Stylist Live

From making an entrance to controlling your voice, RADA's top ten tips for speaking in public

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Katie O'Malley
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Standing up on stage isn't an every day task unless you're Taylor Swift singing to a sell-out stadium or David Cameron talking global warming at a G8 summit. But once in a while, you'll be asked to stand up in front of your peers and give a speech. For most people, there's only one reaction that quickly comes to mind: panic.

Whether it's sweaty palms, a mind blank or a creeping red facial flush, sometimes the body doesn't naturally deal with public speaking as well as we hope it would (curse you biology!). However, there is a way of training it to cope better.

On 18 October, Stylist Live brings you a public speaking class with the help of senior tutor for RADA (Royal Academy for Dramatic Arts) in Business, Sheelagh McNamara.

With over 30 years experience as a highly trained voice and speech & presentation skills professional working across the world, Sheelagh has trained the best business on holding their nerves on stage including Oscar nominees, politicians, lawyers, and CEOs of international companies.

At Stylist Live, Sheelagh will teach you how to develop a confident and credible public presence. From your entrance, body language, tone and intonation, connection with the audience to how to open and close your speech, you'll be jumping on stage in no time.

Ahead of the RADA masterclass, Stylist has rounded up RADA's top 10 tips to improve your public speaking presence:

1. Make a confident entrance

Before you walk out to speak to your audience, take a deep breath from the diaphragm, not from the chest and exhale. Sheelagh advises: “Enter on the exhale, take your space and keep your knees soft.”

2. Stand confidently

Keep your weight evenly distributed on both feet — hip-width apart — and press into the pad of your right big toe. This will ensure you are balanced, credible and show gravitas. Sheelagh points out: “There are three ways of communicating with people – the words we speak, the vocal tonality and the non-verbals (body language). Ultimately, we read the speaker before their words land in our brain as they unconsciously send out messages via body language every second.”

3. Control your voice

"When speaking, we tend to either face our palms up or down. Strangely, these gestures determine what will happen with your vocal faults and tone. So, when my palms are open, my speech will be all about engagement and I'll look friendly and approachable. However, when I turn my palms down, I will naturally lower my tone and become more serious,” says Sheelagh.

Make sure your gestures reiterate your subject matter and match your audience’s reaction.

4. Practice breathing

Whether it’s warming up the vocal chords with breathing exercises or opening the mouth to lose tension, speakers need to be able to control what they’re saying and how it is delivered. Sheelagh notes: “Women disempower themselves through high rising terminals – raising the pitch of our voices in a Kim Kardashian way — so this is something we want to avoid." 

5. Land your thought

Maintaining focus, energy and commitment to your message is essential. Form a structure on a piece of paper before your speech with a clear opening and closing statement. In the opening, welcome your audience and set the agenda of the speech with three points. Then create the body of text before finishing with a brief summary and closing with an action/benefit end — a call to action will always make people sit up and listen. Map out what you want to say on a piece of card — a piece of paper is too flimsy and will make a noise if your hand starts to annoyingly shake with nerves. 

6. Be yourself

It’s easier said than done but you should always be yourself more with skill and maintain integrity. An audience can fish out a fake a mile off so you have to make sure what you are saying and how you deliver your message is credible. However, if you’re naturally not a confident person, just pretend you’re going out there and chatting with your friends at the pub as they audience will be able to pick up on nerves. Sheelagh says: “We have to learn to fake it till we make it with confidence.” So true. 

7. Do the rule of three  

If you think back to nursery school stories, you’ll remember that there are three pigs, three bears and three wishes, mirroring the structure of a story — the beginning middle and end. When listing tasks or achievements, instead of using the dreaded word ‘etcetera’, use the rule of three as “people remember things in sets of three”, according to Sheelagh.

8. Look around

Instead of desperately staring into the eyes of a friend in the audience looking for a confidence boost or looking down at your notes, make sure you use your peripheral vision and maintain confident eye contact with your audience. “Bubble bee eye contact — momentary eye contact with your audience — makes them feel more engaged with your speech and a valued listener.” 

9. Drink water

Take a sip of water before you go out on stage and make sure it is at room temperature — ice shocks the vocal chords so ensure they are as relaxed as possible before getting into motion.

10. Pause for a moment

The aim of public speaking isn’t to shock your audience with new information but to gradually ease them into the subject and, at the end, feel confident about the message you just delivered. There’s nothing worse than sitting for an hour listening to someone ramble on about a boring subject to walk out at the end having not remembered a single point from the speech. Pausing in a speech is essential to give yourself time to breath and your audience time to absorb your key messages. 

Sheelagh McNamara will be speaking 12.15-1pm on Friday 18 October. Order your tickets for the day here


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Katie O'Malley

Katie O’Malley is the editorial assistant at Stylist magazine. When she’s not writing features about everything, from Suffragettes to fashion designers’ desks, she writes the Elsewhere page and contributes to Scoop and 5 Minute Philosopher. She also has a weakness for cheese, monochrome everything and films…all films.