Author: Leah Bonvissuto

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Small Talk: Follow these tips to transform any interaction from dreaded to productive

Small Talk: Follow these tips to transform any interaction from dreaded to productive

We dread small talk but we don’t have to. Transform small talk into a welcome opportunity with these tips.

You dial into a conference call right on time. It’s just you and another person on the line, and you’re waiting for two more. Your anxiety rises, and you bring up the weather to fill the silence.  “Is it spring yet in Chicago? Here in New York…” it feels fake and forced. Despite your best intentions, you feel trapped by small talk. That’s no way to start any interaction!

Most people despise small talk but I think it gets a bad rap. We don’t want to feel inauthentic. We are not comfortable with silence. We feel pressure to make the interaction work, when in reality, that’s a two person job. How can we feel more in control of these interactions without avoiding them all together?

For introverts especially, it’s essential to transform small talk from a dreaded nuisance to an opportunity to begin a new relationship—even if it’s one that only lasts for 30 seconds.

Here are tips to avoid feeling inauthentic when faced with small talk:

Think Up Topics

Whether you’re heading into a networking event or a wedding, it’s likely you’ll be chatting with someone new. Think of a few relevant topics you can bring up if you feel cornered in an interaction. What new TV shows are you watching, or are you taking a trip sometime soon? People love to talk about themselves so ask questions and go beyond the weather.

“It’s Not You…”

We feel pressure to perform in small talk situations. Reframe the experience and make it all about the person you’re talking to. Focus on making them feel comfortable. Make eye contact and remember their name.  Remember that if you’re uncomfortable so are they. Practice getting more comfortable with being uncomfortable and less afraid of silence.

Make an Exit

The interaction will not last forever (promise!) and it’s okay for you to decide that it is over. Rather than making up an excuse to go to the other side of the room—and then avoiding that person until the end of the night—make a solid exit. “It’s been nice talking to you—I hope you enjoy the rest of the event” is acceptable and respectable when the time has come. It shows you value the interaction and the time spent together and gives you an out as well.

Why doing theater makes you a better communicator and a stronger leader

Why doing theater makes you a better communicator and a stronger leader

Photo: Neil Magnuson and Harold Lehmann in The Resurrection of George (photo by Katie Kline)

At Bespoken, we come from the theater. Learn how theatrical experience makes you a stronger communicator, a better listener and a more effective leader. 

Before Bespoken, Jackie and I devoted most of our time to bringing theater to non-traditional places and voices. I spent years directing plays in basements of bars in Brooklyn. Jackie spent her time helping non-profits and students amplify their voices through the arts.

Theater is a great way to practice thinking on your feet and making a connection. It flexes the muscles of public speaking, storytelling, and intuition. Whether or not you intend to ever take the stage, experience in the theater makes you a stronger communicator. It can even make you a better leader.

“Great stories happen to those who can tell them.” – Ira Glass

Storytelling is the most effective way to get ideas out into the world. And scientific evidence backs this up. Paul Zak’s research proved that when the brain produces oxytocin (which happens when we hear stories), people are more “trustworthy, generous, charitable, and compassionate.” Research shows that after a presentation, 63% of the audience remembers stories while only 5% remember statistics. Playwrights constantly edit their stories to make them more efficient and actors then have a daily audience on which to test it out and pivot in order to make their storytelling more effective.  Takeaway: Theater is the quickest way to hone your storytelling skills on the page and on the stage, giving you immediate feedback from a live audience—and invaluable resource.

“At times you have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of you intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.” – Alan Alda

If an actor has one job, it is to explore and exert empathy. In rehearsal, actors examine and uncover a character’s intentions, backgrounds, motivations and objectives. And if it’s not immediately clear in the text, they use their imagination to dream it up. Understanding a character (even an unlikeable one) and portraying them truthfully onstage is no small feat. The magic of live theater means that actors continue to explore the limits of their own empathy with an audience in the room every single night. And because anything can change at a moment’s notice we have to listen—to our fellow actors, to the audience, to ourselves. The fate of the play depends on it. Takeaway: Practice active listening and being in someone else’s shoes to build intuition, a necessary skill for any leader.   

“Please use your voice. Refuse to be silenced. Make the work. Turn your rage into action. Find your inspiration. Find your resistance and resilience. Hold it close. Get loud.” — Leigh Silverman

In theater school, we train our voices and bodies to be receptive. Passionate emotion is available—not because it is forced but because the actor knows how to access it in a truthful way. We build our voices to be able to fill a 500-seat theater and work our bodies to be malleable, depending on a character’s needs. We know how to be heard, and how to make a point as effectively as possible. Takeaway: Work with a vocal coach or take a movement workshop to flex these muscles, grow your voice and own any room you walk into.  

“No mistakes can be made during rehearsals, only progress toward what works best.” — Jim Jarmusch

Actors practice practicing—that’s all rehearsal is. Rehearsal is where preparation meets collaboration. Actors rehearse to be truthful, so that when they get onstage (the least natural environment of all) nothing can go wrong. They have prepared for every possible scenario, and a good director makes sure of it. Takeaway: The technique of preparation and the discipline of rehearsal are transferable skills, whether you are practicing for a keynote speech, preparing for a team meeting or having a challenging conversation with an employee. 

“The only safe thing is to take a chance.” — Mike Nichols

The first rule of improv is to say “Yes”. Another improv rule is to make statements, not ask questions. Improv is about getting comfortable not knowing what comes next. It’s a safe space to practice being in charge while also being collaborative and positive. Improv helps you improve communication, self-confidence and projecting yourself as a leader. It’s why improv classes for professionals have been so popular in the past few years. Takeaway: If you have trouble thinking on your feet or speaking off-the-cuff in meetings, throw yourself in the deep-end and take an improv class. 

So, flex your theatrical muscles, even if you never intend to take the stage. Take an improv class, write a screenplay, or work with a coach. And let us know how it goes!

Sales Speak: How to use communication to close the deal

Sales Speak: How to use communication to close the deal

What is the cost of bad communication in sales? Follow these tips to use clear, concise communication when closing the deal. 

Whether you’re a rep on a sales team, a small business owner courting clients or an entrepreneur pitching your product, odds are you have something to sell.

Since the 1970s, most job growth has been in the service industry. Before that time, most jobs were in manufacturing. Communication and presentation skills are essential in these client-facing situations. And yet, so few people receive training to improve professional communication skills.

First, it’s important to understand how customers make buying decisions. Seventy-one percent of the population bases it’s buying decisions on believability and trust. Seventy percent of people make purchasing decisions to solve problems whereas thirty percent make decisions to gain something. If you’ve got something to sell, it should solve a problem, and you should be believable and trustworthy.

Ninety-eight percent of top salespeople identify relationships as the most important factor in generating new business. We’ve been working with sales teams all over the country and those who know sales agree: You cannot be a good sales rep without strong communication skills. Empathy, confidence, clarity, presence and preciseness are all necessary traits. So, how can you cultivate these qualities and translate them to the sales process?

Prepare and practice

In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Map out the sales call in advance in the shape of an agenda—and frame the call for your customer at the top of the conversation. Knowing that you are going to tell them about your service, and then ask them about their needs, before talking prices and process helps you set expectations and helps your client feel in control. Expect, prepare for, and overcome objections—even putting a few minutes aside to think these objections through will set you up to succeed.

Ninety-three percent of communication is non-verbal (on the phone, tone is 86% of our communication). So, practicing your delivery is key. Have an audience-focus and think about how you want to make the customer feel (it will help take the focus off of yourself). And focus on selling yourself, not your product or service. You are the key differentiator from your competitors—knowing your competition and being able to articulate how you are different will help you stand out.

Listen actively 

When someone feels heard, it is indiscernible to feeling loved. This is a powerful tool, considering that most purchases are emotional ones. If you’re in person, make eye contact, ask thoughtful questions without interrupting, and be physically present. Follow this formula when talking to a potential client: 100% of all talking = 75% from the client + 25% the salesperson. 100% of all listening = 75% the salesperson + 25% the client.

Say what you mean 

Seventy-nine percent of communicators say they use too much jargon.  Record your pitch and pay attention to words that are industry-specific. Most likely, your client will not fully understand what it means, or it may even turn them off. Remove jargon from your language and practice saying the words you mean to say. Keep it “stupid-simple” and you’ll be helping your client feel like the product or service is crafted just for them.

Paint a mental picture

Visuals are processed 60,000 times faster in the brain than text. When speaking to your client, paint a mental picture or tell a story—they’re more likely to feel connected to what you are saying. And follow up with visual marketing materials that back up the necessity of the product or service you are selling. It will help them remember you and your story longer.

Follow through

Gaining a new customer costs six times more than it does to keep an existing customer.  When you satisfy a disgruntled customer and resolve his or her issue, that customer will typically spend 10 times as much money on future purchases than he or she did on the initial purchase. Nurture your relationships. Spot problems early, and solve them. If your customers feel valued they will value you in return.

 

 

Money Talks: How to communicate your value in financial conversations

Money Talks: How to communicate your value in financial conversations

When it comes to conversations about money, are you positioning yourself for success (or are you avoiding the topic altogether)? 

Did you know that nearly half of all Americans say that personal finance is the most challenging topic to talk about? We avoid talking about money even more than we avoid talking about death, politics and religion. A recent Bustle survey of more than 1,000 millennial women found that more than 50% never discuss personal finances with friends, even though 28% feel stressed out about money every single day. Something’s gotta give.

When a recent episode of the podcast Death Sex and Money turned to personal finance, the conversation got awkward and heated. Sallie Krawcheck, the founder of Ellevest, has spent her life in conversations about money and host Anna Sale is one of the greatest interviewers out there. How can we embark on these conversations in a way that feels productive and safe when there’s so much risk involved?

We know that we’re avoiding conversations about money with our bosses, partners and clients. But are we also avoiding conversations about money with ourselves? Is there such a deep-seated fear of our financial futures that we avoid thinking about it entirely? As communication coaches, we see this avoidance when it comes to speaking in public. In fact, 74% of us are terrified of public speaking, and most of us fear it more than death (sound familiar?).

The Gender Gap 

I recently co-hosted a webinar about communicating your value with Savvy Ladies, an organization that provides invaluable personal finance education for women. It got me thinking about the connection between communication and success. According to Gloria Steinem, “Nothing changes the gender equation more significantly than women’s economic freedom”, but how can we set ourselves up for financial success if we can’t communicate our worth?

We recently commemorated #EqualPayDay but women still early 80 cents to the dollar that men make. And that’s only for white women–women of color earn significantly less. At the rate of change between 1960 and 2015, women are expected to reach pay equity with men in 2059. Well, we’re not going to wait that long!

To fill the gap, we need tools to help us have these conversations with each other (and ourselves). We need tools to communicate confidently and ask for what we want! Especially because women experience unconscious bias (check out my recent article on women and executive presence in the workplace). Whether you are an entrepreneur pitching your services to a client, a freelancer valuing your time, or a professional asking for a raise, follow these steps to prepare and practice for conversations about money.

Articulate Your Goal

If there was a newspaper headline for the conversation, what would it say? Craft one for yourself and return to it as you wait for the conversation to happen. Be deliberate and picky with the words you choose. Make it personal and specific!

Before the conversation, identify unconscious behaviors like qualifiers (Kind of, Just, I think), filler (You know, Uh, Um) and apologies (I’m sorry, uptalk). Unconscious behaviors create gray areas which can cause you to come off as less confident than you are, and no one needs that!

Take Up More Space

If your default posture is hunched, you’re likely to go further in that direction in challenging conversations. Instead, practice opening your body language–uncross your arms and legs, find your center and lead from the chest.

Literally take up more space with the sound of your voice. Don’t rush, and imagine the sound of your voice hitting the walls. And wear shoes that make you feel powerful! Embracing Embodied Cognition makes you feel and appear more confident.

Connect Don’t Convince 

Talking about money is hard because it makes us vulnerable–we have something to lose and that’s never fun. It’s likely that the person you’re talking to feels vulnerable too. Instead of trying to convince them to give you that raise, focus on making a connection instead. Maintain eye contact–even if they divert their eyes, remain present with them.

Eye contact also releases a chemical called phenylethylamine which simulates being in love. The person you are speaking to will automatically feel a personal connection to you. When talking about money, that’s a win-win.

Women: Improve Confidence + Executive Presence in the Workplace By Embracing Your Strengths

Women: Improve Confidence + Executive Presence in the Workplace By Embracing Your Strengths

Women in the workplace: Want to be heard? Know (and use) your strengths!

This #WomensHistoryMonth, we helped women all over the country speak with confidence and conviction. From the Women & Allies group at AIG in Los Angeles to the Makers of AOL Boston to a Savvy Ladies webinar talking about money, we are a proud women-owned business helping women be heard. We work with men too, but working with women has a special place in our hearts.

But our hearts break when we see what women are up against. A study by Harvard, Wharton, and MIT found that men’s voices are perceived as more persuasive, fact-based, and logical than our voices, even when reading identical pitches. A recent report by LeanIn and McKinsey found that ladies who negotiate for a promotion or raise are 30% more likely than men to receive feedback that they are “bossy,” “too aggressive,” or “intimidating.” Women still earn less than men (79 cents to the dollar). And that’s just for white women; women of color earn substantially less. Yale psychologist Victoria Brescoll asked employees to evaluate executive performances and found that female executives who spoke frequently were given 14% lower ratings of competence.

We can give you all the tools in the world to face these situations with strength and ease, but we cannot change how we are perceived. What we can do is zero in on our strengths, what we naturally do better than men.

Data suggests that women-led companies perform better financially. When leaders are called to influence a wide range of groups, we as women are better at that kind of leadership than men. We need to understand why this is and use our strengths to our advantage, instead of trying to be more like men.

Women Listen

Research shows that men only use half their brain to listen while women engage both lobes. “Listening is key to effective working relationships among employees and between management and staff”, according to Chron. Listening makes you a better leader. Take advantage of the fact that, as women, we are naturally better listeners than men, without any added effort. Tune in and listen to yourself when making financial decisions. Hear unconscious behaviors and be sure you’re speaking intentionally and deliberately. Actively listen to those around you and you’ll be ahead of the curve when solving problems and promoting new ideas.

Women Empathize

Studies confirm a greater empathic response in females than in males of the same age. Empathy in business is vital to maintaining success. Unfortunately, studies show that college students today are 40% less empathic than they were 30 years ago. While many men may try to improve their empathic tendencies, empathy comes naturally for most women. Use empathy to build each other up and foresee problems before they arise. Amplify women around you, especially if they’ve been looked over or treated unfairly.

Women Collaborate 

We are better collaborators than men. Luckily for us, the modern workplace depends on teamwork. In Give and Take, Adam M. Grant talks about the rise of the service sector as a reason for this change. Get in a “giving” mode and think of what you can do for those around you. Invest in this strength and surround yourself with people who are team players. Listening and empathy will help you be better collaborators too, and better leaders all together. It all goes hand-in-hand after all!

What are your strengths?

 

Leadership + Communication: 3 steps to becoming a better leader

Leadership + Communication: 3 steps to becoming a better leader

Is it possible to be a good leader without being a good communicator? Here, we explore the connection between leadership and communication. 

At Bespoken, we are passionate about helping leaders improve professional communication skills. Over the past month, we’ve worked with leaders at AIGLinkedIn and AOL, and in the fields of tech, healthcare and finance. We frequently help leaders at Columbia Business School find their voice and own it. Across the board, it’s impossible to separate good leadership from effective communication skills. Yet, leaders often lack solid communication skills. For others, it can be the one trait preventing them from rising to a leadership role.

Research backs up the connection between leadership and communication. Businesses lose $37 billion per year because of employee misunderstanding. According to another study, the cumulative cost of communication barriers is $26,041 per employee. On the flip side, companies with leaders who are highly effective communicators report 47% higher total returns. And Best Buy found that for every percentage point it boosted employee engagement, individual stores reported a $100,000 annual increase in operating income.

In 2015, we contributed an article to Inc.com about leadership and presentation skills. Of course, how you present yourself as a leader is vital, but we believe that the ability to communicate effectively leads to true organizational growth and change.

Want to be a better leader? Communicate more effectively. Improving communication and presentation skills means changing lifelong behaviors. These changes don’t come overnight, but you will see an instant boost in communication skills by implementing these three tools:

Be Receptive 

Do you know that we spend 70-80% of our waking hours communicating?  We spend 45% of that time listening and yet, the average listener only remembers 25% of what is said. Bad listening leads to mistakes and employee dissatisfaction. Practice active listening: Pay attention, look at the person, ask questions and visualize what they are saying. Not only will you be able to act on the information more efficiently, but when someone feels heard they become more emotionally invested and are more likely to do good work.

Be Present

When someone needs your attention, give it to them. Even if your mind is racing with to-do’s, make yourself physically available by uncrossing your arms, standing (or sitting) up straight, and making eye contact. Bringing your whole self to a conversation will help you more clearly address the issue at hand and prevent other problems from arising.

Be Precise 

Being deliberate and clear in your communication is key. Before a huddle or difficult conversation, really think about what you want to say. Articulate your goal for the conversation in one sentence, then jot down notes and practice it once or twice to be sure the words you choose accurately reflect your goals for the conversation. Remove any grey areas by recording yourself to make sure your words cannot be misinterpreted or taken the wrong way. Adding a minute or two on the front end can save hours of backpedaling on the back end.

Embodied Cognition: How to fake it till you make it

Embodied Cognition: How to fake it till you make it

Embodied Cognition is the idea that what you do on the outside affects how you feel on the inside. Popularized by Amy Cuddy, the idea that your body and environment can influence your mind can be life-changing.

At Bespoken, we call this way of working “Outside In”. We know that a physical change which makes you look more confident on the outside can help you feel more powerful on the inside. Even though Cuddy’s Power Posing has come under scrutiny in the last few months, there is still a solid amount of science to back up the idea that our physical environment can instantly change the way the world sees us (and how we see the world). In fact, we’ve seen people transform in just moments by making a few small adjustments.

President Eisenhower used Embodied Cognition. He “firmly determined that my mannerisms and speech in public would always reflect the cheerful certainty of victory… To translate this conviction into tangible results, I adopted a policy of circulating through the whole force to the full limit imposed by physical considerations. I did my best to meet everyone from general to private with a smile, a pat on the back and a definite interest in his problems.”

The status-enhancement theory asserts that people gain influence by acting dominant and confident. Politically, we are seeing daily how a statement made with conviction is taken to be true even when it is completely false. So, how can we use Embodied Cognition to our advantage and fake it till we make it?

Eye contact

The head of TED says eye contact is the first thing speakers should do to engage an audience. When you look into someone’s eyes, their body produces a chemical called phenylethylamine which can stimulate the feeling of being in love. Another study found that eye contact utilizes the same part of your brain as complex reasoning, which is why people often have to look away during conversation when they are thinking. When used as a tool, eye contact can be a litmus test of confidence—it’s a way of jumpstarting an emotional connection.  Practice maintaining eye contact with the person who pours your cup of coffee and work up from there. Using eye contact can be an anchor when communicating and will make you appear more confident and in control.

Speaking on your spine

Pay attention to your posture in different situations. When you’re nervous, are you closed off? When you’re comfortable, are you standing up straighter? If you naturally slump to one side, intentionally find your postural center and get comfortable living there. You will appear more confident standing openly and upright. According to Cuddy, standing in this position for more than 60 seconds increases your testosterone (making you feel more confident) and decreases your cortisol (making you feel less stressed).

Mindful breathing

Telling a nervous person to take a deep breath can be a recipe for disaster. Breathing can quickly become another thing you’re not doing correctly. Anything that adds to the cacophony of thoughts can be unhelpful. The act of simply putting your attention on your breath can be soothing. The trick is to keep reminding yourself to return your attention to the breath without judgment. Practice Meditation Lite—where you simply watch the breath go in and out for ~25 breaths. Breathing intentionally for a short period of time can soothe the sympathetic nervous system (the part activated by stress) and stimulate the opposing parasympathetic reaction (the part that calms us down).  Setting up small wins is sometimes the best approach to changing lifelong behaviors and learning new things.

Want to have presence? (Hint: It’s about being present)

Want to have presence? (Hint: It’s about being present)

Learn how to harness the power of presence.

Our clients ask us to help them in many different ways. They want to articulate their thoughts, think on their feet, harness nerves when speaking in public, and speak with confidence. But one of their most common requests is that they want to have presence.

People believe that presence is something you’re either born with or you’re not. They believe it can’t be taught. Some fear that if they don’t have it, there’s something wrong with them. They couldn’t be more wrong. We watch our clients improve presence right before our eyes all of the time.

It’s true that presence means something different for each person. Harvard researcher Amy Cuddy describes presence as “the state in which we stop worrying about the impression we’re making on others and instead adjust the impression we’ve been making on ourselves.” It’s not as elusive as you think. It’s a tool and a muscle—just like communicating and speaking in public. With practice, anyone can learn how to harness the power of presence.

So, what is presence? 

Presence is the alignment of awareness, intention and action. 

Communicating and speaking in public can be overwhelming for all of us. Throw in the pressure “to have presence” and it can be a recipe for disaster. Anytime something is overwhelming, break it down into smaller pieces. First, work on your awareness: Practice observing yourself and others without judgment. Second, be intentional: Set a specific intention and know what you want to get out of an interaction. And lastly, take action: Practice and rehearse for an upcoming opportunity and go out and do it!

Attention must be paid. 

Before I started my mindfulness practice, I would often miss social cues and important plot points. I realized I was living in my head, listening to my internal soundtrack instead of paying attention to the outside world. Presence is about giving your attention 100% to something outside of yourself—people like attention, so if you pay attention to them, they are more likely to like you.

The danger of multitasking.

We’re way too good at multitasking. We’re checking our phone while speaking to a colleague while editing a blog post. When communicating, multitasking can hurt us more than help us. Unfortunately, doing one thing at a time does not come naturally to us, so we have to practice it. Stick with a task until completion—from the small (looking up that restaurant) to the big (finishing that blog post). Read Tim Urban’s eye-opening series on procrastination here.

It’s about being present. 

We busy ourselves reading books on mindfulness and we beat ourselves up for not meditating. Even when we do make a point of it, we beat ourselves up for not meditating for the full ten minutes and when we do, we beat ourselves up for not being able to “clear our minds” enough. This all defeats the purpose! It took me a few years of meditating to realize that it’s not about getting rid of thoughts or feelings—instead, it’s about fixing and releasing attention without judgment (which—you guessed it—takes practice). Practice being present—being aware of physical sensations like the breath, or those uncomfortable palpitations or sweaty palms—without judgment. If you’re new to meditation, I recommend Headspace or Meditation Lite. And read D.G. Watson’s post on how meditation can help you overcome your fear of public speaking here.

Practice Presence 

It takes work and attention, but practicing these tools will help you improve your presence. Pick one or two activities a day and be truly present (brushing your teeth or washing dishes are good places to start). Pay attention to the way your breath causes your stomach to go in and out when breathing, or the feeling of your feet against the floor or in your shoes. Be genuinely present with the gentleman who pours your morning cup of coffee. When you get distracted (which you inevitably will) return to the interaction or the moment without beating yourself up. Slowly and surely, you will increase your span of presence and the muscle will strengthen.

How to Speak Up (Without Losing Your Voice)

How to Speak Up (Without Losing Your Voice)

How to prevent losing your voice, just when you’re beginning to find it.

Last week, millions of people all over the globe came out to speak up and be heard. Marches around the world gave voice to many people who had never marched before. Some were marching for themselves, but even more marched for their neighbors, wives, mothers, daughters, granddaughters, and grandmothers. We saw 80-year-old women, groups of tweens and three generations of families. In these tumultuous and terrifying times, millions of people are using their voice. If there’s a silver lining, that’s it. But are you losing your voice (literally or figuratively), just when you’re beginning to find it?

As week one of the new administration came to a close, thousands of you voluntarily went out to JFK on a Saturday night. What is this new reality? Mirah Curzer‘s article, “How to #StayOutraged Without Losing Your Mind” struck a chord with many new activists. Self-care has become a necessity and information overload is leading to conscious media breaks to store up and refuel. Many others are struggling to find balance in these changing times and burning out on the regular. Others are literally hoarse with voices that are unable to recover between protests.

As we continue to #resist, here are tools and techniques to sustain and strengthen our voices:

Start meditating: If you don’t already have a mindfulness practice, start one now. You can download an app like Headspace or keep commitment minimal with Meditation Lite (where you simply count breaths in and out). Meditating is about training the mind and fixing and releasing attention—not about getting rid of fears/thoughts/feelings. Practicing presence can help stave off downward media/despair spirals.

Know what you want to say: While you’re endlessly calling your Reps, think about what you want to say. Rather than sticking to a script, have more ownership by articulating the essence of what you want to ask. Be specific and practice saying it a few times while improvising and changing up the words.  Include stories, which change the brain by activating the Trust molecule. Most importantly, make a connection with the person on the other end of the line. Not going great? Luckily you’ll be calling daily so try again tomorrow.

Amplify your voice:  Ever wonder how babies can scream for hours and not lose their voices? Tension builds up over decades and inhibits and strains our vocal cords. If you’re newly protesting and you’re exhausted, you’re doubly at risk for losing your voice. And bottom line: If you don’t have a voice you can’t be heard.

Losing your voice is real, but it can be avoided with preparation. Practice three-dimensional breathing and speaking from your diaphragm. Bring an amplification device, like a bullhorn or cardboard tube. Drink water and stay hydrated to prevent vocal fry and exhaustion. Practice Amplification: Speak out for others and let them speak out for you. (And if you’re in New York City, join us on February 11th and Amplify Your Voice with Bespoken and Lisa Pertoso!)

Take breaks: Declutter your phone, and put it away for a while. Take mindfulness breaks. Practice Square Breathing. Seize opportunities to get out of your head and into your body. Cherish friends. Hug your family. Smile at a stranger and invest in your community. These are strange times, but speaking up and empowering others to do the same is the best way to get through it.

 

 

Conquer Your Public Speaking Fear in the New Year

Conquer Your Public Speaking Fear in the New Year

A Practical Guide for How to Speak in Public 

You stand up to speak. Your mouth is dry, your heart is beating out of your chest, and you can’t think straight. Many people avoid public speaking all together—in fact, 74% of us are terrified of it and many prefer death to the thought addressing an audience.

It makes sense. Not too long ago, you could be exiled for saying something disagreeable to your fellow humans, and you would be 26% more likely to die if that happened. It’s no wonder then that public speaking triggers our fight-or-flight response.

Just because public speaking makes you feel like you’re about to die doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it (promise!). The key is not to eliminate nerves—that’s setting yourself up for failure. Instead, institute a system that puts you in the driver’s seat of your own voice and makes you feel in control.

We believe that great speakers are made, not born. If you have never spoken in public (or if you have and it didn’t go well) making the decision to overcome your fear is step number one.

In January of last year, Na’ilah Amaru made a decision to overcome her fear of public speaking. Seven months after coming to Bespoken, she addressed the nation onstage at the Democratic National Convention to introduce Hillary Clinton with poise, power and precision.

Na’ilah exceeded her expected goal but we recommend starting small—public speaking doesn’t have to mean addressing a crowd at a podium on national television. It can be speaking up in a meeting, introducing yourself at a networking event, or pitching to a group of investors. Choose a speaking engagement that is achievable and set yourself up to succeed.  Schedule a meeting, apply to a pitch night, or sign up to speak at a community board meeting.

Overwhelmed? Break it down

Deciding to speak in public is a big step so pat yourself on the back! It’s a huge undertaking, and one that takes preparation and practice. Creating a plan for yourself moves public speaking from the scary abstract to the doable specific. Break the process down into actionable steps as much as possible. Here’s a suggested starting point:

Identify your audience

Are you addressing eager students or seasoned executives? Understanding your audience helps you pinpoint their needs, which takes the focus off of you.

Name your objective

Specify what you want your intended audience to do immediately after hearing you speak. Do you want them to hire you? Go to your website? Buy your product? Sign up for your newsletter? Be specific!

Familiarize yourself with the environment

Will you be onstage, in a boardroom or in an elevator?  How big is the room and will there be a microphone? Envisioning the space during the preparation process is essential to success.

See content creation as a journey

Knowing what you want to say takes time. Jot down some ideas and let it soak for a few days. Create an outline of bulleted items you want to include. Perfection is the enemy of good and speaking is dynamic so don’t finalize anything!

Practice

We know that practice is essential and yet, we avoid it and wing it anyway. Deciding to actually work on it sets you up to succeed. Your goal should not be to get it right but instead to practice so you can’t get it wrong. Don’t expect to hit it out of the park the first time you stand to speak it out loud. It’ll be messy, and that’s the point: You’re figuring it out!

Harness nerves

The only thing to fear is fear itself, and fearing nerves gives them power. Accept that nerves are a part of the process. Ask others what their reactions are to public speaking and you’ll find that most people experience similar physical sensations, making you feel less alone. They may call it adrenaline and you may call it anxiety but it’s all the same. Speak it out while running on a treadmill to get comfortable in the discomfort.

Seek feedback

Don’t let the event itself be the first time you do it. Join Toastmasters or ask a trusted friend to come be an outside eye. Better yet, stage a test run in the safety of your own home and welcome constructive criticism on your turf.

Be present

Presence onstage is the exchange of energy, so make connecting with your audience your primary goal. Make eye contact. Breathe. Be in your body. Know that nothing can go wrong because you have prepared.

Still overwhelmed? Break it down even more, and most importantly, make the plan your own. You know yourself better than anyone and you will only succeed if you feel ownership over the process.