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"Be a voice not an echo." - Albert Einstein

Broadcasting Complete Confidence as a Speaker

Try this simple experiment: Stand and expel all the air from your lungs until they are completely empty. What did that action do to your posture?

You probably assumed a concave and “caved in” appearance, making you appear weak and irresolute. Now, slowly fill your lungs up to their full capacity. . . . Did that straighten you up? Do you feel more capable, prepared, and stronger? I bet you do — and I guarantee that’s how your audience will perceive you!

You just used breathing, posture, and stance to change your level of credibility and authority with an audience. Incredible, isn’t it?

Let’s talk some more about how the use of space, along with pacing, can affect your listeners’ perception of you as a speaker of consequence and power:

Commanding Space as a Speaker

As a presenter, you must not just occupy space, but control it. Most of us get too wrapped up in our content — and our nervousness — when we speak in public. If we think about physical performance at all, it’s to reflect how uncomfortable we are in front of all these people, and to wish we knew what to do with our hands and arms.

Yet powerful speakers go far beyond this elementary awareness of nonverbal communication. They understand how physical presence has a profound effect on our credibility and believability.

Speakers who “command space” in this way positively influence their listeners’ responses to them and their message. The more comfortable such speakers appear to be as they stand and move, the more audience members will identify with them. Conversely, of course, awkward speakers just make us feel awkward and a little embarrassed. And when we’re that uncomfortable with a speaker, we tend to resist the messages they’re offering us.

Good speakers, on the other hand, reach their level of comfort by occupying an appropriate amount of space. They strike a balance between diminishing their authority by folding in on themselves physically (crossing their legs or hands, holding their arms, hunching over), and gesticulating wildly or pacing back and forth like a caged animal (what I call “the motivational speaker syndrome”). They look natural to us in their performance space because they use that space appropriately and easily, without fearing it or using exaggerated energy.

You can experiment with what it feels like to stand and move powerfully as a presenter in this way: Pay attention to what it feels like for you physically when you’re doing something familiar and enjoyable. Commit those physical sensations to your muscle-memory. Now recreate them at will as you pretend you’re standing in front of an audience. You’ve just started the process of teaching your body to broadcast power, confidence, and enjoyment as a speaker.

Pacing Your Presentations

Just as we need to control how we occupy space, we must keep a firm grasp on time as an element of our presentations. On the most basic level, this means keeping to our agenda, so that we don’t lop off important parts of our talk because we’re up against the clock.

Here’s how ignoring that clock can bring you trouble: I once coached a partner and a vice president of a consulting firm, and then attended the conference the pair was speaking at. The partner (who presented first), couldn’t resist repeatedly going down the paths of questions that took him off his topic, until the time left for the vice president’s portion of their presentation had nearly vanished.

In my follow-up visit to their office after the conference, I kept a stern expression on my face as I walked into the partner’s office. From behind my back I produced a ruler, and said to him: “Hold out your hand.” He laughed and said, “I know, I know. I blew it.”

In your own practice sessions, get to know what 5, 20, and 40 minutes feel like in a speaking situation. And keep in mind that time is extremely subjective to a speaker — stretching out like salt water taffy or evaporating without warning — while remaining basically objective to audiences.

Finally, discover the joy of using pauses and silence. You may think these two tools are unnecessary stoppages thrown into the stream of your speech, but the opposite is true. Listeners need to take a “mental breath” now and again. It’s one of the ways you keep them attuned to what you’re saying. And of courses pauses are also necessary for your audience to absorb your most important points.

Let’s review: When you hold yourself and move with command, and show your listeners you know how to trust silence, you’ll be continually broadcasting confidence and authority. I for one would pay attention to a speaker like that.

This article originally appeared in Dr. Gary Genard’s book How to Give a Speech.


Tags: Conquering Fear of Public Speaking

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