public speaking tips advice

We invited Samara Bay to present in our small business webinar series because standing in front of a room with all eyes on you can be pretty scary. The Hollywood dialect and public speaking coach quickly put our audience at ease. The key ingredient of Bay’s approach to helping her clients improve their public speaking is permission. “I don’t think you can ever love public speaking without giving yourself permission to feel a sense of joy, and freedom in this work,” she explained. Then she asked our group to first think about how being present in spaces that weren’t designed to include women, people of color or even those with accents could be part of larger cultural shifts. “I do think that there is an opportunity, every time each of us has a chance to speak in public to build the world we’d rather live in.”

Bay then shared her six tools she developed to help her clients give themselves permission to speak and to show up as their most authentic selves, whether they have to stand in front of a packed auditorium or a sit down with a potential partner during a negotiation.

Take a breath.

Many of us hold our breath when we’re speaking because we feel nervous, but it’s something to always keep in mind. Not only is breath support the key to making your voice heard, breathing can also ground you and steady the nerves that come with thoughts like am I even good enough to be here? Bay offered a mantra for confidence: “Breathe as though you were meant to be in the space.” Exhale your doubt.

Take up space, too.

Taking up space isn’t simply a matter of asserting your presence with gestures, though that can certainly underscore a message. Bay asked us to think about the ways we’ve been told our voices are wrong, whether we’ve been told our high tones don’t command power or an accent doesn’t sound smart. Acknowledge those criticisms, then throw them out.

Instead, think about how you sound when you aren’t holding back or nervous, or as Bay put it, “when you are actually taking up all the space that you deserve to take up.” Remember those moments and leverage them the next time you need your voice to really make an impact.

When we talk about what we care about… it will move our audience and they will remember our message better.

Don’t try to hide your emotions–use them to your advantage.

The traditional male standard of speechmaking usually means shelving all emotions and focusing on facts, but Bay urged our community to see their feelings as fuel. “I don’t mean being emotional all over the place or venting,” she explained. “I mean, using your emotions that actually help your message.” It can definitely be vulnerable showing how much you care but it can be incredibly effective. In fact, those emotions will likely resonate with your audience more than your actual words. “When we talk about what we care about, even if that brings up anger, grief, excitement or delight, it will move our audience and they will remember our message better. I say love on your emotions and link them to your call for action.” 

Watch your tone. 

The tone of your speech is essential. You should work to sound both assured and assuring. It’s likely there are times you’re already doing that, so reflect on those situations. “Listen for that version of you that comes out when you think, ‘Oh, I know what’s up here.’” This is your authentic leadership voice, the one you’ll want to tap into when it’s time to speak for your purpose.
 

Listen to yourself carefully and kindly. 

A lot of what makes us nervous about public speaking comes down to worrying about the sound of our voices. Bay urged our community not to worry about typically feminine markers of speech like vocal fry. “Upspeak, vocal fry–nothing is wrong with any of them individually. And I don’t want anyone to feel like they’re policing their voice,” she reassured our attendees. 

You shouldn’t be trying to sound like anyone else. Instead of trying to change the markers of speech that come naturally to you, think about the energy behind your words rather than pitch. Did the energy at the end of your sentence go down as though you weren’t sure? Say it again, this time with certainty.

Bay also advised our audience to approach themselves and others with what she calls a generous ear; don’t disparage your own accent and listen carefully to speakers with different accents. 

Your story is your key.

Ultimately, the goal of speaking publicly is to share a story. Get rid of worries by focusing on that story and how it will benefit your audience. “Nerves and neuroses often come from accidentally making it a bit too much about ourselves,” said Bay. 

If what you’re sharing is something you’ve said time and again (your elevator pitch, for example), connect with listeners by bringing the same excitement and sense of purpose to it that you felt the first time you ever said it.

With these tools in your back pocket, public speaking can become an opportunity rather than something to dread. “You are doing it right as long as you recognize your voice.”