[6 min read]
Finding your Speaker Comfort Zone
Not all of us can have our audiences hanging on our every word, breathless with anticipation, or convulsing with laughter at our latest pithy quip. But all of us can find our own Speaker Comfort Zone (SCZ) where we do the best job we personally are capable of. And that’s enough – it’s always enough.
Which I hope is very good to hear, because speaking in public, whether to three others round a table or several hundred at a conference, is a skill that all of us with leadership roles or aspirations need to master.
I’ve been doing it all of my adult life, as both a speaker and also for the last 20 years by helping others find their SCZ. It’s very simple: your SCZ is where excellent technique meets unstoppable confidence.
You see, you don’t have to be perfect even to earn a living at it. You just have to know how to be yourself & find your SCZ. So technique and confidence. My next blog will be about exploiting modern psychology to achieve resilient confidence. For the present, let’s start with technique.
- This is key, give it time, put the work in on your confidence and technique
- Appropriate conditioning (self-talk including scripts) & visualisation (rehearsal and, maybe, reverse) will overcome any equanimity shortages you might feel about speaking
- Full detail in my next blog, for now remember it is essential FROM THIS VERY SECOND to make sure your self talk about you and speaking is PERFECT (or as near as you can get to that)
Tips & Wrinkles
- Prepare early, rehearse until you have the timing nailed
- Meet their needs more than yours – and be interesting
- Have spare material – you probably won’t need it but it’s a good feeling knowing it’s there
- Have a shortened version prepared as back-up – you may have to compensate for other people’s overruns
- Goldilocks pace – midway between a gabble and a drone
- Stomach breathing lowers pitch, adds resonance and gravitas: chest breathing (natural under stress) does the opposite
- Pauses are OK and last about one third as long as they seem to the speaker – stay calm
- Good jokes are brilliant for the audience, mediocre ones are crass. As a rule of thumb: if you tell a lot of jokes in every day life and they go down well, throw one in; if you rarely do so, now is not the time to start!
- Keep your discomfort & insecurities about the process to yourself. If you draw people’s attention to that stuff they’ll be watching out for it. Besides, it makes some people uncomfortable.
- Make eye contact with many people by sweeping the room
- Pitch your voice to the back
- Intro-content-summary (tell them what you’re going to say, then say it, then tell them what you said)
- Provide structure – verbal or visual milestones eg “so that’s all i want to say about x, now I’ll talk about y, later we’ll cover z before I pull it all together at the end”
- Use 5” x 3” cards for notes – and always use notes until you’re a professional speaker
- Paper looks amateur
- Big writing, bullet points, avoid a script (and especially DO NOT read from one)
- Refer to them as often as you need to, it’s cool, shows you’re keen & is infinitely better than getting lost
- Arrive early, befriend the AV team
- Get to know the room, master the tech
- When you’re not speaking turn the mike off – especially in the loo!
- Get help unless you’re experienced
- Be modern – download a killer template off the internet – consider not using the company standard design if it’s deadly dull (provided you’re cool with standing out)
- Keep it simple – I mean really simple
- Lots of white space
- AVOID complicated transitions
- No more than 20 words per slide
- Full paragraphs look naff
- They are hard to read but folk will try
- So you lose their attention while they’re doing that
- Try to include a relevant and interesting image on every slide – it will help the visual learners hugely & adds interest for everyone
- A large number of simple slides is 100% better than a few slides packed with info
- As soon as you put up a slide everybody reads all of it
- The tiny bandwidth of the conscious means while they’re doing that they won’t hear what you’re saying
- So it’s OK to build bullet point lists item by item
- Put a full stop at the end of the last bullet point only – it prompts you that a new slide will appear on the next click
- Be relaxed about staying silent and giving people time to read what’s on some of your slides
- Avoid the temptation to read out every word yourself, it’s boring as all hell!
- Invite questions with an open question eg “so what questions do you have for me?”
- You can take them as you go or at the end, it’s a personal choice
- If you take them as you go be ready to say “we are coming to that so I’d like to leave that til then”
- AVOID bull – it’s lethal to your cred – go for:
- “Interesting! I don’t know the answer to that. I’ll find out & get back to you within [48/24] hours, can you leave me your email?”
- If you run out of time offer to take questions one on one later or by email – be sure to put your name & contact details on your slides
- At the end thank them for being brilliant
- You should be so much the master of your material that you don’t have to be wracking your brains about what’s coming next
- Trying to remember that is the single most common cause of presenters forgetting to smile
That’s all there is to it … well OK, we need to automate all that technique through practise and by using the exercises my next blog is about. When you’re actually speaking you need to keep your mental bandwidth free for monitoring the audience and your connection with them. So this stuff needs to be instinctive. It’s OK it will be – that’s the way we are built, just takes effort – not will power btw, effort.
The you’re half way to finding your SCZ. Confidence is the other half – next blog for that.
And lastly please do get in touch if you’re interested in my speaking at one of your events (yep that’s still how I earn a crust!). I always ensure everyone leaves knowing how to do something important better and differently. I love to surprise, enlighten, & and make everyone smile. Well, laugh actually.