How thoughts of my deathbed can help you be present when public speaking
As I was out bouncing through mud on my mountain bike last weekend I was once again mulling on what would be a useful topic for you all. I was out with my almost 13 year old and his buddy. I suddenly saw a picture of myself on my death bed with him by my side upset at remembering how once upon a time his mum was fit and healthy and used to force him to get out riding.
Then I imagined myself saying ‘don’t be sad. Where I am today doesn’t take away any of the rides. The point is that all of those rides were a wonderful part of life. It wasn’t about getting to the end, it was each ride that mattered. Each ride was life.’ Being out in the fresh air, smelling the earthy bush, hearing the birds, getting splattered with mud, the exhilaration of whizzing down tracks, the cafe stop, the company, getting to be proud to be a middle aged mum who can give her son a run for his money!! All is the ride, even the hot shower at the end.
I pondered, this applies to public speaking. If you are going to spend time in a of a day of your life giving a speech or presentation it would be good to truely live, enjoy and be present in that moment.
ENJOY IT? I hear you mutter.
For many people, their mindset is, it is something to survive and get to the end of. Admittedly when I first started mountain biking the lack of fitness, experience (i.e balance or knowledge of how to use the blasted gears), and sheer terror kind of got in the way of enjoyment! It is the same with public speaking.
So, how does one be present and actually enjoy their time with their audience so that it is not a wasted moment of life?
1. Be thoroughly prepared. If this is a prepared speaking situation, have it thoroughly internalised, learned and rehearsed out loud in front of real humans. Musician Wynton Marsalis
said “master your instrument then wail” If your mind is free from worrying about remembering content you can let go and be more present.
2. Be connected to your inner voice. Your inner voice is your driver, passion, spirit, beliefs and inspiration. It’s your reason for speaking. If you are not connected to your inner voice then no matter how lovely your literal physical voice sounds, your message will be hollow.
Being connected to your inner voice is important for another reason. Voice researchers say the human ear tunes in to your sound, emotions and tone much more than the actual words. And, that the way your voice vibrates and sounds directly impacts people’s perception of you. People assess your status, power, trustworthiness, social acceptability and promotability based on the quality of sound you produce. They decide whether you are strong, weak, assertive or compliant.
So what happens if the inner voice you are connecting with is the one saying things such as; ‘ you’re boring, you have a horrid voice, the audience are judging you, these guys are all so difficult, you just have to survive this’……?
The audience tunes in to this. This can impact hugely on your professional success. It can lead to you experiencing not feeling heard in your organisation, not getting the business, the job, the promotion, not being able to motivate your team to action or success, not experiencing the joy of connecting and inspiring. And what impact does this have in family life? ( We’ll deal with that another time)
Now here is a powerful thing. In her wonderful book, ‘Connect and Inspire’ Australian Voice Coach Lucy Cornell says;
‘When your spirit is stimulated by your inner voice you are inspired.
The energy of this inspiration is picked up by your breath and released through your literal physical voice. These vibrations are the carriers of your thoughts, feelings and imagination. They are what transform your audience.
You have the capacity to do what crystal glasses do when you tune one and the other vibrates in turn.You tune or vibrate your audience on a subconscious, cellular level potentially moving them emotionally, intellectually and physically into action.’
In a nutshell – the way your voice vibrates reveals what is in your head and heart. Listeners respond to that not just the words.
3. Calm the beast within
Many of us, including myself, get very nervous before getting up in front of an audience. This makes your heart race, your mouth go dry, your brain go numb. You cannot be present in that state. The only thing that makes a difference (along with being prepared) is doing a thorough warm up that includes some deep breathing exercises. Deep, slow breathing slows the heart, calms you and allows the brain to function.
I teach my clients how to do a simple warm up that is calming for the mind and body, energising for the breathing and speaking muscles and that brings heart, mind breath and body into one place ready for action.
4. Let go of control ( Don’t wanna don’t wanna don’t wanna!)
Once again in the words of Lucy Cornell ……
…’You have more control in speaking when you let go of, muscle holding, breath holding, intellectual or emotional holding, your attachment to the outcome and trying to recreate a prepared moment’………
She talks about being sensitive to the needs of your audience rather than focusing on yourself and finishing your task, of being inclusive and alive to all in order to be persuasive, connected, and inspiring.
Be your self. Take the time to look at them. Smile. Let there be moments of silence.
So, you have fully prepared and rehearsed, are connected with your inner voice and you have calmed yourself and prepared physically. It is time to let go and enjoy the ride with your audience. You will never do this one ride ever again. Neither will they.
Now to take my own advice as I prepare to run some workshops in the next couple of months. EEEEEEEEEEEK!
Cornell Lucy Connect and Inspire Australia Voice Coach 2012
Karpf Anne The Human Voice Great Britain Bloomsbury Publishing 2006