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Aug 25 2014

Want to Find Your Voice as a Speaker? You May Need Some ‘Tough Love’!

Published by under Speaking

Do you have something important to share with an audience? If so, you may be excited about the opportunity.  Chances are getting your content together hasn’t been difficult either. So now it’s time to give your talk. You look out at the audience . . . and suddenly you’re incredibly aware that everyone is looking at you and expecting some wisdom!iStock_000017956395Small

When Speaking Fear Enters the Room

Now is when it really comes home to you that you have fear of public speaking—or at least significant nervousness. Self-consciousness, the sense of exposure, and sometimes the thought that people are judging you, all play a part in diminishing what should be an enjoyable experience for all concerned. If this is the case with you, you need a way to put yourself in the right frame of mind before you feel naked and vulnerable. After all, the pats on the back you’ve always received about how much you know won’t help now. It’s time to get tough with yourself.

Getting in the Right Frame of Mind

Fear of public speaking is doubly challenging: It not only makes us miserable; but it also keeps us from being audience-centered—the mark of a successful speaker. That’s because the temptation is to focus on our own discomfort rather than what our listeners need to hear. Part of the solution is to understand that you’re practicing behavior that’s undermining your success. That behavior, is indulging in narcissism.

Tough Love for Public Speaking

Narcissism in this sense may not be intentionally putting yourself at the center of the universe; but if you’re overly concerned with yourself instead of your audience, it amounts to the same thing. If that’s what’s happening with you, here are four “tough love messages” that should help you overcome your extreme self-consciousness while speaking:

1. You Need to Turn Your Attention Away from Yourself. You’re to be congratulated if you deliver presentations even when you’re anxious about it. Still, if you’re thinking about how you’re doing while presenting, you need to start putting your audience first instead. After all, they’re the reason you’re in the room delivering your message!

2. Your Presentation Isn’t about You. Your audience is there to get something useful from your talk, not to be focusing on you. So instead of all that self-regard, shouldn’t you be asking yourself if you’re giving listeners something valuable?

3. Listeners Aren’t Paying Much Attention to You. Even though this may be hard to hear, the truth is people are much more concerned with themselves than they are with you. The odds are very good, in fact, that they’re not paying much attention to how you look or sound (unless your delivery skills are very poor or your behavior is interfering with your message). This is actually good news for you as the presenter!

4. Just Do Your Job. Finally, you need to simply do your job in giving this speech or presentation. Either you’re being paid to do that, or receiving recognition as a speaker. So please just do what’s expected of you!

Not everyone leaps at the chance to speak in front a group. Some of us are even reluctant to do so, especially when we think that the stakes are high.
Still, most of us probably recognize the value of doing so. Often, we’ll give people valuable information they need. We may even change their lives for the better. To do either of those things, we need to speak in our own voice. Getting tough with ourselves may be just what we need to be able to do so.


Gary close-up large -- IMG_2000square_cropThis post was written by Gary Genard, Ph.D., who is founder and president of Boston-based The Genard Method of performance-based public speaking training. An actor and author, Dr. Genard provides worldwide coaching and skills development in executive presence, leadership, and presentation skills. He is the author of How to Give a Speech and Fearless Speaking: Beat Your Anxiety, Build Your Confidence, Change Your Life. Find him at


 Related posts and suggested further reading on stage fright

Five Ways to Unlearn Stage Fright on Kate’s Voice

Five tips to reduce the fear of public speaking in Psychology Today

The biology of courage, make stress your friend, on Speak Schmeak by Lisa Braithwaite

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Jun 22 2014

How to design your talks to engage an audience without resorting to nudity

When I saw my first business presentation 18 years ago, I was afraid that, in my attempt to apply my performing arts skills to business, I had fallen from grace into a pit of darkness and boredom. Since then, there’s been progress; there are many advocates for storytelling and other fresh approaches to presentations. However, many business people still sit through hours each day of text-heavy slides in dark rooms.

We know enough about connection and audience engagement to organize talks and presentations with that in mind. It’s not terribly difficult, but it is different from just putting a slide deck together. Here’s how to do it:

Start with intention

Create a statement of intention for your presentation, one that encompasses what you plan to accomplish. Intention is an aim that guides your action. For example, if you want to sell your listeners a product, that intention is different from just educating them about that product. though you may want to do both.

Make the intention lofty enough to inspire or motivate YOU and evoke imagination in your listeners. If you aren’t excited about your topic, how do you expect to engage your audience?

Build your content with action items (your aim) in mind, and filter out content that isn’t aligned with your intention. If you must use slides, try a fun alternative such as Prezi, or at least create slides that illustrate ideas rather than vice versa.

Create a structured, narrative flow

An important part of connecting with your audience is to look people in the eye, relate to them, and create interaction. Therefore you have to be able to keep the outline of your talk in your head. The flow I recommend is this, no matter how long the talk:

  • A good opening, three points and a strong close

Design the opening and close  to include evocative language that creates mental pictures (such as the title of this post :-) ); give people road signs to listen for along the way such as “I will show you three ways that we are going to be more successful than ever this quarter.” Use humor and personal stories, and always plan for a call to action in the close.

Use an overall story to keep it all together. In particular, consider the obstacle or problem that you are discussing and be sure it is included. In an article in NY Women in Communications online, Joan Dowling says, “By taking a client through the team’s journey to the “big idea” or product, by sharing the set-backs, wrong turns and successes along the way, a presenter can be far more inspiring and persuasive than by showing a series of heavily bulleted slides and superlatives describing the product.”

Respect time, leave them wanting more

With the use of a statement of intention, you should be able to limit your ideas and leave some for later. I was told once that Barbra Streisand only sang one high note per show so that people would always leave wanting more. Even if you aren’t a celebrity, use the “less is more” approach.

Then decide whether you will use a script or speak extemporaneously. The latter is almost always more engaging. However, it can be more challenging to keep to your time limit if you speak off the cuff.

Therefore, practice is essential. Practice giving your talk including all of your stories, and time yourself. Practice will also help you to get control of vocal filler such as “so” “um” and “aaaand so.”

Further reading:


Four Presentation Lessons from Larry King, by Carmine Gallo in Bloomberg

Five Tips for Powerful Audience Participation, by Jesse Scinto in Fast Company

Tips on Talking, Audience Engagement by Heather Stubbs


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