Seated Presentation Skills: Tips for Presentation from a Chair

January 30th, 2014

Crucial Speaking Skills: Resonance

January 15th, 2014

KISS My Simple Presentation Skills

November 6th, 2013

Proper Breathing: There’s No “Right” Place to Breathe

September 11th, 2013

FAST TALKING: Thoughts for Those Who Talk Fast

February 14th, 2013

My lastest YouTube post.

CRUCIAL SKILL #1: Grounding

October 31st, 2012

Grounding is one of the most crucial physical skills related to public speaking. Here’s a recent video on the topic.

PROFESSIONAL CREDIBILITY: Speaking with Authority

September 26th, 2012

Jennifer is in her early thirties, smart, talented and very effective in her role as account manager for a large marketing firm. She’s bubbly, talkative and tends to speak and move at a fast pace. She projects youthful energy and under pressure might seem a bit nervous.

Despite her experience, her excellent performance and high potential, Jennifer often struggles to win the respect of new clients and exert the kind of influence she desires, especially in the early stages of the relationship. People tend to assume she’s young and therefore inexperienced so they underestimate her level of expertise. Her input is sometimes ignored or dismissed; she’s not entrusted with important projects and misses strategic opportunities for advancement.

Jennifer has a credibility problem. If you can relate to her situation or something similar, you might want to consider ways to address that issue.

The perception of credibility is admittedly subjective and not always accurate. But it’s formed very early in the interaction and determined at a subconscious, emotional level more than at a conscious rational level.

Here are some personal attributes you can cultivate to make sure you’re projecting an image that communicates substance and authority.

Be grounded. Feel the ground underneath you and relax down onto that firm foundation. When you’re not aware of grounding, your body tends to pull itself away from the ground. You project a physical presence that’s high and tense, not relaxed and settled. People get the feeling that you’re a lightweight.

Be aligned. Take advantage of your full height. I’m not talking about “chin up, chest out, shoulders back and belly in.” That just makes you tenser, and it certainly doesn’t look relaxed and authentic. This needs to be a relaxed alignment, not a forced posture. Stand on both feet and imagine allowing your ankles, knees, hipbones, shoulders and ears to be on a vertical line.

Speak up. Engage your voice fully so people can hear you easily. Few things destroy credibility faster than a weak voice. You don’t have to push and shout; that just sounds like you’re trying too hard or that you’re overbearing. Breathe deeply before speaking and use your breath generously to produce the sound. If you have breath left over at the end of a phrase or sentence, you’re holding back, and your listeners will feel that reticence.

Cultivate depth. A relaxed, grounded voice has resonance and richness that communicates strength, confidence and authority. A voice that’s stuck in the throat sounds defensive and withdrawn. If it’s pushed into the face and head it sounds young and abrasive. You don’t need to speak at the very bottom of your range. It’s not about having a low pitch. It’s about speaking with your whole body, not just your mouth and throat.

Take your time. Cultivate a deliberate manner of speech and gesture. If you speak and move quickly you lack presence and gravitas. You seem rushed, nervous and disconnected. When you’re able to pause and deliver your message in a relaxed manner you appear confident and in charge. You make fewer mistakes and your listeners have time to absorb what you’re saying. The overall impression is much more powerful.

Be brief. Learn to state your point clearly and directly—and leave it at that. Using too many words to express your thoughts makes you seem scattered. Repeating your point too many times makes you seem insecure. Holding the floor for too long annoys your listeners and nullifies the point you’re trying to make. The ability to say much, with few words, is a priceless skill that commands deep respect.

Your ability to project credibility can make the difference between being ignored, overlooked and undervalued or being effective, respected and successful. Take time to consider which aspects of your persona communicate strength, substance and authority and which make you seem young, inexperienced and unsure of yourself. The improvements might require some time and effort, but their ultimate value will be significant and ongoing.

The Magic of Openness

August 1st, 2012

During the last 30-45 minutes of  Vocal Gym, our weekly group voice class, students take turns reading in front of the group, attempting to apply some skill that’s important to their personal development. I coach them for 3-5 minutes, then someone else takes a turn.

Last night, one of the students read Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, and his goal was to cultivate a sense of relaxation and ease in his delivery. That was a useful step, but the overall result seemed quiet and somewhat disengaged. In my follow-up, I suggested he breathe into his lower back and imagine his entire back vibrating with sound as he spoke.

The effect was immediate. As he read the text a second time, he sounded stronger and more expressive. But more importantly, there was a palpable sense of presence and connection in his delivery. There was something powerful and electric in the room. Several listeners actually exclaimed aloud at the difference. They didn’t just hear it; they could feel it.

Once again, this experience demonstrated what profound changes can take place just by cultivating an open state of being at a physical level. No one said, “Be more engaging,” or “Speak with more impact.” —And how would one set about doing that? All we did was establish the right physical conditions, and those qualities emerged, naturally and authentically.

I get excited about this because it’s so simple and straightforward, but ultimately so powerful. We could talk for days about what it means to be an engaging speaker—and people do, but the results are just concepts and ideas. Your body, on the other hand, is so accessible and your physical sensations very tangible. Anyone can learn to relax, breathe and cultivate resonance. That those skills so readily unlock your potential for powerful interpersonal connection seems almost miraculous, but it’s very real.

BEYOND WORDS AND SOUNDS: Feeling Versus Thinking

June 21st, 2012

When you focus attention on your speaking skills, two tendencies usually emerge.

  • You focus almost exclusively on words.
  • You start listening to yourself.

What’s wrong with that? After all, isn’t speaking about forming thoughts into words, using sounds? Of course you’re going to listen and focus on words.

It matters because communication is more than just words and sounds. You speak to create a shared experience. In that moment, you want others to see what you see, understand what you think, feel what you feel.

Language is primarily a left brain activity. Words tend to emphasize the narrow cognitive aspects of communication. Just saying the words disconnects you—and your listeners—from the full experience of what you’re communicating. You’re human. So much more than thoughts and words. What about the deeper, richer, personal aspects of your existence?

You must learn to speak with your whole being.

I think it starts with an ability to observe and enjoy the physical sensations of speech.

  • the sensation of being in your body
  • the sensation of breath flowing in an out
  • the sensation of sound vibrations on your skin and in your bones
  • the shape, texture and quality of consonants and vowels
  • and so on

Becoming conscious of these physical sensations, honouring the sensual aspects of speech, reopens you to the possibility of communication as an experience. In a very natural and authentic way, getting connected to your body brings you closer to your own unique personality. You start to express more of yourself.

Start paying attention to the sensations of sound. Find ways to get out of your head, and notice what’s happening in your body when you speak. Do you feel open or closed? Generous or reserved? Totally engaged or shut down?

When you speak with your whole being, speech becomes more than just saying words. It becomes human and personal, a relationship, with all the power and richness that entails.

What’s the Point of a Pause?

May 14th, 2012

I hear a lot these days about the importance of pausing when you speak. It’s not a new concept, but it’s become a popular point of focus for speech coaches. “Pause for one second after every sentence. Pause for two seconds before moving on to a new point.” And so on…

That’s fine advice, but it presents a problem if you’re not used to pausing. What do you do while you pause? It has to be more than just the absence of words. You can’t practice “not doing” something.

So what do you do when you pause? You breathe. If speech is powered by breath, if breath is the “inspiration” for speech, there has to be time for breath to enter your body. Breathing creates the pause.

That in-breath provides not just the power for your voice, but it connects you to your inner experience, the impulse that moves you to speak in the first place. My colleague, Louis Colaianni, expressed it so elegantly when he said, “The incoming breath reveals how you feel. The outgoing breath expresses how you feel.”

So the pause isn’t just dead air-time. When it’s connected to your breath it’s alive with potential and expectation. You needn’t worry about sounding slow or being boring when you pause. It creates anticipation.

Pausing to breathe in enhances the clarity of your speech. Your listeners have time to actually absorb what you say. According to John Miers, “the actual process of communication takes place in the silence.”

From where I stand, the biggest benefit of the breath-pause is that it keeps you in command of your performance. Many speakers are unconsciously rushing themselves. They start to feel like someone running down a steep hill. Before long they’re out of control. Then panic sets in. Pausing frequently to breathe brings a very deliberate feeling to your speech. You have plenty of time to think, to speak clearly and connect with your listeners. You might actually enjoy the experience.

So much advice about public speaking and presentation is an attempt to produce the right result without understanding what’s going on under the surface to make that result possible. That tendency to focus on results has us putting the cart before the horse. Pausing isn’t just another point on your presentation checklist. It’s an organic part of a larger process that cultivates a deep connection to your self, your message and your listeners.