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Saturday, 13 April 2013

Public Speaking for the Terrified

The rule of three is legendary in writing. There are beginnings, middles and endings to start with. Then there are theTthree Little Pigs, the Three Blind Mice, Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Well I have a theory that humans are susceptible to the rule of three too; there are those who like to sit at the back in church, at school or when attending a talk, those who make a bee-line for the front and those who hedge their bets in the middle. At school I always gravitated to the back row and that tendency hasn't left me. It is my suspicion that those of us on the back-row are the ones who like to keep our heads down, avoid being asked questions or having to (God forbid!) stand up and say something in public. So dear readers I have a bit of a challenge appoaching. With the publication of my book in June I have been asked to do some public speaking. How will I cope without looking and feeling like this?

Fear of public speaking is called glossophobia from the Greek 'glosso' for tongue and 'phobia' for fear. According to some reports it is actually most people's NO. 1 FEAR, ahead of death and spiders. This actually makes me feel a bit better because given the choice of making a speech in public, holding a tarantula or dying I know which one I'd choose.

I have done public speaking and school visits before but I've always felt that I could have done better so this time I decided to enlist some extra help.  I have had a couple of sessions with a drama teacher, Ann Mulraine who works for the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and she is a truly amazing person. She was recommended by a friend and I honestly feel as if I have struck gold.

I have a quiet voice and thought that if I gained more confidence in the power of my voice I would feel more confident in my ability to deliver. (This would actually have been very useful when my children were smaller too but it's too late now. They've had too many years of being able to ignore my quiet pearls of wisdom!)

We began with 'opening the voice' using breathing exercises and facial work. (The latter I have had to practise in private so as not to frighten my family!). I have learnt that my inter-costal muscles are actually extremely active (apparently a lot of people can't get them to work - I put my success down to years of practising The Alexander Technique) and that my breath control, which I'd thought was complete rubbish, is actually a lot better than I realised. Ann encouraged me to hum and to practise reading out loud every day. As a result of this I have re-discovered some wonderful texts and poems and Ann's enthusiasm has raised my love of language to a new level. There's nothing like really focusing on a word, feeling a sentence as you read it out loud to make you connect with the text.
These are a few of the things I have read and loved:-

I Dream of a Place - Walter de la Mare
Kubla Khan - Samuel Taylor Coleridge
My Hat - Stevie Smith
Extracts from The Secret Garden, Winne the Pooh and Roald Dahl's The Landlady
I have learned about modulation, pitch, pace, posture and the power of pause. I always thought that my diction was pretty good but hopefully now it is better and my sentences don't 'fade away' at the end.
We have talked abou the value of eye contact and connecting with your audience, as well as using and filling the space around you. There is so much to learn and I wish that I had done this years ago. I also wish that I'd done drama at school.
Ultimately though the whole public speaking issue boils down to a couple of things - trusting yourself and feeling that you have something of value to share which may help others. I love writing and reading. It has given me so much over the years and if I can encourage or inspire others through my experiences that is all I ask.
Each opportunity to do something you fear, is an opportunity to dilute that fear. I know that even with Ann's help I'm not exactly going to be an oasis of calm.

But I reckon that a little fear is a good thing. It gets the adrenaline going. It means that you make more of an effort. Preparation helps too of course and realising that your audience don't want you to fall flat on your face.
There is an old English proverb;
Sometimes the most difficult achievements are the ones we are most proud of. With Ann's help I have gained confidence in my voice. I know now that it will not let me down and that in itself frees me up to concentrate on what it is I actually want to say. I shall report back on my progress in a few weeks time. In the meantime if any of you have a public speaking engagement coming up and are feeling a bit nervous about it I would really recommend finding a good drama teacher. And if anyone has any tips for me, apart from industrial quantities of Dr. Bach's Rescue Remedy, they will be gratefully received. Have a good week and thank-you for reading.  

1 comment:

  1. Gosh. A drama teacher! It sounds as if she's a good one too. I hate speaking in public but as an ex teacher I've never had a problem projecting my voice so I can't explain why it makes me nervous. Good luck with it.