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When we engage in any activity in life, be it work, sport or rest; having an appropriate posture is important. It makes a big difference for the success of your activity, and it’s good for your body (both short-term and long-term). This begs the question, what is the ideal posture for the public speaker?

In this article we will discover how to find the ideal speaking stance for all kinds of situations; giving a wedding speech, delivering a technical presentation in the workplace, lecturing to students, being interviewed for a job… whatever.

Some speaking scenarios may require you to sit, stand, use props and visual aids, or even appear on video. You may be free to move around a large stage, or you could find yourself stuck behind a podium. In all circumstances, there is one over-riding guideline that guarantees the best (and healthiest) posture: adopt a stance that conveys emotional empowerment. In other words, show (with your body) that you feel empowered (e.g. confident, relaxed, energised and/or passionate). This inevitably puts your audience at ease. It helps them to feel that they are in good hands.

I make it sound easy, don’t I? All my life I have struggled with posture. I like to slouch; something I picked up from my teenage years, no doubt. Teenagers are known to go through frequent bouts of apathy (or boredom). This affects their posture in a negative way, because boredom is not an emotionally empowered state. Rather the opposite; apathy is a state of disengagement, or disconnection. Negative postures can become habits that are hard to break.

It took the world of public speaking to help me break through my inner-slouch, though it still likes to assert itself from time to time. Given the chance, I love to slide into a soft couch, until my head is halfway down the back with my legs sticking out. If I am sitting on a wooden chair, I’m tempted to lift the front and angle the chair back, as if to turn it into a deck chair. It’s a delicate process; swing the chair back too far, and I could end up on the floor.

Since I became a public speaker, I’ve become more mindful of how I carry myself. I also discovered a hard and fast rule: your posture telegraphs your emotional state. Moreover, your level of confidence (and self-esteem) will tend to affect your stance, whether you are standing, sitting or sleeping. As I’m sure you’re aware, portraying confidence is important in public speaking.

The first tip I learned, was to become “grounded”. You can do this by becoming aware of your breathing. In our blog article entitled “Calm Your Wobbly Voice” I discuss how to breathe in a way that ensures you are grounded. To recap, simply breathe from behind your belly. Imagine there is a balloon behind your belly button. Every time your inhale the balloon inflates. Every time your exhale, the balloon deflates. Next, make sure both feet are firmly and evenly planted on the floor. Give each foot equal weight from your body.

Next, ensure your spine is straight. Keep your shoulders up; and relax. Whether you are sitting or standing, these tips work wonders. You will automatically portray confidence. Don’t forget to relax into it, however. You are not in the army! If you are standing, also make sure your feet are in line with your shoulders. In other words, don’t keep your feet too close together. I repeat, you are not in the army!

I have not discussed movement yet, or how to act when you are stuck behind a podium (the next blog article will cover this). However, I do want to leave you with one important insight that will motivate you in your quest to perfect an empowered posture. And I will share one final tip if you are having trouble practicing.

In Amy Cuddy’s remarkable TED Speech “Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are”, Amy shares an important discovery around the idea of adopting an empowered posture. It is well known that your emotional state affects your posture. Just look at how a depressed person carries him/herself; slumped shoulders, hunched back, etc. Similarly, an angry person may stiffen up (no relaxation here!). Amazingly, as Amy Cuddy shows us, the process works the other way around. Your body language affects your emotional state!

For example, if someone you know suffers from depression, one way you can help them out of it, is to get them to adopt an empowered stance; straight spine, shoulders up, palms out (perhaps like Jesus would). You can also ask them to smile. A fake smile will suffice. Of course, it will be difficult to persuade them to do all this, but if they can keep an empowered posture going for at least ten minutes, their depressive state should diminish and evaporate (at least temporarily).

As Amy Cuddy mentions, empowered postures can change the hormonal balance of your body. The level of cortisol, the hormone associated with stress, decreases in your blood stream. Testosterone, the hormone associated with confidence (in men and women), increases. By adopting an empowered posture, you can lift your emotional state within two minutes. Check out Amy’s speech for different examples of so-called “power poses”.

One final tip. Right now, just for fun, choose your favourite public speaker. It doesn’t matter who it is; a politician, stand-up comedian… whoever. Watch how they stand (and sit). Check out a YouTube video to help you. Now stand up and adopt the same posture. In other words, show the world how Barack Obama (or whoever your chose) carries him or herself. When you’ve nailed it, ask yourself: can adopt this stance for myself? In fact, I would challenge you – why don’t you carry yourself with confidence? After all, it’s your body, your choice.

To recap: if you find yourself slouching, quivering or otherwise not quite where you want to be during a presentation, adopt the stance of your favourite speaker. It’s a short cut to achieving the straight spine / shoulders up / grounded techniques. It will make you feel good, and as I like to remind my students… if you feel good, you are much more likely to deliver an effective presentation!
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Many years ago, I joined an acting class, mostly for fun but also to develop my dramatic skills. Studying drama can improve your public speaking; it can enhance your ability to express yourself in a more open way.

The class I attended was high energy, with plenty of interactive exercises. One thing I didn’t expect was that I picked up a powerful technique that allowed me to develop my vocal projection. It was a simple warm-up exercise that took no longer than two minutes, and it promised to increase my ability to project by 10% after just 2 weeks of once per day. And now I will share it with you…

There are 7 steps to the exercise, but at all times you must breathe from the belly. To breathe from the belly, simply imagine that there is a balloon behind your belly button. Every time you inhale, the balloon inflates. Every time you exhale, the balloon deflates. For further instruction on belly breathing, watch the experts… new born babies.
  1. Stand up. Take three deep breaths. When you are ready…
  2. Place your hands over your chest, breathe into your belly, then breathe back out while humming “OH”. Do this with your mouth open, as loudly as you can. Imagine the OH sound (which is like the English letter O) emanating from your chest (your hands will help you visualise the sound coming from your chest)
  3. Place your hands over your throat, breathe into your belly, then breathe back out while humming “AH”. Do this with your mouth open, as loudly as you can. Imagine the AH sound coming from your throat.
  4. Place your hands in front of your mouth in a cup shape, as if to catch your words in a ball.  Breathe into your belly. Then, with your mouth open, hum “EH” as loudly as you can. Make the “EH” come from your mouth.
  5. Place the forefingers of your hands on the top of the outside of the nasal passages of your nose (where you would rest a pair of glasses). Use of your hands to pinch this area, for emphasis on the point. Breathe in. Then hum (with an open mouth) the sound “NG”. It will sound like you are mimicking an insect flying. Try to make the humming come from your nose.
  6. Place a hand over the top of the crown of your head, as if ready to pat the top of your head. Breathe in. Then, with an open mouth, hum “AH” as if the sound is coming from the top of your head. It will sound higher in pitch (more angelic-like) than the AH in step 3.
  7. Finally, breathe in as much air as you can. Then, with an open mouth, try to blast out OH, AH, EH, NG, and high AH as much as you can from each of the five areas – chest, throat, mouth, nose and crown – alternate between each of them rapidly and randomly. Yes, it looks and sounds a bit mad, but the trick is to let loose and have fun.

After you finish the exercise you may notice your vocal chord muscles feel like they’ve had a soft and subtle workout. That’s a good thing. Most singers and dramatic performers perform warm-up exercises like this all the time. Vocal muscles are like any other muscle. They benefit from warm-up and strengthening exercises.

This technique is a lot easier on your voice than shouting or screaming, but don’t underestimate its power. It’s also a miniature meditation that grounds you, and so it will help dissipate fear.
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Abraham Lincoln once said, “Whatever you are, be a good one.” The question in this article is, what makes a good salesperson?

As I alluded to in the previous article, people tend to react negatively to unsolicited sellers. Whether you are accosted in a clothes shop, telephoned by a service provider, or pitched by a sales presentation at a promotional event, the result is usually the same… “sounds great - please leave me alone.” Not always of course, but often.

In addition, many sellers shy away, or feel ashamed of, the idea of selling. They carry an underlying guilt about the idea of persuading people into doing or buying whatever they want for their own professional and/or person gain. After all, you could say that people sell because they want to get something from you; money, power or some other advantage. I mean, what’s not to like?

Unfortunately, these people have set the goalposts for selling in a very old-school way. Images of the snake oil second-hand car salesman (or the door-to-door vacuum cleaner peddler) unfortunately dirty the reputation of sales and persuasion. Selling seems to be such a nakedly brazen endeavour. But it need not be this way…

What if, instead of making yourself the “persuader”; looking for your goal… imagine yourself as the “giver”; helping people, by offering something more valuable than what you are asking for. In this light, you are the “facilitator” of an outcome that benefits the buyer.

It doesn’t matter if you are selling a product, service or message. As long as it’s more valuable than what you are looking for (or at the very least, mutually beneficial), then surely it would be selfish not to try to sell, right?

Of course, I’m assuming whatever you are selling (or persuading) is genuinely beneficial. Even if you (or some third party) seem to be the only ones getting something tangible, there should at least be a philosophical benefit for the buyer; i.e. they get to help a cause, take part in a charitable event, etc. Your buyer (e.g. audience) should at least feel better about themselves. There’s value in that.

Go even further… imagine your product, service or message as a no-brainer for your audience. Now your job is to help them by offering it up in most helpful way possible. As an example, imagine you are browsing in a clothes shop. An assistant walks up to you and says:

“Can I help you?”

What is your first reaction?

“I’m just browsing” meaning “leave me alone.”

What if that browser said something like, “Hi. I noticed you are interested in tops. Let me show you something that would suit your figure.”

…or maybe…

“Hi. I have something much better quality at a better price. Let me show you.”

Tell the truth, you are much more likely to indulge the assistant. Why? Because they are now being helpful.
It’s the same idea for public speaking. I’ve already written about the differences between speaking to persuade and speaking to inform. However, in truth, these days persuasive speaking is becoming more informative. The reason is that people want information so that they can sell to themselves.

Studies have shown that people who purchase electronic goods in stores are more likely to research products online before purchasing. They may even research while in the store (watch for shoppers surfing www.amazon.com on their smartphones for reviews, the next time you are in PC World).

Bearing in mind that people want to make up their own minds, why not re-structure your next pitch to be as informative as possible about whatever you are selling. Imagine every uncertainty a prospect could possibly have, and address those concerns in an authentic way.

There is a superb book by Jay Baer called “Youtility”. He champions this new idea taking the marketing world by storm. It’s also evolving in the sales and speaking world. One of Jay’s top tips is:

“Don’t try to be the best. Try to be the most helpful.”

It may feel like you are being a more passive seller. To be frank, it takes confidence to hang back from being pushy, and instead let the help do the work. The advantage to your prospect is that they won’t feel like they are being coerced. The advantage for you is that, even if your audience mightn’t be interested in buying that day, they may know someone who could benefit. This is called “word of mouth” and it is the most powerful marketing tool of persuasion. However, word of mouth only works for those who are known to be helpful.

Furthermore, if you are an extremely helpful presenter/seller (someone who even offers free tips or ideas) it doesn’t matter if someone doesn’t buy from you straight away. At some point in the future they might decide they need something. And when they do, who are they going to think of? A pain in the ass, or someone who is helpful?

As Jay Baer mentions in his book: “If you sell something, you get a customer for a day; help someone, you get a customer for life.”

This is true for marketing, business and public speaking.
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Have you ever been browsing in a retail store only to be accosted by an assistant eager to engage you and your wallet? In this situation, how do you normally react?

“Thanks - I’m just browsing.”

“I’m okay, really.”

“Please leave me alone.”

The last line is too rude for most to say out loud, but that doesn’t mean you never thought it. Our first reaction to sellers is usually to push them away. Interestingly, this is not because we would never consider buying anything. After all, why browse in a shop if the idea of buying is abhorrent to you? Which begs the question: what’s really going on, and how can we as sales people avoid the inevitable shut-down?

In this first of a two-part series on sales and persuasion, I will share three tips with you that will help you in your endeavours to persuade your audience to think, feel and do what you want them to…

Six weeks ago, I received a call from a Broadband provider and the conversation went something like this:

Caller: “Hello. I’m calling from Acme Broadband Services. Because you are a valued mobile phone customer I can offer you a package deal with broadband.”

Me: “I already have broadband, thanks a million.”

Caller: “Okay, but with our package you can save 30% on your cost.”

Me: “I’m in the middle of a contract at the moment.”

Caller: “How much are you paying for your current service?”

Me: “Look, I’m really happy with the service I have now. I don’t want to change.”

I’ve shortened the conversation (it went around in circles for a few minutes before they finally set me free) but you get the idea. The problem with this kind of sales approach is that it’s very clear that the seller has no interest in understanding or listening to me. And they are obviously reading from a script! It’s also clear that I’m merely one number on a massive list. How does it feel to be a statistic? Not very inspiring, eh?

If you want to persuade, the first thing to do is listen. It is amazing how many speakers don’t have a clue how to listen, but it’s my top tip for today.

How can a public speaker listen? By asking questions… and listening to the answers! It’s not as easy as you think. When others are speaking, most people tend to fill their minds with their own beliefs, biases and points of view. They selectively listen. As Simon Sinek once said, “There is a difference between listening and waiting for your turn to speak.”

The most successful presenters know how to ask the right questions to generate rapport with their audiences. Which leads me to the second important tip… understand!

It’s not enough to listen, but to truly understand who your audience is. The best persuaders can quickly surmise their audiences’ priorities, needs and goals. The 2001 World Champion of Public Speaking, Darren LaCroix once said to me, “You must follow the thought process of your audience. In other words, as I speak, it is important that I understand what I’m leading my audience to think, feel and do.

Let’s take the above phone “conversation” example. I will go through it again, and add in my own mental reactions to each statement as they occur…

Caller: “Hello. I’m calling from Acme Broadband Services.”

<Oh God, another sales call. It’s really inconvenient because I don’t have the time for this.>

Caller: “Because you are a valued mobile phone customer I can offer you a package deal with broadband.”

<Don’t they realise I’m already signed up to a service? Probably not. I better explain…>

Me: “I already have broadband, thanks a million.”

Caller: “Okay, but with our package you can save 30%.”

<Here we go!!! You’re not listening to me. Why would I want to sign up to something I’m already getting from someone else? Don’t they realise I’m in the middle of a contract? Probably not. I better explain…>

Me: “I’m in the middle of a contract at the moment.”

Caller: “How much are you paying for your current service?”

<What’s that got to do with anything? Now they want my personal information. This is arrogant. And how do they know if I even want to change? It’s not all about money you know. I better explain…>

Me: “Look, I’m really happy with the service I have now. I don’t want to change.”

<I want out of this call. Help!!!>

When I add in my own thought process, it’s easy to understand the mistake the seller is making. Unfortunately, the caller would only ever gain these mental insights if he actually listened and tried to understand my priorities, needs and goals.

This situation is all too common. Callers from so-called professional organisations push scripts at their would-be customers and end up breaking rapport instead of building it. What baffles me is that these companies would allow this behaviour to continue. Why not train your employee to listen and understand, by asking questions and at least attempting to get to know the person at the other end of the phone? The truth is, these companies are too lazy, and the callers are not brave enough to try a simple human connection. Instead they rely on sales through brute force. It’s not good enough!

Let’s imagine how the caller might approach the situation if he attempted to listen and understand…

Caller: “Hello. I’m calling from Acme Broadband Services.”

<Oh God. Another sales call. It’s really inconvenient because I don’t have the time for this.>

Caller: “I’m sure you are probably busy and you weren’t expecting this call, so I won’t take up more than a minute of your time if that’s okay, but I have something that may be of interest to you.”

Me: “Okay, I have a minute.”

<Note: I am now listening!>

Caller: “Would I be right in saying you already have Broadband?”

Me: “Yes, that’s right.”

Caller: “Are you happy with your service?”

Me: “Yeah, sure. It’s fine.”

Caller: “Great. Well, there’s no point in changing if you are happy, but the reason for my call is that, because you are a valued mobile phone customer I can offer you a package deal with our broadband service.”

Me: “But I’m in the middle of a contract right now.”

Caller: “Ah, I understand. Our broadband service has many benefits and features that you may not be aware of, but there’s no point wasting your time with them today. Would it be okay if I contacted you the next time your contract is up for renewal? At least you’ll have another service to compare with when the time comes. Then I can take you through our service in more detail, and you can make a decision in your own time after that.”

Me: “Sure, that would be great.”

<Wow, this caller is accommodating and helpful. This is a rare and novel experience. Now I can’t help but wonder what those features and benefits are. Damn you, you smooth talker!>
I cannot guarantee the conversation will always go like this (and of course people’s current service experience, contract renewal date and general mood will vary) but you get the idea.

Did you spot the hidden bonus from listening to me? Here it is… By listening to me, I’m more likely to listen to you! And now you can adapt your sales pitch to suit me instead of treating me like a statistic.

The late great motivational speaker Zig Ziglar once said, “If people like you, they’ll listen to you.”

Showing your audience that you can listen to them is the fastest way to get them to like you. It’s not rocket science, and it can apply to any public speaking scenario where you aim to persuade your audience to think, feel or do something… unless for reasons beyond your control it’s impossible… which leads me to my final tip…

Don’t sell to the unsellable!

There are many reasons why people are unsellable:

  • No money
  • They already have a system/product/service that works perfectly
  • What you are selling may hinder or harm them in some way

The list goes on. There is no harm in finding out if you are speaking to an unsellable person. If you are presenting to an audience, you can even address the “unsellables” directly. It might seem like a waste of breath, but it demonstrates authenticity and helps to develop trust with your entire audience.

It also shows that you respect the “unsellables”. More than once I’ve been pitched by a seller who figured out I wasn’t a potential buyer, only to be shunned by them. It’s rude and disrespectful, and it shows an unattractive mercenary streak.

Connecting with “unsellables” can bring dividends because these people are more likely to sell your message to others who might in potential buyers. Word of mouth doesn’t only work through customers!

To recap:

  1. Listen
  2. Understand
  3. Don’t sell to the unsellable

But there’s more. To listen and understand is to open the door to trust, but that’s only the first step.

I quoted the late great Zig Ziglar earlier, “If people like you, they’ll listen to you.”

However, I didn’t add his follow-up statement, “But if they trust you, they’ll do business with you.”

In part two of this article, you will discover how to develop and foster trust with a new paradigm that’s taking the sales (and speaking) world by storm. Stay tuned.
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