Speaking out against the terror of talking

Mar 04 2008 by Janet Howd Print This Article

How many typo-filled drafts do your aching fingers create and then discard before you come up with a polished document you deem fit to present to your colleagues?

I bet that most of you wouldn't dream of spending the same amount of time and effort on spoken presentations even though to be successful they need just as long drawn out a gestation period as printed ones.

To emphasise that point and see an example of best practise, I urge everyone of you to go to see Tilda Swinton's Oscar winning performance in the film Michael Clayton.

The way she deals with the moments of sheer panic - common to all of us - in the hours that lead up to a presentation and how she prepares herself to contend with the fear she knows she is going to have to deal with when she's in the process of delivering her presentation is faultless.

As fly on the wall observers, we see her going through the whole process necessary for success. While trying out her costume and makeup, she also tries out the words, vocal and facial expressions and body language which must swing colleagues to her way of thinking at two crucial board meetings.

Once in those meetings her meticulous scenario planning pays off handsomely. Upright and confident, the pace of her delivery is exemplary. She pin points exactly when to trigger pistol shot endings for words that must cut to the heart of the matter and impinge on each listener's consciousness.

The point at which her voice and demeanour falter allowing a perfectly executed vulnerability to creep in and disarm her listeners just before she selects the ideal tone, pitch and volume of voice needed for the final clear and confident statement that will clinch the deal - is timed to a T.

Knowing which vocal patina to use at any one moment, altering her breathing pattern and moulding the oral tract into different shapes so that the most ideal mode of speech and accent trips off her tongue, ensures that cinema goers as well as the board members she addresses are drawn into the landscape of the character's ideas.

Any sudden blank patches or murky corners would have had both audiences pulling back and refusing to go along with her character.

Actors consort with fear all the time. They know that the panic that sets in at the thought of giving a presentation is exactly the same as the terror experienced when confronted with a truly life shattering situation. They also know that training is the only way to temper it's destructive nature and draw on its creative powers.

Take a leaf out of an Oscar winner's book and scenario plan like mad for your next presentation. It is only by whipping facial expression, speech patterns, articulation, volume, inflection and stance into shape that you will ever tame the terror of talking.

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About The Author

Janet Howd
Janet Howd

Janet Howd is a voice coach who works with corporate, academic, legal, theatrical and private clients in the UK, North America, Australia and Europe.