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Five secrets to speaking confidentially

March 25, 2021

I was doing a presentation and my boss exclaimed in his typical Nigerian accent “Victoria, it seems like you swallowed a loudspeaker”; probably because I spoke quite audibly, assertively, and confidently. Every time I think about his statement in its literal context, I burst out laughing. As a young professional starting off her career in Financial Technology, I have hidden many times my inexperience by speaking really low and allowing fear to suppress my exceptional skills. However, I figured that if I really wanted to grow my career and break any glass ceilings I needed to painstakingly find a solution for me.

Do you want to know what I did? Let’s delve right in

Speaking confidently is a skill that is required for every sector of life. The major reason why people find it difficult to communicate boldly is sometimes that they have shifted their focus from the information they are trying to pass on, to focus on their self-image, their nerves, or the “well accomplished” individual they are talking to (for example, the CEO of the company you work for). I read a book that mentioned that people who have issues communicating in the workplace are the ladies, especially the younger ones with tiny voices (Yikes! Guilty). This is not to say that men don’t go through this as well. (Don’t worry, not about to start a war on prevalent gender issues).

Generally, the human body is wired to react in the fight or flight response, which is often triggered by an event that is perceived to be frightening or stressful. Once that sets in, our hormones are all over the place. During public speaking, our bodies usually choose the fight option, which doesn’t make it any better.

In this piece, I am going to show you five techniques on how to deal with it.

Oops! Someone would say “Get to the point already”

Well, I guess I am really that long-winded.

Ok! Ok! Here it is;

1. You are not alone!

After careful observation, it dawned on me that just about everybody has the “nerves” before a speech, presentation, etc. Coming to the realization of this simple fact was actually the first secret to overcome my fear of communication. Somehow, it was quite comforting to know my boss had butterflies in her tummy too before she made presentations to the Company Directors.

2. The sequence is slow down → breathe → speak

Secondly, I consciously reminded myself to slow down when speaking, take deep breaths and then speak again. The trick is when you talk slowly, you make your audience hang on to your every word and focus completely on your message. Then your audience can find it easier to assimilate your content, which at the end of the day is your major objective. Another thing to pay attention to is your breathing; ensure it is steady and controlled. Those moments of profuse sweating, visible shakiness, and stammers occur all the time because you keep forgetting to breathe.

3. The power of the pause

Have you wondered why you keep mispronouncing words or why nobody really understands your presentation at the end of it? This is because you don’t pause. You most likely have come across the statement “Power of the Pause”. No matter how cliché this might sound, it is one of the most important things to do when speaking. Pausing benefits both you and your audience. It allows them to reflect on the information being passed and thus aids in their comprehension of the message. For you, it helps your Thought Processing. The rule here is one thought at a time, and pausing will ensure that you achieve that. Also, when you pause, you minimize a lot of those filler words such as err, um, etc. You will notice I used the word “minimize” because its complete elimination is impossible. Being able to pause can also help with your breathing. At this rate, pausing should receive the award for “star pupil” of public speaking.

I was talking to a friend and she said “Vic, I don’t like the silence of pauses, it puts all the attention on me and makes me look like I don’t know what to say next”. I totally get the feeling but it goes back to you realizing it’s really not about you but about your message. My boss once told me “Always remember there’s value in what you are saying”. By all means, focus on the value you are about to give, believe completely that your information is a “must-have” and convince yourself that you are about to divulge information they have never heard in their life.

4. Master your content

“The best way to sound like you know what you are talking about is to know what you are talking about”. As a business specialist, the most common phrase in my company is “know your numbers”. How much your customers are buying? How many customers are buying? How frequently they are engaging with the product? etc. This shows credibility, integrity, and competence. All these qualities translate into confidence which will automatically show in the manner you speak. When you have a presentation or a speech, it is absolutely important to internalize your content, conduct proper research, and extensive data gathering. It gives you an edge to answer questions that may follow and it will definitely help your credibility.

5. Dance rehearsals

This means practice! Practice! Practice! -But I know I got your attention with this title- You need to perform presentation rehearsals and voice tone monitoring. You need to watch videos on speech delivery, on how to achieve confident body postures, and composure. It’s not rocket science, the most accomplished athletes, singers, dancers, etc. do not stop rehearsing. Reminisce on your childhood days where you played imaginary friends with nobody but yourself. Do that! Perform role plays. For me, I talk to the mirror. I usually practice my introductory statements before the presentation. Always remember that when you keep going at something, you will get better at it.

You've got this!

Imagine, you have just discovered the cure to Covid19 which will save millions of lives around the world and put an end to the global pandemic. As part of honoring your humanitarian work, you were asked to deliver a speech on your project to millions of spectators. What would you do? Would you avoid that speech that will encourage young people because of stage fright? Would you allow somebody else to tell your story? Would you really deprive people of that knowledge because you are thinking only about yourself? Would you avoid the opportunity to make your generation proud? (The African in me is asking) or would you seize the moment and display your expertise with confidence?

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