Public speaking skills: Rituals vs Crutches

Public Speaking Skills

Yesterday at one of our City Business Library seminars I was asked my thoughts about using a ritual to help overcome nerves when public speaking. My response was that rituals can certainly help but to be cautious about developing one that relies on something or someone else to achieve success. A lucky pair of socks can get lost! There is a fine line between a ritual that can helps you prepare you and a crutch which supports you but that can easily get knocked away.

 

The question was really good so we thought it a good idea to expand on it here.

 

As a good example of a ritual, I spoke about a city-based client or ours who imagines a large friendly dog jumping up and licking his face before high-pressure meetings. Thinking of the dog makes him smile, which relaxes him and allows him to work through his nervous adrenaline.

 

One of the most famous rituals is that used by Jonny Wilkinson the England Rugby player whose distinctive movements pre-kicking caused several reports he was looking to trademark the movement. His series of movements culminating in a prayer-like gesture with his hands helped him to overcome his nerves. Like our client’s imaginary dog this is a ritual that helps him take a moment to breathe and focus on the job in hand, rather than worry about past or future concerns. Because the ritual is reliant on him it is less likely to go wrong.

 

Looking into this however I found an article by Jonny where he talks about wearing the same t-shirt under his shirt. This is less of a ritual and strays more into crutch territory, which means should the t-shirt get lost in the wash it could cause him some stress that isn’t wanted (although he insists that it wouldn’t)!

http://news.bbc.co.uk/sportacademy/hi/sa/rugby_union/features/newsid_2165000/2165770.stm

 

We often tell our delegates on presentation skills courses to plan that anything that can go wrong technically will go wrong. If your presentation is reliant upon Youtube streaming well or your iPad to function properly we always counsel making sure that you can still deliver the goods if they don’t work. If you have made technology your crutch and have decided that your presentation will go well because of it, you can feel very adrift if they let you down.

 

Having a pre-public speaking ritual is therefore a good idea if it works for you and helps you to take a moment, acknowledge your nerves, breathe, smile and then go and do it. But beware the crutch that can let you down at the crucial moment and could plunge you deeper into your nerves and worries.

 

By | May 10th, 2012|Public speaking|0 Comments

Helping your team to grow this Spring

As a keen gardener April is a rewarding month when the toil, care and attention starts to pay off. Blossom is breaking on the fruit trees and the tulips that were lovingly planted back in October are now showing off their glorious colours.

 

If you’ve ever seen a flower bulb, they are pretty unimpressive. In fact I planted out hundreds of seemingly ugly knobbly fibrous lumps in the ground this weekend that will turn out to be beautiful Aliums, Iris and Freesia in a few months time.  They are quite expensive but unlike seeds, each has a greater probability of producing something special. Bulbs need the right stimuli: nutritious soil, water and light to grow toward.

 

So bulbs need the right conditions to grow. Kept in a box they will stay that way, lumpy and pretty useless. Just taking up space.

 

What’s this got to do with training?

 

Well the same goes for your team. There is no point spending your time and money to attract the very best talent, only to let it fester on your open-plan benches so that their potential is not achieved.

 

Ask yourself, in your organisation are your employees:

 

•Given the right conditions to grow?

•Given the opportunity to put together their own development plans?

•Given support in putting their development plan into action?

•Are they given check-in sessions to test their progress?

•Do they know what they are contributing to your mission? Are you showing them a light to grow toward?

 

Your employees need to take responsibility for their own development. You cannot make a bulb grow, only give it the right conditions. But you can give your employees the right conditions to thrive.

By | April 2nd, 2012|Blog, Team Building|0 Comments

The Artist – An award-winning movie that shows how much you can say without words

A trip to the cinema reveals how much you can say without words

One of my favourite ways to spend an evening is at the cinema, getting totally lost in the story via the big screen and mega sound system.

 

So it was with curiosity that I went last Saturday to see ‘The Artist” at my local multiplex. The Oscars were coming and with the film’s performance at all the preceding award shows I felt this was a film that was a ‘must see’, if only to form an opinion on it. Armed with a bag of Maltesers and a big bottle of water we sauntered into Screen 6 at 5 mins past the advertised show start. This was the first shock, instead of the normal twenty minutes of ads and previews the film has already begun. Unheard of!

 

The second thing that struck me was that although the place was nearly full, it was close to silent. There was music playing but you could hear every rustle and movement. So we crept into our seats like naughty school kids arriving late for class.

 

And then the third shock. I’ve never really seen a silent movie before, just snippets here and there. So I had assumed there were always more sub-titles or caption boards that showed you the plot. ‘The Artist’ relied on hardly any. You followed the body language and facial expressions of the actors to read what was going on. How much they were able to convey was quite mind-boggling. At a certain point a few sounds are introduced and they are as shocking to the audience as to the actor in the film. It was at that point that I realized how loud and noisy our normal cinematic experience is. It certainly made me eat my chocolates in a much more delicate manner.

 

Aside thoroughly enjoying the film (which deserved all its awards) I came away feeling exhilarated. This film may have lots to say about the art-form of the silent movie but it reinforced to me how much people can read from you by the way you stand and how you look, what you say without words. We often begin our workshops with exercises around what you can say without even speaking and this movie is 100% testimony to that. And you don’t need to be Jean Dujardin to do it well.  If you need any convincing about how important your expressions and body language are to what you communicate go to see “The Artist.”

 

By | February 29th, 2012|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Overcoming fear of the audience: Be a Cheerleader not a Judge!

How to overcome fear of the audience.

 

When we ask many of the groups we train why they feel scared about speaking in public, a reason that often comes up is a fear of the audience,  and more specifically being judged by the audience.

‘People senior to me are watching me to see if I make a mistake.’
‘If I do or say something stupid people will laugh at me.’

These are phrases we hear a lot. Are audiences really out to pick apart your performance?

The good news is that the majority of audience members are not. Most people turning up to a talk or a meeting genuinely want the speaker to be interesting and thought provoking. Why would they choose to turn up to an event that they believed would be a waste of their time? In fact most are ready to view you as an authority merely because you have the floor.

Furthermore, people don’t actually enjoy seeing others fail. We have all felt that toe-curling sensation when a speaker is struggling and it is not pleasant. It is all too easy to imagine yourself in their shoes.

Unfortunately, there is a minority of our audience members who will start with a negative mindset. Maybe they have been forced to turn up against their will? More often than not, a negative approach shows an insecurity about their own presentations.

If you feel negatively about doing something, it is a natural reaction to try and spot faults in others. Company in despair you might say. If you think you have a wobbly voice when you speak, you may waste time and attention trying to spot others in the same boat. Or if you feel shaky (thanks to the adrenaline rush we all get before talking caused by the flight/fight response) you may find yourself trying to see if presenters have the same affliction. “Did you see those sheets of paper? His hands were shaking so much,” comes the relieved, almost gleeful observation.

The problem with this type of judging is that it doesn’t help you to overcome your own worries about speaking in public. It can actually make them seem worse. Once you look out for something you spot it, and you cease to remember that the majority are not actually looking out for signs of nerves or failure. Ask 100 delegates at a conference about cloud computing what they are hoping to get from the keynote talk. 99 of them will say they want to learn more about the cloud, not that they are looking for the speaker to make a blunder!

So how can we get over this judging? Before you listen to your next speaker write down a list of positive things to look for such as:

-What can I learn from this speaker about eye contact?
-What can I learn from this speaker about using real-life examples and stories?
-What new stuff did I learn from what they had to say?

Thinking benevolently about other speakers will in turn help you to think benevolently about yourself. After a while you will start to transfer these same positive thoughts to your own performance, and see practical things you can do to improve.

And finally next time you hear someone speak, try smiling at them. If they see you in the audience it will make them feel more relaxed. And if enough of us start doing that, the chances are you will be able to see someone listening and wishing you well at your next presentation. Why do they have cheerleaders at sports shows and not judges (aside the hotpants?). Because smiling supporters provoke a better performance from the team and encourage the fans to wish them well.

By | February 15th, 2012|Featured, Portfolio|0 Comments

Save the Coffee until after your presentation

Should you drink coffee before a presentation?

 

 

I’m writing this blog post accompanied by one of my favourite drinks – a steaming hot cup of black coffee. Since I spent some time in Italy as a teenager, I’ve been totally obsessed by the ritual and taste of coffee in all its guises.

 

Many of us enjoy a cup of coffee to kick start our day. In fact for those who like to take part in races, a quick espresso before a session can make a good (legal) difference to your performance. That’s because coffee stimulates the production of adrenaline and quickens your heart rate, ideal if you are feeling a bit sleepy or sluggish. Try one before your next sports session and see how it feels.

 

But before a presentation or important meeting it is better all round for you to leave the coffee until afterwards. Why so? Many of us feel a surge of adrenaline before speaking in front of others – a primeval reaction commonly called flight/fight is provoked in our bodies as we perceive the up-coming situation as a threat, and our body wants to help us either fight it or run away from it. Coffee is therefore one of the least useful things to put into our bodies when we are already feeling nervous.

 

Added to that ,it also dehydrates your vocal chords which is best avoided before using your voice. The fight/flight reaction shuts down your digestive system that in turn dries out your mouth, so contributing to this dehydration by adding coffee will make your mouth feel even drier.  Top singers won’t drink a caffeinated beverage before a big performance as it dries out their most valuable instrument. Caffeine can also have a diuretic effect as well, and with the digestive system on shut down because of the fight/flight response this can have unwanted effects!

 

Our tone of voice is so important for making a good first impression so we encourage clients to work on their vocal warm up exercises instead of heading to the coffee shop.  Working on your exercises puts you in better control of your situation as well so it has a double positive effect.

 

In conclusion don’t rule out coffee altogether, just save it as a reward for afterwards.  Or if you really can’t function without one when you wake up leave it at least an hour before you do your talk. Your body and voice will thank you for it!

 

On days you don’t have a speaking gig we like to drink coffee in these places…..

http://www.centralworking.com/the-central-story/about-central/

http://www.monmouthcoffee.co.uk/shops/the-borough

http://www.bambuni.co.uk/

 

 

 

By | February 6th, 2012|Blog, Presentation skills|0 Comments

Looking after your voice this winter

How to look after your voice this winter


It is the time of year when our voices come under a great deal of stress. Cold weather, Christmas parties and germs aplenty can leave us croaking our way up to Christmas. Here is a quick 5 tips to give you a decent chance of your voice surviving the winter.

 

1. Hydration

Liquid is to your voice as oil is to a car engine. Keep yourself hydrated with lots of soft drinks. For top marks go for drinks at room temperature without caffeine or lots of sugar (i.e. water!). For medium marks go for low caffeine or caffeine-free warm drinks. If all else fails, try to order the odd fizzy drink between the wine and beer.

 

2. Dealing with colds

Most of the drugs we take when we have a cold can have side effects for our voice. Anaesthetic lozenges can mask the damage we are doing to our voice. This is a particular issue if you take them before shouting your way through a loud Christmas Party. If you can, try to survive on honey and lemon mixed with warm water. If you can’t, then do what you need to do but just be careful not to ask too much of your voice after taking your medication.

 

3. Christmas Parties

Struggling to make yourself heard over Slade’s Christmas album? Shouting is not the answer. You need to literally talk “over” (or “under”) the music in terms of pitch. It depends on the song and your voice but experiment with deepening your pitch or lightening to make yourself heard. This will be far more effective than trying to beat the sound system.

 

4. Cover up your tubes!

Listen to what your mother told you and wrap yourself up with a nice scarf. If you see an opera singer at this time of year their décolletage will be safely hidden behind layers of warm fabric. Learn from their example!

 

5. Cut down on your vices

Smoking is not good for the voice but then you probably knew that. Drinking is bad for the voice because it dehydrates it and encourages us to shout more. So do what you can on this one but at this festive season I suppose four out of five is not too bad!

 

Best wishes for a Merry Christmas and Happy Voice in 2012.

 

By | December 22nd, 2011|Blog, Voice|0 Comments
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