How To Be Better At Public Speaking

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How To Be Better At Public Speaking

Words by Mr Ian Hsieh

30 January 2020



When you enter fight-or-flight mode, everything starts to go downhill – when you desperately just want to get the talk, speech or presentation you’re in the middle of, well, over with. For Ms Goyder, the solution is as simple as understanding the body language of the fight-or-flight response – tense shoulders, a tense jaw, your breath going up into the chest, a speeding up of everything – and adjusting it accordingly in order to trigger the opposite rest-and-digest response. “Relax your shoulders,” says Ms Goyder. “Breathe low and wide, relax your gaze so that it’s peripheral, soften your jaw and tell your system that you’re safe. When you do that, you can speak to anybody and it’ll feel OK – as long as you’ve practised it.”


Fix your text neck

We’re all guilty of what Ms Goyder calls “text neck” – when we lean into our phone screens while checking Instagram, or composing an outrageously witty tweet, so that our heads come forward off our curved spines. As it turns out, this is pretty much the most effective way to kill any confident voice that may have been lurking within you. “Understand the damage that text neck does to your voice,” she says. “It makes your voice thin and flat. If you have a meeting, think ears over shoulders as you walk in. That will really help your voice to be more centred, more powerful, because it positions the larynx in the right place, and it helps you breathe deeply.”


Take time to pause

When we’re speaking in public, there’s often a temptation to just power through. For Ms Goyder, this simply isn’t conducive to clear, confident speech. “All speech is out-breath,” she says, “so a pause is really important, because it’s where you take an in-breath. And the quality of your in-breath, is the quality of your voice.” But it’s not just a case of breathing in in any old way; to ensure your voice has a timbre as rich and vibrant as that of Sir Christopher Lee (or close enough), you need to be taking those in-breaths the right way, and plan your speech to accommodate these pauses. “When you breathe in, it’s good to think low and wide, rather than shallow and high. And that is something to practise,” says Ms Goyder.


Twist your tongue

“If you find that you stumble over your words sometimes, if you lack articulation and clarity, it’s easy to work on,” says Ms Goyder. “In the morning before you go to work, just do a little bit of a tongue twister, just move the mouth around. Maybe say a line, or say the days of the week and really overdo the clarity.” Think Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady, instructing Eliza Doolittle to recite “the rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain” 50 times each morning. “If you do that before you get to work,” continues Ms Goyder, “the articulators [your tongue and lips] start to work more accurately, and you’ll start to sound much more clear.”


Project your voice

Let’s face it, some of us simply aren’t blessed with the big, booming voice we’d like. If you’re one of those people whose voice is more, erm, Mickey Mouse than Mufasa (and is constantly bombarded with comments of “Sorry, can you say that again?”), Ms Goyder suggests projecting your voice to the back wall of the room you’re in. “Just imagine that there’s someone at the back of the room that you want to send your voice to,” she says. “And even as you look at the people in the room, maybe they’re sitting around the table in front of you, just have a sense of your voice bouncing back off that wall. That gives you a little bit of easy, relaxed projection, and, often, that gives people a different level of presence.

Find Your Voice: The Secret To Talking With Confidence In Any Situation (Vermilion) by Ms Caroline Goyder is out now

Illustrations by Mr Thomas Pullin