Alyson Connolly joined us at Startup Edmonton a few weeks ago to lead a session on painless public speaking with our members. We sat down with her to ask a few questions about confident delivery and how to calm your nerves before public speaking.
If you’re interested in learning more, Alyson has an upcoming workshop on June 14.
Q: Do you have to be born a great public speaker & why does public speaking terrify so many people?
A; No, it is like any other skill. It can be learned and you have to practice. Some people may have more of a flair for it but it is the person who works the hardest who will improve the most.
We are actually hard wired to react quickly to negative stimuli. Scientific studies have shown that because of the “Fight, Flight or Freeze” response our brain reacts more quickly to negative stimuli than positive. At one time this was essential to our survival but in modern society it often gets in the way. The fear that you feel in front of an audience is natural, but you can train yourself, (and your brain), to overcome it.
Q: Why is public speaking confidence such an important skill for a founder/entrepreneur?
A: You may have a wonderful product that you know will sell. You may be passionate about it, but if you can’t communicate that to other people your message will be lost.
Q: What are some of the most common struggles you see people face when speaking publicly?
A: People speak too fast. There are many reasons for this. Maybe they are so afraid and they just want to get the speech or presentation over with. Maybe they know the product and pitch so well that they just take for granted that everyone will follow. And maybe people are just not aware that they are speaking too fast. Sometimes it is a habit that they’ve had all their lives.
Q: What are some techniques or exercises someone can do to be a better speaker?
A: To me, breath support is the basis of becoming a successful speaker. When we are anxious we often breathe from our upper chest, which could lead to hyperventilation. Sometimes we also stop breathing. When we stop breathing we stop thinking. You want to breathe deep into your lungs. Try this: Put one hand on your upper chest and one on your abdomen. Breathe in. Which hand moves first? You want the hand on the abdomen to move first. That means that you are taking a full breath in.
When the breath enters our body, we need to imagine that the breath is dropping into the lower abdomen. Use the image of a balloon, which is blown up from the bottom to top. Breathe in, filling up the balloon. Add a count of four when you inhale and the same on the exhale. You can increase the number but make sure to use the same number on both the inhale and exhale.
This helps to calm and center your breath. Pretend that you have a beach ball in front of you. On an inhale, move your hands over the ball from your pelvis up to your chest. On an exhale move your hands down from your chest to your pelvis. Try it on a count of 4 both on the inhale and exhale. You can increase the number just do the same amount on the inhale and exhale.
Breath of Joy:
Breathe in 1/3 of your breath capacity with your arms outstretched in front of you. Breathe in another 1/3 and stretch your arms each side. Breathe in the final 1/3 with arms stretched up over your head. Bend your knees, swing your arms as you bend down and breathe out. Do this six times and you should feel joyful!
Q: What inspired you to start your own business and support startups and founders?
A: I’ve never have a full time employer in my life. I’ve always been self- employed. When I went back to get my MFA my intention was to help people find their voice. I did a lot of research for my thesis on Alleviating Performance Anxiety in Public Presenters and learned just how many people harbor the fear of public speaking. And I want to be in their corner.