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Does your voice ever sound gravelly or too low, trailing off at the end of a sentence? It’s a phenomenon called vocal fry. When you hold your breath while speaking, constricting the air through your vocal chords, you create vocal fry.

Watch the video below for an example:

Vocal fry is damaging in two ways: First, it’s physically damaging to your vocal chords when you do it consistently. Second, it’s damaging to your credibility because it reduces your authority when speaking with others. Consider this 2014 article in The Atlantic suggesting that the use of vocal fry is particularly damaging for women’s job prospects. In my workshops and executive coaching sessions, I hear both men and women use it and recommend that everybody avoid it – it hurts all of us!

Why do people use vocal fry? Most people don’t realize they are doing it. Maybe they picked it up from their friends (or by watching TV, as this article referencing the Kardashians discusses). It’s common for us to pick up accents, slang, and filler words from the people around us – a colleague of mine calls it “linguistic contagion”. Smoking and other bad habits that cause damage to the vocal chords can also affect the sound and quality of your voice.

How can you speak with power and resonance, instead of vocal fry? It all comes down to breathing. When you breathe deeply and then exhale while speaking on the breath, you’re able to produce a richer and fuller sound. Click here for breathing tips from my article in the Harvard Business Review.

Try these steps to speak with power and reduce vocal fry: 

  1. Take your smart phone and open the memo recorder.
  2. Record yourself normally saying, “Good morning, I’m happy to be here today.”
  3. Then take a deep breath and slowly exhale while speaking on the breath, as if the breath were projecting (not pushing) your words forward, while repeating the same sentence above.
  4. Listen to both recordings and see if you can hear the difference.
  5. Every time you speak – especially when you introduce yourself, when people form their first impressions of you – imagine speaking on the breath so that you support the words and don’t let them drop into your throat.

Reducing vocal fry takes practice and effort, but the effect will liberate your voice so you can speak with power and impact.

 

For our last newsletter of 2016, we are sharing an article by Catherine Clifford of CNBC who interviewed Global Public Speaking CEO and Founder Allison Shapira and other experts on the subject of public speaking. From all of us at Global Public Speaking, we wish you a very happy holiday season and an inspiring New Year!

Original Post: http://www.cnbc.com/2016/10/11/13-ways-to-overcome-your-fear-of-public-speaking-and-win-the-room.html by Catherine Clifford on Tuesday, 11 Oct 2016 | 9:46 AM ET


More Americans are terrified of public speaking than are afraid of earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, blizzards, loneliness, dying, theft, volcanoes, aging, needles, mass shootings, kidnappings and ghosts.

“Glossophobia,” the medical term for stage fright, makes 28.4 percent of the adults in the U.S. either afraid or very afraid, according to The Chapman University Survey of American Fears. Meanwhile, volcanoes scare 19.7 percent of American adults and 8.5 percent of adults are afraid of zombies, according to the report.

Despite the fact that public speaking often induces terror, it’s a vital skill for potential entrepreneurs and business owners who must be able to have to get up in front of a crowd to make a pitch, present an idea, or close a deal.

Here are 13 great secrets from professional speakers, experts, and coaches to help you overcome stage fright and give an ace presentation.

1. Speak from the heart

Talk about your own experiences. “Telling personal, true stories is the best way to impart information and inspire others. And it is easy to remember our own stories!” says Gary Schmidt, Past International President of Toastmasters International, a nonprofit organization that helps members improve their public speaking skills.

Gary Schmidt

Source: Gary Schmidt
Gary Schmidt

 

And avoid overly complicated language. It loses the audience. “You don’t need jargon to sound like you know what you’re talking about; bring in your own personal stories and experiences to build a persuasive case for why you are passionate about what you do. Your enthusiasm is your best sales tool,” says Allison Shapira, founder and CEO of Global Public Speaking.

2. Picture yourself as a winner

“There are many who prepare mentally minutes before speaking or maybe on the same day. One of the strongest factors is to prepare mentally from the instant that a speaking engagement is confirmed,” says Mohammed Murad, Past International President of Toastmasters. “Visualizing the venue and audience contributes greatly to the build up of confidence.”

3. Breathe

Being aware of your breath gives you control of your nerves. “Deep breathing before and during your presentation or pitch calms your nerves and adds power and strength to your voice,” says Shapira, who has been a Harvard lecturer, opera singer and TEDx speaker and has launched her own communication consulting firm. “Deep breathing also keeps your voice centered and prevents dangerous uptalk which undermines your credibility and confidence.”

Allison Shapira

Source: David Hume Kennerly
Allison Shapira

 

Rochelle Rice, an accredited Toastmasters International speaker, recommends standing with your feet in a wide parallel stance and your arms up before speaking in front of a crowd and then taking five deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. It’s also helpful to lift your right arm up and stretch to the right and vice versa, she says. “Lower your arms, bring your legs together and feel the sensation of the breath and the circulation in your body,” she says.

4. Ditch the power point

Powerpoint is a gentle lullaby to your audience. “People will invest in you because of your energy, confidence, and enthusiasm, not because of your slides,” says Shapira. “Make you and your business the focus of your presentation instead of spending hours on the perfect pitch deck.”

5. Don’t practice in your PJs

Simulate the experience of speaking to an audience in your rehearsals, says Sims Wyeth, an executive coach, business writer, author, and speaker. Wyeth started his career as an actor and has previously taught theater, and voice & speech at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, the Michael Chekhov Studio, the Actors’ and Directors’ Lab, and the University of New Orleans.

“Be well rehearsed, which means you should rehearse under performance-like pressure,” says Wyeth. “Rehearsal is the work, performance is the play, and rehearsing under performance-like pressure acclimates you to the demands of public speaking.”

Sims Wyeth

Source: Sims Wyeth
Sims Wyeth

 

There are neurological changes that occur when you practice. “Rehearsal transfers your words and ideas from the cerebral cortex, which is responsible for higher order conscious thought, to your cerebellum, which orchestrates the lightning fast motor activation needed to perform complex actions, like speaking to crowds, teaching your fingers to play a new piece of music, or learning your lines for a play,” says Wyeth, who is also the author of The Essentials of Persuasive Public Speaking.

6. Public speaking is a skill, not a talent

“Don’t assume you need to be born a natural public speaker; recognize that it’s a learnable (and vital) skill for promoting your business to investors, customers, and partners. Put aside time for practice and get feedback from colleagues and friends,” says Shapira.

“You can’t outsource public speaking; as an entrepreneur, it’s up to you to be the face of your business.” – Allison Shapira

And if you are the head of a business, you are the one who is going to have to be on stage. “You can’t outsource public speaking; as an entrepreneur, it’s up to you to be the face of your business,” she says.

7. Nail the beginning and the ending

Your opening sets the tone for your speech and your closing is what you will leave your audience with. Since entrepreneurs have only eight words to get the attention of a venture capitalist in a pitch, skip the “So, Yeah,” at the start, says Shapira. Jump right in. And in your conclusion, leave your audience with a call to action or some other way for people to get involved.

“The most important parts of a speech are the opening and the conclusion,” says Shapira. “Rather than expecting those sentences to happen spontaneously in the moment; write and practice them in advance.”

Even better: memorize. Have the opening, and closing nailed down and then have a bullet point version of the rest of your speech memorized, suggests Rochelle Rice, one of the 69 Accredited Speaker with Toastmasters International and a board member of the National Speakers Association.

8. Avoid improv

Practice, practice, practice. “Don’t wing it, no matter how good you think you are at thinking on your feet,” says Schmidt. “Mark Twain said it best: ‘It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.'”

9. Be yourself and have a good time

If you put on a front, the audience will pick up on it. “Speaking is not acting,” says Murad. “People usually sense the personality, and it becomes apparent that the speaker is acting by trying to be someone else. There is no harm in researching other speaker styles, but a speaker needs to develop a style distinct to their personality, never imitate styles.”

Enthusiasm and boredom are contagious. “If you are passionate about your topic and are excited to present to others, it will be infectious,” says Schmidt. “If you are having fun as a speaker, your audience will have fun observing your speech.”

“Speaking is not acting.”-Mohammed Murad, Past International President of Toastmasters

10. Tailor the speech to the audience

Even if you have given the speech before, be sure to make tweaks to engage the specific audience.

Mohammed Murad

Source: Mohammed Murad
Mohammed Murad

“Without exception, audience, venue, and setting are all different each time. We can never be over-prepared,” says Murad.

11. Choose a one word mantra

Your brain gets slowed down by complicated instructions, says Wyeth. “Psychologists have established that one-word instruction to yourself when you’re under pressure generates the best performance. Sports psychologists encourage professional golfers to pick one word as they get ready to putt. ‘Smooth,’ is a good one,” he says.

“Mark Twain said it best: ‘It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.’”-Gary Schmidt, Past International President of Toastmasters International

“Instructing your brain to remember to breathe, smile, stand up straight, slow down, and look at the audience will result in a disaster. Choose one word to be your North Star, something like, ‘Relax,’ or ‘Fun,’ or ‘Easy.'”

12. Be patient with yourself

You probably won’t be Tony Robbins on your first try. “Public speaking is not easy. It takes time, practice and patience to hone your skills,” says Rice.

13. Finally: don’t overthink

As counter-intuitive as it may sound, intense concentration will trip you up, says Wyeth. “The cerebellum is responsible for orchestrating lightning fast recollection of your words and ideas when you’re speaking, but it’s not reliable. It’s not consciously accessible. You can’t knock on its door and say, ‘Ok, cerebellum, I’m ready to speak.’ Open up and do your thing,” he says.

Rochelle Rice

Source: Jowdy Photography
Rochelle Rice

 

“The science is clear. If you don’t want to choke, don’t monitor your own performance. Be well-rehearsed, trust yourself, and get on with it. Well-meaning people will tell you to slow down and continuously assess yourself. Don’t do it. Dive in with both feet. It’ll keep your feet out of your mouth.”

 

 

Next week, I’ll be speaking at an important event for sales professionals in the Washington, DC area. Sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales, the Customer Acquisition Symposium on November 18 in Tyson’s Corner, VA, features 6 world-class sales experts with presentations and workshops to help you find and keep more clients. Use discount code SHAPIRACAS for $25 off the registration fee.

Many of my clients are in a customer-facing sales role in their company, but even those without “sales” in their job description need these skills to be effective in their job.

We are always selling something: if you’re the Executive Director of a nonprofit, you’re persuading donors to support you. If you’re an engineer, you’re selling a new strategy to your teammates or senior leadership. If you’re a parent, you’re persuading your kids to go to bed on time (or selling them on the value of vegetables!).

Sometimes we are selling an idea or a course of action, but more frequently, we are selling ourselves – as a job candidate, an elected official, a trusted advisor, or a partner.

Every time you speak to an audience of 1 or more, you have an opportunity to change their behaviors, beliefs, and actions.

As my colleague Annette Simmons, author of my favorite book on storytelling, Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins, says that when you change someone’s emotions, you change the way they feel about an issue. In her own words:

“The truth is, facts aren’t as powerful as human emotions. Feelings alter facts – at least the perception of facts. If people are mad, sad, or fearful, they discredit facts and attack the credibility of the source.”

In my experience, the most effective sales people truly believe in the product they are selling, which is why one of the most important questions we ask before giving a speech is “Why you: why are you passionate about this subject?”

Selling isn’t about creating a fake sales pitch that you present to your clients, donors, or team. It’s about sharing your natural enthusiasm for your work, for WHY you do what you do and why it’s important to your audience. Your enthusiasm is your best sales tool.

5 Speaking Tips for Your Sales Process

  1. Always ask “The 3 Questions” before your sales call. Before a speech, presentation, or conversation with a prospect, always ask yourself The 3 Questions below. They help you identify the most important information to highlight in your conversation.

    Who is your audience?
    How do they feel about your product or company?
    What is your goal?
    What do you want them to do at the end of the meeting?
    Why you?
    Why are you passionate about this? This unlocks your authentic language and energy.


  2. Remember that the best salespeople ask questions rather than pitch. A speech should feel like a conversation between you and every member of your audience. A sales presentation should literally include questions. And not rhetorical questions like, “How many of you would like to earn more money?” but rather, “Can you tell us about the problems you’re experiencing?” That way, the solutions you present to the client are in line with the actual challenges they face.
  3. Think about your executive presence. When you speak to a prospect or client, your entire body is communicating: your words, your body language, and your tone of voice. How can you ensure that everything is in alignment and nothing is undermining your confidence or professionalism? Come to the Nov.18 Customer Acquisition Symposium to learn tools to build your executive presence.
  4. Include a call to action. In public speaking, I always recommend a clear call to action – what do you want your audience to do after hearing you speak? In sales, this is called “the ask.” The more you know your client, the easier “the ask” will be because it will flow naturally from a conversation. Many people get cold feet and never ask for the business, for the funding, or for the partnership. Don’t shy away from this very important part of the conversation.
  5. Practice, practice, practice. In last month’s newsletter, I showed you how to use your daily commute to practice your upcoming presentations and important conversations. But on the way to the client’s office should be the final run-through, not the first time you practice. Set aside 15-30 minutes one day in advance to walk through the conversation out loud – either in front of a colleague or while videotaping yourself on your smartphone. The greatest number of filler words  – ums, ahs, kind ofs, sort ofs – happen when we are unprepared. When we look unprepared in front of a client, we lose the business.

Your public speaking skills can make or break your sales pitch; make time to practice the delivery of the pitch in addition to finalizing the content. The more you connect with your natural enthusiasm – and then let yourself demonstrate it in front of your clients – the more you will win the business.

 

Helping veterans and spouses find their next civilian job through networking and public speaking training.On Veterans Day, we salute the men and women of the US military along with their spouses and families. You have given so much for our country and deserve to be recognized for how you have spent your life in service to others.

Your voices of experience are incredibly powerful and deserve to be heard. That’s why we are making our new Online E-course in Public Speaking, Speaking with Confidence, available for free to military veterans and their spouses. Regularly $299, this self-paced program walks you through the process of writing, practicing, and delivering a speech or presentation. At the end of the program, you will feel more confident speaking up and better equipped to speak with power, authenticity and confidence. To access this program please email info@allisonshapira.com.

Please use those tools and please share your voice. We need to hear from you.

 

practicing-on-the-goI know how hard it is to make time to practice. Here are some challenges I hear from my clients:

  • Everything in my work and my personal life is last-minute. I’m constantly putting out the closest fire to me.
  • We are constantly asked to do more with less resources. How am I going to find time to practice?
  • From the moment I arrive at work until the moment I leave, my day is completely filled up with meetings.

In a previous article, I taught you how to write a speech in 30 minutes, and practice makes up at least half of that time. Many people avoid practicing their speech because it makes them feel uncomfortable – but the more you practice, the more comfortable you become.

Excellence doesn’t happen spontaneously; practice is the most important thing you can do to ensure a powerful speech or presentation. Take a minute and think of the potential outcome of your speech: if your speech is effective, could it affect the behaviors of your colleagues, volunteers, or partners? Could it have a direct, positive impact on the success of your business or nonprofit? On revenue or fundraising? On your community?

Practice is what helps you stand out from other speakers and especially stand out in your audience’s eyes.

With that in mind, here are 6 ways to practice while on the go:

  1. Arrive early and sit in your car. One of my clients drove to the location of an upcoming meeting where she was expected to say a few words. In the parking lot of the venue, she practiced deep breathing and then spoke her remarks out loud. She even recorded herself with her smartphone to play it back and make necessary adjustments. 10 minutes later, she confidently walked into the meeting room prepared to speak.
  2. Use traffic to your advantage. Another client once said, “Thank God for traffic in LA; it takes an hour to get anywhere and gives me time to prepare for an upcoming speech or meeting. Even if it’s a shorter drive, I spend 20 minutes talking to myself about my upcoming client call.” Use valuable time away from your email to prepare for your speech, whether you’re driving, in a taxi, or using a car service like Lyft or Uber.
  3. Get up 15 minutes earlier. Even 15 minutes of fresh time in your day can help you clear your head and focus on an upcoming speech or meeting. Take a few deep breaths and ask yourself the 3 Questions: Who is your audience? What is your goal? Why you? (Why are you passionate about this?). Those answers keep you focused and strategic in your thinking.
  4. Spend 10 minutes writing down your thoughts. Another client said, “When I wake up in the morning, I think of the things I have to do and what I want to say in the day’s meetings, but it doesn’t really translate until I write it down.” Spending a few minutes jotting down your notes keeps your priorities top of mind throughout the day. Using the right medium to write your thoughts is just as important as writing them down. I write on Evernote so I can access my notes from any of my devices.
  5. Use mental rehearsal on public transportation. You can’t always practice your speech out loud on the subway or bus, but you can close your eyes and imagine your speech or conversation in your head. Practice deep breathing and imagine the entire event executed flawlessly; you’ll feel like you’ve actually given the speech successfully. Tip: Don’t forget to imagine the applause at the end – it boosts your confidence.
  6. When you add a speech to your calendar, block out practice time that week. Take a minute to review your upcoming speaking engagements and ensure you have time set aside in your calendar to prepare.

Just like setting a budget helps you save money, being judicious with your time will help you gain back valuable minutes in your day. Then, you can spend that extra time preparing for your upcoming speech, presentation, or important conversation. Preparation will help you feel more confident, more relaxed, and more natural on stage.

 
allison-shapira-photo-by-david-hume-kennerly-pointing

Allison Shapira teaches in the Vital Voices Bank of America Global Ambassadors Program. Photo: David Hume Kennerly

Imagine this: you’re an entrepreneur whose business has grown so quickly that you can barely keep up. You fundamentally believe in your company’s success and its positive impact on the environment, but you’re unsure how to proceed. Furthermore, you’re uncomfortable being the face of the company. How in the world are you going to stand before a crowd or a TV camera and confidently, authentically promote your work and its mission?

Or maybe this: you’re running a consulting firm with a powerful vision for your indigenous community. You are using business to drive social change, but it requires you to challenge mainstream culture and its stereotypes about your community. Your voice as well as your work will change people’s perceptions of minorities, leading to a more inclusive work environment and shared economic growth.

Now imagine that each of you were matched with a successful, established leader who spent a week helping you address those challenges, who took the time to learn about you and your business and was laser-focused on how you can succeed.

When someone sees the potential that is within us, there is no limit to what we can achieve.

These examples provide a window into the Vital Voices Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Ambassadors Program that took place this month in Sydney, Australia. The program matches women leaders (mentees) who are at a tipping point in their professional, business, or leadership paths with more established women leaders (Global Ambassadors) for a week of intense learning and mentorship.

An incredibly humbling experience, I had the opportunity to serve as the communication trainer and coach for this program. I helped the participants learn to speak with confidence – in public and on camera – and network with authenticity. In our week-long intensive training, we addressed questions such as:

  • How do you promote yourself and your business?
  • How do you build strategic relationships?
  • How do you use the power of the spoken word to catapult your message to the world?

I’ve taught similar programs in Northern Ireland, South Africa, England, Argentina, and Japan. In all these programs, I’ve found that business owners and nonprofit leaders around the world face similar challenges: access to capital or funding, finding the right staff, and scaling effectively. But women around the world face those challenges and more: cultural stereotypes, expectations of a women’s role, and a relentless and ever-changing pursuit of work-life balance.

Over the course of one week, transformational change took place. A woman terrified of public speaking learned to speak her mind; a group of women from the same country joined forces to strengthen one another’s organizations, and a woman hesitant to face her potential realized it was less about her business and more about her social impact. As one of the Global Ambassadors said, The power of the impact we can collectively have is extraordinary.

At the end of the program, every single person – from the Global Ambassadors to the mentees to the trainers and staff – left more inspired and more self-aware, re-evaluating the role she could play in the world and the impact she could have on others.

When someone sees the potential that is within us, there is no limit to what we can achieve. Now, we should ask the question, How can we find that potential in others? This is key to helping people find their voice and their courage to speak.

 

Allison Shapira Online Training program

When I first moved to Washington, DC to launch Global Public Speaking, I didn’t realize the overwhelmingly positive response it would receive. From banking to foreign policy to education, I’ve experienced first-hand how important public speaking and presentation skills are for professionals in every industry and at every stage of their career.

Now, I’m thrilled to launch my first-ever online learning program, based on the same content from my highly-rated workshops. Speaking with Confidence is a step-by-step guide through the process of writing, practicing, and delivering a speech, presentation, or important conversation. You’ll learn to speak with confidence and authenticity and you’ll have a quick and easy structure that helps you feel prepared and purposeful. This program takes the content from my workshops and makes it available around the world, providing a cost-effective way to build public speaking skills.

Available from your smart phone, tablet, or computer, Speaking with Confidence includes:

  • Video chapters with action items and homework for each session
  • Checklists and preparation documents
  • Video FAQs
  • A 25-page “how-to” manual which collects the most important material from my workshops and gives you the techniques and tricks you need to transform your public speaking skills.

Allison’s online program changed the way I feel about public speaking. Through a clever and fun journey I discovered the top secrets of public speaking: how to organize the writing, how to connect with people when delivering, and how to speak on the breath. More importantly, I learned how to see public speaking as something natural and familiar. I really enjoyed the practice tools towards the end. Yes, practice is everything but Allison shows you how to do it. I don’t know how Allison did it but what I learned during her program remains tattooed in my mind. – Martin Furlong, International Business Consultant and Educator

Through this program, you will feel more confident:

  • Managing virtual or in-person teams
  • Leading meetings
  • Speaking at conferences
  • Pitching to clients, investors, or constituents
  • Giving presentations and briefings
  • Becoming a powerful advocate on behalf of issues you care about

To celebrate this program, we’re offering a 25% discount if you purchase before September 30, 2016. Start here with Speaking with Confidence and learn how to find your authentic voice. Take the course at your own pace and take your public speaking skills to the next level.

Contact us directly at info@allisonshapira.com for information on discounted licensing, additional questions, or a free consultation.

 

how-to-use-a-microphoneHow do you use a microphone when giving a speech? Should you use a microphone? These are two questions I’m frequently asked during workshops or coaching sessions.

Too often, I see people stand up at conferences and shout, “You can all hear me, right?” And when no one has the nerve to say “no,” the speaker goes on to shout their speech.  Or, they take the microphone and hold it down by their belly button, where it can’t pick up any sound. Both instances show disrespect for your audience; if your audience can’t hear you, they can’t be moved to action.

I’ve used microphones both for speaking and singing and I know that using a microphone is a powerful way to fill the room with your message and get your voice heard. Using it correctly can make the difference between sounding like a professional and sounding like an amateur.

“…if your audience can’t hear you, you can’t move them to take action.”

Here are my tips for using a microphone effectively.

  1. Always be willing to use a microphone. In any audience, you will have varying hearing levels and English levels; don’t make it hard for people to listen to you. It’s healthier for your voice – and more pleasant for your audience’s ears – if you don’t have to yell.
    • If you are making comments during a conference, stand up and use a mic. It ensures that everyone can hear you and – as a result – increases your credibility and authority.
  2. Determine in advance if you will or will not need a microphone. You’ll want to use a mic for one of two reasons: the audience is larger than 20 people, or the event will be recorded.
  3. Decide which type of microphone to use. At a conference, you can usually choose between a handheld or a hands-free mic. Whenever possible, I choose a hands-free microphone: a lavalier or lapel mic, an earset mic, etc. That way, it doesn’t disrupt my natural hand gestures.
    • Avoid using the lectern mic, because it locks you to the lectern and prevents you from walking around and engaging the audience. If you must use the lectern mic, adjust the mic height in advance.
  4. Check the battery and volume in advance. There might not be a sound technician available to help you; always check the battery and volume level before you walk on stage. You can say something like, “Testing, testing” or “Check 1. Check 2.” instead of “Hey, is this thing on?”
  5. Where to put a lapel mic: If you’re wearing a suit, you can clip the lapel mic to your lapel (hence the name), on your button-down shirt, or on your tie about 8-12 inches from your face; clip the transmitter on the back of your belt loop. Ladies, if you’re wearing a dress and don’t have a belt loop, you might clip the receiver on the top back of your dress; it’s a little uncomfortable but you will get used to it. Wherever you put the mic, ensure it isn’t covered by hair or clothing as that affects the sound quality.
  6. Cough AWAY from the mic. It happens: sometimes we have to cough or sneeze on stage. Remember to turn away from the mic, otherwise the entire room will resonate with your booming sneeze.
  7. For a hand-held microphone, hold the mic about 6-8 inches from your face, just under your mouth. When your head moves, move your hand with it so that your mic follows your mouth. Use your free hand to make hand gestures.
  8. Speak with a strong, clear voice. Don’t try to yell and don’t assume that it’s OK to whisper. The microphone amplifies the voice itself; make sure it’s amplifying a strong, confident voice. For tips on how to find your strong voice, read my article in the Harvard Business Review.
  9. Relax if the mic doesn’t work. Sometimes there will be a problem with the sound. Relax and don’t let it overwhelm you. I was once in the middle of a presentation on stage using a lapel mic when the sound technician walked up, gave me a handheld microphone, and proceeded to stand behind me fiddling with the transmitter on my belt. I used humor to show the audience I was relaxed, saying “I will continue talking and pretend that there isn’t someone behind me right now playing with my belt.” The more relaxed you are, the more relaxed the audience will be.
  10. Assume the mic is always on! Sometimes the sound technician will tell you that they have turned off the mic. Regardless, I never, ever, go into the restroom with a mic on me. While the odds are low that something will happen, the potential for embarrassment is high.

Rather than be intimidated, look at the mic as an opportunity to amplify your message. Remind yourself why your speech subject is important to you, and use that energy and enthusiasm to fuel your passion when speaking. The mic is there to make your job easier.

 
IRVING -- JULY 11: Woman from Rwanda and Afghanistan attend the Peace Through Business Boot Camp, sponsored by the Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women (IEEW), International Women's Economic Summit . Founder Terry Neese addresses group, Northwwod U. president Dr. Kevin Fagan, Allison Shapira give Speaking with Confidence lecture, at the AT&T University, Irving, Texas, July 11, 2016. (Photo by David Hume Kennerly/GettyImages)

IRVING — JULY 11: Woman from Rwanda and Afghanistan attend the Peace Through Business Boot Camp, sponsored by the Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women (IEEW), International Women’s Economic Summit. Photo: David Hume Kennerly/GettyImages

Far from being a soft skill, verbal communication is a critical factor in any organization’s success. Speaking clearly, concisely, and persuasively will help you find clients, build professional and personal relationships, and manage staff or volunteers. It’s an important skill whether you’re a business owner in the United States or anywhere else in the world.

Last month, I had the pleasure of teaching public speaking and business networking to a group of women entrepreneurs from Rwanda and Afghanistan. These women were attending the PEACE THROUGH BUSINESS training boot camp in Dallas, TX hosted by The Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women. Through partners like Bank of America, the program provides training, support, and mentorship to help women grow their businesses and strengthen their communities. These women then return to their countries to become change agents, using small business to revitalize their economies.

Their industries ranged from retail to catering, from tourism to energy, and, like all business owners, they recognized communication as a critical skill necessary for success. In my work coaching men and women around the world, I’ve learned that no matter where we come from or what language we speak, we all get nervous before a presentation, we all feel anxious about difficult conversations, and we all dread speaking to larger and larger audiences.

 

Every time you speak, you have the ability to influence people’s thoughts, actions, or behaviors.

 

Here are 5 steps to communication success:

  1. Visualize your audience. During our training, Jeannette Nduwamariya, who has spent 15 years working in women’s empowerment and also owns and operates a company that sells fuel products in Rwanda, talked about the importance of addressing rural women with different life experiences by saying we need to meet people where they are. Whether you’re in Rwanda or the United States, would you speak the same way to your colleagues as you would to your friends? How about to your clients? Before a speech, presentation, or strategic conversation, start by identifying your target audience. What language do they speak? What cultural differences do you need to take into consideration? How do they feel about your subject?
  2. Consider the power of your words. Every time you speak, you have the ability to influence people’s thoughts, actions, or behaviors. History has shown that communication can be used either to inspire and unite or manipulate and divide. Look at your speech or conversation as an opportunity to build people up and inspire them to greatness. Set a clear goal for your message and use it to keep you focused and concise.
  3. Ask yourself, Why you? Why are you passionate about the work that you do? What makes your eyes light up? The answers to these questions provide you the energy and confidence to inject personality and enthusiasm into any speech or conversation. When we relate to one another on a personal level, we push past the business veneer (or cultural differences) to build authentic, durable relationships of trust.
  4. Practice, practice, practice. We are all busy and may feel that we don’t have time to prepare our communication in advance. But would you go on a client call without any pre-call planning? Would you walk on stage without writing a speech in advance? The more strategy in your preparation, the better the communication will be. Find a practice buddy from your organization and practice your speech or conversation in advance.
  5. Take up space. As a former opera singer, I know the effect posture has on our voice and on our stage presence. Whenever you give a speech or presentation, stand tall and let yourself take up space. Florence Uwicyeza, who owns a stationary store in Rwanda, talked about the importance of body language when she said, “When I stand tall, I feel like I mean business!” The research behind Amy Cuddy’s book, Presence, shows that our posture actually affects how confident we feel.

In any organization, verbal communication matters. Whether you’re giving a speech or holding a difficult conversation, take the time to visualize your audience, use your words to build people up, connect with your authentic drive, make time to practice, and finally, stand tall. While women entrepreneurs from Rwanda and Afghanistan will use these skills to grow their business and invest in their communities, we can all use these skills to help us find our voice and our courage to speak.

 

I am often asked, “How do you give a speech using someone else’s talking points?”

Here’s an example: You work for a large institution that is sponsoring an event in your community. You have to represent your institution by giving a welcome speech. You work on your remarks and feel confident in your preparation, but the night before the speech, you receive an email from the public affairs department with a list of talking points to use. How are you supposed to sound natural and confident?

The best way to personalize the content is to bring in your own examples that make the content come to life.

Here are some tips to using the company’s talking points:

  1. If possible, set deadlines. If you’re in a position to do so, make it clear to your colleagues that you need talking points one week (or, realistically, at least two days) before the event so you have time to go over them.
  2. Rephrase in your own language. It’s hard to sound authentic when you’re using someone else’s language. Read the points out loud and ask yourself how you’d say the same thing in your own words. Whenever possible, use your own words – unless, for reasons of compliance, you have to use particular language.
  3. Add personal stories. The best way to personalize the content is to bring in your own examples that make the content come to life. If the talking points say, “Our institution has been a strong partner in the community for decades,” you can say, “I remember the very first time I volunteered at the [insert name of local venue] representing our institution. I have never felt prouder to work at this company.”
  4. Write your own opening and closing. The opening and closing sentences are the two most important parts of the speech – they capture the audience’s attention, creating a powerful first impression, and conclude your main points, leaving a powerful lasting impression. They are also highly contextual and relate to the specific audience in the room. Spend time crafting those sentences yourself; don’t let anyone else write them for you.
  5. Practice, practice, practice. The more you are able to practice the points in your own language, the more comfortable you will feel. Make the speech a priority and put aside at least 30 minutes per day (see our previous post on How to write a speech in 30 minutes).

What about when you need to use the company’s slides?

I always recommend minimal (if any) slides – a photo and a single phrase can be more powerful than endless graphs and charts. However, many companies dictate a standard template and use the slides as handouts instead (Remember: great slides make lousy handouts, and great handouts make lousy slides). Alternatively, someone else in your department might create the slides before the presentation.

The opening and closing sentences are the two most important parts of the speech – they capture the audience’s attention, creating a powerful first impression, and conclude your main points, leaving a powerful lasting impression.

Here are some tips to using the company’s slides:

  1. Write your speech before looking at the slides.
    1. Ask yourself The 3 Questions: who is your audience, what is your goal, and why you?
    2. Write your own main points.
    3. Write your own opening and closing sentences to reflect your personal interest and enthusiasm for the subject.
  2. Communicate your main points to the person designing the slides.
  3. Once you receive the slides, analyze them and find those that re-enforce your main points. If you are able to edit the slides to match your main points, do so.
  4. In the slides, use color to highlight your main points.
    1. For example, one of my client’s bosses always expected to see the same boring chart at every meeting, but he only wanted my client to speak about two or three key numbers on the chart. We shaded the entire chart in grey but made the key numbers dark blue so they stood out.
  5. Practice giving the speech – out loud – while clicking through the slides so you are familiar with your transitions.
  6. When giving the speech, speak to the audience instead of reading the slides word-for-word. It’s a clear sign that someone doesn’t know what they are talking about when they read their slides word-for-word. Summarize the information on the slides (and if possible, ensure the slides themselves contain phrases instead of full sentences).

Speaking using the company’s talking points or slides is challenging, but with the right preparation, you can give a presentation that is confident, authentic, and meaningful to both you and your audience.