How to nail pub­lic speak­ing


Cosmopolitan (Australia) - - Contents -

Barack Obama has it. Oprah in­spires the globe with it. Gwyneth Pal­trow has been known to cry while do­ing it. Be­ing adept at pub­lic speak­ing may ap­pear to be some­thing you are sim­ply born with, but, ac­tu­ally, all those who seem to be ‘nat­u­rals’ tend to have a se­cret. They’ve had train­ing. Or so says Imo­gen But­ler­Cole, a tu­tor at RADA Busi­ness, who, through its course on im­prov­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion in the workplace, has trained some of the very best busi­ness minds around. We tapped her brain for some ad­vice – get ready for your TED Talk...


Martin Luther King prac­tised his history­defin­ing speech eight months be­fore to a smaller, high­school au­di­ence. It’s a tech­nique we can all learn from, says But­ler­Cole. And while you may not have a group of stu­dents to re­hearse in front of, you can make the most of what you do have on of­fer: mir­rors, the recorder on your phone and friends can all make for a back­up au­di­ence. If you choose to video or record your­self, the key is to do it more than once. This way, you’ll be­come less self­con­scious and can also watch out for faults in both how you speak (‘ums’ and ‘ahs’) as well as sec­tions you stum­ble over.


Know­ing your stuff doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean fol­low­ing a script, though. ‘There are dan­gers in learn­ing some­thing word for word – if you for­get one word, it might throw you com­pletely,’ says But­ler­Cole. Write out what you want to

say, but go back and ex­tract key mes­sages to make a bul­let­point list. The dream is to speak with­out notes – but if there’s even the slight­est chance you might for­get some­thing, take them with you on small sys­tem cards (not a big flappy piece of pa­per). As for those key mes­sages? Make sure you re­peat them three times.


The one thing most suc­cess­ful TED Talks have in com­mon? They con­tain a per­sonal story. And with good rea­son. It’s the key to keep­ing peo­ple en­gaged. ‘The more we can in­clude sto­ries in pub­lic speak­ing, the more our au­di­ence stays with us,’ says But­ler­Cole. ‘In­tro­duce a char­ac­ter, project or or­gan­i­sa­tion you’ll be talk­ing about and show some strug­gles it or they might have over­come – this gets the au­di­ence to come on a jour­ney with you.’ Try to en­gage the au­di­ence’s senses, too – paint a pic­ture of what you’re talk­ing about with de­scrip­tive lan­guage. What does it sound, look, smell or even taste like? ‘If we can pic­ture what some­one’s talk­ing about, we’re much more likely to re­mem­ber what we’re lis­ten­ing to,’ she says. But be wary – there’s a dif­fer­ence be­tween evok­ing emo­tion and waf­fling on. Your per­sonal story should take up around a minute of your speech (we an­a­lysed TED Talks and found most of the read­ers stuck to this rule), and it must re­late to your cen­tral point.


It was all go­ing fine… in your bed­room. But you’re about to go out on stage/to the front of the meet­ing and your heart is racing. Your body is per­ceiv­ing a dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tion (a room full of

eyes star­ing straight at you) and putting you into fight or flight mode. ‘That adren­a­line spike will only last for a minute, but if we don’t han­dle it ap­pro­pri­ately, and go into a state of short, shal­low breath­ing, those symp­toms can ex­ac­er­bate,’ says But­ler­Cole. By breath­ing through it you can set­tle the adren­a­line – and that feel­ing of sheer panic. ‘It’s about get­ting the breath lower down into the body. Imag­ine a birthday cake with lots of can­dles to blow out. Take an ac­tive and sus­tained out breath, and at the end of it, just re­lax into the lower belly and let that breath drop in. That set­tles the breath, and all those symp­toms we might get.’ For added calm, count the can­dles as you go up to 10 – it will stop your mind go­ing hay­wire.


It’s not what you say, but how you say it that mat­ters. Stud­ies show that words only count for seven per cent of the im­pact on your au­di­ence, while 38 per cent of it is your cadence* – how var­ied you sound. A mo­not­o­nous, flat voice can send an au­di­ence to sleep. Mar­garet Thatcher was said to have un­der­gone ex­ten­sive train­ing to make her sound more pow­er­ful, and But­ler­Cole rec­om­mends try­ing this trick: ‘Make lit­tle siren sounds with your voice, and draw a cir­cle in the space in front of you while you do it, as if you were a con­duc­tor. As you draw it all the way down and up the other side again, fol­low with your voice (up and down ac­cord­ingly).’ Then try say­ing a sen­tence while mov­ing your hand up and down and fol­low­ing the pat­tern with your voice. Fi­nally, try stretch­ing the words, ex­ag­ger­at­ing each one. ‘You’re en­cour­ag­ing your voice to go into places it wouldn’t nor­mally and open­ing it up. It can make such a dif­fer­ence to the im­pact you make and help bring in emo­tion and pas­sion.’


‘One is­sue for a lot of pub­lic speak­ers is that we feel we shouldn’t be tak­ing up peo­ple’s time,’ says But­ler­Cole. So we race through what we have to say in or­der to get off the stage as fast as we can – a big mis­take. ‘The more time you take, the more con­fi­dent you ap­pear.’ Just watch a clip of Michelle Obama. ‘One rea­son she is so en­gag­ing is (be­cause) she takes her time and al­lows her points to land,’ ex­plains But­ler­Cole. Obama not only punc­tu­ates each sen­tence with a pause, but she speaks slower as well. ‘That gives you time to breathe, think of the next point, and move on. You’re calm­ing your­self but also giv­ing the au­di­ence time for the mes­sage to sink in.’ And the pauses? Al­low dou­ble the time you would nor­mally – Obama takes around three sec­onds. And prac­tise speak­ing as slowly as you would if you were hand­ing out a phone num­ber.


You’ve spent hours craft­ing an in­for­ma­tive, well­writ­ten, funny, in­spir­ing talk – so don’t waste it by de­liv­er­ing it with your head down and buried in notes. Whether you’re sit­ting around a ta­ble with 10 peo­ple or speak­ing to a hall of 300 (gulp), mak­ing eye con­tact with the au­di­ence is cru­cial, ex­plains But­ler­Cole: ‘It helps them con­nect with us and feel like we’re talk­ing di­rectly to them.’ If the space is so big that di­rect eye con­tact is tricky, an­gle your shoul­ders to­wards dif­fer­ent ar­eas so your eye­line is in that di­rec­tion. ‘Make sure your body is open to dif­fer­ent parts of the room and you take peo­ple in from all parts of the space.’ Can’t bear to look your au­di­ence di­rectly in the eye? Stare at their eye­brows, it’s in­ter­preted the same. Don’t be afraid to ges­ture ei­ther – within rea­son. ‘Ges­tures give the au­di­ence a visual lan­guage, but it’s im­por­tant that they are in­ten­tional and not just waft­ing,’ ex­plains But­lerCole. ‘It’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween one clear move­ment and just flap­ping your hands about.’

‘The more time you take, the more con­fi­dent you ap­pear’


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