What I’ve learned at the confidence workshop
I always get nervous when I need to present something to a larger group of people. I think the reason why I am scared is not because I would not be confident or would not know what I want to talk about. Mostly it is because when I stand in front of people I am aware that they are paying me their attention and also might judge me.
My biggest fear is to make sure anything I present is delivered in the best possible way. It is also more complicated as English is my second language and when I get nervous I start rambling and forgetting even the most basic grammar rules.
In April, I am going to do a conference talk, first time in my career. Because of that, I think more about what kind of impact I have on my audience while presenting. When I heard upfront was coming to Oxford I knew it would be a great opportunity to get a better idea about what I need to do to improve.
What is upfront?
Let me introduce the Upfront global first. By their own words:
#upfront is a response to the lack of diversity on conference stages around the world. It’s an approach that empowers those on stage to support others in building their confidence to appear on a stage themselves.
It is led by an agitator, designer and amazing public speaker Lauren Currie.
What did we do during this workshop?
Upfront staff made us feel welcome but a bit nervous too. However, by doing a simple check-in exercise people got more relaxed. I had no idea what I am about to do in front of a bunch of strangers but I felt quite excited. By making us to describe how we felt at that moment we acknowledged that we are all in this together.
The first part of the workshop focused on identifying what our relationship with confidence is and what it means to us. We did this in a small groups of 3–4 people and shared with others afterwards. This made me really think about different aspects of where the lack of confidence could come from.
During the next phase we did some practical exercises. Those included things like the right body posture, how to maintain that posture and why it is important to stand in a certain way.
Lots of small things might affect the way your audience sees you. For example if you are slowly shifting your body side to side it can have very disturbing effect. Or if you use too many and wild hand gestures it might come across as unnatural and the audience would focus more on those rather than what you are talking about.
We also did some interesting breathing exercises that showed me a different way how to use my voice and how to actually not lose it during a long talk. Most people breath with the top area of their body so when you take a deep breath your chest and shoulders are moving up. This is actually closing your rib cage around your lungs and that may cause the high pitch voice or running out of breath very easily.
Other tips included the way you can stretch before the talk, e.g. neck stretching, throat and jaw relaxation, body roll for spine alignment and explanation why are those beneficial. Yes, we did some silly but fun stuff here.
The last part of the workshop consisted of some practical training and getting feedback. We had to make an entrance on the “stage” and talk for around 1–2 minutes about something we care about or are passionate about. I had no idea what I want to say but I knew I want to get feedback to see what is my effect on the audience.
I found out that I came across as a confident person despite being nervous. Things I can do to ease my stress are small walks across the room while maintaining the eye contact and have a longer breath between some sections. Only negative thing was my use of words like “um”, “eh” and “hmm”. I have to say I was very surprised as I was literally screaming in my head! And probably half fainting too.
This workshop made me think not only about what kind of effect I have on my audience but also about how I perceive the speakers while sitting in the audience.
Main things to remember are:
- Strong body posture and maintaining this posture is very important
- Slow way of talking and clear articulating is essential
- Stretching before the talk can help out mentally
- Deep breathing and its practice allows you to use full lung potential
- It is all about the practice!