“When you have confidence, you can have a lot of fun. And when you have fun, you can do amazing things.”
“When their eyes glaze over – shut up.”
Talking confidently is a critical to sharing ideas and motivating action.
This article is Part 2 of a series of articles detailing how to improve self-confidence and generate influence when speaking publicly. Part 1 of the series discussed the source of stage fright and included a story that is continued below. Click here to review Part 1.
Ten Tips To Change The Way You Talk
In last 9 months, I’ve given 122 talks in 8 countries and 3 continents. Some of these speaking engagements involved working with small teams of 10-20 people, while others involved presenting to over 100 people. The following is a list of the 10 most important things I learned in the process. Whether you’re preparing for a career in public speaking or just looking for ways to talk more clearly and confidently to your coworkers, this list will help.
1. No One Can See Inside Your Head
At the peak of my miniature panic attack, right when I wanted to run out the door, I took a drink of water, walked behind the lectern, and slowly calmed down. I collected myself and finished the presentation. After the seminar, the MC came up to talk to me about a few of my talking points. He acted like nothing happened. I couldn’t believe it. I was sure that he was going to say something about my mental freak out. But the truth is, nothing did happen. That’s when I learned the most important lesson of public speaking: no one can see inside your head. You can have a complete mental breakdown in front of an audience and the only thing they might notice is an extra long pause. And most won’t even notice that. If you start to get nervous, just recognize that nobody can see your nerves. Don’t fight those feelings, just let them pass through you as you proceed through your presentation. This perspective is critical to mastering your internal influences and developing as a leader.
2. Follow The C.U.T.S. Through Method.
Just as the audience can’t see the anxiety in your head, they can’t see your creativity. You have to actively show it to them. Having a great idea is useless unless you can clearly communicate it, preferably in a way that inspires action. The best way to do this is to keep your messages Concise, Unexpected, Tangible, and Sincere. I call this the C.U.T.S. through method.
First, keep your messages concise by trimming them down to their simplest form, but not simpler. For example, “10 Tips For Talking Confidently” conveys the purpose of this article better than “The following post includes a list of 10 different things that will help you talk confidently while you are speaking in front of small crowd or large audience.” Now more than ever, simplicity is critical to effective communication in business and entrepreneurship, as well as your personal life.
Second, get people’s attention by presenting your ideas in clever and unexpected ways. Telling you to “take the marbles out of your mouth and spit magic” is more unpredictable and intriguing than telling you to “speak clearly and creatively when you talk to people”. Rationality combined with originality can drastically influence motivation.
Third, communicate your ideas in a tangible way. Say things that are concrete and create a stunning visuals. Instead of describing a tangelo as a seeded fruit that has a soft rind and a juicy center, describe it as a smaller orange with a nipple. The first description is factual but boring, while the second is true and inspires a concrete image in your head. Similarly, “take the marbles out of your mouth” is more tangible than “don’t mumble when you talk”.
Finally, communicate your message sincerely. No matter how concise, unexpected and tangible your ideas are, they will fall flat if they lack substance. The best way to generate influence and connect with any audience is by being authentic. And the best way to be authentic is to believe in what you are presenting and use personal stories to drive home your talking points. Sincerity is the cornerstone of the C.U.T.S. Through method.
3. Prepare Like Chris Rock
Great performers don’t “wing it”. Nevertheless, great performers often seem like they’re speaking off the cuff and telling impromptu stories. The truth is, these speakers have told their stories and practiced their side comments hundreds of times. In order to come off as a natural and have leadership influence, you have to put in hours and hours of work. Consider how Chris Rock prepared for his 2008 New Year’s Eve performance at Madison Square Garden in front of 20,000 people. At the time, Rock was already one of the biggest names in comedy, yet he spent over 6 months piecing together his act in clubs in New Jersey, New York, Florida, and Las Vegas. He did 18 warmup shows at the Stress Factory in New Brunswick, NJ alone. Vinnie Brand, the owner of the Stress Factory, was quoted saying this about Rock: “He came out here and worked his material, over and over, cutting and trimming, until by the last show you could not believe what he had put together.”
Being gifted is just code for preparing so intensely that everything looks easy. If you’re not famous enough to practice in front of paying crowds, give your in-progress presentation to friends, family members, or coworkers. You can also join groups like Toastmasters International and Speakers Academy that will show you how to develop others while developing as a leader. It’s also important to practice alone. I’ve found the best way to nail down a presentation is to give it to yourself in front of a mirror. It’s quite a feat to get all the way through your talk alone while making eye contact with yourself and not being distracted by your own mannerisms. I also like to record myself on my iPhone and play it back. This is a great way to determine how energetic or dull your voice is during certain parts of your presentation.
4. Give Your Sentences Happy Endings
Most people, when they are wrapping up one talking point and moving on to another, either trail off or insert enforcer phrases like “right”, “you know”, or “okay”. The ends of your talking points and sentences should be said just as strongly as the beginnings. Make a conscious effort to add some punch to the last few words of your sentences until this becomes a habit. However, do not add enforcer phrases to the ends of your talking points. A lot of speakers unknowingly use enforcer phrases in an effort to connect with the audience and comfort themselves. This conveys self-consciousness rather than self-confidence. Saying “right?” is like asking the audience permission to move forward and saying “you know?” is like suggesting they don’t understand you. Get comfortable ending your sentences normally, with a firm period. Then, after you present a handful of ideas, you can commit fully to getting feedback by asking the audience “Does that make sense?” or “Are there any questions at this point?”
5. Speak From The Belly
Breathing shallow constricts your vocal cords. When your vocal cords are constricted, your voice is higher pitched and it doesn’t carry well. Most people unconsciously breath shallow by sucking in their guts and puffing up their chests when presenting. Instead, keep your stomach relaxed and slightly pushed out. This will force you to breath deeply and will loosen your vocal cords. As a result, your voice will bellow and sound more powerful. A strong, booming voice will generate influence and improve self-confidence more than a mumbling, mealymouthed voice.
6. Put Your Shoulders Back
When speaking, your psychology will reflect your physiology. It’s impossible to talk confidently when you’re slouched forward and drooping your head downwards. Several studies show that simply standing upright can help you generate confidence when speaking. The best way to maintain good posture during a presentation is by keeping your shoulders slightly rolled back. Do not overcompensate by sticking your chest out and arching your back. This will cause discomfort, constrict your vocal cords, and make you look stupid. Also, sociology experiments show that audiences unknowingly treat taller speakers better. Good posture conveys strength. Even a half-inch increase in height can positively influence how your message is received.
7. Command The Audience With Silence And Your Smile
You’ve arrived as a public speaker the moment you realize that the audience is at your mercy, not the other way around. Have you ever witnessed a speaker melt down in front of you? If so, how did it make you feel? If you’re like most people, you probably felt uncomfortable and wanted to hide under your chair or leave the room. Just watching a video of someone freeze up and sputter sentence fragments to a crowd of people can feel awkward. As a speaker, being aware of this phenomenon is extremely empowering. You have the power the make the audience way more uncomfortable than they could ever make you feel. Even an audience full of your enemies will subconsciously want you to perform well in order to avoid the anxiety of being trapped in a room of someone embarrassing himself.
Armed with the above knowledge, you can keep your audience in check and engaged with silence and your smile. Nothing snaps a crowd to attention and establishes leadership influence like silence. Slackers in the back of the room stop texting, gossips in the front of the room stop whispering, and everyone looks up. Silence pulls the audience back in by tapping into their subconscious concern that you might be freezing up, or worse, you might have asked a question and are about to single one of them out. A well placed pause is your best tool for reengaging people. It is also a great way to break up the pace of your presentation. Similarly, a well placed smile can help you connect with your audience. A smile conveys warmth and creates a charismatic contrast in speakers who are also conveying strength with their posture. Don’t be afraid to pause, look an audience member in the eye, and smile. The best time to do this is in between slides or talking points. Avoid being creepy by rotating your eye contact and smiles between several different audience members.
8. Stop Hiding
The more you hide, the less your message matters. The quickest way to increase your presence during a talk is to stop cowering behind the lectern. The lectern is the small stand with a sloping top that speakers rest there laptops and notes on. Most people mistake a lectern for a podium, which is actually the name of the platform or stage on which a speaker stands. In the image below, the large wooden stand with the University of Washington seal is the lectern. The platform on which it rests is the podium.
Stand-up comedians never perform with a lectern. In fact, most comedians and expert speakers present with little more than a microphone and a small stool. This is because physical objects both distract audience members and block you from connecting with them. Start standing in front, or to the side of the lectern. This simple shift in location will also help you improve self-confidence.
9. Throw Out An Anchor
The audience will only remember one thing from your talk. In the book, Confessions Of A Public Speaker, Scott Berkun discusses a study that conducted exit interviews of audience members after a variety of hour-long seminars and speeches. Regardless of whether the interview was given immediately after the talk or days later, and no matter what the subject matter was, most people were only able to recall one talking point from memory (usually the title). Most importantly, audience members had the easiest time recalling talking points that the speaker had related to a personal story.
There are three things you can do to help your audience retain more of the information you are presenting. First, spend at least 50% of your time preparing the overall title of your talk and the titles of your individual talking points, or slides. Your titles will likely be the only things your audience is able to recall from memory.
Second, tie stories to your talking points. Human beings have used stories and parables to pass on information for thousands of years, and science is starting to understand why. Several studies have shown that when a person tells another person a story, the listener’s entire brain heats up. Conversely, when a person shares a list of facts or statistics with another person, only a small region in the listener’s temporal lobe heats up. Stories activate much more of the listeners brain, which helps her remember more information. The more knowledge your audience retains, the more likely they are to take action based on that knowledge.
Third, come back to the main theme of your talk over, and over, and over again. Don’t just dump a bunch of features or facts on your audience. Instead, pick apart your presentation and find one topic that can be used to tie everything together. Use that topic as part of your overall title and as an anchor for every one of your talking points.
10. Have More Fun Than Anyone Else In The Room
Dullness is not an indicator of intelligence. Likewise, happiness, playfulness, and excitement are not indicators of incompetence. In fact, being dull, defensive, or disengaged during a presentation are signs that the speaker is scared, doesn’t know what he’s talking about, doesn’t care about his presentation, or doesn’t care about the audience. If you’re not excited about your talking points, why should anyone else be? The best way to get your audience to open up, generate enthusiasm, and increase happiness, is to be open and happy yourself.
Happiness and fun require vulnerability and preparation. Most of my presentations are given in front of scientists and clinicians; sharks with MDs and PhDs specifically trained to pick apart a person’s logic. Nevertheless, I have fun. I’ve learned that even the most calculating minds want to find ways to enjoy life more while learning. The key is to not get disheartened when the audience fails to reciprocate your humor and energy. Imagine that there is a brick wall in front of your audience when you first start to talk. The only way to knock down this wall and connect with your audience emotionally is to hit it over and over again with a sledgehammer. Enthusiasm if your sledgehammer. Show your enthusiasm by changing the rate of your speech, using your hands to talk, and pacing naturally in front of the lectern.
Different audiences respond to different kinds of energy. This means that you may have to use slightly different sledgehammers to break down the walls between you and your audiences. When I spoke in Berlin, Germany, I was surprised by how open and playful the German audiences were during my presentation. Conversely, the French audience that I spoke to in Brussles, Belgium was very reserved and only loosened up once I started lacing my talking points with heavy sarcasm. Flexibility in your approach and your energy levels will help you talk confidently and connect with any audience.