Five ways to improve your public speaking

Do you need help with public speaking? Vocal coach, Maeve Diamond, shares five top tools and exercises to make your presenting style better and raise your confidence.

Who needs vocal training? Vocal coach, Maeve Diamond, identifies two types of nervous public speakers:

"One type is the ‘Bull’ – they pretend that their nerves are not there and throw a lot of energy into their presentation. This type will come across as intimidating and their message gets lost.”

"The other presenting style extreme is the ‘Mouse’ – they let their nerves and fears consume them. This person will respond by going ‘into’ themselves and making themselves very small.”

5 Techniques to improve Public Speaking:

1. Breathe free and deep

The voice is powered by the breath. When you don't support your breathing, you can run out of breath and find it difficult to speak. People breathe either from the 'chest', or from the 'stomach':

Chest-breathing is more shallow and ragged, and feels confined to the upper chest. It is not effective as a breathing technique.

Stomach-breathing is deeper and more effective. It engages the diaphragm and allows more breath to be taken in.

To understand which you are, place one palm above your chest, and the other on your stomach. Then, notice which hand moves most while you breathe normally.  If you’re a chest-breather, encourage stomach-breathing by retraining your body and mind:

“Place your hands on your stomach, with your palms facing inwards to focus your attention.

Breathe in normally, and on the out-breath, allow a low, slow and unforced 'shhh' sound to escape your mouth.

As you come to the end of the out-breath, tell yourself to 'release' your stomach. This prevents stomach muscles tensing, leading to chest-breathing.

When you breathe in again, don’t force yourself to breathe. Let the diaphragm kick into action and draw downwards, which will draw in air.”


2. Be clear about your message

The most important thing is to ask is what do you want to say? What are your main points?

"If you feel like you'll rush through the points because of your nerves, think 'one breath, one point'. As you breathe out, say one of your points. Pause, breathe in again and repeat."

Directing each point to a person – make eye contact if you can – or a space, then changing focus with your next point will also slow you down.

"Remember, high status people take their time. They're not in a rush. Don't lower your status."


3. Prepare yourself physically

Allow time to practise your speech at home and time yourself. If you go over, cut out unnecessary information. Then put reminders of your points on cue cards.

“Some people worry about what their hands do. If your points are strong, your hands will usually do actions without you needing to think about them.”

"Remember, high status people take their time. They're not in a rush."

Similarly, people feel the need to wander around the space provided to them.

“Don't wander if you can help it. People usually do it because they're nervous. Stand your ground.”


4. Preparing yourself mentally

 If you want an instant energy boost, try out this exercise:

“Imagine you have a big blown up beach ball in front of you. Start with your arms down.

Very slowly, raise your arms with your palms facing you upwards, curving them around this beach ball.

When you reach the top of the beach ball, continue raising your arms to head level, and bring your palms in towards your face.

The beach ball disappears and you can move your arms down, your palms still facing inwards. Return to the starting position and repeat until you feel better.”

Also, yawn!

“It releases tensions in your facial muscles and opens up the throat 'channel' in seconds.”


5. Keep a calm presenting style

When you're presenting, don't have your feet together – keep them slightly apart – and, if you have a lectern, use it to hold onto or hold your cue cards.

Have a glass of water near you, and take a sip when you need a few seconds or if you feel nervous.

Lastly, always hold yourself upright. Slouching or hunching forces you to chest-breathe. Instead, “imagine your head is like a balloon that is floating up to the ceiling” and you’ll find you stand up taller.


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