Improving Speaking

Both my mentees has delivered their first meet-up talks and now we are talking how to improve their talk delivery. One question what we discussed this week was: how can I lose my nervousness?   

As a speaker and trainer I have gone through it myself. Following two things I learned six years ago in communication training and still use daily. Only later I realised that it supports “7%-38%-55% Rule” defined by Albert Mehrabian.


Posture, gesture, eye contact etc according to Albert Mehrabian makes up to 55%. When I stand before people, I imagine that I am a tree. Trees never question themselves. Am I good enough? What others will think of me? What if nobody wants to hear this? One thing what we learned in the training was to root. Imagine that your feet have roots. Let them grow in the ground. This simple routine will calm you down and also will help you to hold the posture. 


Our voice trainer started the first voice lesson with story about babies, who can cry for hours without hurting themselves. If grown ups would try to do the same, they could not hold it for long period of time. We kind of forgot to use the body for voice as babies do. There are many things what we can do to re-learn it. One thing is to learn to use the whole body for voice as opera singers does or to start somewhere simpler: say something and try to locate where your voice sits. Since I speak four languages, the trainer asked me to do it in every language. With big surprise I realised that for every language my voice sits somewhere else. For my native language it was the deepest, around the heart, for German it was the highest, in mouth-jaw level, the rest two – throat. Since then I practice to get all my languages where my native language lives. I also noticed that when I am nervous, my voice climes up. I experimented with it and managed with help of keeping voice deeper to stay calm. Funny thing when I all that explained over video call to my mentee, I realised how squeaky my voice was. Perfectly set for demonstration? No I was nervous, occupied with thoughts and over analysing. I let is go and the second part of session kept my voice close to my heart. This is another image what I use – I try to speak from my heart or not to speak at all.


The third thing what I use is very simple – practice. Work on your posture, experiment with your voice, practice your talk. Practice, practice, practice. If your story what you want to share sits, if you know what is your next slide, then you can react on things what happens during a talk – mic is not working, slides are not working, laptop starts to reboot… Life happens. You can deal with it, if you practiced. 
Remember – sometimes it is enough if somebody simply talks from the heart.

Why Are You Here?

cheek to cheek mentoring session

Besides being leader and matchmaker for SpeakEasy initiative (we are looking for mentors, talk to me if you are interested), I also have two mentees. Both happens to live in India, both are already experienced testing professionals and both explore their way to public speaking. My mentees are very different personalities and their speaking journeys are very different, but this week with both of them I talked about how to engaged with audience and how to adapt/reshape talk for particular group.


My work, giving trainings, and my hobby, giving talks and workshops, complement each other in a nice way. At conferences I can experiment new ideas or fulfill my personal goals and talk about topics I care, at work I have to deliver. As a trainer I have my routine. Every training I start with two questions: 

1)    Who you are?

2)    Why you are here? 


About the first question – I am curious and really want to know with whom I will spend next few days. Second question is my way to find out background story. Why you have chosen to be here, what is your exit criteria for this training? I like to put it on flipchart and keep visible during whole training. Why? It helps to stay focused. That includes that you are responsible to achieve your goals and you will give me continuous feedback how we are doing, what you are still missing. Another thing I am aware of, that sometimes people are sent to trainings, they don’t want to be there, they don’t want to learn and I need to deal with that. I always say that I do not force people to attend trainings, but my take is: we are here and, hey, let’s make the best out of it!


This is my trainer routine, I ask questions and explain ground rules around responsibility of outcome. I have tried few other things, but always come back to this as most effective way how to start a training.


Back to speaking. If I give a workshop during conference, I start in similar way as a training. If group is bigger than 10 people, then I skip the first question. For a track talk you need to play another game. To get information you need about your audience you can ask questions where people need to raise their hand. Something like this: “Raise your hand if you work as tester! OK… one third of the group. Now raise your hand if you are developer!” then continue with something like “raise your hand if you want to learn about explorative testing!”. Time to time situations happen when somebody gets up and rushes out to the door. Conferences are overwhelming and people oft mix rooms, if this happened than now is the time to fix it. 


Now back to mentoring to make the full circle. One of my mentees is at the beginning of talking. She has a topic and currently explores how to create an abstract and a talk. The second is going fast forward the finish line. She has topic, good abstract, slides are done, now submitting and practicing the talk. To both of them I asked my two questions. You can create a talk to one specific target group and to address their issues/problems/challenges. Or you can create one more general talk and reshape it during the presentation. To achieve that I put more pictures & less text on my slides, this gives me freedom to change it, if audience does not respond as I imagined they will. 


For me speaking means to be authentic me and to listen to my audience and their needs. Yes, I am standing on a stage, but this is not about me. This is about you, listening my story, taking parts, which fits to you, and making your (working) life better/easier.

So… why are you here?