For many of us, public speaking and presenting can bring out less than our best. The vulnerability highlights our insecurities. The adrenaline feels like anxiety. The fear of falling short causes us to soften our delivery, and often our message. If you have ever noticed yourself fading into the woodwork when you need to bring forth your best, keep reading. You may need to ramp up your power for better results.
Here are some ways to increase your power when you speak. Use these if you are getting feedback that indicates you are coming across as “too soft” or “not forceful enough.” Note that these are all great techniques for speaking, but if you already come across as powerful, you may not need to add more power, rather more warmth. We will tackle that another day.
To express confidence and power:
1. Power stance. Do you know the Power Pose as advocated by Amy Cuddy in her TED talk, and in her new book, Presence? The basic idea is to stand with full confidence. Stand tall but relaxed. Open your chest. Widen your stance. Get your hands apart. In Cuddy’s research, she found this position can reduce cortisol, the hormone associated with stress. In my experience, it also boosts your appearance of confidence instantly.
2. Confident hands. You will want to keep your hands apart. Don’t place them below your waist. A good place is a steeple position right at your waist. Don’t stay in that position for a long time, but vary it with confident gestures. Confident gestures match or enhance what you are saying, are a little larger than normal, and last a little longer. They stand out in your speech like punctuation.
3. Confident sound patterns. Your voice doesn’t need to be booming, but it does have to sound sure. Make sure your sentences end on a firm, downward note, rather than rising at the end like a question. Breathe and speak with your full voice, not a soft or breathy one. And finish each sentence, rather than fading out. Don’t end with a weak “so….” Just end the sentence and let it land before going on to the next one.
4. Confident language. Often we weaken our language with qualifiers. Watch out for words like hopefully, maybe, kind of, you know, just or similar words. Try to eliminate the number of common fillers such as “um” and “ah.” Rehearsal and focus can help. So can allowing a pause in place of a filler.
5. Confident facial expressions. When you are anxious or unsure, your face can show it. Forcing yourself to smile may not be the answer, as it can feel awkward and fake. My suggestion is first allow your face to relax. Soften your eyes. Relax your forehead, mouth, and your jaw. Don’t lick your lips, raise your eyebrows or touch your face. Ideally your face should express the emotions of your talk, not your own anxiety or internal dialog. At the least, it should reflect calm focus.
6. Confident eye contact. One great strategy for eye contact is to direct your energy outward to your listeners, rather than reading them or feeling their energy coming at you. Another is to look right at their faces, but not necessarily into their eyes. Looking at an eyebrow gives them the feeling of connecting with you, but can be less distracting to you. Try it. Finally, connect with one person at a time, rather than sweeping. (And if they should break eye contact before you do, you can always back off; it might be just a little too intense.)
If you are looking to add more power to your communication, select one or two of these suggestions and try them out. As you begin to build that habit (and hopefully get some feedback on how it is received) you may decide to add another to your repertoire. Over time you will be able to integrate many or most of these techniques in a way that feels comfortable and natural to you. One day you will be able to say “I found my own speaking power.” What a great place to be!