Co­me­dian Viv Groskop on find­ing your voice and own­ing it

Red - - Contents -

What does it mean for a woman to ‘own the room’? Here’s what it looks like to me. Oprah giv­ing an eight-minute speech at the Golden Globes that made ev­ery­one say, ‘Why isn’t she the pres­i­dent?’ Michelle Obama us­ing her plat­form as First Lady to in­spire and em­power other women and chal­leng­ing her­self to be vul­ner­a­ble by be­ing open about the per­sonal sac­ri­fices she made in that role. JK Rowling giv­ing com­pelling, funny talks about the life of ‘fail­ure’ she lived through, even though she says she hates pub­lic speak­ing.

These are in­spir­ing mo­ments, but they can also be in­tim­i­dat­ing for the rest of us. How are you sup­posed to own the room if you’re de­liv­er­ing a Pow­er­point pre­sen­ta­tion about next year’s mar­ket­ing bud­get? How are you sup­posed to in­spire any­one if your boss al­ways gives the key­note speech and never asks you?

And what if you want to be a great speaker but si­mul­ta­ne­ously feel so ter­ri­fied that you think you will throw up on your shoes be­fore any words come out?

With­out hav­ing made a Golden Globes ac­cep­tance speech that’s had 10 mil­lion Youtube views (well done, Oprah!), I have learnt about pub­lic speak­ing the hard way in my late 30s through stand-up com­edy, four Ed­in­burgh

Fringe shows, as a pre­sen­ter on BBC Ra­dio 4 and a reg­u­lar on BBC One’s This Week. None of this hap­pened be­cause I was a nat­u­ral or went to stage school. I learnt on the fly by fail­ing, do­ing it badly, some­times suc­ceed­ing by ac­ci­dent, get­ting over my­self, get­ting out there and do­ing it bet­ter. Over and over.

The most im­por­tant thing I’ve re­alised? Great speak­ing, con­fi­dence and ease in front of an au­di­ence can be learnt. They must be learnt. Very few peo­ple can just get up and do these things. I’m on a mis­sion to get more women to re­alise that it’s okay to find pub­lic speak­ing dif­fi­cult and to feel re­sis­tant. What mat­ters is to do it, how­ever great the re­sis­tance.


When I first be­gan per­form­ing stand-up, peo­ple started ask­ing me to come into their work­places to talk about ‘find­ing your voice’. The tips I’m giv­ing here grew out of the work I do as a per­for­mance coach. I work with ev­ery­one from char­i­ties to banks, where women are man­ag­ing mul­ti­mil­lion-pound ac­counts and need to give pre­sen­ta­tions to clients. With the rise of Youtube and so­cial me­dia — and the ob­ses­sion many work­places have with pre­sen­ta­tions and con­fer­ences — it has be­come so im­por­tant to be a con­fi­dent speaker.

One thing that holds a lot of us back is think­ing that there’s some­thing wrong with feel­ing ner­vous about speak­ing or per­form­ing (or even ap­pear­ing on an In­sta­gram Story). We de­cide that we’ll wait for the magical mo­ment when we sud­denly don’t feel ner­vous any more and then go for it. The re­al­ity is, how­ever, that mo­ment never ar­rives. Fac­ing up to the in­evitabil­ity of insecurity and un­cer­tainty is the way to own it.

The trick to con­trol­ling your nerves is to fo­cus on a de­tail in what you’re say­ing or some­thing in par­tic­u­lar that you need to re­mem­ber to do (make a new joke, thank a cer­tain per­son). Con­cen­trat­ing on some­thing you can con­trol or on some­thing that re­ally mat­ters to you re­ally helps.

If I’m feel­ing rough or tired and there is some anx­i­ety there, it re­ally helps to re­mind my­self that nerves are nat­u­ral. Many peo­ple who per­form for a liv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence stage fright and learn how to deal with it. Bar­bra Streisand avoided per­form­ing live – ex­cept for char­ity events – for 30 years. Carly Si­mon has asked au­di­ence mem­bers up on to the stage to mas­sage her legs to dis­tract her from her stress. Adele says: ‘I’m scared of au­di­ences. I get shitty scared.’ Once, she even pro­jec­tile vom­ited on some­one.


The key to own­ing your voice – and, in turn, the room – is to re­alise that what you are feel­ing is not nec­es­sar­ily what the au­di­ence is see­ing. After her leg­endary Golden Globes speech, Oprah Win­frey said her gums felt so dry that she had to enun­ci­ate de­lib­er­ately in order to get her mouth around them. No one else could see this or knew this. If it hap­pens to Oprah and she gets on with it, what are you wait­ing for? Feel­ing ner­vous is not enough of an ex­cuse to avoid some­thing. Anx­i­ety, panic and dry mouth are nor­mal phys­i­cal re­sponses – and they can be man­aged. They are not a sign that you (or Oprah) should not be do­ing this or that you’re out of your depth. There’s also this men­tal trick: re­mem­ber that you’re ner­vous be­cause you care and you want this to be good and that is a pos­i­tive. An­other tip – for Oprah and speak­ers ev­ery­where – is to drink ridicu­lous amounts of wa­ter, way more than you think is nec­es­sary. Ba­sic breath­ing ex­er­cises also re­ally work, such as count­ing as you breathe in and out (in for four, out for six). Imag­ine your brain is in your stom­ach and you are breath­ing through your feet. Use a med­i­ta­tion app, such as Bud­dhify, in the hour be­fore you speak. Stand in the ‘power poses’ psy­chol­o­gist Amy Cuddy rec­om­mends in one of the most-watched TED talks of all time, like the Won­der Woman ‘hands on hips’ pose. All these things ground you, re­lax your body and dis­tract you from the un­help­ful, chat­ter­ing nar­ra­tive in your head. If you don’t feel nerves or start to feel more com­fort­able, chal­lenge your­self. Find some­thing to say that mat­ters to you, which your au­di­ence may dis­agree with. Have a mo­ment in your speech where you talk about some­thing you feel vul­ner­a­ble about. Share a per­sonal story, if you wouldn’t usu­ally do that.


I see too many women wait­ing to be asked to do things or turn­ing down things be­cause they think ‘some­one else’ would be bet­ter at it. I have lis­tened to women tie them­selves in knots jus­ti­fy­ing why they shouldn’t ap­pear on a panel or take a live TV op­por­tu­nity or ac­cept the of­fer of a key­note speech. Ex­cuses in­clude: ‘I’m not ready.’ ‘Oth­ers are more qual­i­fied.’ ‘I might mess it up.’ And my favourite: ‘It doesn’t fit with my per­sonal brand.’ (So your ‘per­sonal brand’ in­volves hid­ing and only do­ing things where you can con­trol ev­ery­thing? Good luck with that.) SO, THE FIRST RULE IS: Say yes. Say yes even if you’re scared and even if you think you’re not quite the right per­son to speak. It’s only by do­ing these things that you can work out how you want to come across and how you want to use the plat­forms avail­able to you. THE SEC­OND RULE IS: Make your own luck. Once you feel con­fi­dent (or at least more de­ter­mined) about speak­ing, find op­por­tu­ni­ties. It’s easy and low risk to ex­per­i­ment on so­cial me­dia with videos or au­dio con­tent. Tell peo­ple at work you want to speak. Bet­ter still, set up a sit­u­a­tion your­self where you can speak. If there’s a work or so­cial sit­u­a­tion where it’s ap­pro­pri­ate to say thank you or give a toast, you don’t need to ask any­one’s per­mis­sion. Be de­ci­sive and say what you want to say in three sen­tences. I be­lieve that if we saw more women do­ing things like this in in­for­mal sit­u­a­tions, we’d see many more women on pan­els and giv­ing key­note speeches and we’d be less harsh on those who speak pub­licly as part of their pro­fes­sional re­spon­si­bil­i­ties – for ex­am­ple, Hil­lary Clin­ton, whose con­fi­dent speak­ing style was ripped apart dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. THE THIRD RULE? There are no rules. We haven’t seen enough women as speak­ers, politi­cians, lead­ers, bosses, per­form­ers. We haven’t seen the half of what’s pos­si­ble. We don’t even re­ally know what’s pos­si­ble. Get out there and work out what it looks like for you. How to Own the Room: Women And The Art of Bril­liant Speak­ing (Transworld) by Viv Groskop is out on 1st Novem­ber.


Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.