Want to show you're confident, credible, and in control when you speak? Here are two ways to make a lasting impression on your audience.
I'd like to invite you to control space and time when you speak, and to become memorable by doing so.
We'll also cover one other aspect of making a lasting impression as a speaker. But let's start by rivaling Einstein . . . in a tiny, very public speaking-specific way.
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The truth is, you can control the space in which you speak, as well as making time an element in your presentation. It's all part of not only leading an audience where you want them to go, but shaping the way they perceive you as a speaker.
How to Look Confident and In Control
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 "caved in" appearance making you appear weak and irresolute. Now, slowly fill your lungs up to their 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. Amazing, isn't it?
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Let's talk some more about how the use of space along with your management of time can affect listeners' perception of you as a public speaker.
The Power of Physical Presence
Space. The brief exercise above allows me to introduce the concept of controlling space. Many of us become wrapped up in both 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 that we don't know what to do with our hands and arms.
Power speakers, however, go far beyond this elementary awareness of nonverbal communication. They understand how greatly physical presence in all of its facets affects credibility and believability.
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Speakers who "command space," that is, positively influence listeners' responses to them and their message. The more comfortable such speakers appear to be as they stand and move, the more likely audience members will identify with them. Conversely, of course, awkward speakers just make us feel awkward as well. And when we're that uncomfortable with a speaker, we tend to resist his or her message as well.
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 reducing their footprint, and gesticulating too broadly or pacing back and forth like a caged animal (what I call "the motivational speaker syndrome").
You can experiment with what it feels like to stand without moving (as, for instance, when you're stuck behind a podium), versus moving powerfully as a presenter. Pay attention to the sensations that you experience—along with what you sound like—when you're doing something familiar and enjoyable. Then bring some of that same body awareness to your public speaking persona.
If you commit those physical sensations to your muscle memory, they will begin to emerge when you're in front of an audience without your having to think about them. You truly will begin to look and even sound more confident.
The Importance of Time . . . and Silence
Time. Just as you need to control how you occupy space, you must keep a firm grasp on time as an element in your presentations. On the most basic level, this means keeping to your agenda so you don't lop off important parts of your talk because you're up against the clock.
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I once coached a partner and a vice president of a consulting company who were giving a presentation together, then attended the conference the pair was speaking at. The partner, who spoke first, couldn't resist going down winding paths in answering questions that took him far afield from his topic. Suddenly, the time left fo the VP to speak had evaporated almost completely—she now had five minutes to her her 15-minute presentation!
In your practice sessions, learn what 5 minutes, 20 minutes, and 40 minutes feel like when you speak. And keep in mind that time is always extremely subjective to a speaker—who is always emotionally involved and exposed in front of an audience—while remaining highly objective to listeners.
And learn how to pace your presentations through the use of pauses and silence. You may thin silence is an unnecessary intrusion into the stream of your speech, but just the opposite is true. Listeners need permission to take a "mental breath" now and then to let important information sink in.
Pacing your presentation through good time management helps keep audiences tuned into what you're saying. It's also one of the best ways of demonstrating that you have the confidence to deliver your talk exactly the way you want to, unhurried and comfortably.
This article is excerpted from my book, How to Give a Speech: Easy-to-Learn Skills for Successful Presentations, Speeches, Pitches, Lectures, and More!
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Gary Genard is an actor, author, and expert in public speaking training and overcoming speaking fear. His company, Boston-based The Genard Method offers live 1:1 Zoom executive coaching and corporate group training worldwide. In 2021 for the eighth consecutive year, Gary has been ranked by Global Gurus as One of the World’s Top 30 Communication Professionals. He is the author of the Amazon Best-Seller How to Give a Speech. His second book, Fearless Speaking, was named in 2019 as "One of the 100 Best Confidence Books of All Time." His latest book is The Online Meetings Handbook, now available at The Genard Method and at Amazon. To know more about TGM's services, Contact Gary here.