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Speaking with Confidence:  
How to “Manage” the Butterflies

By Mimi Donaldson

As a manager, you have many opportunities to speak in front of groups of people. You have to. Research shows public speaking is the number one fear of people. Death is number five. So when you say, "I'd rather die than go up in front of the room,” you're not kidding. Almost everyone experiences some degree of nervousness when they have to be a "speaker,” whether it is a formal presentation in front of a group twenty-five, presenting information to someone "important,” or being called on in a meeting to answer a question. Your heart starts pounding loudly, your throat constricts, the face feels hot and you're "on.” For most people this feeling will never go away completely. We may never truly banish the butterflies; the best we can do is "manage” them to fly in a straight line. Here are some tips to do just that.

We worry about nervousness, but the body produces extra energy at moments of perceived danger, which is normal and good. In primitive times, that energy saved us from wild beasts by enabling us to run faster than we thought possible. We've all been awed by tales of moms who experience super-human energy, and become strong enough to lift an auto off their suffering child with their bare hands. But that same energy in front of a group, can come out as nervousness, which is distracting to our listeners. The rule is: it's okay to be nervous, as long as it doesn't show. How do we hide our knocking knees and quivery voice from our audience? Instead of suppressing your energy, learn to release it. Put more energy behind your message through the five channels of your body. They are: eyes, hands, voice, feet and body.

Eyes - the most important channel to give out your energy and your message. Eye contact conveys credibility, sincerity, interest and involvement with your message and your audience. Don't flit your eyes - it makes you look nervous. Stay with one person for a complete thought; then switch to someone in another part of the room. Make sure all the listeners feel the energy pour out through your eyes. No staring, please.

Hands - You cannot plan what to do with your hands. They will move naturally if and when you're giving out enough energy through your eyes and your voice. If your voice is a low monotone and your eyes are downcast, you hands are simply not motivated to move. When hand energy is suppressed, it comes out as fidgeting. People wring their hands, pull a finger, "pray,” imitate a spider doing push-ups on a mirror, play with coins in their pocket. Be aware and stop doing those things -- they distract your listener. Don't concentrate on your hands; concentrate on projecting your energy through your eyes and voice. And use your hands to support your message: to show spatial relationships, movement, size and to emphasize points.

Voice - Don’t worry about it cracking. People want you to be real. Focus on five qualities:

  • Pace - not too fast or too slow.

  • Intonation - ups and downs; variety in the voice.

  • Tone - attitude or emotion in the voice. Stay clean - you can unwittingly project anger or impatience or insecurity.

  • Volume - not too loud or too soft.

  • Non-words - get rid of “like,” "really,” "you know,” "okay?” Trust the silence, but remember to fill it with energy.

Feet - Balance your weight on the balls of both feet, not the heels. Be poised like an athlete ready to go when you are channeling energy. Watch out for aimless pacing and the opposite: being planted in one spot may cause you to sway with the suppressed energy. Release the energy through the feet. Walk forward a couple of steps if you feel passionate about a point you're making.

Body - Posture please. You don't want to look nervous by being hunched over. Clothes shouldn’t be distracting either. Make sure they fit. Have someone check you over before you speak. You can't see if your collar is turned up in back, but some nitpicker in your audience will. Make your energy work for you, not against you. When you suppress it, it comes out as nervousness anyway. Give the energy away through your eyes, hands, voice, feet and body. Be impassioned about your subject. If you’re not impassioned — fake it. Managers are people who get the job done whether they feel like it or not. Professionals are people who speak even when they don't feel like it. Use your energy to get those butterflies flying in a straight line, and your audience won't even know they're there.

Read other articles and learn more about Mimi Donaldson.

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