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

Good Housekeeping (UK) - - Contents -

Pro­ject­ing your best self, plus how to dress the part


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.


‘I can now breeze through ad­dress­ing even very large au­di­ences,’ says Sarah

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