The Sound of Confidence: Be Conversational

(1,667 words)

One of the best ways to project confidence when you speak for business is to be strategic about where to place your focus, in order to use a conversational style.  This will help you project poise and authenticity, two qualities that give you gravitas and help enhance your credibility.

Stage Fright, Take Flight:  Calm Your Nerves Before Each Presentation:

Does nervousness get in your way when you are about to deliver a business talk?  A healthy dose of “nerves” before business speaking shows that you care about making a good impression and want to succeed.  But it does not have to rule you!

Most actors will tell you that nervousness never really goes away completely.  Indeed, Sir Laurence Olivier (one of the great actors of the twentieth century) was often so nervous before going on stage that he actually vomited.

The key is to turn nervous anxiety into positive performance energy.

Here are three simple techniques you can use to make stage fright take flight!

  1. Use breathing techniques.  Before your business talk begins, inhale through your nostrils and exhale slowly to a count of fifteen or twenty, so that the air is expelled slowly, smoothly, and supported by the diaphragm.  Do this exercise three or four times before you approach a podium or speaking area.  Immediately before you speak your first words, smile at the audience as you inhale through the mouth and exhale on a slow count of five.  Then, begin speaking as you maintain the smile.  This prepares you to begin speaking with warmth – from a relaxed and centered place.  Breathing centers you and gives you energy at the same time.
  2. Do small physical exercises.  Right before you approach a podium/platform, do small “crunch” exercises that are not noticeable to others.  Whether you are seated or standing, clench your hands into a tight fist and hold the tension for a count of ten before relaxing the muscles.  You can often do this completely unnoticed with the arms and feet, holding the tense position for a count of ten and then releasing.  Repeat the exercise at least three times with each body part, depending upon how much time you have.  This will help relax your muscles, which gives you a kind of power that you do not have when you are tense; you will feel calmer and be more physically expressive, as well.
  3. Greet individuals in your audience.  Mingle with your audience whenever possible before you begin speaking.  Talk with as many listeners as possible: welcome them, shake their hands, thank them for coming, and briefly ask them about themselves.  Circulate among your audience members, starting with people who are nearest to your speaking area.  This will dramatically increase your comfort level as you begin your talk, because you will have already made friendly contact with your audience.  You will be able to feel their warmth during the opening moments of your talk and be more likely to remember that your audience is rooting for you!  It will help calm you and help you focus on the needs of your listeners.

Combine these three techniques to calm your nerves before you speak.   And remember the words of Ethel Merman:  “Why should I be nervous?  If the audience could do what I do, they’d be up here, instead of me!”

Project Warmth When You Speak:  “Endow” Your Listeners the Way Actors Do:

You can speak with poise and a confident tone in business conversations, meetings, and presentations, even when you are faced with challenging questions and comments, or when your listeners or conversation partners seem tired, grouchy, or disinterested.

Borrow a technique that actors use, called “Endowment”.  This involves the act of “endowing” your conversation partners with qualities that will elicit from you attitudes and behaviors that you would like to project.

To understand the steps in the process, let’s take a hypothetical case from the theater.  An actress must play a love scene with an actor whom in real life, she actually dislikes. The character she is portraying is madly in love with the other character, but the actress has recently discovered that this actor has been badmouthing her to the producer of the play.  While playing the scene, she has to project something that is very different from what she is actually feeling.

The actress uses the Endowment technique.  She secretly “endows” the other actor with qualities that elicit within her feelings, thoughts, and behaviors that are appropriate for the scene.  The actress treats her scene partner as if he were a person whom she loves or has loved in real life.  She exercises the power of imagination and behaves as if her conversation partner were this real-life person.  She doesn’t try to imagine that the actor is her true lover; she simply behaves as if he were.  The key here is to practice “acting as if”.  Stanislavsky, the great Russian director and teacher, called it “the magic IF”.

To prepare for any business talk, you can rehearse this technique aloud at home, using notes you have prepared.  Be aware of the qualities you would like to project.  Warmth, caring, and authenticity are three that come to mind. Think of a person from your real life (past or present, dead or alive) who has qualities that make your feel cared for, trusted, respected, admired, and loved, etc.   As you speak your content aloud, imagine that you are speaking to that specific person. Speak as if you were talking to the real person from your life.  This will have a powerful, positive effect on your tone and every other aspect of your demeanor.

Experiment by imagining various people from your real life, to discover which person will most effectively “trigger” your warmth, confidence, and poise.  (And never tell anyone whom you’ve chosen for this technique; keeping it a secret gives the technique added power for you.)

While this technique may feel strange at first, practicing it regularly will strengthen your ability to endow your listeners in ways that will bring out warmth and caring in your demeanor.

It will also have a secondary benefit:  this intentional thinking will keep you so focused, that you will not have much emotional availability to be nervous!

Rehearse your presentations with the Endowment technique.  You will be amazed by the warmth that it brings forth in YOU.

Ronald Reagan’s Technique:  How to Sound Conversational When Reading a Speech to the Audience:

Ronald Reagan, Franklin Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill read a great many of their speeches as they delivered them to the audience.  To do this successfully, they first became masters at reading a speech while sounding conversational.

In business, you may on occasion be called upon to deliver a speech and read some or all of your text verbatim.  In this situation, you should apply a strategy that Ronald Reagan learned during his years as an actor.  The technique, called “See-Stop-Say”, is designed to help any speaker sound conversational and completely unscripted.

Be sure that your script, printed large on your page, does not appear in traditional paragraph form, but in phrases or thought groups that will be manageable for your eye to absorb quickly.

Rehearse aloud (alone until you feel confident) and choose three spots on the wall in front of you (each spot representing a section of your audience).  Practice speaking from your script in the following way:

  • See:  See each phrase and “record” a picture of it with your eyes.  Instead of reading the whole section, let your eye “record” only the phrase (or part of the phrase) that you can completely commit to memory in that moment.
  • Stop:  Look up from the page.  PAUSE.
  • Say:  Now, speak the phrase aloud, from visual memory.  PAUSE again before looking down to “record” the next phrase.

PAUSING is the key to this skill.  Pauses

  • help you remember the phrases
  • help the audience digest your ideas
  • punctuate your sentences
  • build anticipation

Whenever you cannot remember a whole phrase, just look down again to mentally “record” the portion you missed.  Then, look up and PAUSE.  Then repeat the phrase to one of the spots in front of you.

The need to repeat is fine.  It will sound authentic, because people often repeat themselves in conversation.

If pauses feel uncomfortable to you, remember that pauses always feel much longer to you that they will feel to your listeners!  Resist the temptation to begin speaking AS you are lifting your head to deliver a thought.  Train yourself to take the full pause each time, before speaking or moving your eyes and head!

A lack of pauses is the main reason that speeches that are read sound artificial.  When this happens, the pace of the speech is too fast, making it sound unnatural.

The pause is the very thing that makes the audience believe that you are not reading, but just looking down at notes.  They will believe that, as in conversation, you do not know exactly what you will say next. 

Rehearse this in a disciplined way:

  • See:  Look down at your script.  Grab a mental photograph of a manageable few words.
  • Stop:  Look up and focus on a spot on the wall and PAUSE.
  • Say:  Speak the phrase directly to that spot.  PAUSE again.
  • See:  Look down again and grab a mental photograph of the next phrase.
  • Stop:  Look up at your spot on the wall and PAUSE.
  • Say:  Speak this phrase and then PAUSE before looking down again to photograph your next words.

Repeat this process as you read the whole text aloud, and rehearse often.  When you must read to your audience, the pause is the most powerful tool you can use to sound conversational and engage your listeners fully.

Project confidence when you speak, by being conversational!  Calm your nerves, project warmth, and use Ronald Reagan’s technique when you must read to your audience.  These three strategies will give you gravitas and help enhance your credibility as you deliver your business message.

Copyright © 2013-2015 Maria Guida

Maria Guida  is an executive speaking coach/trainer, professional speaker, and Broadway actress.  With her experience on stage, TV and film (working with Paul Newman, James Earl Jones, and  Kevin Kline), she helps savvy executives in all industries enhance their credibility and generate business by speaking with poise, passion, and persuasive power.  Delighted clients include American Express, JPMorgan Chase, and Johnson & Johnson.  Maria travels extensively to deliver interactive and entertaining keynotes and workshops.  She can be reached at 718-884-2282 and; or visit

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