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How top speakers manage nerves

Managing nerves when you’re asked to speak in public is something that you might struggle with. And you’re not alone! One of our favourite discoveries at Bespoke Communications is the Harvard commencement speech from the great American tv host, Oprah Winfrey.  In her speech, Oprah talks about the nerves that even well-known performers feel when taking part in a tv interview with her. She name checks President Obama, Beyonce and beyond.  Regardless of how famous they are or how frequently they appear on tv or in public, every interviewee she’s worked with looks for feedback after their tv appearance – ‘Was that OK?’  or ‘How did I do?’. Even at Bespoke, we don’t have to look too far to realise that’s true. Sarah has a tv career spanning two decades, and will readily admit to managing nerves before going on air.

Managing nerves

So it’s liberating to know that everyone feels nervous before appearing in public. Its not just you! Nerves come knocking to remind you that you care – that you want your words to mean something to those that hear them.   Giving a speech requires that you open yourself up, even just a little.   Your audience wants to get to know you and what makes you tick.  And when you’re being yourself, and showing empathy, then it’s natural to want the respect and approval of your audience.  Let’s face it, it’s a basic building block of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Your preparation process

The great news is that your nerves can be harnessed to help your performance rather than hinder it.    You can use the principles of performance psychology to develop a preparation process to help you when you’re called upon to present in public.  Identifying the source of your anxiety and breaking it down into skills to be mastered is the first step.  For some people, that means practicing a killer opening.  For others, it’s about structuring their content so that they get their message across more easily.  And many people just want to focus on the pace of delivery. Finding low-risk situations to help you to practice those skills is key.  Giving yourself the opportunity to practice, knowing that you’ll make mistakes is the best way to learn and improve. Your preparation process is very different to your performance process when you’re on stage with all eyes on you.

Your performance process

Your performance process will be unique to you, but here are some tried and tested techniques to help you on the day.  There’s something in here that you can adapt and make your own.  Here’s Sarah talking with Denis McNeill on Q Radio recently about the Speakeasy Club, and how to overcome public speaking nerves.  With the right tactics, you’ll master those nerves to give a great performance every time!

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Why do great staff training programmes just work?

Teamwork, staff training

I’m sure the board of the Sussex Football Association had the best of intentions when they published their widely-ridiculed considerations for increasing participation in women and girls.  The idea – to encourage more girls to take part in football.  Their well-meaning plan was to to buy lots of pink whistles and nice-smelling bibs. The plan was panned on media channels up and down the country after it was published last week. It’s very likely that the plan was cooked up without much consultation with the women and girls it was intended to benefit.

 

Where are your staff coming from?

If you’re planning staff training in 2017,  there are lessons to be learnt from the FA debacle.  Just as great public speakers consider the needs of their audience, great L&D managers know where their team’s pain points are. You’ll get better and more lasting results by obtaining the commitment of your team before rolling out new staff training.  Over the last year, we’ve worked with clients on several skills development programmes, including this one with Ulster University. We’ve seen some stellar successes that have contributed to culture change within the organisation.

Successful training programmes

Some factors that have made training successful include:

  1. Consider raising the bar for participation. If you can put a selection process in place, you immediately change perceptions of the programme internally.  Work with your line managers to identify your initial cohort, and let word of mouth spread to encourage discretionary participation. With a well-planned training programme, other staff ask to join future training sessions –  a win-win for everyone.
  2. Align the programme with strategic priorities. Plan your programme for big results, start small with a carefully selected cohort, reflect on the experience, and refine the programme to make sure it’s working.  Then go ahead and offer it more widely.
  3. Find what makes your team tick. Maybe an internal competition to promote participants achievements will give everyone a sense of pride? Or you might consider empowering staff with the skills they need to win prestigious external awards. Great training programmes boost morale as well as develop new skills. If you can tap into your team’s intrinsic motivations, your programme will be off to a flying start.

We’ve considered some of these factors when we developed some of our more popular training programmes – Talk like TED, Leadership Communication for Impact and Influence and Persuasive Presenting. If you’ve found an innovative approach to staff training, we’d love to work with you – do get in touch!

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Speak up, and increase your influence

office meeting speak up

We’ve all been there – sitting in a meeting where you just don’t agree with what’s being said. You have two choices. You can speak up and express your opinion or stay quiet and go along with #groupthink. Maybe it’s the fear of judgment from your own peer group or management that’s holding you back.  As a result, it’s quite likely that you’re not bringing your full potential into the workplace. But what’s the worst that could happen? If you can back up your point of view when you speak up, well then surely you deserve to be heard?

Gender Bias

The research suggests otherwise. In a recent piece for the New York Times, influential commentators Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant exposed an unconscious gender bias within organisations. They found that women speaking up were perceived as less loyal and likeable than men. This was reflected in flatlining performance evaluations for vocal women but significantly higher performance evaluations for men that contributed their ideas.

Amplification

Whilst we’re sure there are many men out there simmering in frustration at the lack of attention their ideas get, there seems to be a greater problem for women. The power around the table is not always balanced. So there’s a technique gaining attention that women have adopted to make sure their voices are heard. It’s called amplification and it depends on a system of mutual collaboration. Every time someone in a meeting contributes an idea, her colleagues around the table repeat the idea, and credit her with coming up with it. Obama’s female aides used amplification to redress the gender balance around the table in the Oval Office.

Socialisation

Former Boston Heart Diagnostics CEO Susan Hertzberg decided on a different approach – she decided to socialise her ideas with key attendees before the meeting took place. It helped her to rebalance power in her favour and make sure that she didn’t end up in unproductive battles with colleagues.

On-the-spot planning

And just sometimes, you need an approach to formulating your thoughts quickly on an issue so that you can react to an opportunity. At Bespoke Communications, we use the SABA structure to help you to build a compelling presentation or speech. We find that it’s just as effective in a tricky meeting situation as at a public event. Learning a transferable skill can give a confidence boost for more situations than just one. Get in touch if you’d like to hear more.