When you were a kid, you knew how to stand and walk. Through the years, you were told to sit up straight, or you learned to shrink into your shirt to avoid being picked on. These habits change your posture. Boys and girls are born with perfect posture. By age six, both associate strong postures with males and weak postures with females. Every child tends to stand with feet shoulder-width apart and evenly distributed weight. This stance inspires the most trust because when you stand this way, you can’t be pushed over easily. Standing still in this posture captivates audiences. Shifting your weight to one leg makes you look weak. Film yourself speaking to evaluate whether you’re shifting. Avoid distracting actions.
A Mental and Physical Lift
Before you speak, give yourself a mental and physical lift. Stand with your feet apart. Extend your arms slowly above your head, reaching for the ceiling. Lift up on your toes, and look up at your hands, stretching upward. Raise your whole body, then lower your hands, heels and head. You will feel uplifted, and your body will show it. This is the “ready position” for speaking. When you’re seated, achieve this feeling by lifting up your sternum.
Your content matters most. Your movements should reinforce your main ideas. Comedians roam around the stage because it seems random and it builds excitement; that’s appropriate for comedy. They stand still when delivering a punchline to increase its impact. So should you. Your use of your arms and hands seem problematic only when you’re nervous. Be aware that different gestures, like “thumbs up,” can mean different things to people from different cultures, though many gestures are widely used. To appear confident, gesture with your hands down. To appear to be asking a question or to seem open, face your hands up. Two hands together amplify your message. When speaking to a large crowd, make your gestures bigger so people everywhere in the room can understand you.
“If you free yourself and stay true to who you were born to be, then you will inspire others to follow. This takes courage, but I believe it is the only way for you to feel fully alive.”
Use gestures to help convey the meaning of numbers, whether they’re big or small, good news or bad. Consider the difference in how you feel if you watch someone with hands apart suggest an investment and then tell you the return on the investment while bringing his or her hands together. It seems clear that the investment is not worthwhile. If a person talks about a sum of money with both hands close together, then opens his or her hands wide while talking about the return, it seems like a great deal. As you become more comfortable speaking, your arm movements and gestures will flow more naturally. They’ll help you paint pictures with your words.
“When I meet new clients, I use the story structure to guide our conversation. I go in with a blank notebook and no agenda. I [ask] questions that build the story.”
Your natural voice is warmer and more convincing than your tense voice. When you achieve proper body alignment and relaxation, your voice will sound relaxed. Perhaps receiving harsh criticism led you to speak with a small voice. Often, good ideas meet resistance. Respond with empathy as you continue to promote your ideas.
The “5552” Technique
Release tension throughout your body by tensing, then relaxing your muscles, especially in your face, neck and shoulders. Tension causes you to stop breathing. Try the 5552 technique: Push the air out from your lungs then hold it for two seconds. Breathe in for five seconds, then hold it for five seconds, then exhale for five seconds, then hold it again for two. Repeat. This will calm you down.
“You don’t need to meet people to give them information. You can email them your policies, ideas or pitch. If you speak to them face to face…use your voice and body to help represent your message.”
People have an emotional mind and a logical mind. The emotional mind sets the agenda even when you think it doesn’t. When fear triggers panic, the body releases more cortisol, a stress hormone. This interferes with memory. You want your mind-set in a peak state, not a “poor state.” If you leave it untended, anxiety triggers your brain into replaying your biggest failures. Trying to prevent pain, it throttles immediate action. To forestall anxiety, practice recalling moments in your life when you acted in peak state. Since little “triggers” move people from a peak to a poor state in a flash, focus on positive thoughts, affirmations and the values that guide you to be your best self. If you’re an extrovert, chat with members of the audience before your talk to ease your nervousness. You may want a quiet moment to yourself if you’re an introvert. If your self-talk becomes negative, respond with positive affirmations. Tell yourself that you’re not nervous – you’re excited. Do your 5552 breathing.
Change Your Delivery
The “5 Ps” – “Pitch, Pace, Pause, Projection and Passion” – imbue your words with emotion. A high pitch tends to sound uplifting, excited or joyful, while a lower pitch emphasizes seriousness, wisdom and authority. A variety of pitches engages your listeners. Put arrows pointing up or down on your printed presentation to remind you when to vary your pitch. A fast pace creates a sense of urgency or excitement, and a slow pace indicates seriousness. Use pitch and pace together to convey emotion. Pause for emphasis. Projection means intensity, not loudness. Boost your voice from your diaphragm.
“Emotions give meaning to facts, allowing us to understand how to respond to them.”
Passion comes from authenticity. You can’t fake it. Drop the armor, because you’re not fooling anyone anyway. Being passionate is the only way to connect with other people. When practicing your presentation, warm up by talking about a hobby or an event that inspires your passion. Then switch over to your presentation with the same devotion.
Sometimes your content doesn’t land with your audience. Adapt your style to match what they need. Four stock speaking styles can help you adjust. A “motivator” style energizes the room: Work in rapid, short bursts of words, setting a fast pace. The “commander” style works for serious material. Slow your pace, lower your pitch and use pauses to emphasize your main points. To use the “entertainer” style, speak with a higher pitch and faster pace and exaggerate your expressions. This approach is perfect to “lighten the mood.” The “facilitator” mode is calm, collaborative and emphasizes listening. Use a softer voice, and leave room for others to participate.
“Professional communication isn’t about leaving your personality at the door. It’s about using your voice to bring ideas to life and connecting with people.”
You may be in motivator mode when someone raises an objection or a problem. Switch to facilitator mode, listen and respond with kindness. Listening with empathy is the first step to collaborating. Ask questions to clarify the objection. Ask what a satisfying solution looks like to the objector. Propose your solution. If the person rejects it, assemble more proposals that your team can investigate collaboratively. Switch back to motivator mode once you’ve dealt with objections.
Don’t write and memorize a script. Write trigger words to help you remember your main points. With practice, you’ll organize information into a story structure automatically. Don’t put your speech on slides. That forces people to read, and they won’t hear you. When you want your audience to look at a slide, pause and look at the slide yourself. Their attention will follow. When using charts or putting other information on slides, go for clarity. Hand out supplemental information at the end of your speech.
Speaking and leadership go hand in hand. Visual impact is a significant factor. Most people who watched the first televised US presidential debate thought John F. Kennedy beat Richard Nixon because of his visual impact. An analysis of the communication styles of contenders for various elections found that in the 2008 US presidential election, Barack Obama had the most effective speaking style. He stood centered. His voice and gestures matched his message. He moved through various styles to connect with his audiences.
“Oprah Winfrey became [a] great communicator…when she dropped all the advice she’d been given about hiding herself and emulating others and instead set free passion and spoke with her own voice.”
In the 2015 election in the United Kingdom, Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, acted out his message of frustration and annoyance through his movements, gestures and facial expressions. This mirrored his audience’s frustrations, and support for his party soared. Conservative David Cameron’s “commanding” style also brought him support. He looked the part of an assured leader; his words and movements were congruent. In the 2016 American election, Donald Trump seemed like a long shot, but his body language supported his words. His constant theme was dominance. Bernie Sanders had a habit of matching Hillary Clinton’s gestures, but higher, often above his shoulders. Clinton’s style was controlled; she worried that opponents would edit her words into sound bites and use them against her in the media. Voters found her style cold.
Stories cut through your listeners’ logic to engage their imagination. Using narrative makes your presentation memorable. Focus on what people need to hear and how they’ll hear it best. The hero’s journey is a classic structure for telling stories. “You are not the hero.” You guide the hero – your audience. Your quarterly report, for example, helps your company executives on their hero’s journey of making great decisions.
“Give context, purpose and meaning to your data, so that people understand why they should care. What impact do your…ideas have on them?”
Polish the beginning of your sales pitch, because people make up their minds early. Then they will select data from the rest of your presentation to support their snap decision. Find your audience members’ pain and pleasure points. Tell a story about the pain your audience members share. Sell them the future and how your solution gets them there. Illustrate the journey from pain to pleasure. Steve Jobs, for example, was a master at sharing this journey with customers. He lamented buying a whole album if he wanted only one song. Then he introduced the iPod and told his audience members they could access 1,000 songs in their pocket.
Visualize Your Success
Use this 10-part process to visualize your success:
- Take deep breaths.
- Recall times when you experienced a peak state.
- Recall your three core values.
- Think about the event in the future that is causing anxiety.
- Imagine it in detail.
- Imagine the entire day from the beginning to the end, and imagine yourself in a peak state.
- Feel that state in your body as you imagine the details of that future date.
- Imagine the event went well and that you’re celebrating afterward.
- Think back from the future; ask what you need to do to make sure everything goes well.
- Write down the steps you need to take, including how often you’ll visualize your success. For motivation, reward yourself after a successful presentation.
“Ideas will not speak for themselves. You have to do the speaking.”
Be concise. Don’t overwhelm with details. Remember a lesson from fairy tales: Good things come in threes. Concentrate your information into three main topics or themes. Show “proof and process,” but in three chunks. Give your audience a clear action to take. Start with something easy and nonthreatening. For example, Harry Potter didn’t know he was signing up for a struggle with evil. He knew he had to hop on a train to get to Hogwarts. You want your audience to hop on your train.