Be a Natural Speaker

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One of the highest compliments you can pay to a speaker is to say he or she is “natural.” But what does that mean?

When I think of  “natural” speakers, I imagine people who feel relaxed and at ease with themselves up there. Their words flow spontaneously. They are conversational. Their tone, volume and level of energy vary according to what they are saying. They accept and don’t try to hide their little quirks of speech or regional accents, yet they are sensitive to the audience’s need to understand them, so they speak as clearly as possible. They pause when in thought or between ideas.

Natural speakers move their bodies smoothly without thinking about it. Their facial expressions match what they say. They may smile when delivering good news or look more somber when delivering not-so-good news. They may even laugh when something amuses them. And they respond to their audience. They make eye contact, talk to people and not at them, and are responsive to verbal and nonverbal feedback from their listeners.

Is it possible to teach someone to be a “natural” speaker? Well…I don’t think it needs to be “taught”…just accessed. I believe everyone has a natural speaker in them.

My description of a natural speaker could be you when you’re telling a story at a family function, talking to your best friend, greeting your guests at a dinner party, or speaking to a customer service agent. Those are times when we don’t monitor ourselves. We know what we intend to communicate and it just flows out. And our bodies and faces move spontaneously in tandem with what we are expressing verbally.

So what makes it different when we get up to give a presentation or a media interview? Our heads get in the way.

Some of us develop a case of the “shoulds”. We think it’s preferable to be like everyone else. We think, “I don’t want to stand out. Everyone else does “X” so I must do it too.” We tighten up, become stilted, serious and stiff, and push away any qualities that make us unique.

Others focus solely on results and not on process. Instead of staying in the moment, telling their story and connecting with their listeners, they can’t stop thinking about the potential consequences of their presentation: good and bad. They scare themselves with unreasonably high expectations; they give themselves ultimatums. Or they wallow in fear of their impending failure. With so much at stake, no wonder they feel nervous! By focusing only on outcomes, they become uncomfortable and disconnected from their material and from the audience.

The natural (interesting, compelling and convincing) speaker can emerge when we recognize and correct the self-destructive thoughts and beliefs that are guiding us. We can retrain ourselves to stay focused on the present moment. We can adopt the beliefs that it’s a good thing to expose our personality, that this does not have to be a super-serious endeavor, and that we don’t have to be perfect, just human. We can start to value connecting with our audience over attaining outcomes we can neither control nor predict.

Our minds are really powerful. They can pump us up or tear us down. I like to say, “We can’t always control our first thought, but we can choose our second thought.” Choose thoughts that support you, that show you trust yourself, and that allow you to stay present. Then your natural speaker will know it’s safe to come out.

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