WELCOME TO GH’S CONFIDENCE MASTERCLASS
If this is the year you need to speak in public or create a positive new look, then this is the feature for you. As Sarah Brown reveals, even the wife of a prime minister can be filled with dread at the thought of addressing a room full of people – but th
Projecting your best self, plus how to dress the part
I FOUND MY VOICE – AND YOU CAN TOO
What is it about addressing a large group that can shake even the most capable women? Sarah Brown used to be one of them – she fainted after her first attempt! But then she realised she could use her high-profile position to highlight the causes she believed in. Writing exclusively for GH, she reveals how she built up her confidence
There’s never a perfect moment to begin public speaking but, as I have learnt, it is also never too late to give it a go.
My own public speaking journey has been an eventful one. I know I would have made my life easier if I’d had the courage to start earlier, rather than learning in front of audiences that ranged from celebrities at 10 Downing Street receptions to delegates at the United Nations.
I’m not a nervous or shy person. As the years rolled by, I set up my own business, held meetings, made presentations. I did all kinds of things that involved speaking to small audiences. But the moment I thought I was going to need a podium or lectern, I would tell myself I couldn’t do it.
At school I made the mistake of thinking drama was for people who wanted to be actors, and misunderstood the lessons I could learn about stage confidence, voice projection and
[continued from previous page] much more. I fluffed my one line as a servant in the school production of The Taming Of The Shrew, and for years I stayed firmly backstage.
When Gordon became Chancellor of the Exchequer, we weren’t yet married, so I hid behind that excuse to avoid speaking at the functions held at 11 Downing Street. There was always someone else I could call on, whether a Government minister or a charity CEO, to provide the welcome.
And yet, I knew I was missing out. I’ve always been a campaigner and I have supported causes to create social change. I realised my opportunity to speak up for what I cared about was being wasted. After Gordon and I were married in 2000, I decided I would step up, but my nerves nearly got the better of me.
The first speech I decided to give was at a charity reception. I’d prepared my words, and I got up, raced to the end, stepped back with relief and promptly fainted. I was mortified by that experience and so frustrated by my limitations, but I realised I needed to plough on. After that, I accepted invitations to speak, and committed to speaking at a minimum of one reception a week at Downing Street (often clutching the lectern).
There is certainly a moment that you reach – for me, it was in my mid-30s – when you decide you really don’t mind too much what others think. I chose to push through my fears – thinking about my larger goals kept me going – and have ended up addressing very large audiences, which I’m now able to breeze through. Whether you want to make just one speech for a special moment or acquire the skills to speak up often, we can all do it. My advice would be to commit to a speaking engagement and not back out of it. Prepare your words – a lighthearted joke or word of thanks early on helps to get the audience on side – and practise in front of a friend or a mirror; both work just as well. Learning to speak up for what I believe in has given me a platform to help others. As well as leading a children’s charity, I’ve launched a podcast called Better Angels to share how we can unlock the activist spirit inside all of us. As the subject of finding and using your voice is so close to me, I’ve interviewed many experienced performers to discover their tips. Comedian David Baddiel tells me that if you feel nervous, you should focus on the emotion and recognise it as excitement, not fear – it’s almost the same feeling. And the actor Sir Patrick Stewart advises that, as a nervous performer, you should remember the audience actually wants you to succeed, wants you to be good, which is a wonderful, positive message for anyone who needs a confidence boost. The world is on your side, so be brave and speak out!
Sarah Brown is the President of children’s charity Theirworld. Her Better Angels podcast on finding your voice airs on 1 February.
REMEMBER THAT THE AUDIENCE WANTS YOU TO SUCCEED
‘I can now breeze through addressing even very large audiences,’ says Sarah