Saturday, May 29, 2004

Fear not the mike

Treat public speaking like a cosy chat and you’ll conquer all, says Barefoot Doctor

Though no natural born orator, I do a fair bit of public speaking these days and have evolved a style and method based on Taoist principles which I thought I’d share with you.

Over the years, helping people one-to-one, I was often stunned at how the most confident, successful business people could be the most terrified when they have to address an audience, and what I’m about to pass on always did the trick for them, as I hope it will for you.

Preparing a detailed speech and attempting to learn it — endlessly, nervously rehearsing in front of the bathroom mirror — will cause you untold stress, which will be transmitted to your audience.

The best approach I’ve found is to treat the speech as an informal conversation you’re having with yourself inside your head and which, if simply made public, shared fully and freely with your audience, will enthral them as much as it generally does you. People crave authenticity but of course keep the internal edit button in the ready position at all times, lest you stray across the boundaries of decorum. Though you don’t actually compose and rehearse a set piece, you do have to spend time writing notes until you know broadly where you want to go and where you want to avoid going — prepare for spontaneity, in other words.

To do this, you must first determine the outcome you’re seeking to achieve. For example, you may want to leave your audience feeling elated, loving and warm. Or you may want to rouse their courage and move them towards a particular course of action. You may simply want to move them. Be clear about this, and it soon becomes obvious what’s relevant to mention.

Be willing to trust yourself to be able to conduct your discourse as fluently as if it were with a friend, for which a simple affirmation, such as ‘I trust myself’, repeated to yourself at least 30 times by way of auto-suggestion, works wonders.

Practice with your instrument, the voice. For days before the event, spend time, say when driving alone or in the bath, singing gibberish like a child, sliding your voice all over the place and making the most bizarre sounds imaginable, as this disperses self-consciousness, loosens your vocal chords and gets you used to hearing and enjoying the sound of your voice — and if you like it, others will too.

When you actually approach the microphone, claim the space as your own. Giving a speech is like inviting people into your lounge for a chat, so as you step up to the podium, look around the room and tell yourself: ‘This is mine.’

Next comes being aware of breath and body posture. The more slowly you breathe, and the more you sink your breath into your belly, the more grounded and centred you’ll feel. Slowing and sinking the breath is the quickest way to calm the nerves. Relax your muscles, broaden your shoulders, soften your chest and elongate your spine, and you’ll think and talk more lucidly, transmit more energy and radiate more warmth.

Be sure to spend a moment making eye contact with as many of the audience as you can. Don’t be afraid to look at everyone in turn, but if you want to momentarily rest your gaze, let it fall at the back of the room. That way you cover everyone.

And finally, remember that the words are merely the dance. The tune is the love you’re radiating and fundamentally that’s all they really want from you (in the appropriate form, of course) — your love. The Guardian