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‹ View all articles 1st August 2011

Awareness - the first tool to outstanding public speaking

Public Speaking Essentials

Are you a speaker with awareness? Are you able to control how your body and voice act when you stand up to speak in public? Do you even know what happens when you're speaking? Awareness is the foundation of inspiring public speaking, here's how to find it...

As he clicked through to his “Thank You” slide, Edgar Mumble looked up his bored audience. ‘Phew, it’s over,’ he thought with relief. ‘That was much longer than I imagined.’

‘Erm… any questions?’ he muttered to the first row, scratching at a red patch on his neck. His offer was met with silence. Edgar collected his books and scuttled out of the room to a thin ripple of applause.

‘That went well,’ he said to himself, ‘I’ll do the same presentation again next year.’

How many times have you sat through a similar piece of public speaking as an audience member? How many times have you been the public speaker with the same attitude? The good news is that it doesn't have to be that way- and the first step to become brilliant at public speaking is to become aware of yourself and your impact on the world. There's no other way to get the distance needed to change your actions.

The first step to brilliant public speaking is to become aware of precisely what you’re doing when you speak. If you are able to master the basics and develop on your strengths, you will fill your audience with the confidence that you are a speaker who can be relied on. If your audience have this confidence in you, they will focus on the bit you want them to focus on - your message - rather than any quirks of your public speaking skills.

Without awareness, you simply don’t know whether you’re wowing or boring your audience.

Awareness is the conscious space for choice. With awareness you begin to distance yourself from what you’re doing, so you can start to choose which bits of your performance function well and which don’t. From there you can begin to change, to give the audience greater openness to your message. If you’re aware, you are:

-  Conscious of what you’re saying and how you’re saying it, as you’re saying it.
-  In control of your body and speech, so that it doesn’t detract from what you’re saying.
-  Able to use your body and speech to enhance your public speaking message.

You can look at your awareness in three broad areas:

1) Awareness of your Body How aware are you of what your body does when you’re in the twilight zone of public speaking? You may think you know, but I’ve seen countless speakers wobble back and forth on their feet, scratch themselves silly or play with a clicky biro whilst they’re speaking. Either those speakers aren’t aware their doing it, or they’ve been seriously misguided about what makes a powerful presentation.

First, consider your eye contact – do you cover all of the room when you’re speaking, or do you hold onto a supportive-looking group on the left hand side? Do you have the tenacity to make eye contact with specific people for 1-3 seconds, or do you find yourself inspecting the ceiling because that way you can pretend you have nobody watching you?

Second, look at your gestures. Take your hands away from your ear, the back of your head, your necklace and other undesirable places (we all do it). And stop with the flappy, general and repetitive hand movements. Now you’ve got some space for crafting gestures that tell your story as you speak and emphasize the bits you want your audience to remember. Pick gestures that are strong and memorable.

And there’s much more. Consider the way you hold your body, your facial expressions and how you move – they all affect the power of your public speaking.

2) Awareness of your Speech Next, look at the way your voice behaves when you speak in public. Once your volume’s not too loud and not too soft, but just right, you can start to use it as a tool for adding drama and tension into what you say. The same goes for an awareness of your gaps, your intonation, your clarity, your energy and so on. Play with your voice and use it to create a story that engages your audience.

3) Awareness of your Thinking Confidence can play funny tricks on us if we’re unaware on stage. Without awareness, we can take our nerves too seriously and develop public speaking anxiety. This is when the body’s fight-or-flight mechanism kicks into play and we switch into a state of panicked action.

If we’re aware, we’ll learn that our nerves are energy that can either help, or hinder our performance. That energy can either be labelled 'fear' or 'excitement.' With awareness, we can begin to choose which way it goes.

Awareness is one of six parts of the Public Speaking House, featured in How to be Brilliant at Public Speaking: Any Audience. Any Situation by Sarah Lloyd-Hughes. The Public Speaking House shows you how to develop yourself as an authentic and fearless public speaker.

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