Why is public speaking so hard? Why do our voices tire, our nerves get the best of us and we lose our narrative? Have you ever looked at how a young child sits and stands? They have perfect posture, amazing breathing and their entire little bodies are brilliantly connected. We had that once, that is where great presentation skills begin and that is what we must get back to. If you learn good presentation technique, it will give you the confidence to tell your story well. These seven habits, if put into practice, will transform your presentations.
93% of what we communicate has nothing to do with the voice; 55% is body language — Do you look approachable and confident? Here is a great exercise called “The flop” that re-sets your posture and enables you to stand tall and relaxed; reach for the ceiling on your tip toes with your hands, then let them drop to your sides and gently flop over, trying to touch your toes. Breathe in through the nose, out through the mouth a few times, then slowly roll yourself back up to standing, counting slowly from 1 -8, with your head remaining on your chest until number 8. You will have gained in height, look relaxed and be re-aligned to connect with the breath.
We were born breathing right and then we learnt to breathe wrong. Children have got it right — When they breathe in, they push their belly out. Give it a try now — as you breathe out allow your stomach to be pulled back, and as you breathe in through your nose allow your belly to balloon out. It is important to know what muscles you are using to speak well. It’s all about connecting the diaphragm, which is all about breathing. If you breathe well you can control the length of your sentences and your volume, without straining your voice. Practice breathing subtly as you are listening to people in meetings, etc. It will keep you alert.
Breathing in (and pushing the belly out), send a loud hum across to a fixed point on the other side of the room, making sure your lips are tingling. Take a breath and hum again. Next time, open the mouth, and turn the hum into an AAAH. Open your mouth wide and imagine the sound is coming from the front of your mouth. The volume will surprise you, that is the power of a supported voice.
A sign of being connected is that when you speak, you feel the pull on your stomach, like when you are doing a sit-up. This is the culmination of all the posture, breath and humming work. A good way to put this into practice is to rehearse your speech by punching out the consonants or first syllables of your words. Imagine you are speaking to a deaf Granny, work the diaphragm and it will respond.
You have the technique, but how do you create a good pitch? When I coach, most narrative problems occur because people waffle, speak long sentences and use jargon. So limit yourself to short sentences and breathe after each one. It will reveal where you are on “auto-pilot” and make you think about the words you use. Punch out the consonants and deliver your pitch as a children’s presenter — loud and over the top. Children love simple stories so keep it simple, with a beginning middle and end. Deliver your pitch as a secret. Then re-deliver your pitch. You will hear a clearer story.
When actors learn their lines the first job is to know the words, the second job is to sound convincing, the third is for it to sound natural. This is exactly the same rule for public speaking. It is hard work and can be frustrating, but it pays off. Practise looking at three members of your audience. When it comes to the presentation, look in the centre of their foreheads if you are nervous, they can’t tell!
John Bird, founder of the Big Issue used to be homeless and he talks about how he changed his life; the 3% rule is something I have been evangelistically telling anyone who will listen about ever since. You join the gym, say you will go five times a week, throw yourself in at the 100% mark to get super fit and never end up going out of guilt. However, if we take the gym/life at 3% by 3%, slowly growing our skills, fitness, etc. there will be a change. It is not glamorous, but it works. So take these exercises and work on them bit by bit. Everyone has a story to tell, everyone can be interesting. We just need to believe that.