Public speaking is an essential plank of a writer’s platform. It is also a scary proposition to get up in front of any audience. Today’s interview is with Lynne Magnavite, a professional trainer, consultant, and coach. Lynne is offering the readers of this blog a free consultation via phone, Facetime or Skype. Please contact Lynne via e-mail: Lynnemagnavite@gmail.com or phone: 773-655-2534.
Lynne Magnavite Bio: As a consultant and coach, Lynne helps professionals alleviate public speaking anxiety and hone their presentation skills. Serving over 3,000 people across the U.S., Lynne uses her background in theatre to share tips and techniques to build a confident and inspiring presenter! Past roles include; an executive meeting planner for high level clients such as Kemper, Navistar International, Arthur Andersen and Accenture, the director of education for a real estate management association and an adjunct professor teaching public speaking and critical thinking at Loyola University, Chicago. Lynne is also a voiceover talent, recording radio and television commercials, corporate videos and podcasts.
1. Please tell us about your background. How did you get interested in public speaking?
When I was in my 20s-30s, I was an actor. I was an actor with horrible stage fright. No matter how much training I had or how many shows I did, an irrational fear plagued me: I would forget my lines, I wasn’t good enough, if I stepped on stage the audience would boo. It was debilitating and I spent much of my career working to alleviate the fear. When I was in my early 30s I made the decision to quit theatre and explore a new career. It wasn’t due to my anxiety – I still do commercial voiceovers – it was about wanting a more balanced and secure life. So, I found my way into corporate meeting planning. I worked with many high level clients and while I was managing logistics, I had the opportunity to watch keynote speakers and meeting presenters. While observing, I always had the urge to coach them. Serendipitously, a friend referred me to the chair of the communications department at Loyola and I became an adjunct professor teaching Public Speaking and Critical thinking for 2 years. I had the pleasure of working with students helping them communicate effectively and I was hooked! After my teaching experience, I knew I had to work with trainers and adult learning, so I changed careers again. Over the last 11 years, I served as the director of education for an association of real estate managers. I worked with association Members who served as volunteer leaders for their chapters or the national organization. I watched as some struggled with the public speaking duties. I was asked to share my public speaking tips with staff and members of my association, so I traveled to our chapters sharing tips and techniques to over 3,000 people during my tenure.
2. They say people are more afraid if public speaking than almost anything? How do you train people so they can be successful?
Public speaking anxiety is debilitating. The fear seems irrational – but you are opening yourself up to critique and giving the audience a glimpse of your true self. That is very daunting. If you show weakness, the audience can turn on you. Back in the days of yore, audience members threw rotten produce at actors if they didn’t like the performance. (Fun article here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bon-appetit/the-pop-culture-history-o_b_3727033.html) In modern society, television is riddled with shows gleefully eliminating contestants who don’t make the cut – “You’re fired!”, “Please pack your knives and go.” “And that means you’re out. Auf Wiedersehen.” Or my favorite, “Now, sashay away.” Humiliation is palpable. Who wouldn’t be crazy nervous before speaking in public? As Jerry Seinfeld says, “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
What’s a speaker to do? Trust yourself. This is the first step. If you are asked to speak in public, it means you have the desired knowledge to share with a group of people. This knowledge is yours. Others may know about it or have opinions about the topic, but this is your version, your interpretation. The audience has never heard it your way. This is the key to building confidence.
The second step is recognizing you are human. Being open, showing your vulnerability is actually an excellent way to connect to an audience. Audiences recognize themselves in the speaker if the speaker is honest and authentic. Being human may mean forgetting your lines. It may mean, you have to take a drink of water during your speech. It may mean you cough or laugh or cry during your presentation. Perfection isn’t something to strive for in a presentation – connection is. If you successfully connect and show the audience you are still in control, you still have a place on the island.
3. How much preparation goes into a good speech?
Preparation is vital. My suggestion is to be 90% prepared before you deliver your speech and allow the other 10% for “in the moment engagement.” I’ve heard this so many times before, “I will be fine – I can wing it. It’s just my work team. I work better under pressure; I can do it the night before.” Leaving something so important to the last minute is detrimental to a successful outcome. Your credibility as a professional is at stake.
Nancy Duarte one of my favorite leaders in presentation development says, “The amount of time required to develop a presentation is directly proportional to how high the stakes are.”
My suggestion for being 90% prepared includes:
Research and development (6-10 hours)
Researching the topic will take as long as you need – 2 hours or 10 hours depending on the program. Part of the research should include looking at who your audience is. Knowing your audience is essential to ensuring your message is delivered effectively.
Brainstorming and organizing the data (4-6 hours)
The rule of thumb I use is approximately 4-6 hours of development/writing per 1 hour of speech.
Putting together the audio visual e.g. power point slides (5-20 hours)
If you choose to use Power Point as your audio visual support, know that it takes time to develop the concepts and themes for the slides. A shoddy or slap dash PPT presentation reflects poorly on the overall presentation. So if you aren’t fully confident in your design or you don’t have enough time – go without.
Rehearse! (1-3 hours)
Rehearsal is very important before a presentation. If you have the opportunity to see the space before your presentation – map out the “stage” in your office or house – and block your movement. Rehearse in front of an audience of peers or family, BUT, don’t change your entire presentation if a friend doesn’t like it. Remember your actual audience – not your rehearsal audience. A section may fall flat with your friends, but resonate with your actual audience. Also, make sure you practice any tricky technology transitions – using a video or animation needs to be timed. Also, have a back-up plan in case the technology doesn’t work during your speech. Back-up plans show the audience that you are a professional.
So putting it all together the 90% of prep time could take between 16-40 hours. Some coaches suggest more time on research and audio visual development. Again, it’s truly up to you.
The 10% of “in the moment” time during your presentation is more about responding to the audience and the environment in real time. If the audience reacts a certain way to your presentation, you can adjust. If the room is hot, you can get your audience on their feet for a quick poll or Q&A. The 10% in the moment time is an opportunity for you to improvise and improve your presentation based on audience needs.
4. Is it easier to work from a script or from bullet points?
Because of my ongoing battle with stage fright, I always use a script. I mark my script using highlighters; post it notes and colored markers. I know when I need to pause – because I write, “pause” or I know when I need to slow down because I use a post-it note to slow down. All of these personal notes are just that – personal. No one sees them but you. You have to do what’s best for you and rehearse with that method. Bullet points work for some, but the entire speech written out marked up helps others. Test a few methods to see what works best for you. But remember – if you use note cards to number them – you may drop them during your speech and without a numbering system, you will be on your own!
5. Tell us about your greatest challenge in preparing a speaker for a large audience?
A successful presentation means the audience walks away with an understanding of the subject matter and can actually put it into practice or share the knowledge. The challenge with a large audience is that the speaker feels they won’t connect with each person – so they just talk to the collective. The presentation becomes general and unfortunately the audience’s attention may be lost and so is the message.
Engagement is crucial to learning – so using an activity, breaking up the speech with quizzes or polls is a way for the audience to walk away with a better understanding of the topic. If the audience is made up of 50 people, activities are easy. Break the group up by tables or sections or have them count off 1,2,3 to form individual groups. But with a large audience (over 200), the speaker may leave out activities and just talk. According to adult learning theory, if a speaker just talks, the audience will only recall about 20% of the information. However, if the speaker engages the audience, makes them do something – answer a question, participate, simulate a task, then they will recall 70-90% of the information.
Ok, if you have an audience of 500- 1000 people how do you do that? I’ve seen speakers with large audiences parcel out the audience by groups and have them repeat a phrase or song which is a very energizing activity. You can get the audience on their feet, have them raise their hands when you ask specific questions, have them turn to their neighbor to ask a question or discuss. You can use Poll Everywhere https://www.polleverywhere.com/ for live SMS text polling. There are many things you can do to keep the large group engaged. Find out first how large your audience is and design your presentation engagement activities accordingly.
6. What was your greatest success?
Encouraging people to take the first step is what I consider my greatest success. The first step is recognizing you have a fear or want to improve a skill. During my presentation or workshop, I always encourage audience members to come on stage and help me demo an exercise or do a live coaching session. Sometimes I search out that one person in advance and start to build trust before the presentation and 9 times out 10, they come up to the front of the group. That’s huge! That’s so courageous. I admire everyone over the years that came up on stage to beat their fears into submission!
I remember a woman so filled with fear she shook and cried when I asked her in advance if she would be willing to assist me on stage during an exercise. At first she backed away and said absolutely not. But as the presentation went on, she found some inner strength. She took a breath and then joined me on stage to help capture activity answers on a flip chart. She stood with me and then continued to stand with me throughout the rest of the section. Then I asked her if she would be willing to introduce herself to the group and she did. No shaking, no crying. She confidently said her name and where she worked and actually smiled. The audience applause was deafening. After the presentation, she came up to me sharing that she believed she could do it again. I heard from the chapter later that year that this lovely woman agreed to serve on the executive board which means she would most likely have to get up in front of groups and speak. I’m still so proud to this day.
7. How does the ability to get up in front of a group enhance one’s career?
Even though my Myers Briggs shows that I’m an extrovert, I’m really shy. Being an extrovert doesn’t necessarily mean outgoing – it means getting energy from other people. By nature, I’m shy and in my head until I determine the environment is safe to unleash the real me. Public speaking gives me that safe environment. It sounds counterintuitive, but being in front of a group of people is exhilarating once you jump over the anxiety hurdle. I get most of my energy from the audience. The audience provides feedback, allows you to grow, and gives you an opportunity to test unproven theories or ideas. If you trust your audience you can explore, discover and create. The connection between you and the audience is almost transcendent.
It’s not just about building confidence – which is a natural byproduct of speaking in public; it’s a way to build community and spur creativity. And by doing that, you organically enhance your skill set. Connecting with other people is essential for anyone in a creative field.
8. Could you give us some tips on what to do the day before a speech, an hour before a speech, etc.?
I have a ritual I do before each speech. Because I’m normally all in my head – I have to wake up my body and voice before a speech. I’m a huge yoga fan and in addition to using exercises from my acting experience, I use yoga theories of breath and body. “Where the mind goes, energy flows.”
The morning or several hours before the speech:
First, I center myself the morning of my presentation. I sit on the floor or in a chair and breathe. I use the 777 practice – breathe in slowly for 7 counts. Hold 7 counts and slowly breathe out 7 counts. I do this for about 5-10 minutes. It’s meditative and calming. Remember to use your diaphragm (the sheet of muscle under your rib cage which pushes your breath up and out of your lungs), not your chest or you will hyperventilate. Using a deep belly breathe calms the reptilian flight instinct brain.
Then I stretch my body and anchor my legs and arms. Centering my breath and “feeling” my legs, feet, arms, hands. “Feeling” your extremities ensures that you jolt yourself out of your brain into the present. Move your hands in circles, same with your arms and feet. Then close your eyes and visualize this movement. This anchoring and centering of your body helps you stay “in the moment”. In the moment is an actor phrase about being present, and mindful.
Then the vocal exercises! Mouth and vocal exercises are very important – and also fun to do!
Open your mouth side. Close. Repeat. Stretch your mouth and tongue.
Then stick your tongue out (good for diction):
⦁ Move your tongue to the right 2X
⦁ Move your tongue to the left 2X
⦁ Move your tongue to the center 2X
⦁ Move your tongue around your mouth in circles 3X
Yawn on an “ahhhhhhh” spanning high/low octaves to wake up your voice and clear the cobwebs.
Then I use a wine cork or you can use a pen or pencil and work on your diction. Put the cork in your mouth and say short phrases or tongue twisters. Then take the cork out and say the phrase or tongue twister again. This exercise over emphasizes the mouth and tongue so when you take the cork out, the phrase or tongue twister is easy to say and your diction is clear. I use this technique a lot when I have difficult names I need to pronounce correctly or a tough sentence – nothing diminishes your credibility like mispronouncing an important title, name or company.
No caffeine, chocolate, dairy, lemon, ice water, spicy food or alcoholic beverages before you speak.
⦁ Caffeine and lemon dry your mouth
⦁ Dairy and chocolate add phlegm
⦁ Ice water constricts your throat
⦁ Spicy food causes stomach gas
⦁ Alcohol is not only drying to your mouth, but gives you a false sense of security
What can you eat or drink? A glass or room temperature water works wonders! Also, should your mouth become dry while speaking, take a bite out of a Granny Smith green apple – the malic acid in the Granny Smith apple cuts the dryness and stops any mouth noise. I always have apple slices in my purse before I speak – this method is used a lot for voiceover actors. In the studio, the microphone picks up all mouth noises and biting into an apple alleviates the noise!
Right before you start:
The moment right before you speak may be riddled with anxiety. As I’m sitting or standing back stage, I breathe 777, anchor myself by “feeling my hands and feet” and take a sip of water. As I walk on stage, I take a breath, find my spot, take a moment, lock my eyes on someone in the audience, smile and begin to speak. This brief moment is called “taking the stage”. You set the tone and take control of your presentation. The audience knows you are in charge and have something important to say.
9. Is there any special training you would recommend for would-be public speakers?
My background is in theatre and I strongly encourage anyone who wants to enhance their presentation skills to try an acting class or an improv class. A basic acting class will show you how to connect with another person and then connect with an audience. You will discover your authentic self.
Improv isn’t all about being funny. It’s really about being in the moment, supporting your team mates, and reacting to what you are given. It’s an excellent playground to explore and learn to trust your audience.
I also recommend a yoga or meditation class to learn more about breathing and movement. As I mentioned, I’m normally all in my head and sometimes forget I have a body! Walking and standing seem like second nature – but sometimes you forget. I had a client who had to walk across a very large stage to get to her podium. We practiced walking for most of a session. Look at awards shows – presenters have to walk up or down stairs in professional attire which may seem unnatural. Confidence in movement brings confidence to the audience.
Start small. Just stand up and talk. Volunteer in your local communities. Ask to speak at a school board, village or town board. Introduce colleagues at a dinner or event. Volunteer to give the toast at a special occasion. Participate in training sessions or conferences. If you are someone who never answers questions or shares a story during a workshop or conference, stand up and participate.
If you want more training, seek out a coach or go to your local Toastmasters or National Speakers Association chapter. Attend a luncheon or breakfast event and see what they have to offer.
Read. There are so many articles and books out there on public speaking. My favorite books are the following:
Slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations, Nancy Duarte
Present Like a Pro, Cyndi Maxey, CSP and Kevin E. O’Connor, CSP
Improv Yourself, Joseph A. Keefe Founder Second City Communications
Bio: As a consultant and coach, Lynne helps professionals alleviate public speaking anxiety and hone their presentation skills. Serving over 3,000 people across the U.S., Lynne uses her background in theatre to share tips and techniques to build a confident and inspiring presenter! Past roles include; an executive meeting planner for high level clients such as Kemper, Navistar International, Arthur Andersen and Accenture, the director of education for a real estate management association and an adjunct professor teaching public speaking and critical thinking at Loyola University, Chicago. Lynne is also a voiceover talent, recording radio and television commercials, corporate videos and podcasts.