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11 Paradoxes of Being a Better Public Speaker

11 Paradoxes of Being a Better Public Speaker

    We’ve all heard how frightened nearly everyone is of public speaking. Maybe that’s understandable, but it creates the potential for lots of misinformed conventional wisdom spread by people who have to make presentations but haven’t had the opportunity to learn what really works.

    To help correct some misperceptions about what creates better presenters and presentations, here are eleven public speaking paradoxes for reluctant presenters to accept, embrace, and follow:

    1. Minimize your public speaking nerves by looking for as big an audience as possible.

    My theory on nerves and speaking? We all have a certain amount of nerves getting up in front of a crowd: the more people in the audience, the smaller the amount of your nervousness each audience member has to absorb. The theory may sound silly, but with more people in the audience, there’s a greater likelihood of spotting individuals who get your message and show it in their eyes – always a comforting sign for a speaker. The more people, the more likely someone will find your jokes funny and start laughing or be moved by your remarks and start applauding (and trust me, it takes somebody being the first to applaud). These nerve-settlers all benefit from having a bigger crowd.

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    2. If you’re concerned about forgetting what you’ll say, take all the words off your slides.

    The typical crutch to avoid forgetting your presentation is to put every word on your slides so you can turn around and read them aloud – which always makes for a deadly presentation. Putting everything on-screen also allows the audience to stop paying attention to you since they can more efficiently read your slides themselves. With only images (or at least very few words) displayed, however, if you forget your remarks or cover something different from what was originally written, nobody knows because the audience has no visual reference to spot the variation. You enjoy all kinds of freedom to change up what you say and how you say it, making it much easier to cover your forgetful moments.

    3. To compare more favorably to the great motivational speaker on the agenda, ask to speak right after them.

    Unsure speakers try valiantly to stay as far away as possible on the agenda from exciting speakers because they think they’ll seem worse by immediately following a keynoter. That’s simply a bad strategy. There’s invariably a buzz among the audience after an exciting, engaging speaker, and it’s wonderful to bask in it as the agenda’s next presenter. Not only do you get a free pass to lunch off the audience love the previous speaker created, you can always refer back to a point your predecessor made to refresh the audience’s glow while you’re onstage.

    4. To satisfy audience requests for presentation materials, refuse to provide slide print outs.

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    Handing out your slides before the presentation creates a distraction as audience members are tempted to look at them and ignore you. Plus if you’ve taken the advice to primarily use graphics on your slides, having them won’t be of much learning value anyway. Instead, write an article with your presentation’s key points and invite the audience to visit your blog to review it. If you don’t have a blog, write your presentation summary to share with the event organizer for its blog or website. You’ll expand your reach, providing both your in-person audience and others interested in your topic the opportunity to learn from what you have to say.

    5. When you want the whole presenting experience to just be over as quickly as possible, show up way early and make a day of it.

    One of the best things you can do as a nervous presenter is to arrive early since it provides several advantages. You can see where you’ll be speaking, determine where to stand, and figure out solutions to challenges the equipment or conference venue create. You’ll also be able to arrange the setup so your computer will be in front of you – serving as a monitor – eliminating the tendency to turn away from the audience to see what’s on the screen. Being there early allows you to meet and interact with audience members, learning what interests them. Finally, you can watch other presenters so you can amplify or avoid points they’ve made, as appropriate. All these benefits will help make your presenting time seem to pass much more quickly.

    6. If answering questions makes you nervous, encourage lots of them.

    Questions are a giant opportunity to customize your content to what’s most relevant to the audience. They also provide a chance to catch your breath and drink some water as you turn the attention over to the audience momentarily. To get questions started, plant a few with people you’ve met before the talk so you begin with ones you are ready to address.  Plus always remember: if you’re stumped for an answer, ask other audience members to share their perspectives on the challenging question.

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    7. If you have a really loud voice, demand a microphone.

    So many people, especially self-conscious men, try to avoid using microphones because they talk loud. Use the microphone. With a microphone, you can speak at your normal volume while also raising and lowering your voice as you’d like to create continued interest in what you’re saying and how you’re delivering the message.

    8. Stand up while you present on a conference call or webinar because no one can see you.

    Suppose you’re doing a webinar or other phone-based presentation. The natural tendency is to sit at your desk since the audience isn’t watching. True, but the wrong move nonetheless. Standing up and “presenting” your comments gives your voice more energy, which translates to a better phone-based talk. Bonus tip: don’t speak in the same volume you normally would for a phone conversation. Instead, over-emote since the phone dampens your delivery style. Delivering your message in this manner creates a much more engaging audience experience.

    9. Since presentation mistakes are embarrassing when they’re noticed, point them out and have fun with them.

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    Some speaking mistakes are small and go unnoticed. Others (the computer or projector fails, a video doesn’t play) are apparent to the audience. Rather than dreading them, here are two things to do. First, anticipate what might go wrong and have a funny (ideally self-deprecating) comment to share for each one. Secondly, have a backup plan for each of the potential disasters. When you handle presentation adversity with a laugh and a quick recovery, you’ll win an audience over even faster than by delivering a seamless speech.

    10. If you don’t like the sound of your voice, record it and listen to it over and over.

    The single best investment I’ve made as a speaker has been a digital audio recorder to capture every presentation I do. While it can be tough to listen to yourself if you’re uncomfortable speaking, the gaffes you’ll hear quickly pinpoint areas to improve your skills. Another advantage? Next time you’re speaking on the same topic, you can review your previous presentation while rehearsing to remind yourself of what parts worked best and effective ad-libs that weren’t planned in your original remarks.

    11. Deal with your anxieties about audience reactions by rewarding them for immediately sharing opinions.

    While most conferences survey attendees, it’s often weeks later, and speakers frequently never receive results. That’s why the second best investment you can make in becoming a better presenter is creating your own simple evaluation form. Offer audience members a chance to win a book or give-away relevant to your presentation for sharing one thing they liked, didn’t like, found interesting, and would recommend about your talk. These four points from each presentation provide incredible feedback and reactions you never could have anticipated. The total cost of the books I’ve given away has paled in comparison to the improvement opportunities this strategy has yielded – especially from things people didn’t like.

    There you have it. If you don’t enjoy speaking, these eleven paradoxes may seem very unnatural, but using them to your advantage will allow you to make dramatic improvements in your abilities as a public communicator!

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    Last Updated on January 15, 2021

    7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

    7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

    The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

    Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

    Posture

    First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

    • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
    • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
    • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
    • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

    All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

    Facial Expressions

    Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

    • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
    • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
    • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

    If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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    1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

    A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

    The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

    This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

    2. Relax Your Face

    New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

    The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

    To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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    3. Improve Your Eye Contact

    Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

    The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

    To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

    3. Smile More

    There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

    Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

    4. Hand Gestures

    Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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    It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

    5. Enhance Your Handshake

    In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

    “Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

    It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

    6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

    As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

    Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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    Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

    Final Takeaways

    Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

    If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

    More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

    Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

    Reference

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