“I don’t like your attitude” shouted my high school teacher as I was evicted from the class and demanded to appear in front of the Head Master. He gave me a complete dressing down and I swore from that point onwards to improve my attitude to school.
Having the right attitude or the right state of mind is essential for anyone speaking or training in public. Here’s six tips on how.
Remove all concerns
Remove all concerns from your head. We’ve all baggage of some sorts in our head. A lingering argument with your partner, a major mistake you made yesterday or the loss of a deal can all affect your state of mind. The trick is to adopt mindfulness and empty the head so you can focus on the now.
A favourite Dandy Warhol’s number from the early noughties talks about having a trap door in the back of my head. I use this metaphor to empty out all the thoughts that are bringing me down before I perform on the stage. It works.
Collect anchors for each and every state you need
On the subject of the Dandy Warhol’s let’s get into music and the effect it can have on your state of mind. As I write this, I’m listening to my State Changer Playlist on my phone. This playlist consists of a number of songs, tunes and tracks from my collection that each control and influence my state of mind. I’m 33,000 feet above the Himalayas having presented in Bangladesh and I just fancied a boost of energy so I’m listening to my playlist.
Music is an anchor. The listening can bring back a state of mind which you either experienced when you listened to the track or you embedded into the tune at a later date. Anchors do this. Anchors can be any sense – hearing something, seeing an image in your head, a physical touch on your body, a smell or a taste. They all relive a state of mind for you.
Collect anchors for each and every state you need. I use my playlist as it has an instant state changing capability and I love my tunes. Right now I’m listening to “I am the Resurrection” from the Stone Roses voted the number 10 guitar tune by Q Magazine. It revs me up so I can go out into the audience and “give ‘em large”.
Among my playlist I’ve:
- The Raven by the Stranglers for extra energy
- Good Morning Britain by Aztec Camera for inspiration
- One Day Like This by Elbow for concentration
- Nothing in My Way by Keane for Perseverance
- Glory Days by Pulp for stimulation
You may see it differently.
In 2016 I attended a private medical since I was applying for some additional medical insurance. The doctor was good, very good, and half way through stated to me with no emotion or prejudice, “Lose a stone”.
I shed 25 pounds that year, continued going to the gym but started doing weights and toned up a little. Boy did it make a difference to how I felt when presenting. It meant all my clothing was a whole lot looser and felt so much more comfortable.
Being physically comfortable is essential, loose clothing helps but learn to stand well. I call it the assertive stance. Ensure your body is perfectly balanced, no leaning on either leg, legs the same width as your shoulders, slightly apart. Girls get rid of your finishing school poses. Balanced, posture upright, shoulders back – just like your mum told you before you set off for school.
Breath to thrive not just survive, was a phrase I heard at the annual convention of the Professional Speaking Association. Breathing is more than just surviving; it can affect your state of mind. Let me continue the story of my private doctor from earlier.
He asked me to lie on the couch and he progressed to measure my blood pressure. I have to confess to being a little nervous at the time, you see deep down I’m a big baby. After his first measure, he instructed me to calm down having stated there’s no way he could submit that blood pressure to the insurance company, they’d reject my application.
I thought how can I relax? Breathing I recalled. Breathe in deeply and breathe out very slowly, verrry slowly. I did this for one minute and he measured my blood pressure again. “That’s better, much more normal”
I breathed a sigh of relief.
So if you are a little nervous, and your blood pressure is rising, do the breathing technique before you go on stage for a couple of minutes and it will calm you down, lower your heart rate and put you in a more relaxed state of mind – a presenter state.
Take in the room
The aim here is to become one with the group. You will do that as your talk proceeds but to gain the right state at the beginning adapt a peripheral vision. Many presenters will use their foveal vision and focus on a particular spot; this has no value to become one with the room. Instead pick a spot but deliberately enhance your peripheral capability by concentrating on everything around you. This trains your brain to use peripheral vision as you begin your talk, thus taking in the whole audience.
Usually somebody introduces me on the stage – this takes 20 seconds or so. Typically stand to the side behind the introducer, ready to pounce but as she introduces me, I focus on her but let my peripheral vision do its magic taking in the whole room and every member of the audience that I can.
As I begin my talk, my brain is in peripheral mode and this lets me become one with them. I then relax the peripheral and go foveal ensuring I give as many people eye contact as I can. The eyes are the windows to the soul, let’s never forget that.
By the way, a little trade secret for you. Focussing your attention on peripheral vision rids you of nerves. Not a lot of people know that.
Gain control of the room
The bigger the audience, the bigger the applause you’ll get after the introduction and the more effort you’ll want to exert to gain control. Here’s how:
- Peripheral into foveal eye contact around the room
- Breath and adopt the assertive stance, be balanced and relaxed
- The audience will now also relax
A clip round the ear from the Headmaster soon cured my attitude all those years ago. Hey you can’t do that anymore can you? Or the cane, which I endured twice, which left nasty bruising for ages. Hasn’t the world changed but presenting to an audience will always require that you have the right state of mind.