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Margaret Heffernan: The Voice of Leadership

CEO and author Margaret Heffernan, on the Board of Directors for RADA in Business, gives the keynote speech at the British Chambers of Commerce annual conference 2016, titled 'The Voice of Leadership'.

Tips from a Tutor: Personal Impact

We've cherry-picked some top tips from our Personal Impact course.

1. Open your window
The next time you go into a meeting, before you put your hand on the door handle to open the door, check you are entering with an “open window”. Don’t’ get caught in the “OK, here we go…” frame of mind; as you will be entering anticipating defeat or a battle. Before opening the door, stop. Breathe. Raise your eye line so that when you enter the room your head is up and able to see who is in the room and where they are. This will help you feel more confident as you enter and signal to the people that are already in the room that you are open and ready to engage.

2. If in doubt, breathe out
Make sure you are balanced and grounded. Make sure your knees are not locked, put your hands on your belly and breathe out. As you exhale make an “s” sound. As the air leaves you think about squeezing toothpaste out of a tube from your centre. Be careful not to add any tension to your throat or chest. Become aware of the muscles that engage to help expel the air. This will give you great strength and support in your voice.

3. Take Your Space
Practise arriving in front of an audience by walking to a point, arriving there, allow a full breath in and out and then say, “I want to be here”. Then begin with the first line of your speech, introduction or whatever it is you’re developing. The important part is not being here but being here. There’s a difference. Of course it’s important that you want to be in front of your audience (or at least appear to them that you do) but that you’ve taken you space and are definite about your relationship to the rest of the space. Repeat the exercise but this time just say “I want to be here” in your head before saying your first words. This will give you time to arrive before speaking. This exercise allows the audience to take in your presence before you begin, prevents you from rushing early in your presentation, and adds masses of credibility to you and your message.

4. Readiness
Slump back in your chair. Allow the chair to support you and allow your spine to collapse. You’ll be aware of the collapse in your belly as you feel your tummy compress. Now stand up. What did you notice? Was it hard to get up? Did it require a lot of effort? Now sit forward in your chair. Make sure you’re sitting on your sitz bones (basically your bottom). Your back should be several inches away from the back of the chair and your spine will be energised. Breathe in and out a couple of times and make sure you are not holding any tension. Then stand up again. What changed? Was this different, easier, harder, freer, more or less energised? Try this again both ways but rather than standing up introduce yourself and your job out loud. How was it different for you? By bringing your weight forward and energising the spine you release the breath and can engage more quickly and more easily.

5. Energise your voice
Stand in neutral pose with unlocked knees. Place your hand in front of your face and count from 1 to 10 out loud. Make sure that each number reaches your hand with an appropriate amount of energy. Make sure that the energy comes from your belly and not your throat or upper chest. Then try this again but this time with your hand at arm’s length in front of your face. See if you can feel the breath of each number hit your end without straining. Finally find a point on the wall on the opposite side of the room. Count to ten again. Make sure that you intend to send the breath of each number confidently across the space. Again, resist the temptation to strain through the throat. If you feel tension arrive, just ease back off the energy and work back up to it again, focussing on being relaxed and released.

6. Speak with conviction
Make sure that you commit to what you’re saying and don’t let the energy of your speech “die”. Standing with free knees and in neutral stance imagine you have a pile of bricks to your right. Pick up an (imaginary) brick and lift it in an ark over your head and place it on the imaginary wall on your left. As you do this say “one” out loud, following the ark of the brick with your eyes as it passes over your head. Return tot he pile of bricks again and this time say “one, two” as you lift the brick over your head. Again, follow it with your eyes making, sure you commit to the words until the brick is sitting on the wall. You should reach the end of the word “two” as you place the brick on the wall. Continue all the way to 10, following the brick in the ark over your head with your eyes and committing to speaking the numbers as you go. Make sure that you time what you’re saying to the placing of the brick on the wall. This will mean as you speak more numbers out loud you will make a slower ark and have to commit to the communication of those numbers.

7. Physicalise language
As you practise your speech choose words to physicalise. You can choose the important words or you can choose nouns, adjectives and verbs. It’s really up you. Choose a physical action such as punching, kicking or jumping as you come to certain words. This will help you connect to the language in a way that gives you ownership of them. You will make them your own because you will have a physical experience of communicating them.

8. Take time
To help your audience digest information, practise speaking in short sentences with a pause in between each. The pause is not a time for an “ummm” or “so…” it’s time for you to breathe. This will allow you to gather your thoughts and think about what you want to say next; it also gives your audience time to digest what you are saying. It requires discipline and it feel strange to start with but once you become comfortable with taking more time, breathing through the pauses, you will find that it’s a much more powerful way to deliver your messages.

Take your Time when you present

Take your time when speaking and thinking. Listen to what our tutor Abi says about keeping a steady pace when under pressure.

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