Head, shoulders, knees & toes; knees & toes.
Watch children speak and you’ll notice that they instinctively use every inch of their bodies to convey their message to the audience.
And yet by the time we get to adulthood, that natural expressiveness (that helps us do the whole awesome public speaking thing) has been driven out of us – usually by some meddling middle manager forcing us to do PowerPoint presentations.
Time to reconnect with our inner child. So, here is the definitive head to toe guide to awesome public speaking to keep in mind the next time you’re standing in front of an audience and you want to make a great impression.
(this article’s free download is…The Ultimate Speech Preparation Checklist. Click to download)
Quite an obvious one but still important to remember. Stay alert. Don’t just go through the motions of your presentation without engaging your brain. A great speech is a fluid thing. The audience, the environment, the occasion. All things have to be kept at the top of your mind whilst you speak so you can adjust your delivery to make a strong impression.
Be sure to make a real connection with your audience by engaging them with meaningful eye contact. This is more than just a quick glance over the top of their heads. Be sure to connect with people’s eyes as you speak so you know they are paying attention.
Control your breathing. It will settle your nerves.
Just before you go on stage, spend some time inhaling deeply through your nose then exhaling out again through your mouth. It’s a simple technique that performers in all fields use to control stress.
Researchers at Stanford University discovered that neurons monitoring your breathing patterns send signals to your brain about the state of your body. Fast gasping or hyperventilating signals that there’s a problem. Conversely, if you deliberately slow down your breathing, it tells your brain that everything is fine, and this, in turn, triggers your brain to calm you down, reduce adrenaline and dampen the stress. It’s basically a mini yoga session for public speakers.
My son is a big yapper (I mean he literally never shuts up). Sometimes he has so much to say he almost trips over his own words without properly pronouncing them.
Fortunately, he’s only 10 so there’s time. For your speech, remember to use your lips and mouth purposefully so that your words come out clearly.
Your Throat/Voice Box (Larynx)
Your voice is an instrument just like a guitar or a trumpet. The better it is looked after, the better it plays. The more you practise using it, the richer the sound.
You don’t need a booming baritone like James Earl Jones or a rasping soulful voice like Mary J. But you do need to look after your instrument so that it carries convincingly when you present.
Practise out loud somewhere with good acoustics (like a tiled bathroom) and don’t forget to lubricate your larynx just before you present. Water is fine or honeyed tea if you can get it.
Your heart will beat hard as you lead up to your speech. Presenting in front of an audience automatically triggers our evolutionary fight or flight instincts, which forces adrenaline through our system and that makes our hearts beat faster.
Know that it is coming. So you won’t be surprised when it happens. Do your steady breathing, and get it under control.
Preparation is the key to pretty much everything when it comes to public speaking. Download the Free Speech Preparation Checklist here
Your voice box may be the place the sound comes from, but it is actually your diaphragm that gives the real power.
Where is your diaphragm? Just under your bra strap or right at the level of your solar plexus.
How do I know if I’m breathing through my diaphragm? If your shoulders go up and down when you breathe, that’s shallow breathing, circulating around your chest area. For deep diaphragm breathing, you want to force the air down into your belly so that your stomach pushes out and in as you inhale and exhale.
This takes time before it feels natural. So, practise, practise, practise.
‘What do I do with my hand?’ is still one of the most common questions I get asked about public speaking. So, I wrote an entire article about it.
The short answer? Don’t over worry about it. There is no one way to use body language or hand gestures. As long as you are being natural, you’ll be fine.
Technically, there is no such thing as butterflies in the stomach. But try telling your stomach that.
When you give a speech, nerves can manifest themselves in many different ways – knees knocking, cold sweat, churning stomach. It’s all part of the same physiological response to a challenging situation.
Give thought to your stomach and avoid eating anything funky just before you stand up to speak.
If there is one rule about what to do with your hands, it’s this. Keep them away from your groin area. It’s just not a good look for anyone at any time!
Movement is great when giving a presentation. It literally helps keep your audience’s eyes on you. So, avoid being stationary in one spot or standing static behind a lectern. Get your legs working and work the stage.
Watch Amy Cuddy’s popular Ted Talk on the power of positive body language. She describes the impact on your confidence of the Wonder Woman power pose – where you stand with your hands on your hips, chin up, and feet firmly planted. Cuddy suggests that simply adopting a powerful posture externally, will make you feel it internally. Fake it til you feel it, basically.
OK, being honest this is quite similar to the ‘legs’ paragraph cos I couldn’t really think of anything uniquely toe-related. So, here it is.
Stay nimble and stay on your toes so you’re not caught flat-footed. This will keep you energetic throughout your speech.
So, there you go. The head to toe guide to awesome public speaking. Don’t give any speech without it.
Don’t forget to download the Free Cheat Sheet: The Ultimate Speech Preparation Checklist