When you master speaking to a group, you boost your business or jet-propel your career, precisely because so many people are so bad at it. You will shine when you can comfortably, confidently connect with an audience.
First step? Start with your feet. Seriously. Ground yourself, with your feet about hip-width apart. (That’s hip socket, not hip profile, which for some of us would be a much wider stance.) Sense your feet on the floor, really feel the connection, as if energy is coming up from the earth into your feet and up into your body. Imagine yourself rooting to the floor. Of course, you’ll move from there. But every time you do, come back to that sense of your feet connected to the floor beneath you.
If you’re seated, say at a conference table, same thing applies: feet flat on the floor, spine straight, energy coursing through your body. The look says: at any moment you could stand easily and move into action.
With a solid base, you begin to feel less nervous. When we’re anxious, our energy is concentrated in our head and shoulders. Think about the raised shoulders and clenched jaw that accompanied a talk or a sales presentation, the stiff neck you had when it was over. As you begin to pay attention to the sensation of your feet on the floor, your energy shifts, flows more freely. You can drop your shoulders, relax your jaw, and breathe.
Breathing – it’s a very important thing. And it’s surprising how little attention we pay to it.
Right now, as you read this, put your hands on your belly, just above your navel. Sit up straight. Lift your chest and drop your shoulders. Release your jaw, and let your tongue be loose on your lower palate. Now breathe so that when you breathe IN, your hands move OUT.
This might take a little practice; we’re so used to sucking in our stomachs it can be difficult to just relax that part and let the breath flow. In workshops, I ask people to breathe in and I see shoulders come right up. Instead, let your shoulders stay relaxed, as you lift your chest and allow your midsection to move in and out with your breath. As you do this exercise, you’ll get a sense of breathing from your core. THAT’S where you want your breath to come from as you begin to speak.
As you continue to breathe into your belly, you’ll produce sound from your core rather than your head. Your voice will sound richer, fuller. And you will feel more relaxed.
One of the reasons people get anxious standing in front of an audience is that they unconsciously hold their breath. The body senses the lack of air … and anxiety is a natural response. As you breathe fully and completely, you’ll feel more calm and centered.
Even with just these first steps, you can see that speaking is a physical activity. Like any other physical activity, it relies on a set of behaviors that can be learned and perfected. Practice will help you feel more relaxed every time you present.
That’s not to say that you memorize your speech – you want to sound natural. But the pros prepare. The best speakers don’t walk out and wing it; they plan their presentation and they rehearse.
A coach can help. Take advantage of every opportunity to perfect your presentation skills. That might mean going to a workshop, or it might mean finding a coach on your own.
Getting better at speaking is like getting better at golf – the pro can show you how to build on what you already do well so you can relax and wow your audience.