Safe speaking

Should political correctness inhibit public speakers? Are you more wary of speaking verbatim, in case your tongue slips into a pitfall? People have lost jobs because their flippant comment on social media went viral, or their emails were dissected for forms of “ism.” Be aware of perils if, like me, you spice your communication with humour.

What price ‘free speech?’

Written and spoken words are my metier, so I’m disturbed by this year’s terrorist attacks. Not just in Paris; I urge you to sign or write petitions to free journalists imprisoned or murdered for doing their job.

All that is needed for evil to flourish is for good men [people] to do [say] nothing.

(Attributed to Edmund Burke.)

Are private words safe?

A quick riposte on FaceBook or Twitter is out there, can be read from apposite perspectives. More disturbing is when private email has been hacked and circulated.

Most thinking persons don’t mean to offend others with their words, sounds, images or writing (my tools of trade!). But the devil is in the interpretation of “reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people”. 

Let’s lighten up

People warm to humour, if well handled. See tips to avoid pitfalls and inject safe humour in my book Speak Out-Don’t Freak Out.

(A quick 90-minute read to pep you before a presentation; it’s available on Amazon.)

Do we need to be funny?

Where relevant, humour can be a big audience winner. Jokes are safest if turned on oneself, perhaps relating a mishap or embarrassing situation. People respond to your openness. Don’t embarrass other people.

Beware especially of racism, profanity, or stamping on religious and political corns. Test those hilarious jokes on the family over breakfast to discover just how effective they are. If you do upset anyone, have the courage and grace to apologise.

Is ‘off the cuff’ off the planet?

You know those network situations where all have a minute to pop up and spruik their business? Usually I speak off the cuff, it feels natural. This week, I crafted and read my words. As the presenter, about to give constructive feedback around the table, I had to set a positive example. It felt stilted. I did a verbatim retake to show the difference.

 But be yourself

If you feel safer with a written text, so be it. Vary content according to audience/situation. Pause to breathe. Look up to include your listeners.

Ruth’s 2016 Diary is open

Email to check available dates for presentations, training and coaching there and elsewhere.

Or writing
You’re articulate… but too busy to condense a lifetime’s expertise into a pithy, witty and life-changing presentation.
Or deadlines loom for media releases, blogs and papers.
Whether you write for the ear or the eye, I can craft your scribbled bullet points into engaging text; edit out words that invite stutters into those that flow off the tongue. And polish your content so it shines!

Dare I say it?

Yes. I wish you God’s blessings, joy and peace for a happy Christmas season. However and whoever you celebrate.

Adrenaline: performance highs and lows

End of year exams, presentations, and concerts to juggle and prepare, we’re tired and living on adrenaline.

ALERT: Beware adrenal fatigue.

PRIORITISE as time runs short. I could have posted this blog sooner, but chose to schedule a massage and a nap before the afternoon’s teaching and practice sessions.

My students played their concert last week. That morning, I wasn’t surprised when some asked to change their pieces to Plan E (for EASY) instead of the mooted Plan C (for CHALLENGE) or Plan D (Doable). Because many students – and teachers – struggle to fit everything into the time before any big event. Myself included.

As I practise for solo performances this weekend, and prepare my students for exams and concerts, I need the advice in my own books! So I reread the chapter “Me-Time” in Sounds and Souls: How music teachers change lives.

The days beforesoundsandsoulsmedium

Actors and singers know to “save themselves” as well as their voices on the day of a performance. They talk less, eat less, pamper themselves a little, and don’t rush around. They retreat into themselves, focus on their part or persona, and avoid arguments or upsets. Try to plan the lead-up days, to reschedule where possible any draining commitments. Maintain a balanced, healthy diet. Curb caffeine, sugar, alcohol and…

Channel adrenaline

Seasoned presenters have learned to go with the adrenaline rush, even to welcome it as a source of energy and vitality. Yet this is also the province of the “fight or flight” response triggered by the primitive brain stem when in pressured situations. It is the very breeding ground of those unsettling physical symptoms like dry mouth, queasy stomach and shaky hands – which even experienced speakers may occasionally experience.

Try this quick fix to channel and focus this adrenaline by accessing the sophisticated part of the brain, the cerebral cortex.  Defuse the negative responses of the brain stem and to access your brain’s frontal lobes: sit quietly backstage, breathing slow and deep, with a hand on your forehead.  Holding these forehead pressure points, called the “positive points” by Brain-Gym exponents Paul and Gail Dennison, has a bonus effect of also calming an unsettled stomach. And unwelcome symptoms of nerves fall away like a pack of cards.

Hear Ruth Speak

BRISBANE: 3 December
Ruth will present and workshop around how to “Stand & Deliver and Power Up your Professional Introduction”

LikeMinds Networking breakfast The Gap  Bookings:  0406007753

BRISBANE: 3rd July 2016 Music Teachers Association Queensland

“Dealing with performance anxiety”

Ruth Tours 2016

NEW ZEALAND March, April and again September

ADELAIDE April, May 2016

Contact Ruth to check available dates for student workshops, Professional Development, training and coaching.

Ruth Performs

As soloist with Brisbane Symphony Orchestra: Mendelssohn, Konzertstücke for 2 clarinets features Ruth Bonetti and Sian Davis, principal clarinet of Noosa Orchestra.

Movie Themes Family Fun Concert

28 NOVEMBER | 3PM Lake Kawana Community Centre 07 5413 1400 29 NOVEMBER | 3PM St Aidan’s Anglican Girls’ School, Corinda Tickets

Tips to handle questions

Even experienced presenters can struggle with a question from left field. And alienate listeners if they stonewall or become defensive.

“Are there any questions?”

Part of your speech preparation is to jot down potential queries and practise appropriate answers.

What if no one asks?speakoutmedium

People may be shy of speaking or not ready to verbalise. Listeners use a different part of the brain when absorbing content.

• Give time; “While I drink a glass of water, think if you have any questions to ask me.” That water will also help you to think fast if someone lobs a curly one! in which case draw on the POWER OF THE PAUSE. Reflect.

• Clear the fog with: “Often I’m asked …”

• Plant a colleague in the hall, primed with a question you know inside out. This breaks ice and triggers other questions.

• Loosen them up with “Turn to the person next to you and discuss…”

Handling Tricky Questions 

If you can’t answer, it’s better to admit it openly than to tangle yourself up in convoluted attempts. People appreciate honesty: “I don’t think I could do justice to that without research. Let’s follow up later.”

Or “I’m not prepared to answer that at present; could someone else enlarge on it?”

Remember, you are the expert. Most couldn’t match your command of the topic.

Handling hostility

Dodge inelegant public power-struggles which will alienate the rest of the audience.

• Drop your shoulders, take a deep breath and a drink of water.
• Listen carefully to their points, looking to agree on some common ground.
• Empathy helps to defuse possible aggression and maintains rapport with listeners.
• Remain objective.
• Maintain a neutral, even voice. Curb emotive language.
• See it as an opportunity to re-state your position: “Let me clarify my point.”
• Find a source of agreement: “I understand that you do agree with me on …”
• Deal with a threatening point briefly and call for the next question.

Manage Grandstanders and Big-Noters

An “on-edge” presenter may mis-read an enthusiastic question as an effort to trip. Most wheelbarrow pushers will desist once they have their quota of attention. If they try to turn it into a debate, suggest following up the discussion later rather than take time from others’ questions.

Phrases like “Perhaps you might briefly share your expertise with us …” defer to their knowledge while giving yourself time to marshal your own thoughts.

[Excerpt from Speak Out – Don't Freak Out; Public speaking with confidence
available as hardcopy book and eBook] 

Need help with coaching and speech/blog writing? Email Ruth