Are you afraid of speaking in public?
Most people in business have to do this, whether it’s to a client, a peer group, employees, investors, or a room full of strangers.
For many people it causes a lot of anxiety so we invited Drive member Dawn Gregory to share her expertise in how to become a more confident speaker.
Dawn is a graduate of the Guildhall School of Speech and Drama and runs workshops and training in public speaking.
This is a compilation of the live Ask the Expert Q&A in the Drive Facebook Group.
Sam Taylor How much importance does posture play in speaking? And what is the best posture for speaking?
Dawn Gregory I think it’s so important when you’re speaking to maintain good posture. Poor posture causes tension in your body which hinders you and also transmits to the audience. So if you’re standing I always suggest starting with feet hip width apart, arms by your side or gently held at waist height, shoulders relaxed. Try and keep your head centred, chin parallel to the floor. If you’re sitting, again try to keep that relaxed upper body – try only to use the chair as support and don’t relax into it. These postures allow you to feel in control and also help you to breathe effectively, which in turn helps you speak effectively and turn the anxiety button down.
Sam Taylor Why should I worry about speaking with confidence if I don’t do much public speaking?
Dawn Gregory Speaking with confidence is not just about public speaking, it’s also about business transactions, confident interviewing, in fact any more formal situation where you have to put your point of view across.
Sam Taylor Is it possible to rehearse too much?
Dawn Gregory In theory yes, but in reality probably not. Over-rehearsal may result in you delivering a monologue rather than a presentation where you want people to be engaged and interested. So if you’re rehearsing to become word perfect, I would say please stop. You want to rehearse effectively so you have a strong sense of where your talk is going and fine tune it and feel comfortable.
It’s about making sure that you cover the important points, not having a word perfect script.
I always promote using real people to rehearse in front of – that’s so effective as they can give you sound feedback and help you improve things. Rehearsing in front of a mirrors or recording it on your mobile phone is good too but take care not to be over critical of yourself.
Andy Boothman We often talk about preparation and planning in business. I imagine speaking with confidence is all about the preparation. When you’ve done your homework you can talk about it. Is there a minimum amount of time that you’d advise spending /planning before the event, for example if you know this is going to happen 6 weeks in advance, is that enough time to do a thorough job?
Dawn Gregory Start as soon a humanly possible. Find out what is needed, who your audience will be, where you’ll be speaking, what technology is available and as much as possible about the venue. Once you know what you are to talk about, early preparation allows you to research the topic fully. Even if you think you know what you’re talking about, find something new and fresh. Knowing your audience helps you prepare an appropriate presentation to their needs and level of knowledge and knowing about the technology is key, so you don’t do what I did one time and rock up to give a presentation with my Mac when there weren’t the appropriate bits of wire to connect it. You can tell I’m really techie!!
Andy Boothman What amount of tech do you advise people to use within what they’re doing on a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is a complete PowerPoint narrative that is simply spoken to the audience as though they can’t read.
Dawn Gregory That’s such an interesting question. I always try to avoid death by PowerPoint! PowerPoint or keynote can be useful as it can give you a breather when people’s attention is on that and not on you, particularly in a long presentation. My advice though is to keep writing to a minimum and keep the font large. White and black whilst striking can be hard to read for a lot of people so be mindful of that. However, I find myself drawn away from technology at the moment and am using physical visual aids more and more. The other thing about PowerPoint is that some speakers who are nervous end up using it as a prop to remember what they’re saying and spend too much time with their back to the audience. As you say, reading aloud what is on the slides is a definite no!
Andy Boothman I believe it’s a good thing to have some nerves – the adrenalin, the feedback from your audience etc physically challenges you to deliver, to entertain and engage, making the whole thing better. Do you have any tips for reducing nerves ahead of speaking?
Dawn Gregory You’re so right. Nerves matter, if you don’t feel that frisson of nerves or anticipation, then how much do you care about what you’re doing? If you only remember one thing before and during speaking to help with anxiety, that is to breathe. I know that sounds too simple but if you take control of your breathing, then that tells your brain that you’re in charge and it doesn’t have to worry about keeping you safe which in turn which minimise the fight, flight or freeze reaction that’s happening.
Andy Boothman When I first presented to a board of directors I remember being given a tip to imagine them all naked to reduce my nerves. Can things like that help?
Dawn Gregory Yes, I’ve heard that one as well. I was always too scared to use it though, as I thought I was likely to burst out laughing – try to explain that one! My advice is to use posture and pause to help you. What I mean by that is walk tall, shoulders straight but relaxed, and smile. The way you feel when you adopt a confident posture acts to give you confidence and very few people can withstand a smile. If you pause before you start speaking, it sends a clear message to your audience that you’re taking control, and then they can relax and let you begin. The pause thing can be scary at first, but it’s worth trying.
Andy Boothman Pauses are incredibly powerful – they allow you the space to reflect, check and so much more. Taking a break, does seem daunting, but in my experience it’s not often noticed by the audience.
Andy Boothman Would you recommend using props as part of your public speaking?
Dawn Gregory Very much so. I recently developed a talk about what Usain Bolt had taught me about presenting and created a Bolt Box (a cardboard box covered with relevant pictures!) It worked very nicely. Props are certainly refreshing after our love affair with PowerPoint which has lost its allure.
Andy Boothman In terms of clothes and for those less follicly challenged then me :), hair and make-up all play a really important part in how you will feel on the day. Obviously you can’t turn up in your favourite scruffs that you might wear when relaxing at home, but equally having the right clothes feels to me like an importune part of the process, would you agree?
Dawn Gregory Absolutely, I once went for a job and as luck would have it I checked out how to get there before the day. Coincidently it was leaving work time and as I watched people leaving the building, I realised to give myself confidence, I needed to get something different to wear. It worked and I got the job – OK I interviewed well but the clothes didn’t hurt. That’s preparation but wherever you’re asked to talk I would suggest that becomes part of preparation too.
Andy Boothman What about activities? I’ve seen some people use group activities and challenges to engage with their audience. Is this something you would recommend?
Dawn Gregory It depends on how long you’re speaking for and what the purpose is. At the very least you should come back to your main points in your conclusion just to remind people, in case they have forgotten, what early valuable takeaways are. With longer presentations and workshops, I would also provide hard or soft copy takeaways in the form of handouts/notes. I’d be interested to hear what others do.
One very low key activity is to hand out numbered cards with words/question on them and have members of the audience ask/read them. People like to feel involved but don’t always like to ask questions, so this helps both you and them. Get them involved as much as is appropriate – people love to help.
Louise Lee I was once told to ensure the beginning and end of every word is clearly pronounced. The benefit being it can help slow one down. Do you have any tips to slow down speech?!
Dawn Gregory Such a good point Louise. Clarity of speech comes with a certain amount of practice and I can send you some tongue twisters to help with that crispness. Another way to slow down is again, sorry to labour this, to breathe effectively as that will force you to slow down. And finally, being mindful of where you are, how you speak and who you’re speaking to can help. I have a Northern Ireland accent and I had to be mindful when I moved to England of my speed, idiosyncrasies etc so that people would understand me.
Louise Lee The effective breathing is a tricky one to master but I can see how important it will be to prevent gabbling. So much to learn and put into practice!
Dawn Gregory There’s a very simple breathing technique you can use before starting speaking which involves breathing in to a count of 4, hold for 4, breath out to a count of 4, hold for a count of 4. Do a few rounds and it’s amazing how it calms and grounds you which then encourages calm speaking.
Andy Boothman Who do you admire as a good example of speaking well in public?
Dawn Gregory I love Michelle Obama and her husband’s not too shabby as a speaker too. I enjoy watching TED talks and some of my favourites are people like Elizabeth Gilbert and Brene Brow. The late Steve Jobs is good to watch for presence and passion.
TED talks (www.tedtalks.com) are great for picking up tips on using props, technology etc and watching peoples’ different styles. There is no one good way to speak in public, we can all be good in our own unique way.
For more information get in touch with Dawn via her website or Twitter