Confidence Tricks for Public Speaking

Does the thought of speaking in front of a group of people leave you weak at the knees? Public speaking guru Maggie Eyre explains how to become more confident at working the crowd.

I consider myself to be quite a confident person - I like meeting new people and, when the wine's flowing, I can talk for Australia.

But when public speaking guru Maggie Eyre makes me stand in front of a camera and asks me to talk about the three passions in my life, to an imagined audience of 1000 people, my mind goes blank.

"Um... well..." was how my short presentation began and it pretty much went downhill from there. Watching it afterwards, I looked really awkward.

Let's face it, no one really likes making speeches. In fact, we apparently fear public speaking more than death itself.

"Human beings are more afraid of public speaking than dying. So they say that people would rather be in the coffin than give the euology at the funeral," says New Zealander Maggie.

"It's the top fear of all fears because we want the audience to like us, we all want to be liked."

The self-styled public speaking expert has trained numerous business executives and even former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark in the ways of confidence - and she has more reason than most to be called an expert.

"One of the reasons I'm so passionate about my work is because I had a phobia of public speaking, but I never talked about it. It's only in the last five years from when I left New Zealand, that I opened up about it," Maggie admits.

"I absolutely used to sweat, I was frightened, my mind would go blank and I had a huge amount of coaching to overcome that fear, so really I produced a product from my own past anxiety."

Maggie's book, Speak In Public With Confidence, is like a bible for all those who want to turn their lives around - whether it's getting a new job, finding a partner, or just having the confidence to network and get to know colleagues better.

She draws on a wealth of experience as a former teacher, actress and public relations executive and fills the book with pithy nuggets of advice on everything from body language to self belief, grooming and
health and wellbeing.

Part of Maggie's passion for her job comes from a belief that it's still harder for women to get on in business, despite changes over the decades.

"I love empowering women, because it's still a bloke's world. I think women have to work twice as hard."

Believe in yourself

Maggie says the key to confidence is to believe in yourself by adopting a positive mindset.

"Work on your belief systems, work on the conversations in your mind. We have 60,000 thoughts a day, so it's calming that mind and thinking 'what are the negative thoughts? What am I afraid of?'

"Usually it will be thoughts like 'I can't do this' or 'I'm rubbish' and you need to practise the technique of thought stopping.

"When you have a negative thought, just stop and replace it with the complete opposite. 'I am calm, I am relaxed, I am worthy of this job'. So much of confidence is to do with the mind."

Connecting with other human beings is crucial to maintaining that confidence and delivering a successful speech, whether it's at work or a wedding.

"Let people in, share your stories, share what's happening in your life," Maggie says.

"This year one of my best friends, who the book is dedicated to, died and I still had to get up and perform, but what I did was use it, I talked about him.

"Being your authentic self is what people want, I really believe, so let people see you. Sometimes we feel we've got to hide our vulnerability, but it's OK to be vulnerable. it's OK to cry during a speech."

First impressions count

When you're going for that all-important job interview, appearance is crucial.

"Everyone has just three seconds to make a good impression," says Maggie.

"I've seen people walk into the agency I worked at and lose the job before they even opened their mouth because of the clothing they had on. So dress for the job as though you already have it.

"I used to say to political leaders 'dress like you are the Prime Minister'. Are the shoes clean? Do you feel like a million dollars?"

Don't go out drinking the night before a big interview or presentation, have a good night's sleep and make sure you smile.

"We have 30 muscles in our cheeks, if we smile, the person on the receiving end feels warm and welcomed. When you're going for a job interview or you're meeting someone for the first time, how do you want to be perceived?

"If you're shy, fake it and smile anyway. Act like you're confident and you will be."

The most important way to prepare for any speech or interview is to rehearse in your mind what you want to say, says Maggie.

"Think of the three things you want to say to get your message across and rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.

"For an interview, work out all the killer questions you would dread to be asked by your potential employer. Why should they hire you, why are you different? And keep your sentences pithy and succinct, instead of a whole story."

Coping with nerves

It's all very well knowing your material by heart, but when it comes to actually performing, most of us will still suffer from nerves.

We need those butterflies in our stomach to perform, says Maggie.

"People think it's abnormal if they're really nervous before a presentation. You speak to any actor and they'll say it's like terror before they step out there onto the stage.

"When I was an actress, I was terrified every night, but you need that energy, that rush of adrenaline to the brain, because it makes you perform larger than life."

Maggie suggests learning some yoga-like breathing techniques to calm your nerves and she eulogises on the importance of good health and wellbeing to boost your confidence naturally.

"I'm fanatical about nutrition because I really believe you are what you eat and you are what you speak. Make sure you have lots of vegetables and fruit and not too much sugar.

"I know when I drink more water, I exercise, do yoga and meditate, I'm performing at my best. But if I drink too much wine, I don't have enough sleep, I'm simply not focussed. You need to think of yourself as an athlete and do whatever it takes."

Before I start my second 'presentation', this time on a day in my life, she gets me to warm up by pumping my hand into the air and relax my vocal chords by repeating phrases like 'Unique New York', 'Maaaaa', 'Kin, kin'.

This time, when I present to the camera, I feel much more confident and the session puts a smile on my face for the rest of the day.

Speak In Public With Confidence by Maggie Eyre is published by Right Way. 

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