Let them think!

Many of the aspiring public speakers I work with seem obsessed with filling every second with words. 
Words. Words. Words. 
When I suggest they might build some silence into their talk they look very confused. 
Think about it. 
When you listen to a lecture do you really think you hear every word that’s being said? No. When something of interest catches your imagination you will, even if only momentarily, break concentration and follow your thoughts. 
This is absolutely natural and part of the process of learning. Your brain is asking how what you just heard fits with what you already know and how you might apply this new knowledge in your own life. 
If you’re a public speaker on a mission (and I certainly hope you are) then you must build ‘think time’ into your talk. 

  • Use pausing to let your audience digest what you’ve said. 
  • Repeat yourself. 
  • Say what you’ve already said again with different words or different tonality. 
Public speakers who burble on regardless of the needs of the audience are the worst kind of speakers to listen to. If you want to be remembered as a great public speaker, build some space into your talk. Let them think about what you’re saying. You will end up saying less but in doing so your audience will probably end up hearing more.

How to Avoid Drying up on Stage

I'm probably ask this question more often than most: how can I avoid drying up on stage?

Fear that your mind will suddenly go blank is very common. Some people call it stage fright. Others describe is as losing their train of thought. What a shame that smart people who have something of value to share avoid public speaking because they believe their minds will let them down just when it matters the most.

There are things you can do to conquer this most irrational of public speaking fears. Here are just a few of them...

1. If you believe you'll dry up you probably will

You will hear me speak and see me write about beliefs a lot and I'll save what I have to say about our limiting beliefs for a future post. For now, this all you need to know about belief: 

Belief is a choice

You can choose to believe that you may run out of things to say, but you can also choose to believe that you won't. So stop believing it! When I make a conscious decision to believe that I'll be lucid, that my ideas will capture the audience's imagination and that there is no chance at all that I'll dry up, guess what: I'm never stuck for words.

Try this for yourself. Believe that you are a great speaker. It truly is the first step to becoming one.

2. Do a 'mental rehearsal'

Here's an open secret. I use an exercise called 'mental rehearsal' to make sure I'm completely confident about what I'm going to say and, more importantly, how I'm going to say it. 

A mental rehearsal is a bit like a dress rehearsal, except it's only you and you don't have to dress up (unless you want to). I simply go into a room on my own, set a timer and 'perform' my entire presentation to a non-existance audience. Not only does this help me to hone public speaking essentials such as my body language and tone of voice, by practicing in this way I'm creating memories of doing the presentation before. When I do the presentation for real I can reach for my memories of the mental rehearsal and I'm never lost for words. 

Try this. It really works.

3.  Unleash your inner comedian

Don't worry, I'm not suggesting you should try to be funny!

Think about the way stand-up comedians ply their trade. Their 'sets' tend to be a string of jokes or anecdotes strung together to make a performance. Are their shows word-for-word the same as they are scipted? Possibly, but they don't have to be. More often, comedians have material, an audience, some time and an extra piece of magic: their expertise, which they use to blend together an apparently seamless, well-reheased set. If they stray from the script, who knows? Only they do.

You know your subject. Practice creating little set pieces or anecdotes that you can seamlessly drop into your presentation should you find yourself temporarily losing your train of thought. Relax. No-one but you knows that you've strayed from the script but you.

4. Become a great storyteller

There are ways and ways of telling someone something. You can stick to the bare facts and share what you know in the shortest form possible. Alternatively, you can embellish your points and create a 'narrative' or story. This doesn't just make the presentation more interesting from the perspective of the audience, it can also help you to avoid drying up. 

When was the last time you lost your train of thought while telling a story? Never happens, does it. Turn what you want to say into a story format and notice how much more confident you feel about remembering what you have to say.

5. Have notes

It is perfectly okay to keep notes nearby. Some people write a few bullet points on the back of their hand (comedian Stewart Lee famously does this!). You don't have to speak without any kind of safety net. I always have notes on me somewhere... I very rarely use them because I practice the techniques described in points 1-4. But if I ever needed to look I my notes I could and that would be perfectly okay.

NEW COURSE! Effective Public Speaking Skills for Absolute Beginners

When: Friday 14 June 2013, 10am-4pm
Where: Watford, Hertfordshire
Price: £175 (Includes 5.5 hours of group training + workbook + 5 hours of audiovisiual material)
Level of experience required: NONE

There are so many reasons why public speaking is such a useful skill...
  • Sales and marketing
  • Pitching
  • Events
  • Meetings
  • PR and promotions
  • Networking
Yet for many of us, public speaking remains one of the communications 'dark arts'.  But stop and think... how GOOD would you feel if you could learn how to become a confident, charismatic, compelling public speaker?
This intensive one-day course is specially designed for business owners, budding entrepreneurs, sales and marketing professionals and anyone who would like to be able to add 'excellent public speaker' to their CV.
Your trainer is multi-award-winning campaigner and public speaker par excellence Julie Howell. Julie has 20 years of public speaking experience under her belt. As a disability rights campaigner she has spoken all over the world helping organisations of all sizes to get to grips with disabled and older people's needs in the digital age. Warm and charismatic, Julie believes that there are no natural born public speakers. Confident, effective public speaking is a skill that anyone can learn.

What to expect...
As this is a course for beginners you won't be made to stand up and present in front of a group of strangers (unless you want to!). This modular one-day course focuses on the mindset and the delivery of the effective, charismatic public speaker.
Topics covered include:
  • How to prepare yourself physically and mentally for public speaking
  • How to take command of your posture and body language for powerful presenting
  • How to use your voice to beguile, enthral and persuade
  • How to structure your presentation to get your message across in the most effective way
  • How to manage your audience with compassion and authority
  • How to overcome fear, anxiety and nerves
  • How to build rapport with any audience and tell a story well
  • How to keep to time and leave them wanting more!

Interactive, fun, friendly, memorable...
You will learn along with others how to begin to LOVE speaking in public (even if you really hate it now!).

As well as a comprehensive workbook attendees will receive a CD containing five hours of audio visual material (value £100) on a wide range of topics including how to overcome nerves, how to dress for maximum impact, how to use your voice to greatest effect, how to charge for your time as a speaker and powerful mindfulness meditation techniques to help you adopt a relaxed yet focussed mindset perfect for public speaking excellence.

Either pay online right here or contact Julie for an invoice at julie@juliehowellpr.com - please note that payment in full is required 7 days prior to the date of the workshop.

If you're not sure whether this is the right course for you, drop an email to Julie at Julie@juliehowellpr.com with your phone number and a convenient time and she'll be very happy to give you a call or call Julie now on 01923 260759.

Rambling – how to stop it!

Ramblers rambling

When addressing an audience, every word you choose to use can have a powerful effect on the people listening to you, on either a conscious or unconscious level. Your words can – literally – change people’s minds.

Talk too much, however, and your message can become diluted, so diluted that it becomes lost and you might as well have said nothing at all.

There are two kinds of rambling public speakers: those who know they ramble and those who don’t realise they ramble.

If you’re reading this, it’s likely that your rambling has been brought into your awareness by a disgruntled or helpful colleague or audience member or perhaps the penny dropped all on its own.


What is rambling?

Rambling is ‘speaking without purpose’.

Why do you ramble?

People ramble for different reasons:
  • Nerves or anxiety may cause you to lose your train of though. You keep on talking in the hope the train will come back to you;
  • You don't want to lose the floor! Politicians are frequent ramblers. In politics, keeping control of the floor is very important as it prevents the opposition from having their say. Listen to Parliamentary debates and you will hear some MPs rambling on - now you know why!
  • You started speaking before you had decided what you were going to say;
  • You started speaking, knew what you were going to say, but as you were talking a voice in your own mind distracted you;
  • You've made the same speech many times before. After you had begun speaking you got confused about where you were in your speech and were overcome with a sense of deja vu;
  • You started speaking and all was goig well until someone in the audience gave you a disparaging look. This is where it all feel apart and you lost your way, so you rambled in an attempt to find your way back.

Of these six potential reasons for why bad rambling happens to good people, number three is the most common. This is great news, because it’s also the easiest to address.


How to avoid rambling

There is a very simple solution to the problem of rambling. However, it involves preparation on your part.

A technique known as 'mental rehearsal' is the best weapon against rambling.

Before attending any meeting or event where you know you might be required to speak 'off-the-cuff', set aside some time, on your own, to think about the message you intend to get across.

When you are sure what your message is, jot it down in a notebook.

Now look at your message and ask yourself ‘how can I say this with the greatest possible impact?’

Next, re-write your message, using high-impact, memorable language, taking care to put your message across as succinctly (in as few words) as possible.

Now, rehearse, either out loud or in your mind. When you’re happy that your message sounds great, rehearse it a few more times and jot down the final wording that you’ve chosen in your notebook.


Putting it into practice

When you arrive at the event, take another look at your notebook to remind yourself of how you’re going to express your message.  When the opportunity comes, say what you’ve planned to say in the way you’ve planned to say it and no more. Resist the temptation to ‘hold the floor’ and sit back down when you’ve said what you’ve intended to say. You have just been eloquent and to-the-point – it makes no sense to dilute your message by out-staying your welcome!

It is a really good idea to do mental rehearsal as a matter of routine, even if you have no particular speaking opportunity coming up. If you are well-practiced then you will be able to make the most of any unexpected opportunities to speak on occasions that were unplanned but where your message needs to be heard.

Tip: Mental rehearsal is a crucial skill used by campaigners. Regular rehearsal of messages ensures campaigners are always ready to speak at any opportunity. If you want to be associated with a particular message, then master mental rehearsal and people will begin to regard you as 'the voice' of a particular issue.

On fear


Last night, I did something that really scared me. 

It happened during 2-hour seminar hosted by Hertfordshire-based leadership and development training organisation Neuvo Woman, entitled Breakthrough to Success in 2013. The session was designed to help local women business owners set goals for the year ahead, and climaxed in a karate-style board-breaking exercise. 

Many people have a fear of speaking in public. I don't. Many people feel uncomfortable speaking in front of others in a small group unless they are 100% sure of themselves. I don't. My greatest fear is potentially a lot more life-limiting than that. 

I'm afraid of hurting myself. 

Growing up, I did not have a great relationship with my body. It was fat (or at least, I thought it was – looking back at photos of myself in my teens I see I wasn't so fat), it never did what I wanted it to and I was useless at any team sport or physical activity that required co-ordination or risk-taking. Then, at the age of 19, I was diagnosed with MS and since then I've had a 'get out of jail free' card which has excused me from any physical activity that my head told me I shouldn't to do. 

Over the course of my 30s, as I began to enjoy real success as a public speaker and campaigner, I made a conscious decision to address the way I felt about my body. MS had become both friend and foe in this regard. On the positive, having a long-term, incurable condition made me realise how vital it is to look after your body. I don’t drive (by choice), so my body is my main mode of transport, and it requires – and deserves – careful maintenance. As I honed my skills as a public speaker I discovered even more about what my body could do for me as a means of channelling a message that could made a positive difference in people’s lives. 

In 2007, I took things to a whole new level when I accepted the MS Society's challenge to pose naked for British artist Melissa Mailer-Yates. I was very scared, and I documented that fear in a blog that I kept for the duration of the project. At the time, I didn't know what I was scared of, but it was an almost palpable malaise. Later on, I realised that it was all about control and my fear of losing that control having done so much work 'on' myself over the years to build a better relationship with my body. Moreover, it was fear of fear.

Beauty Through Strength

In the event, the experience of being painted nude turned out to be 100% positive, as my heart always knew it would be. However, that wasn’t the end of fear. 

People who know me well know that I have a terror of breaking a bone. I don’t trust my eyes due to damage caused to my vision by MS, so always cross at the green man (this drives my friends crazy). Vertigo has affected my confidence to walk on icy pavements, and has led to a hatred of snow. I'm by no means a health-obsessive, but I have my own rituals for avoiding what I consider 'high risk' activity that could result in my hurting myself. 

Why do I have such great fear of breaking a bone? Perversely, it's a consequence of great success. 

I have powered my way through life since that diagnosis of MS at the age of 19 by believing that while I can do something positive in the world then I will do something positive in the world. In my mind, this is who I am. The thought, therefore, of being 'out of action' due to an injury of some kind, scares me. A lot. Almost to the point of paralysis. 

Of course, the evidence is to the contrary. I have MS and yet I have achieved so much. Surely I will continue to achieve equivalent success if challenged in a different way. The brain isn’t always so logical however, and sometimes needs a bit of help to connect with the bleeding obvious. 

Towards the end of 2012, MS brought something brand new: crippling back spasms so severe the pain would cause me to faint. The result was a night on the floor and a very tearful call with a paramedic who spent an hour patiently coaxing me to stand up

Over the course of this experience, which lasted about 72 hours, the spasms themselves stopped being the issue. I had become so afraid of the associated pain that I’d become paralysed by my own fear. 

Eventually I needed to the loo, but was too scared to move, and remained perched on the arm of the sofa just 10 feet away from the bathroom but completely unable to move myself. It reached the point where I thought I would just have to wet myself - oh that life should come to this at the age of 41. 

In a last ditch attempt to avoid ruining the sofa, I scanned my brain for help. Over the years, I've received a lot of support from cognitive behavioural therapists and hypnotherapists who have helped me to learn how to develop strategies to help me to overcome 'blocks', i.e. thoughts that have stopped me from moving forward happily in life. I thought about this and remembered a conversation with a hypnotherapist about pain. 

Pain, you see, is a message. 

I pondered, what could that message be?

I used the mindfulness meditation techniques that I had been taught and contemplated how to get myself to the toilet. 

Eventually, after two hours of panic and no small amount of discomfort, it came to me – the best time to move was immediately after a spasm. If I could just breathe through a spasm (and fainting, though not ideal, would be okay) I stood a good chance of getting to the loo. I would have to be very brave but hey, I remembered, I am very brave.

Twenty seconds later, I was in the bathroom. 

Last night, when confronted with the prospect of doing something I'd never done before that could potentially hurt me, I had mixed emotions, the greater of these being fear. 

There was a mental battle in my head between the angel that reassured me that I could do this thing and would feel great afterwards and the demon that said it wasn’t a risk worth taking. 

My anxiety was compounded by having to act this scenario out in front of 13 total strangers. The 'me' of 20 years ago would have bluntly refused to take part without explanation. But I am no longer the 'me' of 20 years ago. 

I felt dizzy. I was scared I was going to lose my balance and I was scared I was going to break my wrist. 

So I did the thing that I've learnt to do in situations like this – I told everyone in the room that I have MS. Because I do have MS. That is who I am, along with all the other things that combine to make me me. 

I didn't say that I was shit scared of hurting myself – I think that much was obvious. 

Immediately the words were out of my mouth I felt the energy in the room, and within me, change. 

Before even I knew what was going on, the 1.5cm block of wood was in two pieces on the floor. 

Neuvo Woman delegates
Neuvo Woman Breakthrough to Success 2013

Neuvo Woman seeks to empower women to break through their barriers to become the people we are meant to be. I have no doubt at all that other women in the room were as afraid as I was of that block of wood and what it meant for them. You may very well think that anyone can karate their way through a wooden block and I daresay that's true. But we were breaking through much more than that; fears and strategies that we've all spent a lifetime constructing for our own 'protection' that truly have only served to restrict and prevent us for reaching our goals. 

I have been through some horrendous things in the past couple of years – enough to grant me a 'get out of jail free' card for just about anything. By breaking through that block of wood last night, I tore up that card. I now realise I don’t need it; I have all the tools and the ability and the power to break through fear. Truly, I can do anything my heart desires. There are no limitations any more.