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First Impressions

To Practise Or Not To Practise…

July 18, 2014 | By | No Comments

Ever woken up and for a few dizzying seconds, tried to place the day? Thought, oh no, is it Monday? Then, gratifyingly realised with immense joy it’s actually a Saturday? That’s one of the better ‘coming-to’ realisations. One of the worst is ‘Oh, its speech day, I forgot to practice it.’  Although, why worry? Some people clearly don’t need to, Midas being one. Why not start just unshackle oneself from the notion that practice makes perfect, that doing something ten thousand times over makes you an expert, that honing your craft, makes you a craftsman?

http://www.jiveturkeyjives.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/beer-tv-game.jpgHow about this instead and it is just an idea but if you have a speech coming up, think about it for a bit, crack open a beer or pour a long cool drink and then just put your feet up. If something interesting on the telly or a good book comes along to distract you then don’t bat it away, after all, it is only a speech. Let’s face it, you have a lifetime of words, wit and experience within you, surely when the time comes and you’re standing in front of an eager (or bored witless) audience, your charisma will ignite a trail of neon bulbs around you and the magic will simply HAPPEN.

That’s right. An amazing, intelligent, well formed, string of engaging, informative sentences will samba from your lips, captivating and enchanting your audience. You’ll hear gasps of rapture and delight, little titters of mirth and deep hooting belly laughter. You’ll cast your eyes across of sea of people transfixed by the power of your presence. You’ll move easily and confidently within your space and your breathing will be calm and strong. Your voice will be clear and melodic and despite your well-rehearsed script you will feel comfortable ad-libbing.

Unless you are in fact Midas, you may find in order to achieve the above you may need to put the beer down and practice. However, it is all more or less within reach. And it really is true that the more you do it, the better you get AT it. (David Beckham didn’t spend his junior school years practicing his corners for nothing.) In fact everyone who is brilliant at someone generally spent years learning how to be brilliant at it. So the more you DO practice ‘speaking’ the better you will become at it, the more natural it will be, the smoother the flow.

Supposing though you are asked to stand up and speak with almost no notice at all. What can you do when you are completely ill-prepared?

  1. Smile. As terrified as you might feel on the inside, if you can try and fake it and look relaxed it’s a better experience for your audience and it will soon help you feel better too.
  2. If you are speaking formally, then have some notes to refer to. It’s fine to refer to them.  Remember to look at the people you are speaking to and engage with them. People are more important than notes.
  3. Breathe!! –  In through your nose and out through your mouth, and speak slowly. If you’ve been put on the spot, you’ll feel tense you don’t want that to come across. You’re only human, just like your listeners, so act/be as cool as a cucumber and chill.

When you really do have to wing it, the above can tide you over but why be a ‘last-minute Larry/Linda’ when you can get prepare and deliver a performance to be proud of?

 

 

Blushing

November 21, 2013 | By | No Comments

Blushing …

What is it? Well most of us know how it feels and probably first experienced it as small children. It’s that flaming heat that pulses in our cheeks when we have been caught with our hand in the biscuit tin, trying to sneak out that extra Jammy Dodger we were told ‘No!’ to, five minutes earlier.

It’s the burning hot, double cheeked, slap of shame we feel as we get shouted at in the school corridor in front of our peers; a cruel jibe or nasty nickname leaving the rest of the crowd laughing at our expense.

Or It’s the breath-taking, scorching, ember-imitating, moon landing-type lighting effect, facial glow that bestows us when having to open our mouth and ‘speak’ to a room full of silent, expectant people. An audience, all staring and waiting to hear only OUR voice.

If you haven’t experienced ANY of the above, consider yourself lucky. I consider you a little unusual , no disrespect but blushing is perfectly normal. (I defy you to think back to your teenage years, remember catching the eye of your first crush and NOT blushing!)

Anyway lets get the science out of the way. Blushing is simply the body’s response to embarrassment, anxiety or any other over stimulation for that matter. When we have these feelings, the fight or flight response kicks in, the blood vessels in the face widen and blood flows there leaving the cheeks looking much redder.

Some people believe that blushing serves a social purpose in that it displays a sign of contrition over a social faux pas; a way of expressing shame or regret, instantly securing an unspoken understanding of a mistake. Apologising without having to speak.

However in terms of blushing due to the sheer terror of having to speak in front of an audience, the science and psycho-babble does little to help in practical terms.

Here’s what might.

1. Stop worrying. Your face might feel like it resembles the top of a Belisha Beacon but most people won’t even have noticed I promise you. Ignore it and carry on. The more you stop thinking about it, the less blood will rush to your cheeks. If you want to be a worrier, then worry wisely. Worry about devising a cracking speech, work on your pitch, pace, delivery and posture. Worrying about blushing is a waste of resources.

2. After you’ve washed your face in the mornings, run the cold tap. Fill your hands and douse your face in icy water, repeating the phrase ‘icy calm’ in your head as you do so. Each time you feel the freezing cold water on your face, repeat the phrase in your head. When you’re in a situation when you feel a blush coming on, repeat the phrase to yourself. Your brain should soon make the connection between the words and the cold feeling and this should help cool you off when you feel warm of face. Try it.

3. If anxiety is making you blush then look at all aspects of planning, preparation and positive psychology; all the things that underpin your presentation. Take control. Make sure you are well organised, have things properly prepared so nothing is a last minute rush. This doesn’t have to feel like a hideous ordeal. You can make it into an exciting challenge and you know what, if you do get a little bit of a pink tinge to the cheeks, console yourself with a quote from the Greek philosopher Diogenes which puts the whole thing in a very positive light:

‘Blushing is the colour of virtue’.

Are you a waffler?

April 29, 2013 | By | No Comments

Waffle – Noun – a batter cake with a pattern of deep indentations on each side formed by the grid-like design on each of the two hinged parts of the metal appliance (waffle iron) in which the cake is baked

Waffle -verb (used without object), waf·fled, waf·fling British – to talk foolishly or without purpose; idle away time talking.

waffle

So, are you a waffler? By this, I am sure you realise I don’t mean a maker of waffles. I am sure it could be a wonderful summer job in Prague for instance, for a gap-year student wanting an interesting European experience, or anyone with a flair for the creation of hot desserts. An appealing and possibly lucrative trade. How many people do you know would find it easy to say no to a hot waffle?

So are you? A Waffler that is? Someone who idles away time talking. Worse still, if you are idling away someone else’s time. A captive audience will not appreciate being waffled at.

How do we define waffle? To me, waffle is unnecessary verbal padding/stuffing/diversion that detracts from your speech/interaction.

Of course, if you are preparing a speech and you have a time slot to fill, it’s tempting to feel the pressure to do so with an overriding disregard for the actual integrity of the content. The more relevant and authentic your information, the more power and resonance your speech will carry.

The more research you can do, the more you can cherry pick the most pertinent facts and work on delivering them in an engaging and entertaining way.

When speaking a particular pathway to a certain fact, ask yourself how much of the journey is really necessary. Anecdotes, jokes, statistics, props can all have their place in a speech but don’t let the form take over the content. After all, you want to leave your audience remembering the message. If they do this because of your clever use of music, charts and quotes then all credit to you and your powers of creativity. However, if you leave them unsure of the focus of your message, with snippets of sentences and a mish-mash of unfathomable comments, then you will have wasted a valuable opportunity.

Keeping people interested takes practise. Some people are naturally funny and very watchable and they fall into performance mode with ease. However, these people shouldn’t get too complacent. Again, if you know you can rely on your experience and personality to keep the focus of the room it can be easy to take things for granted.

 Remember you want to leave your audience with a clear understanding of the point of your message, not JUST how quick witted you are and how suave you look when you spin across the stage in your Italian leather shoes.

You are there to impart information. You need to be clear, concise and compact. That way, it will be much easier to remember.

So, instead of filling the time you think needs filling, with worthless waffle, use the time to reinforce the points that are purposeful.

Keep the waffle in its most worthy place. On a plate in front of you, awaiting the whipped cream and maple syrup.

Too Close?

March 31, 2013 | By | No Comments


When you meet someone for the first time, you always keep those three feet or so of distance between you.  As long as you can reach to shake hands, then continue to converse with the room to gesticulate without any risk of karate chopping the other person while you do, then you have found the zone of comfort. You want to be able to be close enough to show a commitment to the interaction without feeling too intimate.

How do you know when it feels too close? You just do, don’t you? For most people it’s instinctive. While we’re talking we jostle into comfortable positions without knowing it because we are processing several different signals at once. The body language, facial expressions, tone of voice all let us know how comfortable the person is with our mutual chosen proximity.Have you ever had a conversation with someone inebriated? Once that, alcohol-induced loss of self-awareness arrives, then so leaves the ability to judge comfortable levels of nearness. The over familiar ‘arm around the shoulder’ favoured by many a drunken conversationalist (maybe for balance, maybe to hold the unwilling listener hostage) is rarely welcome but they just aren’t capable of sensing it.

We’re all individual and we all have our own personal space boundaries. Partners, close friends, family, depending on how much they actually like each other, would be quite relaxed being in much closer proximity than two relative (and sober) strangers.Some people have more awareness than others.

I noticed a woman on the train this week sitting by the window, alone on a triple seat, reading her book, occasionally looking out at the rolling hillsides. The train drew up at the next station and a man got on the train. In almost a blink of an eye, we sometimes get a sense about someone. Our brain has its army of ‘observational soldiers’ out, ready to submit an instant appraisal. My soldiers said ‘Slightly odd’ We all make judgements, rightly or wrongly, it’s part of our self-preservation. In the bank of six seats, one corner one was being occupied by the female passenger, the man chose to sit in the seat next to her. He seemed oblivious to her immediate discomfort, the way she recoiled as tightly into her own seat as possible. In fact, within sixty seconds, she drew her coat tightly around her, pulled herself out of the seat and left the carriage.


I don’t ever remember being taught not to sit next to someone on public transport if there are other free seats. It just seemed natural. However, during rush hour on the tube, let’s face it you could endure the indignity of your face in an unwashed armpit if you’re unlucky. But it’s all about choice. When there IS no choice, you just get on with it. If you chose to rest your head on a fellow travelers shoulder, I am sure there would be a strong objection.

As obvious as it sounds, when you watch people talking, the space between them, or lack of it, tells you a lot about how comfortable they are with each other.  Sometimes it’s when they stop talking that the space between them speaks the most loudly.

What do I do with my hands???

February 28, 2013 | By | No Comments

Okay, hold them up and take a good look. What have you got? If you’re lucky enough to have a complete pair, what impression do they give? Are they clean, free from the yellow tinge of nicotine on your ‘holding’ fingers or do they look like you have been rummaging through a wheelie bin?

People notice your hands. Of course I am not saying that you all need to rush out and get a pre-interview manicure. But if you’re not a boxer, an equestrian or a clown and are not going to be ‘gloved up’ it’s worth the trouble to ask yourself what your hands say about you.
When speaking in front of others, People often say to me “I don’t know what to do with my hands” Or “I hold onto the plectrum so I don’t talk too much with my hands”. Both of these statements I question.  Do you have trouble with your hands when you not doing public speaking?  Probably not.
The aim is to use your hands in a natural way that helps to get your message across (In the same way we do this in our everyday conversations) The more you concentrate on what to do with your hands the more you will worry and the more unnatural they can begin to feel.
You do need to be self-aware with what your hands are saying to people, (without giving yourself a hard time) because unnatural and wooden hand movements can undermine your entire speech. For example, letting them loll lifelessly by your sides says you’ve no conviction behind your words is not going to help get your message across. It also tells your audience you are uncomfortable in this setting and a novice at speech giving. You want your audience to believe in you, to relax and therefore be able to absorb what you’re saying without distraction.
On the flip side, punching the air like an Evangelist every time you utter a sentence will make you seem fake and cringe-worthy. People will be embarrassed for you and take your well- honed speech with a pinch of salt, however worthy it might be.
Finger pointing is seen as impolite and aggressive. Bill Clinton was told about pointing his finger too much, making everything seem aggressive, it was a habit he found hard to break, so his public speaking consultant told him to put his thumb over his finger, this took the aggressiveness away. He has told that if you want to gesture to your audience then use a sweep of your entire hand. Eventually through small steps Clinton stopped pointing altogether and became an excellent public speaker.
There is a term called Steepling, when a person’s palms face each other, with just the fingertips touching (Tony Blair is a great example of this in his early days). It’s known as a power move which portrays confidence and self-assuredness. Too much of it can be seen as arrogant so if you feel comfortable using it, be aware (Tony Blair is a great example of this in his later days).
If during a speech you put your hands on your heart, what you’re saying is ‘believe me, I mean it sincerely’, whether you do or not! If you put your hands in your pocket or behind your back, don’t be surprised if people wonder what you’re hiding. Having your hands in full view implies a desire to seen as open and honest.
If there are certain elements of your speech which you really want to have emphasis, use a palm-upwards, push-out of the hands, gesture. Open-handed gestures again imply transparency and a wish to be seen as authentic.
I can’t imagine anyone choosing to cross their arms during a speech but if it isn’t obvious, it’s a huge no-no. It spews negatives. ‘I’m bored’ ‘I’m defensive’ ‘I am hiding something’. Your hands can draw people in, they can humanise you. Even if the nature of your speech is very formal, its credibility and believability is quite literally, in your hands.

For more information about public speaking and presentation skills go to www.surespeech.co.uk