Even the most experienced of public speakers will confess to feeling nervous before giving a speech or a presentation. If you watch closely, you can readily identify the fidgeting, hesitation, and stiffness that signal that nervousness at many political speeches and debates.
How, then, do we explain Hillary Clinton? She never appears nervous; she never appears at a loss. Whether she is being grilled by hostile Republicans, addressing a press conference, or giving a speech, she is a picture of grace and self-possession. She doesn’t have a resonant voice, she doesn’t have a particularly charismatic presence, and she isn’t given to flights of rhetorical poetry. But because she is so relaxed and so authentic, she connects easily with audiences and is probably one of the world’s best public speakers. How does she do it?
I expect a lifetime in the public eye has something to do with it. The often hostile environment in which she has had to function has forced her to learn how to be effective in it. That environment, in other words, has forced her to learn to appear relaxed, graceful, and authentic, day in and day out. As they say, practice makes perfect.
Most of us lack the “benefit” of a lifetime in the public eye. Can we ever aspire to be effective public speakers?
You don’t have to be a confident speaker to be effective; you just have to play one when you’re on the platform. Communispond trains people every day to play the part of The Confident Speaker, and we have found you need to master a half dozen behaviors:
- stand up straight
- hold your head up
- keep your arms comfortably open at your sides unless you’re gesturing
- gesture a lot, and do it expansively, with your whole arm
- project your voice to the back of the room
- make steady eye contact and look sincere
Rehearse these behaviors beforehand. Practice in front of a mirror, or make videos of yourself. Keep doing it until your body knows what it feels like to project your voice to the back of a room, to keep your shoulders back and your head up, to keep your hands at your sides unless you’re gesturing.
When your body knows what it feels like to be this way, when you are actually relaxed with the posture and gestures of The Confident Speaker, you will be developing what we call “muscle memory.” It is the exact same skill you use when you learn roller skating, saber fencing, high diving, or boxing. Many people find the posture and gestures of The Confident Speaker unnatural. But the more you do them, the more natural they become.
Above all, focus on the purpose of your presentation. Your attempt to persuade this audience is a valuable contribution to their lives. This is not about you, it’s about them. Combine this understanding with whatever relaxation methods are effective for you (meditation, yoga, diaphragmatic breathing, relaxation exercises, and so on), and you will go a long way toward channeling your anxiety usefully.
You may never become Hillary Clinton, but you may find yourself connecting more naturally to your audience, and that will advance both your ideas and your career.