Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Presenting can be Bliss

Presenting is a very physical act, or should be, according to Philip Bliss, a communication skills coach, who was leading the voice coaching workshop I was attending in May this year.  The workshop was very physical and took me right out of my comfort zone. As it has now come to the time of year when many academic librarians, like myself, are trying hard to keep our voices through numerous induction sessions, skills workshops, and the perils of the petri dish of bugs that new students always bring to university at this time of year, I thought it might be timely to share what I learned.

Philip started off with a little theory explaining that he believed, for academics especially, that so much is focused on what is going on in the head that it becomes divorced from the body. He told us how we often forget that we are in control of our own bodies – if we are too quiet, have a squeaky voice, or talk too fast we can do something about it rather than accept it as the way we are. He gave the example of a toddler standing erect, being very vocal and demanding what they want and compared it to a teenager physicallising the hormonal and emotional turmoil they are experiencing by mumbling and crossing their arms. Doing something like crossing your arms without thinking, according to him, is seen as a very weak and child-like thing to do.

Presenting can be very physical
I’ve been to workshops on presenting before, for example, to large groups and on lecturing with confidence. This session was different in that it felt like a drama lesson and was very much focused on the voice; however, before we begin to speak there are a few extra pointers to think about regarding the mental process:
  • what we communicate (before we use our language) is how we feel – if you’re feeling nervous, tired, hungover etc this will be apparent to your audience
  • you have to be true to our own passion and intellect – the more you care about your subject the more this will come across in your voice
  • the voice won't work well if you don't really want to communicate. If you have to lecture every day and hate it this will become apparent in your voice; it might be time to re-evaluate your job!

Water: crucial for many things, including presenting. Just remember not to clench it.
We looked at some of the problems we face when presenting and Philip came up with some tips, which I’ve bullet-pointed below:
 
Getting the volume right:
  • look at how far your voice needs to reach
  • always talk to the back row
  • it is very important to move as it provides vocal variety - like headphones do
  • a common mistake is to think you  need to fill the whole room  - your voice only needs to reach where the ears are
 
Protecting your voice: (this is quite a common problem, especially in the first term of the academic year)
  • daft as it sounds, don't stick your neck out to reach the audience. This can easily be done when you’re eager to talk so try to keep your head flat on to the audience
  • use your eyes rather than your neck to look
  • if your voice is getting tired, check your head and neck alignment
  • drink lots of tepid water as your vocal folds need moisture
  • when ill (which is quite likely in term 1 - see remark above about the petri dish) speak as little as you can; this can be a good opportunity to introduce some groupwork
  • gargle with warm salt water and avoid dairy products

Going at the right pace: 
  • you speak as fast as you breathe, so breathe slowly
  • wearing heels and sucking in your belly are problematic for breathing
  •  articulating clearly will slow you down

Getting started:
  • Knowing what you're going to say is crucial
  • take in the size of the room
  • start with as low a pitch as possible - try to make it different to the group mumble
  • remember your consonant word endings - keep them strong

If you're nervous:
  • look to see if you are clenching your water bottle or clickers
  • don't put your hands behind back - it might convey authority but it can also lead to a lack of trust as your audience can't see your hands
  • If students aren't listening, try saying  "You're clearly not listening; how can I help you understand this"
I haven't needed to use this last tip yet but I will try it if necessary as it shows you want to help your audience understand the topic. I often find my voice getting tired so have tried to remember to check my neck alignment - I know that as I am of relatively short stature that I have the habit of raising my head rather than my eye gaze. I always, always, always carry water with me when teaching which really helps to not only keep me hydrated but to slow me down if I have been talking a little too quickly. For me the best tips of all are to be mindful and to breathe. They can be difficult to do but impact on everything else. What are your favourite tips? Do use the comments if there are any you would like to add.