Connection is Key

What’s the key to confidence and relaxation when speaking?

In my twenty years as a speech coach, I’ve found that’s the question clients always ask. The basis of that anxious inquiry is the fear of speaking to a group. Many people say “I have no trouble talking or presenting one-on-one, but put me in front of a group and I’m terrified.” This horror is usually rooted in some remote childhood experience from the time we were first getting socialized. (First grade?) In the process many of us got embarrassed and then felt ostracized. For some of us the incident may have repeated itself last week. Regardless, the memory resounds.

The simple truth is you can’t actually speak to a group. There are only individual sets of eyes watching and ears listening. In spite of enormous agreement amongst a group’s members you’re still truly speaking one to one, and within the spark of individual contact is the power to focus and overcome.

There is a wonderful scene in To Kill A Mocking Bird, where a child tames an angry mob by simply recognizing her relationship to each of its separate members.

To respond to the beginning speaker’s persistent fear (the #1 phobia in America), I’ve learned and used many techniques to help clients find ease and balance for speaking. I’ve worked with hypnosis, anchoring (Neurolinguistic Programming), deep breathing, self-talk, visualization, and symbols for centering. Each of these can be effective, but different techniques work better for different people. The one thing that works for everyone is making the connection with another human being.

You are essentially talking one to one as you make eye contact with single participants, whether there are two or two thousand present. It is through one-to-one eye contact and intimate focus that you are able to create the personal connection that is the key. In those few seconds of true contact reside all the ease and balance you may desire.

I suggest strengthening your eye contact and your self-assurance by looking for the spirit within each person’s eyes. The spirit of life animates each one of us. It’s in there, and it’s intrinsically loving even if it’s sizing you up at the moment. Just looking for that essence seems to call it forth, and being responsible for doing the calling is deeply centering. By recognizing individuals with the simplicity of your eye contact, you tap your own spirit and draw up the assurance of self-recognition.

Being the first one to acknowledge someone else is a powerful action. It’s one way to extend love, and a sense of love strengthens rapport. That’s why most professional speakers show up early and greet audience members as they arrive. It establishes a human connection before the pressure is on to perform, before a speaker may become confined by role.

Being a great speaker takes a lot of love. First you need to love yourself through your fears and then you need to love yourself through the constant growth process that speaking demands. You definitely don’t want to feel that you’re pretending and that your audience is going to find you out. You want to be “yourself.”

Being “real” is very attractive. Yet being a speaker also requires the ability to produce dynamic energy and sometimes there is a gap between who we authentically are today and the person we’re growing into by making the changes needed spark our charisma. The on-line practice we do to bridge the gap can feel like being phony. So it’s very important to trust your intention and use every speaking opportunity as a learning opportunity. Speakers don’t have to be perfect. They do best when they support the ideas or information they offer by building a strong connection with audience members. The result is audience involvement.

Knowing the material is a basic requirement. Sometimes that demands more study or rehearsal than we care to admit we need or care to do. “Just do it.” Rehearsal will only make you better. At the very least (and certainly when speaking impromptu) we must focus on the message, then trust our intention, and our ability to facilitate and involve others. In other words, have a conversation. The best speakers create an exchange of energy and ideas even if they’re the only one talking. They do it by making a strong connection — acknowledging audience members with personal interaction, eye contact, and the content of their speech. Who you are and what you do will always speak louder than your words. To feel confident when speaking, find and grow the connection with others


  1. Practice deep, diaphragmatic breathing. It relieves stress, and allows you to support your voice.
  2. Release your jaw; massage the muscle that connects the jaw to the skull about an inch in front of your ears. Let the jaw drop open, long.
  3. Exercise your tongue by stretching it out. This relieves vocal tension and creates flexibility for better diction. Use a cork placed lengthwise between the top and bottom front teeth. Over-enunciate and stretch the tongue long to t’s, d’s, l’s, n’s, etc. Focus on feeling consonants. You can feel the vibration of resonance!
  4. Increase projection by calling out phrases to increasing distances. Visualize the sound of your voice as light traveling across the room.
  5. Smile and stand tall! A relaxed smile adds warmth to your voice and confidence to your look. Good posture supports your executive image and makes you feel good too! Walk, move and gesture with purpose. Avoid nervous fidgeting or wandering.
  6. To relieve nervousness, take a deep breath and blow our on a strong F sound. Note that nervous and “excited” are the same feeling.
  7. Warm up your voice, use an easy hum – making an “m” or “v” sound on your lips. The vibration will ease strain and connects right and left brain for clear thinking!
  8. Use Body Language. It’s an important piece of the message. Physical openness translates to personal openness, and “postural echo” will give you feelings of confidence and balance.
  9. Value other people and their perspectives. This is otherwise known as “love.” That word scares a lot of people in business, and it’s the most powerful tool of communication, sales, management, and leadership around.
  10. Radiate! I mean be energetic, be aware of the energy of others and be the one to polarize and uplift the energy. The Beatles said, “You can radiate everything you are.” We do anyway, so why not do it with a strong intention to attract and inspire others?
  11. Style and the “platinum rule.” “Do unto others as they would be done unto.” Approaching an audience from its own gear of communication helps make the message connect. Talk to their deeper level interests.
  12. Walk your talk. Be a demonstration of your principles as an individual. Doing and showing has a far greater impact on others than verbalizing. If words and actions are aligned we have integrity and power.
  13. Be willing to explore. Versus having to be right. True openness produces learning and relationship.

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