flawed. Facial imperfection feels more natural, trustworthy and authentic.

I ponder once again, why on one hand do we obsess with being flawlessly number one and yet yearn for and instinctively trust “authenticity” and “uniqueness” in all things, not just faces? Why is vulnerable and battle scarred more attractive than neat and perfect? Time to check the definition of Authenticity:

Definition of Authenticity

Authenticity is the quality of being genuine and real. Authenticity creates trust. Foundations are built upon it. I’m now briefly going to tell you the story of one of my clients who battled the perfection trap. Simon feared losing credibility and being judged as less than the perfect professional.

Client Story – Simon* Who Broke His Foot

Simon’s topic was sensitive and controversial. He needed to raise awareness in the right way to the right people. He came to see me a couple of months in advance of a conference speaking opportunity. Simon’s main issue was how to embody credibility, awaken compassion and educate status-sensitive senior health professionals.

Two weeks before the big day, Simon broke his foot badly. He assumed his credibility would be lost, limping on stage with a stick, unable to hold his own props and looking less than powerful. He was ready to cancel. I talked him out of it.

This Is How Simon Did It

A stool and table were placed centre stage. Props were hidden in a mysterious big box. Simon walked with dignity and a stick slowly and without apology. He was vulnerable and strong. The audience sucked in their breath and put down their phones. Their interest was palpable. To maximise his physical comfort and magnify his presence, Simon took off his lone shoe, spread his knees wide, leaned forward, lifted his face and opened his palms. This is the SOLER** active listening stance, a universally non-threatening physical posture that engenders trust, openness and an invitation to share.

Before long, Simon’s audience gasped, laughed and cried. They listened beyond his words and I guess you could say, crossed the “blood-brain barrier” to absorb a radical topic and approach. Through necessity, Simon had to adopt a non-standard delivery which ended up beautifully suiting his non-standard topic. His relaxed “we are all in this together” manner brought down formal barriers, allowing something new and different to slip through.

Simon took his standing ovation, sitting down! And he began conversations with policy makers who had power to make change. During a later debrief, Simon realised that “being real was far more effective than trying to be a perfect fit for someone else’s expectations.”  Simon had struggled with the perfection trap his whole life.

Embrace Flaws To Avoid The Perfection Trap

I consulted a psychologist in my twenties. I lived in Sydney and did a lot of contract work. Always moving, never settling. The psychologist kept pieces of broken, pretty glass on the window sill. After some months, I asked why she hadn’t thrown it out. She told me she used it as a visceral reminder that just because something is broken, doesn’t mean it’s no longer beautiful or valuable. In some ways when things break, they show their authentic parts, the myriad of pieces or small steps that make up the whole.

I like to keep this philosophy in mind when I work with my clients. We all strive for authenticity because it’s better than the perfection trap, it’s real. And realness is something we trust and build our lives upon, flaws, diversity and all.

Let’s all invest in bottles of gold paint!

*Naturally I have changed some details and client names to protect privacy. ** S.O.L.E.R. active listening model developed by Gerard Egan.

© 2019 Geraldine Barkworth, Australian Speaking Coach. This article is the opinion of the writer.

Making an Entrance: Ta Daa!

How To Stand Out From the Crowd

How do you make your presentation memorable and stand out in a long day of conference speeches?

“Ta Daa!” Introducing, YOU!

And in you come dancing to a funky soundtrack, boa feather trailing behind, your newly shaved head reflecting the strobe lights… is this the kind of big entrance you’d like to make when you give a presentation? Yes, you will be memorable unless of course your colleagues also read this article and boa feather sales go through the roof. Ok, I digress.

Here’s a short homemade video I made a while back, about engaging and holding audience attention from the get-go:

Don’t Be Shy – Make an Entrance – Geraldine’s 3 Minute Video

Making an Entrance & Holding Attention

Making an entrance engages attention from the moment the MC calls your name. An interested audience is a listening audience. And they remain listening as long as you offer lots of delicious, useful information. Useful to them, that is.

After your entrance, I recommend you focus on creating a connection with your audience, before you even open your mouth. Take the time to be present and take a breath with your listeners. Look ‘em in the eye. You will immediately make a second memorable impact as acknowledging your audience first is surprisingly rare. Bit of a nod, eye contact, a smile. Costs nothing, takes less than a minute, yet generates credibility, appreciation and attention.

Foundational Question

Now we need to take a step back from the stage and discuss what happens before you create your presentation. Ask yourself this foundational question: “What do I want to be remembered for?” Your answer will determine the clarity with which you deliver your speech to conference delegates.

Now I am not talking about a deathbed legacy (although that may also be relevant). I mean, imagine how listeners might summarise your presentation over lunch or back at the office. Have you delivered a meaningful 30 second-ish munchable sound bite? This isn’t manipulative marketing, it’s practical common sense. Conferences and Events are information overloads. Your job as a presenter, is to make your information relevant and easy to digest. For them. If you are clear, they will be clear. Be relevant and you will be remembered for more than just making an entrance.

Purpose: What Do You Want to Be Remembered For?

People present to audiences for many reasons. What have been yours? Have you ever been unclear and wondered about the dodgy outcome?

To help you crystallise your memorable message, decide which of the Purpose examples below resonate. Do you want to be remembered for:

  • Being an entertaining and informative speaker that brings joy to a heavy program?
  • Delivering an inspiring vision that generates new thoughts in your industry?
  • Providing cutting edge data to benefit the practice of colleagues?
  • Standing out from the crowd and building a distinct profile?

Being clear about what you want your speech to be remembered for is similar to being clear about your purpose. Both act like a rudder, steering your speech and audience on an impactful journey toward a powerful conclusion.

How to Prepare to Stand Out from the Crowd

  1. Put time aside to research practical things like how many people will attend, where you’ll stand, microphones, if you’ll be introduced and what they’ll say, so that you’ll set up your speech confidently from the start.
  2. You are “on” as your name is called. Don’t slink in, pretending to be lost in intellectual thought or your notes!
  3. Roll your shoulders gently back, head and chest up, and take a strong, stable stance with room to move.
  4. Establish your physical and energetic presence by taking some breaths with your audience. You are saying non-verbally: “I see you, I hear you and I’m with you.” Being present is literally a present, for your listeners.
  5. Practice your speech; include the timing for your entrance, exit, pauses and even pfaffing around with slides. Ask friends for feedback. Record yourself. Are there any flat or confusing bits? Is there too much detail or not enough? Are you sure every bit of your talk relevant to your listeners? Is your message a clear and memorable sound bite?

Lasting Beyond Making an Entrance

Making an entrance is entertaining for a moment. To make a long term, memorable impact when you speak, you need to understand and deliver what your audience hungers for: personal connection and value to them. If you can do these 2 things, you will be a memorable stand-out in the conference program, way beyond your entrance.

© 2012-19, Geraldine Barkworth, Australian speaking coach. This article is the opinion of the author only.

Should I Sit or Stand When I Speak?

Use Body Language To Talk In Your Favour

“Should I sit or stand when I speak?” As a speaking coach, I am often asked this question. The decision to sit or stand sends a body language message about your conscious and unconscious intentions toward your listeners. Be clear about whether you need to establish authority, build credibility, increase connection, invite intimacy, energetically entertain or deepen trust. Like everything communication, it’s a two-way relationship; you need to consider what is right for your listeners and right for you.

I invite you to read Agatha’s Story to learn how she used body language to help her speak at a conference. Agatha’s speech intention was to gain credibility and inspire social change. But then she broke her ankle two weeks before and couldn’t stand up. Should she withdraw after all that preparation?

Client Story – Agatha

Agatha came to see me about how to present a sensitive and controversial topic at a formal conference. She was passionate about the opportunity to promote community awareness. She was also extremely nervous. Everything was going really well and then she broke her ankle. She wanted to appear strong and confident and worried that hobbling in and being helped to sit down would make her and her topic less powerful.

This is what we went with on the big day: Agatha sat on a low stool. She walked in slowly with dignity, a walking stick and only one shoe. She kicked it off. Leaned forward in her long silk caftan, rested her hands on her wide set knees and felt stable and calm. Agatha looked directly into the eyes of her audience and took several slow breaths. She waited and they waited with her…

At the end of the conference, Agatha’s speech was voted one of the best. She got a standing ovation, invitations to speak further and she was the only speaker to sit rather than stand. Sometimes, the situation you find yourself in dictates your choices. Agatha simply couldn’t stand up. We found a way to make her physically comfortable, emotionally powerful and her vulnerable yet strong body language helped her audience relate and engage with her difficult topic.

Timing & Empathy

Timing and empathy are very important. Hitting the right note opens up listeners and invites them to walk with you, rather than jarring an awkward moment when you lose people, fast.

Here are three scenarios when the Speaker’s timing, empathy, self-focus and lack of preparation were completely inappropriate but very funny in retrospect!

  • I once heard a feathered Facilitator sitting cross-legged on the floor, demand with his Talking Stick: “Take back your power!” His group sat uncomfortably in chairs looking like they’d rather be in another tepee. It was inappropriate for the environment, participants and style of event.
  • Who hasn’t been forced to attend a corporate motivational session with a hyped-up trainer trying to force change? This guy stood on a mini podium and thrust his hands in the air: “Scream this now… no, no, no!” to a small group of 7, seated women at 9.15 in the morning. Too much and way too soon before coffee.
  • Imagine this and it really did happen: I went to a poetry reading and an indulgent young man in a black beret turned his back to us and lay on the floor. He closed his eyes and shared overlong banal drivel about unrequited lust, crashing waves and stallions. We listeners might as well not have been there.

To inspire the action you desire, your choice to sit, stand or lie down must be congruent with your verbal message to be meaningful and influential. Just think of the remarkable impact Agatha experienced.

Just for fun, here’s an informal 3-minute body language video I made about the question, “Should I Sit or Stand When I Speak?” 

To summarise with a very general guide:

Sit to Speak When…

An informal group, especially a small one where people can’t hide in the crowd, need a Speaker who can build trust. This suggests “I’ve been in your shoes and we’re in this together.” So, join their circle and sit down with them. Sitting down also suits:

  • When it’s very important to build intimacy, trust and rapport first.
  • Drawing people in, like storytelling, sharing a “secret” or personal revelation.

Stand to Speak When…

A group with big expectations, strong and diverse opinions, or with a lot of emotion in the room (such as cynicism, anger or sadness) need confident presence from a Speaker “willing to take a stand.” Standing also suits:

  • When it’s important to establish leadership, authority or world domination!
  • Fitting appropriately into a formal situation or to formalise a too casual, not listening group.
  • Performance and a need for high impact to direct all attention on you and your message.

Mix It Up

Goodness, there are no rules here folks! You can switch from sitting to standing during a presentation. It adds variety, energy and emphasis. In fact, move around a bit and come out from behind the lectern and your slides. Why only use words to communicate when you’ve got all your senses and body language to talk in your favour?

Trust Your Gut

Above all, don’t follow expert advice, including from me. Do what feels right for you. Trust your gut. Sometimes it feels right to stand and sometimes, to sit. Just don’t lie down on the job!

© 2012-2019, Geraldine Barkworth, authentic speaking coach. This article is the opinion of the author only.

Easy Self Introductions for People Who Loathe Introducing Themselves

6 Ways To Creatively Introduce Yourself In 30 Painless Seconds

Picture This: You are at a workshop. The Facilitator announces: “Self Introductions!” She gives everyone 30 seconds. She’d like to start with… don’t freak out… you. Yes, you!

I have written so often about “How To Confidently Introduce Yourself” that this time, I have created a 20 page EBook which explains how to do it for yourself. The link to learn more and buy is at the end of this article.

Just like washing-up styles, there are infinite ways to introduce yourself professionally. Today I explain the advantages of being a Self-Intro Superstar, I share 6 creative styles to keep boredom at bay and why you should keep a few versions up your sleeve.

Ten Common Self-Introduction Mistakes

Generally, a networking Self-Intro takes between 30 and 180 seconds. About the time it takes to answer a text message or have a blood test. A brief rah, rah, rah and it’s all over.

When it’s time to introduce yourself, especially to a group, an astounding number of people begin with “umm”. That conversational filler will buy some thinking time, but really, how much time do you need to remember how to say your name in public?

  1. Ummm, forget to mention your name.
  2. Ramble and get gonged off for going overtime.
  3. You don’t “end” but 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.

Oooh dear, are now you shrivelling up with the memory of a time you really “stuffed up” your self-intro? Or remember the compassion you felt when someone else was struggling like a butterfly on a pin in front of the group?

Advantages of Easy Self Introductions

Apart from leap tall buildings, save decimated species and your confidence as blinding as your dazzling teeth, your ability to introduce yourself creatively, quickly and memorably lets you:

  1. Expand your confidence to instantly feel good about yourself,
  2. Relax knowing you have professionally conveyed all you need to in that moment,
  3. Attract the right kind of clients and connections because the right people, heard you.

Why Do I Need Different Versions & Lengths?

Because every moment, every group and every situation is different.

You begin a new conversation with every self-introduction. You may spend the rest of your life or just a workshop day with those new people. How many times has a chance conversation with a stranger turned into something you really valued?

Long Term Ripple Effect

Self-introductions create potential long-term relationship ripples, yielding valuable friendship, contacts, clients and new ideas. Self-introductions mean you are out of the office. How many new people have you met lately stuck in your chair?

  • 5 Seconds – yummy bites to suit informal, off the cuff moments.
  • 30 Seconds – tantalising tasters to generate interest, connection and conversation.
  • 60 Seconds -here is the showcasing opportunity – prepare efficiently to make effortless.

No One Size Fits All

While there are many ways to introduce yourself, here are 6 creative styles to explore.  I share them with clients who pick and choose what suits them best:

  1. I Fix That!             (shows how you fix typical client issues)
  2. Expert Tip             (demonstrates expertise, credibility and generousity)
  3. Client Story           (explains who your clients are and the results they achieve)
  4. Off The Cuff           (shows confidence to casually interact and segue elegantly)
  5. Show Don’t Tell    (enables you to speak less and creatively show what you do)
  6. Raving Fan Praise (demonstrates credibility and results without you over explaining)

And Here’s How

Below is a practical example of the I Fixed That! Self Intro. Depending upon the time allocated or appropriateness to the situation (because you don’t want to be weird) it’s a great one to simply explain how you fix typical client issues and thus, clearly identify what you do and who you do it for. Remember, there are many ways to personal pitch nirvana, this is just one style: 


I Fix That! In 30 Seconds

“You know how when some people speak, you remember them and ask for their card, but others, you simply forget?

Well I fix that! My name is Geraldine. I’m a public speaking coach and I transform the speakers you don’t remember, into the ones that you do!!!

Work with me, if you want to be remembered when you speak!

I’m Geraldine Barkworth, chief voice, of Goddess of Public Speaking.”

And For Those Looking For Mastery…

If you want to speed up mastery of the art of easy self-introductions, you need to expand beyond just one self-intro style. Try mixing it up with Off the Cuff and Show Don’t Tell. Your listeners will thank you. You also need to know about a few other bits and pieces, namely:

  • The 3 Unconscious Questions In Every One’s Mind – as in, “Why should I listen to you?”
  • Understanding Your Audience – you need to customise to each unique situation.
  • Your POD (Point Of Difference) – what makes you different, valuable and memorable?
  • Authentic, Conversational Delivery – not too fast and not too slow.
  • Confidence & Handling Nerves – generate respect, credibility and opportunity.

Become A Self-Intro Superstar – Stop Cringing – Next Step!

If you are keen to never freak again when asked to Introduce Yourself, the next step is to purchase my Ebook, “Easy Self Introductions: For People Who Loathe Networking & Introducing Themselves.” I provide examples from different occupations (such as therapist, photographer, physio, bookkeeper, solicitor, author, coach) to get your creative juices flowing. I demonstrate examples of 6 Self Intro styles, each 30 seconds in length, plus I include a few 5, 60 and 120 second versions. Naturally you can have fun plundering, mixing and matching.

There’s also exercises to help you put your own together, so you come out sounding like you, not me! It contains 20 pages of how-to notes, examples and templates.

Why have one when you can have six ways to introduce yourself? Whip ‘em out and you’ll never be caught short when a Facilitator suddenly invites you to speak first. Never freak out again.

Learn More, Preview & Purchase The Easy Self Introductions EBook

© 2019, All rights reserved. Geraldine Barkworth, Public Speaking Coach, Goddess Of Public Speaking.

Video: Activism Needs Introverts

TED Talk by Sarah Corbett

Activism and public speaking roles traditionally favour loud confident extrovert personalities, willing to beat the door down to be heard. Think of street fundraisers who boldly approach for donations and brush off rejection and disinterest like dandruff on a collar.

50% of the population identify as introverts. Introverts want to contribute but often struggle to be heard in meetings, groups and in the street where the loud and quick, dominate.

Sarah Corbett’s delightful and inspiring 13 minute TED Talk Video Activism Needs Introverts shows introverts how to participate without compromising themselves and becoming… an extrovert! No offense intended!

The Rise of Craftivism

Sarah is a professional activist (and therefore public speaker). She campaigns using creative, thoughtful, quieter forms which won’t lead to being arrested by police or endless public conflict. Sarah’s quiet activism opens conversations. New ideas delight and engage rather than repel and close down. The 3 methods she uses (and discusses in her book, “A Little Book of Craftivism”) are listed below. In case you think “Oh no way, how can this be useful?” as I did initially – watch the video to see evidence, examples and surprising impact of her work:

  1. Group Handicrafts. People slow down and think more deeply rather than rush off in reactive rage. Participating in calm, repetitive artwork together is unifying. This is a boon for the shy who can have interesting conversations without heavy duty eye contact.
  2. Gift Making. Creating and presenting clever and simple gifts for the influential in power. Rather than using threat, they create quirky gifts like a hand sewn handkerchief with a pertinent message. The personal thought and heartfelt message combine to create a new way to reach people.
  3. Provocative Art. Create art in small, personal ways like T-shirts and signs that initiate 1 to 1 conversations (something introverts are good at). They use intrigue, strategy and social movements rather than force or noise.

Contribute In Your Own Way

In my late teens, I joined a group of social activists because it looked more interesting than going to the pub every Friday night giggling in white stillettos. The group waived placards, beat drums, tied themselves to trees and dressed up in post nuclear rags. Lots of makeup. It was fun, but ineffective. I noticed the general public were uninterested and even repelled. Certainly our plucky activist numbers did not grow. I’m not saying causing a ruckus is a waste of time. It’s just one of the ways to draw attention to important causes. Perhaps a way that’s more suited to extroverted personalities. Being an introvert, I feel thrilled by Sarah Corbett’s approach.

Sarah closes with a call to Activism Action to gain the best results for everybody: Extroverts must consciously include introverts rather than ignore or dismiss their contribution. Introverts must actively join in their way, rather than give up or hang back, to ensure everyone’s unique voice is heard. To listen to more TED Talks, visit

© 2019, Geraldine Barkworth. This review is the opinion of the author only.

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