speech mastery, from head to toe

The ultimate guide to a top class talk, presentation or keynote speech

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1. Introduction

The ability to be a compelling presence through the spoken word is perhaps more critical than it has ever been.

Even before the world of business was turned on its head by the coronavirus pandemic of 2020, the skills of speaking persuasively — with your team, with your customers or with your organisation’s key stakeholders — had become arguably more important than at any time in history.

Now that there have been sweeping changes to the way business is conducted, things have become critical.

Business, at its core, is about the ability to create change.

To help you create that change, you need to inspire and motivate and persuade others, from team members and investors to customers and prospects.

In 2020, it’s fair to say that things have not been easy for the vast majority of businesses.

But that only makes it more important to focus on first principles.

The coronavirus pandemic has fast-tracked the move to technological solutions to almost all business challenges, across all businesses, all industries and sectors, and at every level of business — from recruitment to management to C-Suite executives who are aiming either to ride out the wave, or capitalise on it.

And no first principles of business would be complete without a strong focus on how communication happens.

In the world of business, even that word — “communication” — is often the preserve of the Marketing or Comms department, where the focus might be on messaging or advertising or media partnerships.

And that’s important.

But there’s another area of communication that executives and managers and leaders overlook at their peril.

Spoken communication.

Whether it’s a presentation to key stakeholders, or a vital update at a board meeting, or an essential staff meeting where there’s an opportunity to inspire everyone to join forces and push through the challenges together, verbal communication has extraordinary power.

This in-depth guide outlines the key areas that need your attention if you’re to master both the art and the science of exceptional vocal delivery.

If you take the time to study this guide, and then put those studies into practice in your day to day operations, then your chance of success in any goal increases.

Think of it like this.

Every time you get to speak with anyone who can help you succeed in any of your goals, remember this set of practices and principles and you will already be several steps down the road to success.

And before we jump in, remember two of the most beautiful things:

  1. How you define success is entirely up to you, but however you define it, these principles will help you achieve it.
  2. It doesn’t matter which stage of your development you’re at, whether you’ve already delivered many presentations and speeches, or you’re preparing to take your first tentative steps down that road, the principles and techniques contained in this guide, put into practice over time, will have powerful tangible effects on your career, your business, and your life.

Without further ado, let’s get you started on the road to delivering exceptional vocal communications, every single time.

[Note: This guide all about the power of spoken delivery. We have other guides available about posture and preparation. Check those out in our Guides & Resources section.]

(Don't) Take My Breath Away...

2. Breath and Great Communication

Breath, Part 1: Five Reasons Your Breath Is The No. 1 Tool For Great Communication

First off, a question.

Please do pause right here and take a second to consider it.

When was the last time you thought about your breathing?

This morning, maybe?

Yesterday?

Last week?

How about “Not at all”?

If you’re part of the growing body of people who engage in a meditation or yoga practice, there’s a good chance you’ve paid some attention to your breath during a recent session.

On the other hand, if you’re like most people, the answer is most likely “Not at all”.

Now, if you don’t typically focus on breath or breathing, please don’t beat yourself up.

That’s pretty normal. After all, breathing is something the body does by itself. It’s entirely involuntary, so whether or not we think about it, it happens anyway.

And even if you’re a regular meditator or yogi, there’s probably a good chance your attention on your breath lasted as long as your practice, and was not top of mind in your last team meeting or pitch or presentation.

Whatever your relationship with breath, there is no doubt that it’s a powerful tool for great communication.

Even, I would say, the most powerful tool.

Spending the time to create good breathing habits and awareness will pay off in huge dividends in your meetings, speeches, and presentations.

Before we start, why is a deep awareness of breath vital for great communication?

 

When it comes to your effectiveness as a speaker and communicator, good, deep diaphragmatic breathing is your best friend.

Voice and vocal performance coaches focus massively on breath.

They will always be trying to find new ways of telling you how important it is, and what the benefits are of good, deep, diaphragmatic breathing.

We tell you this with good reason.

It works.

So what is good diaphragmatic breathing anyway?

 

Let’s go into the body, for a second.

Whatever you’re doing right now, send your attention out of your mind and down to your body.

Specifically, the bottom of your lungs and into your belly, which is where you’ll find your diaphragm.

As defined by Healthline, the diaphragm is the primary muscle used in respiration, which is the process of breathing. This dome-shaped muscle is located just below the lungs and heart. It contracts continually as you breathe in and out.

[It] is a thin skeletal muscle that sits at the base of the chest and separates the abdomen from the chest. It contracts and flattens when you inhale. This creates a vacuum effect that pulls air into the lungs. When you exhale, the diaphragm relaxes and the air is pushed out of lungs.

In other words, when you breathe from your belly, your lungs are expanding to their full capacity and the diaphragm, that dome shaped muscle at the bottom of your rib cage, moves down to allow the lungs to expand, and your belly moves out as a result.

Diaphragmatic breathing is a fancy term for breathing deeply from your belly, not high in your upper chest where your lungs are the smallest.

Children breathe deeply and correctly from the womb, they don’t need to be taught. It’s completely instinctual.

So if we know how to do it, then why don’t we do it?!

Typically, life happens!

We start dealing with fears and insecurities and this often manifests itself as tension in the body, resulting in shallower breathing.

As a result, we have to re-learn how to breathe naturally.

It is quite simple, but is it easy?

Actually, to do it effectively it takes practice.

Check out this video.

So why bother learning to breathe deeply and more naturally? What are the benefits of breathing correctly when it comes to speaking and presenting?

Actually, there are quite a few. Simple dedication to practising breathing correctly can ensure that you have great communication skills.

Here’s five tips to help you build a powerful relationship with breath and help you on the path to exceptional speaking, performance and leadership.

Breathing for Great Communication, 1: It’s Premium Fuel

 

Your voice needs fuel to perform at its best and breath is that fuel.

It supports the sound and helps to protect your voice from harm.

When you breathe deeply from the belly, you’re getting a bigger, higher quality of breath to fuel your vocal sound.

Breathing for Great Communication, 2: Think Clearly

 

Your brain needs fuel to run at its best too.

Good, deep breathing helps to get oxygen to the brain and supports clear thinking, so when you feel like you’re freezing or panicking because you can’t remember what comes next in your speech or presentation, take a moment to pause and breathe.

It gives you a moment to clear your head and remember the next thought.

Breathing for Great Communication, 3: Obey The Speed Limit

 

When we take time to pause and breathe, we automatically slow down our delivery.

Everyone, without exception, can afford to slow down. A good delivery pace gives both you and the audience time to breathe and process information.

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander!

Breathing for Great Communication, 4: Keep It Grounded

 

Breathing down in your belly, or ‘chi’ centre – as it’s referred to in martial arts – helps to centre your energy and gives you a sense of being grounded and balanced. When your energy is more grounded and balanced, you are able to be more present in the moment. Being more present in the moment means being more connected to our audience.

Breathing for Great Communication, 5: Fight Or Flight

 

Getting nervous is largely due to irrational fears and that ancient ‘fight or flight’ part of our brain that kicks in to save us from a situation that our brain perceive as threatening, ie. getting up in front of a bunch of people and speaking. Conscious, deep breathing, tricks the brain into calming down. It sends the rest of your body the message that everything’s ok and there’s no need to panic.

Our bodies already know how to breathe properly; we’re just reawakening the muscle memory that becomes lost over many years of bad habits.

I could talk about the theories behind good breathing technique and the benefits from practicing it until the cows come home. Learning a few simple techniques and practicing them on a consistent basis is the only way to truly experience the treasure trove of benefits that good, centred breathing can bring to you as a speaker and communicator.

Small Changes Reap Huge Benefits

 

So, tomorrow when you’re going through your day just take a moment every now and then and check in with yourself;

Am I holding my breath?

Am I breathing?

And take a few deep breaths.

A wise man once told me:

Life is like breathing. If you try and hold it, you’ll lose it. But if you’re aware and let it come and go, you’ll always be connected to it.

When we are breathing we are more present in the moment. The more present we are, the more effective we are as communicators because we are able to connect more fully with our audience.

So start breathing. The results—such as great communication!—might surprise you!

Breath, Part 2: The Real King’s Speech Techniques: What You Can Learn About Breath and Speaking

 

The Real King's Speech Techniques for Breathing and Speaking

The movie The King’s Speech won so many awards and so many admirers when it arrived in cinemas. But what can you learn about speaking from the real King’s Speech techniques?

A few years back I watched a documentary, which looked at the true story behind one of my favourite movies, The King’s Speech.

Winner of a host of awards, the critically acclaimed The King’s Speech highlights the inspiring story of Prince Albert (later to become King George VI) struggle to overcome his crippling stammer.

Prince Albert suffered with a nervous stammer from childhood and prior to his succession to the throne, his wife Elizabeth, sought the help of Lionel Logue, an Australian Speech Therapist practicing in London.

Albert was at first rather reluctant, but he began seeing Logue and partaking in his then perceived, unorthodox training, and his speech, gradually, improved.

Logue and the Prince (and later King) maintained a strong bond and Logue was present in the room to provide support for the King’s important wartime address to the British people in September 1939.

I remember that it stuck me at the time (and this was very evident from the documentary I watched) how vital was the importance of correct breathing in helping “Bertie” to overcome his stammer.

When he had control of his stammer he was described as having gravitas, with a slow paced, clear and articulate style.

As a voice coach, the importance of breathing is a constant focus of my training in helping to establish composure and confidence.

Five Important Points About Breath from the Real King’s Speech Techniques:

 
  1. Awareness: Breath = Voice, so make sure that you are aware of your breathing.
  2. Support: Breath is your key support for the voice.
  3. Warm up: Always warm up first and make sure you are breathing deeply to support the sound. (Read this article on warming up your voice for every talk, speech or presentation.)
  4. Breathe correctly: Breathe properly and into the centre of your body, and not your chest. (Read here for more on breathing properly)
  5. Take a moment: Take the time to relax the body, and to concentrate on breathing.

Breath, Part 3: How to Use Breathing to Speak with Power and Confidence

 

We’ve been talking about the link between breathing and the ability to speak with power and confidence since the very first day we started Confident Speak. A recent article from Harvard Business Review backs up everything we’ve been saying.

Here at Confident Speak, we have been teaching breathing techniques as part of our executiveand business communications training programmes since when we first began.

It is fundamental to what we do, so we were delighted to read a great article on this topic in The Harvard Business Review.

Some really excellent points in here, including:

1. How the same thing can mean something completely different

 

Send a completely different message just by the way it’s said.

2. How performance is performance (whether it’s singing or speaking)

 

As a former opera singer, I know how much breathing affects how a voice sounds. Singers must use deep breathing in order to project a strong voice across a crowded auditorium to reach every single person in the audience. I never thought that this skill would help me once I left the field of opera — until I had to give my first speech. Then, I realized how much my operatic training made me a powerful public speaker.

3. How often you should breath in order to learn to speak with power

 

How often should you breathe? At the very least, at the end of every sentence! If you are prone to rushing through your speech or presentation, then practice breathing at every punctuation mark — it will force you to slow down.

4. Why it’s about optimising your voice, not changing it

 

It’s not about trying to sound like someone else; it’s about giving your voice the richness and fullness it deserves every single time you speak in public, so that the power of your voice matches the power of your words. If you do that, people will listen.

Breath, Part 4: Why Breathing Into Your Chest Is Not Good for Public Speaking Posture

 

Breath and Good Posture

There is so much advice about public speaking out there, and when I see some I disagree with I just have to speak out! In this instance, a recent article which advised that breathing into your chest will help you have good public speaking posture—advice that I fundamentally disagree with. I outline why below.

I was reading an article in a fashion magazine recently, and a fashion “expert” was discussing good posture. The main advice related to breathing into your chest, encouraging you to “breathe into your chest and this will encourage good posture”.

Anyone who has worked with our team at ConfidentSpeak on voice coaching or presentation training will know immediately that this is not what we would recommend!

Focusing your breathing into your chest is simply poor practice and it will cause problems elsewhere, especially when it comes to creating a solid public speaking posture.

Three Reasons Breathing Into Your Chest is Poor Practice for Public Speaking Posture

 
  • It creates upper body tension – which we don’t want, as this has a negative effect on our posture
  • It affects the quality and sound of your voice – in terms of volume, resonance, pitch and so much more – don’t get me started!
  • By breathing into the chest we hinder the natural breathing mechanism – remember the lungs, rib cage, diaphragm and abdominal region all play a part in correct breathing.

You can see that if by any chance you’re nervous or stressed before a presentation, interview or meeting, breathing into the chest certainly won’t help.

So What Can You Do to Improve Your Public Speaking Posture?

 

Firstly, don’t follow the “advice” in this magazine!

The best practice, tried and tested throughout our programmes, is to do this simple exercise taken from the Alexander Technique.

The Alexander Technique is a way of learning how you can get rid of harmful tension in your body. It is a technique for your body and posture to make your body work efficiently.

The Exercise

 
  • For a moment focus on your shoulder blades. (Not your shoulders. Your shoulder blades are positioned either side of your spine. You should be able to touch them with your hands).
  • Simply think about your two shoulder blades ever so slightly moving to meet your spine. The movement is very tiny. This will open the chest, gently draw the shoulders back without creating any tension, improving your posture instantly—without hindering your breathing.

Have a listen to this Body Learning podcast interview with Robert Rickover, a noted teacher of the Alexander Technique, to gain a better understanding about this method of learning to redirect your own mind and body to use it more effectively.

Easy does it

3. Paying attention to pace

How Fast Do You Speak?

 

Have you ever worried that you speak too fast?

Check out this guy, John Moschitta Jr. He is an American actor who is famous for his ability to speak fast and has appeared in countless American commercials as well as movies and Tv shows.

Moschitta has appeared in The Guinness Book of World Records as the World’s Fastest Talker and has the ability to articulate 586 words per minute!

His ability to do those two things at the same time — to speak at a very fast pace, but still annunciate each word — is a gift.

Something very difficult to do but not something you need in to be able to do in your every day life.

We come across a lot of people who feel they speak too fast and unless you have John’s gift, this can risk the clarity of your words. You also risk the audience “tuning out” as they simply cannot keep up with you.

  • Pace is the speed at which we speak. It can be expressed in Words Per Minute
  • Conversational speech can take place as quickly as 180 – 200 wpm
  • 200 wpm is too fast for presenting information
  • You should aim to speak at 120 – 150 wpm
  • To avoid monotony is it important to vary your pace (this is known as rate)

Focus on the clarity of your words to stop speaking too fast. Allow yourself, to take the time you need to breathe you will automatically slowdown. So it is vital to slow down and allow yourself to pause and breathe!

You also need to be mindful that you need to vary pace – a good rule to consider is to slow down for the important information and speed up for background information – classic tension/release at work.

Why Pace of Delivery Is So Important

Every day when I’m working with clients on the art of great presence and communication, or studying the world’s greatest communicators and speakers on just what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.

Pace in public speaking is one thing that’s so important to great presentation and communication.

I have to admit when I initially talk about the appropriate pace of delivery, people tend to get confused.

So here’s a fun way I found to give you an idea of your pace in public speaking:

Before we start let’s be clear:

  • Pace is the speed at which we speak. It can be expressed in Words per Minute (WPM)
  • Conversational speech can take place as quickly as 180-200 WPM
  • 200 WPM is way too fast for presenting information
  • So you should aim to speak at no more than 120-150 WPM

Presentation Tips: Pace of Delivery and the Word Per Minute Exercise

 

Set the timer on your phone and read the following 148 word passage at your natural rate and time yourself!

A good speech is one that is memorable. A good speech is usually not too long. One of the greatest virtues a speaker can possess is brevity. This begs the question: how does one go about constructing and delivering an address to an audience?

So, how did you do?

Remember, this is just a bit of fun.

Your pace will always vary, and will be dictated by your level of engagement and commitment and feeling towards your message.

This 148-word passage should take between 60 and 75 seconds to speak at a presentation pace of 120-150 WPM.

So if your delivery here was outside that recommended band, then it would be a good idea to practise this a couple more times and make the necessary changes. It could be a game-changer in the way you’re speaking to your audience—whether that’s the rest of your team at work, a boardroom of managers or directors, a few potential clients for a pitch presentation or even a packed auditorium.

Good luck!

Here’s are some useful tips on pace

 

There are some basic principles that should be observed.

  1. Never speak on a subject about which you know nothing or are in anyway unsure.
  2. Do not be tempted to give an impromptu speech until you are very experienced.
  3. Try not to make too many points.
  4. Remember rehearsal is also extremely important.

Many top speakers spend hours practicing their delivery and this is time well spent. Paying particular attention to the voice is good advice because if you are not used to speaking in public, then you will need to establish how to project and produce your voice effectively.

Here’s another example of John at his, err… “Prime”, excuse the pun 🙂

For more useful tips and ideas check out our other guides and resources here or contact us to see how we can help you to transform your voice and your communications.

The sound of silence

4. Pause, Silence, Stillness

Could The Simple Act Of ‘Stillness’ Be The Key To Achieving Executive Presence?

 

Throughout the years, we have supported many individuals across the corporate and private sector from all over Europe. We’ve trained C-Suite Personnel, Business Executives, Sales Professionals, Scientist, Engineers, Legal and Medical Professionals, and one topic that comes up over and over again is ‘Executive Presence’ and how to achieve it.

Let me share with you an insight I had some time ago, which might help you to understand and build on your own presence.

I try to go for run most days and one of the routes I have enjoyed most over the years, is the lovely Phoenix Park where I am in Dublin, Ireland.

One day, along my route, I came face to face with a large herd of deer. They were all standing very still, regarding my presence with quiet curiosity.

What struck me most at the time, was their immense stillness. The deer possessed such calmness and a phenomenal sense of ease and yet, they were also completely alert, ready to flee at any sign of danger.

I stood looking at them for what seemed like an age, transfixed and drawn by something – their amazing “presence”.

An audience is always connected to a speaker who communicates in a relaxed and calm way, but just like a wild deer, a speaker always needs be alert to the audience. So if building your executive presence is something on your mind, try this simple technique – stop moving, stay grounded and still!

The Art of Stillness Builds Executive Presence

 

Moving around may help you to calm nerves or to feel at ease but it can be very distracting for your audience. Instead, try to find an ease within yourself to simply stand still and be present.

Just by following this technique, not only will you build your presence in front of your audience, you will also connect in a stronger and more authentic way.

Stillness is a simple, yet powerful technique to build presence”

Remember this; as a speaker, you have the ability to instil any emotion in your audience.

If you are agitated or stressed then your audience will also be agitated and stressed. If you are at ease and physically relaxed and grounded, then your listeners will also be at ease and guess what…they will also be more open to listening, and building that all important connection with you. You will have achieved ‘presence’!

Sometimes we just need to demystify things and go back to basics when it comes to communication! So next time you are rehearsing your presentation, try this technique to achieve Executive Presence.

The Sound Of Silence, As Powerful As The Words Themselves?

That moment of silence between your words can be just as powerful as the thoughts and words themselves.

A pause can be so powerful, yet we rarely think of it as a fantastic tool when looking to achieve vocal presence.

You can retain attention by creating silences at key moments when you are speaking.

Of course the art of creative silence takes practice to achieve a greater impact and greater clarity.

Two techniques to Try

 

1. Pause before an important word

This gets your listeners attention and prepares them for what is coming next.

They are waiting curiously for what you have to say.

2. Pause after an important word

This gives the idea time to sink it, it allows them time to think about you and about the message.

If you pause before and after key words or thoughts you will give your listener the chance to process what you have just said, you give them a chance to figure out the meaning. Or look at it like this, if you don’t pause you will most certainly risk the listener not being able to keep up with you and so tuning out of what you’re talking about – you also risk having a frustrated listener if they can’t keep up – which you don’t want.

Pausing ensures you slow down your delivery and this is key for instilling confidence and creating presence.

So, trust the silence and get comfortable with the silence – it can be a very powerful and effective vocal tool.

Three Reasons Silence Is A Powerful Weapon

 

One of the least used, but most effective, strategies when it comes to negotiations of any kind … is silence. 

Silence gives you a number of advantages.

1. Learn From The Experts

 

What do the best negotiators generally have in common? They will always make their opponents wait for an answer.

When we are nervous or eager we have a tendency to jump in right after the other person has spoken. And the result? It looks like we’re nervous, insecure, or even worse, that we haven’t been listening.

2. A Well-Placed Silence Can Build Relationships

 

If you’re silent and wait, it conveys the impression that you are listening and thinking about what the other person has said. 

And, of course, it also sends a signal that you are weighing your answer carefully.

3. Silence Buys You Time

 

Silence buys you the time to prepare a response. The appearance of thinking, also buys you a few seconds to think.

Being chatty in negotiating is not very powerful, and it usually doesn’t achieve the desired result but the art of creative silence takes practice. Sometimes it takes concentration to simply do nothing.

Try practicing getting used to silence when you’re not under pressure.

These three reasons are why silence is one of the best negotiating tactics you can learn.

How To Use Pause In Public Speaking and Presenting (With Exercises)

Here I discuss the power of pause in public speaking, and outline why a genuine, honest pause is so powerful for your presentations.

So, I could share with you the different techniques and theories in relation to “pause” in public speaking to give your speaking and presenting a sense of performance.

There are many clever pause devices, and some, when used well, are hugely effective.

But I won’t share those just yet.

Very often these “pause” devices complicate and confuse. Today, I want to bring the “power of pause” right back to its core, right back to basics. I want to share with you the value of a genuine, honest pause and its importance for both you and your audience.

What is an Effective Pause in Public Speaking?

 

First, let’s define what a true, effective speaking pause really is.

Are all pauses in public speaking effective?

The answer is no!

When a presenter is truly connected to their message, truly present with what they are saying, they will pause naturally. A pause always needs to serve the purpose of authentic communication.

Body talk (Part 1)

5. Straighten up (and uncross everything!)

Straighten up.

Most of us will have been told this at some point in our lives, yet it’s something many of us fail to do when we present.

A straight back and a tall posture helps you to project your voice and confidence.

Hunching your shoulders, in contrast, can make you look withdrawn and lacking in confidence.

When we feel low, we often hunch our shoulders. When we feel vulnerable, we retreat into ourselves. Whenever we feel small, we unconsciously make ourselves small.

On the other hand, when we feel jubilant, we leap in the air with outstretched arms. When we feel tall, we make ourselves tall.

We need to find a way to take this feeling into our presentations.

So consciously stand up tall with a straight back. Without doing anything else, you’ll immediately look more confident, positive and approachable.

Here’s an interesting Stanford Graduate School of Business talk on how to Make Body Language Your Super Power

Why do we sometimes cross our legs when standing up to give a presentation?

Perhaps we feel it’s a more comfortable way of standing.

Maybe it’s just that we’re nervous.

Maybe we’re completely unaware of the fact we’re doing it.

I suspect in a lot of cases it’s a combination of all three.

The problem with the cross-legged stance is that it’s giving a clear signal to the audience that we’re feeling uncomfortable.

Body language and good posture are vital to a good presentation.

Take a close look at the picture above.

Although she’s smiling, her arms are as close to her body as possible and her legs are crossed.

Do you think she looks confident and open?

The audience wants to feel that it’s in capable hands.

They will only feel that if you uncross your legs and stand up straight, with great posture and body language.

When you hold yourself confidently, the audience will feel that confidence – and naturally believe in you.

How to use your head

6. The Head-Neck Relationship

If you’re stooped over a desk or a computer and you’re speaking regularly throughout the day, it’s almost inevitable that you will strain your voice.

To address this, it’s essential to make sure your head/neck relationship is correct.

The easiest way to describe the head/neck relationship is this.

First, bring your attention to the back of your neck.

Next, picture it lengthening up to the ceiling above you, as if a string was pulling you gently upwards from the top of your head.

Now, bring your attention to your crown, that part of your head located at the back of your skull, top of your head, the soft part where your hair joins. Your crown is the tallest part of your body.

Finally, think of your crown growing up to the ceiling. This will lengthen your spine and neck and really help with developing great posture.

So come on, straighten up, stand tall, as I said posture affects your voice.

Body talk (Part 2)

7. Learning to Trust Your Body Language

We’ve all felt that surge of panic or anxiety.

The one that comes when standing up in front of a group of people, just before you speak.

There are basic biological drivers for this.

Your body is smart. It reacts to stress, panic, or fear. It tells you that something is outside your normal, daily realm of existence.

Just because there’s a scientific explanation for what’s happening doesn’t mean we should allow it to hold us back.

So how do we turn this around so that what our audience sees is a composed presenter, one who just oozes credibility and presence.

The first thing to say is this.

Speaking, like any activity, benefits greatly from training and practice. From the monthly all-hands team meeting, to a presentation over Zoom, or maybe even a keynote address at an event, opportunities to speak are everywhere in business and work-life now.

If you want to take advantage of those opportunities when they come up, if you want to really knock it out of the park so you get the result you want, you need to put in a little time and set some strong intentions.

We have to start with this.

Our physical presence is one major piece of the communication and presentation skills puzzle.

Consciously paying attention to our bodies, especially when we combine this with vocal presence techniques we bring to you elsewhere on this site, helps to establish an emotional connection with the audience.

What we say is just one part of the equation.

How we say it is vital, and your body plays a big part in that.

Watch Amy Cuddy talking about the impact our body language has on our chances for success.

The inside view

8. The language of your gut

At some point in our lives all of us have been guided by our “gut instinct”, and with good reason.

Our bodies are intricately and acutely sensitive to how we react to the outside world.

The brain and gut are connected by an extensive network of neurons and a busy highway of chemicals and hormones that constantly send two-way feedback coursing around your body.

Most of the time we make decisions from our brain—our intellect—and often we forget about what the other brain, our gut, is telling us.

Have you ever felt butterflies in your stomach, the sort of thing you might feel when you’re in the first stages of love or attraction?

We feel the same butterflies when we’re nervous of a message we want to deliver or a talk we’re about to give.

So the next time you’re stuck when you’re preparing a presentation, ask yourself this:

“What do I really want to talk about? What is my gut saying?”

Leave that lectern

9. Dealing with the podium

It’s one of the great dilemmas of public speaking of any kind.

To stand, or not to stand (at the podium), that is the question…

 

I once saw a conference talk from Ed Miliband, who was for a time the leader of the Labour Party in the UK.

What interested me was not the political message he was giving, but instead the fact that he stood away from the podium as he spoke.

Why did he do that? A couple of reasons…

First, standing alone, facing your audience front on, in full profile sends a message of confidence and the audience will connect much more with you and your message.

Full profile often takes some conscious intention.

Allowing the audience to see you entirely is a very vulnerable place to be. There is nowhere to hide.

But if we focus too much on the slides on the screen behind us, for example, we’re certain to be in “side profile”, and that’s to the great cost of our connection with our audience

Secondly, let’s face it. Many people use a podium as a crutch to hold onto, or a partial screen to hide behind.

I’ve seen one too many white knuckle grips on the edge of the podium in my time.

A podium can confine you and it certainly has the potential to take the focus away from you, which is—just in case you’re still in any doubt—not what you want.

Standing away from the podium can reduce the formality and put an audience at ease.

It says, “I’m not going to hide behind formality.”

It says, “I’m one of you, and I’m going to talk to you.”

I am of the school of thought that says “step away from stuff”!

Podiums, chairs, tables, laptops—all of it has the danger of becoming clutter that takes away from you and your message!

Trust yourself to “own the space” and “own the moment”.

A podium is to hold your notes, not you.