Three Steps To Confident Speaking, Emma Wainer & Lauren Webb, Yellow Eve Training Session

Three steps to confident speaking

In February’s training session, Yellow Eve’s corporate speaker coach Emma Wainer explained how we can start speaking more confidently. 

Emma broke the session into three key pieces of advice; her A.C.E method of Awareness, Connection and Engagement, with interactive discussion throughout.

  • Awareness

Awareness is about having a good awareness of your audience (whether a group or one person) and getting out of your own head.

  • Connection

Connection is about setting the right tone with your body language and knowing your reason for speaking clearly.

  • Engagement

Engagement is about keeping the listeners interested through different techniques; Emma discusses two important factors – pace and pauses.

These are the three most successful elements to more confident speaking.

Download the session workbook here and find out the ways you can work with Emma in future here. Connect with Emma on LinkedIn.If you would like to work with Emma in future, as a Yellow Eve member you can get 10% off course prices (both 1:1 and group). Use the code YELLOWEVE10. 

(The original video has been edited to remove member involvement, however summaries of the discussions are included in the transcript below for context). 

The session recording

The transcript

[Opening discussion of what we physically experience before we’re about to talk]

What is it you experience when you’re about to speak?

Examples included:

  • Dry mouth
  • Sweating
  • Nervousness
  • Twitching / fidgeting

Emma: Those things [symptoms] are completely normal. And actually, they’re a good thing because it means your body is working in the way that it should, we just need to learn to channel and control those nerves so that we can use them productively rather than them take away from what we’re trying to achieve. Brilliant, thank you so much for sharing.

Now, the other thing to think about is that when we’re speaking, what we’re doing, it’s all about connection. We’re connecting our innermost thoughts to the outer world. And that can be quite intimidating, because we’re putting them out there. And there’s a possibility that they might be judged, there’s a possibility that they might come back and go, that’s not such a great idea. Or we’re going to get judged by ourselves. Because you might be thinking, “Well, that was an amazing idea. But that didn’t come out of my mouth in the way that I wanted it to.” So there’s a disconnect between what we’re thinking and what we’re saying, and potentially, between us and our audience.

So, to be a really confident speaker, what we want to try and do is build bridges of connection between ourselves and our thoughts, and our audience. Because if we can do that, then the likelihood of our message landing increases. And at the end of the day, that’s what we want. And that doesn’t matter whether you’re talking to one person, or 100 people, we still want that message to land. And we don’t need to be in sales, because we’re selling all the time – we’re selling our ideas, we’re selling our concepts, we are selling us as a human being. You’re selling yourself to other people.

Being able to speak confidently and passionately about what you do is really, really important. But it really is about connection. And we’re going to talk about that a little bit more later.

So as Lauren said, my name is Emma, I trained as a speech and language therapist and then I did a master’s degree in voice coaching and training at Central School of Speech and Drama. And since then, I’ve been working in the corporate world, helping business people, from entrepreneurs, to large global organisations communicate more effectively. I’m helping them build those bridges, so that they can speak with passion, and purpose, and power. And when I say power, I don’t mean power, as in, they’re dominating this space, but they’re speaking from a place of power, which is really useful for connecting with other people.

We’re going to spend 30 minutes together and we’re going to look at three steps that you can take to speak more confidently. In any situation, as I said, whether that’s one person, or many.

So, before we do that, I’d like to tell you about Sophie. Sophie was a civil servant and an extremely impressive civil servant. She came into my studio about three years ago, she had achieved so much in her life, it was incredible listening to all the things that she done. And she just been for a senior management position, and she was declined and told that she didn’t have leadership qualities. But listening to her career, you will see that she’s demonstrated incredible leadership qualities. But listening to her voice, and looking at her body language, there was a mismatch.

We have a situation where we have all these things that we are, we’ve achieved, and that we are capable of our potential. And we have the ability to speak about it, or to tell people about what we’ve done or what we’re going to do. And in Sophie’s case, the two things weren’t matching up. She had all this potential, but she couldn’t talk about it in any kind of effective way. And it meant her communication was disempowered. She felt disempowered, and it wasn’t empowering her career in any kind of way.

Our job was to help her realign that and get her speaking with empowered communication. And actually, halfway through the day, we were doing an exercise, and suddenly this incredible voice came out of her, it was absolutely amazing! And she literally clapped her hands over her mouth and burst into tears. But what she realised was she actually had that powerful voice all along, and it was about getting out of her own way and allowing that voice to come out. We all have that powerful voice. Sometimes we just get in our way and don’t let it out.

Awareness

A lot of the job that we do is about aligning our thoughts with what’s going on in our body. So, what are we thinking? What do we think about ourselves as a speaker? What do we believe about this particular situation? And then what physical skills do we need to bring in to make sure those two things are aligned and they’re not working against each other? A lot of the work that we do is around that. Given that, what are some of the things that you think, before you start to speak what do you believe about yourself as a speaker?

If you’re happy to share that would be amazing, but I appreciate that you may not want to share as well.

[Member Discussion]

Examples included:

  • Talking too quickly
  • Talking too slowly
  • Saying ‘um’ a lot
  • Speaking quietly

Emma: It’s really important that we start to curate some what I call ‘cheerleader thoughts.’ Cheerleader thoughts are these ones: “You’ve prepared, you’re an expert, I am worth this much money an hour.”

By reframing what you’re thinking, it can really help with what happens with your body, your voice and your breath afterwards. So aligning those two things are really important. We want to curate these ‘cheerleader thoughts.’ “I’ve got this prepared, I’m an expert. I know what I’m doing.”

And you know, sometimes that might be “I have only had five minutes to prepare. But I do know this subject really, really well. So I’m going to I’m going to focus on talking about this thing really well. And that’ll be okay.” Or it might even be “you know what, today’s just going to have to be good enough. Now, with homeschooling with all the stress of everything after today’s just going to have to be good enough, and that’ll be okay.”

We want to curate these cheerleader thoughts and we want to try and just kind of simmer down those detracted thoughts… those ones you haven’t prepared, they’re going to ask you that question. You don’t know the answer on it. Because those are the ones that can induce panic. So, we start to produce panic hormones, we can’t think clearly, we start losing a thread. It’s really important that we are cheerleading ourselves, and just quietening down the volume on those detractors. So basically, get out of our own heads, and get in the moment.

Now, that’s easier said than done. But that’s something we do need to bear in mind. So, we’re going to talk about three things. Today we’re going to talk about awareness, connection and engagement. Now, awareness, we’re going to talk about two things, awareness of yourself and awareness of the audience because they’re two really, really important things.

Now, we’ve got an absolutely brilliant opportunity, because we’ve only got eight or so people here. So let’s very quickly just go around the room and I’ll get my pen… we’re going to very quickly go around the room, could you just let me know your name, your job title and something that you really like about your job – that will be super useful. If we just go around the screen, and I’ll just make some notes. So in the top of my screen, I’ve got…

And you can all stop. Because I’m not going to do that. But before you relax, I want you to pay attention to what just happened. Okay, what happened?

[Member Discussion]

Members spoke about they were anxious about having to speak, or that they were so busy planning what they were going to say that they were prepared to not listen to anyone else.

Emma: This is a visual representation of just what happened. Okay, here’s your body down at the bottom, you’re aware of your body but all the energy is going up into the head. You thought, “I have to speak, she didn’t tell me we’re going to have to. What am I going to say?” So all the energy and panic is on here [your head]. Which means all your focus is on you, you have no idea about your audience because we’re too busy focusing on ourselves.

What we want to be able to do is quieten that noise, because it gets in the way of you being able to be aware of what you’re doing with your body, and it gets in the way of you being able to connect with your audience.

I’m going to show you an exercise by a lady called Barbara Houseman. She’s a voice coach. What I’d like you to do is to roll your hands in a forward motion, you can either do it like this [rotating hands], or you can do it as a big circle. Roll your hands forward. And I just like you to say to yourself, obviously because we can’t hear you, your name, your job title and something you really love about your job. So, I will be saying my name is Emma, speaking at work, and I’m a voice coach. I help people connect with power, purpose and presence.

Okay, stop. Right. Now we’re going to do the same thing but we’re going to move backwards with those circles. I want you to imagine that you’ve got a giant beach ball. You know, there’s beach balls that you get, you can blow up, you’ve got a big beach ball on your tummy. And you’re going to go over the top, down underneath the beach ball back up over the top. So you can just do that a few times. Just breathing. It’s helpful to breathe out when you push your hands down, but it’s not essential. Now start to speak. The same thing again, your name, your job title, and why you love your job.

You can stop and relax. How do you feel? What was the difference between the first time and you’re moving forward? And the second time and you were moving backwards?

[Member discussion]

Members spoke about how the second time (backwards, beach ball circles) was a lot slower and calmer.

Emma: It’s an adaptation actually of a Tai Chi exercise and it really helps because when we’re breathing down and pushing our hands down, it just brings the energy that’s all gone up here [the head], back down into the body, which is what we want. Because then we can have a bit more of a still mind, we can have a little bit more of a still body, and we can communicate more effectively. We’re not distracting our audience from the message with too much energy that’s going in the wrong places.

So that’s backwards circles by Barbara Houseman. If you’ve got a speech to deliver you can do it, you can do it at networking. Practice doing the backward circles, and it will just be calmer, better, clearer. And then if you keep doing it, you can actually just do it by rolling your thumbs. If you’re in a meeting and you feel yourself speeding up or getting excited about something just do it with your thumbs rolling backwards. Nobody will be able to see and even if they did see, they wouldn’t think anything much of it, and it just really helps calm your thinking and speaking down.

Okay, just a thought.

When you’re speaking, we’re always aiming for excellence, not perfection. You can’t be perfect. There isn’t a perfect speaker out there. They don’t exist. And when we get someone who’s a bit close to being perfect, it’s really boring. So, you can focus on excellence, you can control excellence. Really think about excellence rather than perfection, you’ll trip yourself up unless you do.

Connection

Okay. Second is Connection – connection to the audience and connection to your message. So, we’re now a bit more aware of ourselves and we’re a bit more aware of our audience. How do we connect to the audience?

Body posture is vital. We want a nice, open chest, we want a face that we can see, and we want relaxed shoulders – on zoom. Obviously, if you’re in real life, we need the whole of the body to be relaxed. But right now, we want the top half to be relaxed. We want to have a nice open chest. And if we roll our shoulders forward, we can look a little bit under confident or even a little bit sad. If you puff our chest up, we can look like we’re being a bit condescending. So, we want a nice, relaxed, soft, sternum. Open shoulders, and we want to be able to see all of the face so that we’re not tipping the face up or dropping the face to too far down. Those things will help connect you with your audience.

We can help that by using this little weird slightly weird acronym FOFBOC. It stands for feet on floor, bum on chair. We want the feet flat on the floor so that your knees and your shins are at a 90-degree angle with your knees, and that you’re sitting on your chair on the sit bones. That’s the bit at the top of your thigh, the bottom of your pelvis. So, we’re sitting really comfortably there. You can have a nice long spine. If we do that, you can breathe more easily. If you can breathe more easily, your voice is going to sound stronger, more confident, more connected with your audience.

We can connect to our audience by being open and available to them with our body posture. It’s really important. And where we position ourselves on the screen, you want to be having a conversation. Even though I’m the one doing most of the talking today, my aim is that this feels conversational, rather than a lecture. So, think about your body posture.

How do we connect to our audience? Well, the number one thing I’d say is: What’s your purpose? Why are you speaking to these people? Why are you why today? Why now? Why not last week or next year? Why? So what’s the purpose? And are you trying to educate them? Are you trying to inspire them? Are you trying to transform? What’s the purpose of this conversation?

Because that will help you decide the language, the structure, the energy that you might need to bring. So, knowing what your purpose will make it clearer for you and clearer for your audience. And it makes it much easier for them to connect to what you’re saying. So really think before you do anything else before you put pen to paper. Think about the purpose of this conversation or this communication, whatever it happens to be. Why are you doing it?

Engagement

Okay, the final thing is engagement. How do we keep our audience engaged? We started talking… how do we keep them engaged? Well, there’s lots of ways we can use our voice to keep our audience engaged. We can think about the pace, we can think about the pausing, tone, volume, pitch, nonverbal gestures, and then interaction and we can ask rhetorical questions. Do we use images or use data stories? We’ve got lots – that’s just a few. There are hundreds of different things. There’s loads of ways we can keep our audience engaged once we get going.

We want them to be engaged right from beginning right to the end. I’m just going to talk about two things. I’m going to demonstrate – and you can tell me what’s the difference is – the use of pause. So, hello, my name is Emma from speaking at work. I’m a corporate speaker coach. Hello, my name’s Emma. I’m a Corporate speaker Coach. Which is better?

In the second one, I use pause, and I did exaggerate it a little bit just for effect. But I use pause. If I’m comfortable taking up a little bit more space – as we talked about earlier – and taking up silent space, I’m just showing a little bit more in control. The idea was that with the pausing, you’re demonstrating that you are a little bit more of an expert in the space. Again, if we’re trying to say things too quickly, we’re not taking up that space or not saying I’m worth listening to. But also, when you’re delivering complex information or something that’s really heavy in images or emotionally weighty, you can’t rush the pauses because your audience won’t have time to absorb the information. And if they’re not absorbing the information, that’s when they start to disengage, and drift off and start looking at their phone or doing other things. The use of pause is really, really important to keep your audience engaged throughout the process.

Now, the second thing is about pace. So, if I delivered the whole of this half an hour speaking at the same pace for the entire time, after just a few minutes, it would be quite soporific. You would stop listening, because it’s boring. Equally, if I did the entire thing at 100 miles an hour, you would have disengaged really, really quickly, because you won’t be able to follow anything that I was saying.

We want to be able to use pace deliberately to engage our audience. If it’s complex, if it’s weighty, if it’s really important, we slow the pace down. But if it’s lighthearted, and it’s fun, we can speed up. And it’s kind of a little bit more throwaway. But we want to be able to swap between the two things. Because it’s really important that we’re changing the pace and that it’s not always the same thing. So pause to help your audience absorb the information, and to help develop your own gravitas in the space and pace to keep them interested. But it has to match the content. So, it’s slower for more complex, lighter for less complex, helpful, or not so helpful. Brilliant, okay.

Summary

If we want to ace our performance and we want to be really confident speakers, we need to be aware of ourselves and the audience. We can do that by quieting the crazy noise that goes on and using the backwards circles exercise or any kind of breathing exercises to do – yoga or meditation or anything like that can be so helpful for just quieting the noise that can go on and distract us when we’re speaking.

We can connect with our audience and we connect through having an open posture, open face and nice, relaxed shoulders, but also connecting through the message: Why am I talking to you? What is it I really want you to get out of this session?

And we engage our audience through pausing and pace. So, making sure that we are using a nice variety, the pausing to insert to show gravitas, to show executive presence in the situation, that we are the expert, and so that our audience can absorb the message. And then using the pace to keep them interested and engaged.

Practice is really important – the doing is what builds a confidence. You can’t read a book on competent speaking and be better at it, you’ll be cognitively better, but actually, you’ve got to do it. And you’ve got to get it wrong as well. Because that’s when we learn to practice in public. Focus on excellence, not perfection. Perfection is an unhelpful thought.

We all have different voices; we all have different ways of connecting with our audiences. And we could all do it brilliantly. But we have to focus on the excellence not the perfection. And if you do, the outcome is likely to be better because you’re focusing on being excellent. And so whatever you can walk away from the situation go, “You know what, I did my best for what I know now for my skill set. For my understanding, that was the best I could do today. So that’s good enough.” It’s really important to focus on that.

Okay, it’s one o’clock. What has been your lightbulb moment. Has there been anything today that you’ve thought, “that’s a really handy thought? That’s a really handy tip.” What could you go away and do from today?

Q&A

Lauren: If it’s okay with you, Emma, I was going to open up a Q&A. I actually wanted to kick off because I know a lot of people on the call are – we’re all in different situations – a lot of us, I think, are employed.

Something that used to come up for me when I was employed, was having those one to ones with the scary boss. And asking for something like a pay rise, or whatever it was, or asking for something that made you feel uncomfortable. And you just want to shrink, you just want to cut up and get it over with. But what I would find is that as soon as I got any negative feedback from them, so if they were to say, “No,” or they would sort of say, “Well, actually, you know, this is how it is or actually you’re being like that.” It’s something that’s contradictory to what I’m saying… then I kind of lost it. I can do all of these things and be confident and have the posture and go in they’re, like, so strong and so angry and just wanting to achieve that thing… but as soon as someone kind of takes that power from me, or I feel like they’ve done that, my voice just shrinks a little bit and then I go back. Are there any tips for you know, reactionary voice shrinking?

Emma: What’s happened there is exactly what we looked at earlier. Your energy has gone up into your head. You’ve had a kind of like, “no,” and so you’ve gone into your head and gone, “They said no, I’ve overstepped the mark, I’ve done the wrong thing.” Or, “Hang on that isn’t that isn’t the way I wanted it to go.”

So you’ve gone into your head and so you are not choosing your response. Your response has kind of become automatic. So, the way that we need to tackle that is to get the breath back down into the body, so that we can actually clearly analyse what’s been said, and then decide what we want to happen next.

And I was taught this the other day, literally the other day, and I think it’s amazing. So run your fingers along the sides of your index finger, or your thumb along the side of your index finger until the pad of your thumb is sitting on the, the nail of the index finger. And just notice how it softens your belly and the breath drops back down. Does that make you can you feel that if you can breathe lower down in your body? You can’t actually breathe into your belly, but it feels like it’s in your belly lower down in your body, you can think just that bit more clearly.

So in those moments, when you’re stressed, we need to get the breath down in the body. So one of the things you can do, you can do that exercise or you can breathe out. So when you’re stressed, everything goes tight. If people say it’s okay, “Everything’s okay, just take a deep breath.”

If I’m like this [scrunched up], and I take a deep breath, I’m now way more stressed than I was a second ago, because I’m like a balloon, I’m full with air, I’m going to burst. So actually, what we need to do is the opposite, we need to breathe out. Let it go. Obviously, you can’t do it that loudly in the situation because it will sound like a teenage grumpy sigh. But we just need to let the air go. And then we can respond.

Usually, the best way to respond is to get more information. Okay, I hear what you’re saying. Can you explain to me X? Can you explain to me why? And if it’s about something like a pay rise, and they say no, say “Okay, I hear what you’re saying, can you give me clear indications of what I need to do in order to get that pay rise?” –  Or in order that I can get that promotion?”

It’s about being analytical in that moment and understanding more – always going back to the other person say, “Okay, I hear what you’re saying. Can you try it? Can you explain more? Can you give me some more information? Can you see a time when that might change? Can you see? Can you explain how I might be able to?”

What can I do to so that you are taking the control back? Because what they’ve done is they’ve taken the control from you by saying no. And we need to try and get the control back and get back on track and get to where we want to be. So, what I say to people is to try not to think of it as a no, it’s a not yet.

Lauren: The mindfulness techniques are very helpful, because it’s definitely an emotional response. Where you might have that tactic before of what you’re going to say, or “I definitely need to say this to this person today,” it’s an emotive response. The responsive mindfulness is really helpful.

Emma: I mean, how many times will you have a meeting and gone and thought, “Why did I say that? I should have said that.” And it’s because you’re breathing again, you started to breathe; your brain is starting to function. So, we have to try and just get that response happening. In the meeting, not when you’re halfway down the corridor afterwards going, “Ah why didn’t I say that?”

Lauren: And that’s much easier! We’ve got a couple more minutes before we need to wrap up. Any other specific questions?

[Member asks about avoiding saying ‘um’ so frequently]

Emma: Usually, again, it’s to do with breath. While we’re thinking about the next thing we want to say and we are often kind of holding our breath at the same time. So, one of the things I say to people is the phrase: you can breathe while you think. It has a little bit to do with wanting to fill the silences. In general, you don’t want it to be unpleasant for them [the audience] so we fill those silences, so it’s about retraining yourself to think, “I can breathe while I think, I listen and I wait – I wait for the next coherent thought.”

It’s not necessarily a bad thing as long as it’s not interrupting the flow of what you’re saying. But yeah, I get it, you may want to diminish it slightly – so it’s about breathing. The other trick – and I don’t like it too much but it can help in the interim – is actually shut your mouth when you finish speaking. I know that sounds awful. But you say what you’re going to say and then you very lightly put your lips together. I don’t like that too much because actually, when we close our lips after we said something, it’s like we’ve taken it back, like it was a lie. You know, you say, “Oh, are you going to the party later?” and you realise that they haven’t been invited. You know you weren’t meant to say it. If we say something and then immediately clamp our lips, it’s like that wasn’t true. I always say that one [trick] with caution. But if you really want to stop it, it’s a kind of way to train yourself out of it. You can do that.

Lauren: I’ll start to wrap up. And you might have seen in the chat, I’ve just dropped in two PDFs, which Emma has shared with me to share with you. The first one is a workbook, which is brilliant, because it’s a good reflection piece from today. It sort of goes over the key elements that Emma’s talked about, and you can then put in your thoughts as you go along. So there are questions in there for you to answer. And the other one is about how you can work with Emma, if you feel like this is an area that you really need to give some attention to in the future. Emma, how can people connect with you and follow more of what you do? Because you do a lot of great content video. So, what is the best way?

Emma: LinkedIn is probably the best way to connect with me. I post a video three times a week with tips and tricks and thoughts and ideas about speaking, pitching, interviewing, anything to do with talking at work and how to do it better, or to feel better about doing it. So definitely connect that way. Also, I’ve got a competently speaking six-week programme, which starts in March, which you’re very welcome to come along to. There are various different options of how you can work with me – either in a small group, a large group or one to one. I’m offering all the Yellow Eve members a 10% discount. And Lauren’s going to put the code for that in the email that she sends out after the session. So, feel free to get in contact either through LinkedIn or through that.

Lauren: That’s amazing. Thank you, Emma.

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