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Kate DeVore, MA, CCC-SLP, is a voice, speech, and communication trainer. She is a theatre voice, speech, and dialect coach as well as a speech pathologist specializing in professional voice. She helps professionals (ranging from actors to executives) deliver their message in comfort and style. Kate works one-on-one with clients both in-person and remotely, and is available for workshops and trainings of any size around the globe.
Public speaking may come naturally to some, but for those of us who prefer to get our point across through written word or one-on-one conversations, the idea of addressing a large group can be nerve-wracking. But there’s good news. According to voice/speech pathologist Kate DeVore, stage fright is perfectly normal. “I work with veteran actors who have been performing professionally for 60 years, and they’re still terrified before they walk on stage,” she says. “It’s not something to resist or fight; it’s something that will be there. So it’s helpful to embrace it and channel that energy, rather than trying to make it go away.”
With an M.A. in speech pathology and an extensive background in theatre, DeVore can build a bridge between the artistic and scientific worlds of effective communication. Below, she provides three tips for improving your public speaking that you can implement today.
“You know perfectly well that when you get up to give a presentation, if you’re not quite ready, you’re more nervous – and with good reason,” says DeVore. “Be as prepared as you can, so that when you get up there, you’re not focusing on your performance—you’re focusing on delivering your message.”
Preparation isn’t just about the material and content, however. You need to prepare your whole self. Take a moment to physically ground yourself and relax your body. “Do some shoulder rolls to make sure that your shoulders haven’t crept up to your ears,” says DeVore. “Unlock your knees, so that you’re not tense in the pelvis and spine. Ground yourself, feel your feet on the ground and practice standing in a strong, neutral, relaxed, grounded position.”
Your nerves affect your body, which is why you feel stiff and uncomfortable when you’re nervous. But that’s a two-way street. By making changes to your body, you can have a positive effect on your nerves.
In the moments before getting on stage, take a deep, controlled breath and focus on nothing but that breath. Be sure to exhale fully. “Focusing on the breath serves triple duty,” says DeVore. “It helps to calm the autonomic nervous system, it helps to bring you into the present because you’re focusing on something very physical and tangible, and breath is the power source for voice. So, breath is the unifying link that helps with both nerves and vocal power.”
Remember that long, focused breath you took right before you walked onstage? Keep it going. Steady breathing can keep you calm and focused, while improving the quality of your vocal power.
“Take breaths at the end of each sentence or at the end of each phrase,” says DeVore. “When we get nervous, we tend to make our breath very shallow and quick. That makes our voice get high and tight and scrunchy. It makes us rush, and makes us even more anxious. Take the time to take a real breath each time you begin a new thought. It not only helps to slow you down—it helps to relax you. It also brings much more richness and fullness to your voice. If you feel tense, remember to exhale.”
Connecting with the audience, as DeVore tells it, is the piece that brings it all together. You’ve prepared. You’re remembering to breathe. Now, it’s time for your message to travel across the room and land firmly upon the waiting ears of an engaged audience. Depending on the circumstances and nature of your presentation, you might try making eye contact with the people in the room. Of course, you might not be able to do that, whether due to a lack of confidence or because bright stage lights make it impossible to see anything past the edge of the stage. “If it doesn’t work to make literal connections with people, then imagine the face of somebody who loves you in the back of the room,” says DeVore. “And imagine that you’re talking to that person. Visualizing a real true human that you know and that you love and feel safe and comfortable with, and talking to that person, brings out a lot of warmth and positivity in the way you present and speak.”
The most important connection you make with the audience, however, is your voice. And it goes deeper than you think.
“The voice is the only part of a person that touches their audience physically,” DeVore explains. “Voice is sound waves that travel through the air through a series of vibrations. Those vibrations have an actual physical impact on the listener. That’s how we hear things. If your voice doesn’t reach them, your message is less likely to reach them.”
Total Voice, Inc., Chicago
DeVore’s book, The Voice Book: Caring For, Protecting, and Improving Your Voice, is available now on Amazon. For a direct link, visit the digital edition of FORUM.