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How To Stand Up & Be Heard!

By Ruth Crocker

The thought of giving a speech or presentation in front of a group of people – no matter how small – is intimidating for most people. Here are some pointers to get you up and confident before, during and after a presentation.

Before

  1. Be prepared. If you have been asked in advance to present something, take the time to prepare yourself. Make notes, put them in a readable format and practice. Be prepared for bad lighting in the room. Blow up and darken the font of your text so that you can read it in the dark if you have to. Time yourself so that you will not feel pressured to rush at the end or cut information that you think is important to your presentation.  When you begin to practice – also practice breathing. Take in a comfortable breath – speak – pause – breathe. Check your posture. It is much easier to breathe when the chest is lifted because it allows the diaphragm (a horizontal muscle above the stomach) to expand and move freely. Take your time and speak clearly with inflection. Lower the pitch of your voice. There is a tendency to speak higher and lighter when we get nervous. Aim to be a mezzo rather than a high soprano. A lower voice pitch commands attention because more of the speaker’s body is resonating with the voice. Follow this pattern during practice and it will help you to slow down and stay comfortable and focused during the real thing. If you are asked to speak about something at a moment’s notice, take a minute to gather your thoughts and pin-point one important thing you want to say and breathe. Remember that you are not auditioning for something. You’ve already got the part!
During
  1. Start with a smile. Smiling disarms people and makes them think you know what you’re doing. Find your energy. Feel thankful for the opportunity to speak. Your presentation begins before you step onto the stage or behind the podium. As you take your place from which you will speak, take a moment to look around the whole room – not making eye-contact – just taking people in with a sweeping gaze. During that sweep, identify three points in the audience – perhaps on the right, the left and back-center. When you launch into your presentation you will focus alternately on those three spots. Don’t find faces to focus on – choose the tops of heads or a spot on a post or a wall. Making eye-contact with people sometimes makes the audience uncomfortable and/or it can distract you. Look at the tops of their heads and it will seem as if you are making plenty of contact with the audience. Avoid pacing and hand gestures. They are usually distracting. Stay composed. Pretend you are someone you admire if it helps.
  2. When you start to speak, say that you are happy to be there (if it’s appropriate – if you’re speaking at a funeral you might say “privileged”) and take a moment to ask a question or say something humorous (if appropriate) to be inclusive towards your audience. Speak clearly and breathe. Keep your shoulders back and down (like a ballerina). Stay focused. Leave time for questions or feedback (again, if appropriate). Assume that people are interested in what you have to say. Speak with conviction. Audiences appreciate speakers who are controlled and composed – and passionate about their subject. Think of your time on stage as a golden moment. Enjoy the fact that you have a group of people who want to hear what you have to say.

After

Thank the audience, acknowledge your sponsors or host. Keep smiling!

Ruth Crocker is an actor, writer and public speaker.
She is an active member of the SECT Women’s NETWORK
Contact her at Ruthc1@earthlink.net

As profiled on GRACE magazine website, www.graceforwomen.com

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A registered not-for-profit organization founded in 1976.

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