Act as If…

December 1, 2013

For many years now, I’ve been coaching my public speaking clients to act as if they felt confident by embodying that feeling through how they sit, stand and walk.  These simple techniques serve to “trick” the mind into feeling comfortable and confidence while speaking.

Recently I watched a TED talk by social psychologist Amy Cuddy who provides the science behind the chemistry in the body that, in fact, does “trick” the mind into feeling confident when we consciously stand or sit with confidence.  I’ve been encouraging all my clients to watch this video and here it is for you to check out:

This idea to act as if you feel confident is also echoed on an interview with singer Laura Gibson that I heard on NPR a while ago. She speaks about her willingness to “err on the side of confidence”.  Click here to read the interview.

For myself, I find that when I feel especially anxious about an event, the simple act of standing tall and walking as though I’m on top of the world will alter my inner experience and reduce my nervousness.  Try it out for yourself.  Why not “err on the side of confidence”?

A©Carla Kimball, 2013s we head into summer, early Vermont mornings are often cast under a mysterious veil of fog where the way forward is obscure and seemingly unreachable.  That feeling of being in the fog is very familiar to those who want to tackle a deep-seated fear of public speaking but can’t see their way through to a place of speaking with comfort and authenticity.

If you know this feeling and would like to discover  a path towards public speaking ease, you might be interested in one very simple strategy for practicing presence that I describe in an article I just reprinted on my Meaningful Conversations blog about remembering names.

Also, please consider one of my workshops which I’m offering frequently this summer through the fall.  Here is the current schedule, with space still available in all upcoming small group coaching programs:

SpeakingPresence Fundamentals:

  • Saturday, June 29
  • Saturday, August 10
  • Saturday, September 7

Successfully Speaking Small Group Coaching:

  • Sat/Sun, July 27-28
  • Sat/Sun, August 24-25
  • Sat/Sun, October 19-20

As always, if none of these dates work for you or if you can’t travel to New England, remember that I’m always available for individual coaching.  Visit the coaching page on my website to learn more about how we could work together either in person or on the phone.

I have just updated my website with the schedule for the one and two-day workshops I’ll be offering this upcoming spring.    Learn more about these programs and the dates they are offered by visiting the small group coaching workshop page on my website.

To get some idea of the strategies that we’ll be working on, you might enjoy the most recent article that I’ve posted on this blog.   In this article, entitled Closing the Presence Gap: Simple tools for rediscovering this innate leadership ability, we look at the reality that being the content expert doesn’t always translate into having a strong leadership presence and we explore simple strategies that will help you become a more confident and effect leader.

And, as a final note, remember that I’m always available for individual coaching if you are either preparing for a specific presentation or can’t attend any of the workshops I have scheduled. Visit the coaching page on my website to learn more about how we could work together either in person or on the phone.

(This article, in its original form, was written in 2009 and posted on my website: I’ve since reworked it slightly and wanted to share it in this blog space.  The three people described below are each composites of a number of clients who have come through my public speaking  programs and services.)

Jane was bright, experienced, and the only female on her work team. Frustrated, she felt that nothing she said at team meetings was taken seriously and her participation was frequently discounted or ignored. When she came to me, she wanted to become more visible as a strong member of her team.

Jim formed a small startup company with 3 other classmates after graduating from college and soon became director of marketing. At first enjoying his work, the bloom faded when his sales force grew to twenty-five, all direct reports, many of them older than Jim. Naturally introverted, Jim wanted to overcome his shyness and his anxiety about age differences. They were limiting his ability to lead with confidence.

Miriam, well regarded in her highly technical field, often spoke to conference audiences of 1,000 or more. With a quick mind and enthusiasm for her subject matter, she tried to cover a wealth of material, talking quickly and packing her slides densely with information. Miriam found that her audiences often had trouble understanding and absorbing the material she presented. She wondered what she needs to do to be more effective at conveying her message.

©Carla KimballEach of these people was an expert in their field, with a solid foundation in their subject matter. There was a gap, though, between their expertise and knowledge and their ability to communicate effectively. This gap hindered their ability to be truly effective leaders.

As each of them worked to strengthen their presence using some very simple strategies, they became more influential and respected in their respective fields.

Here are some of the simple essential strategies you too can use to develop your leadership presence:

©Carla Kimball, 20111. Slow down. By using the breath to slow your thoughts, you will be much more available to the present moment.

This is often the most important step towards developing an effective leadership presence. In this culture of adrenalin soup everything goes fast. Day in, day out, people are besieged by urgent demands on their time – ubiquitous cell phone access, relentless emails, increased workloads, and complicated family schedules – so that they race from one activity to another, attempting to multitask as they go. This state of continuous urgency and information overload is amplified by the racing thoughts accompanying the stress and anxiety that arise when people encounter uncomfortable leadership situations.

Presence arises when you take a deep breath, slow down, and pay attention to what’s in front of you. By doing so, you establish a rhythm and pacing that helps others slow down and become present; and you spark more effective interactions.

2. Embody Presence: Bring all of yourself into a meeting or important presentation, not just your brains.

People with real presence are “comfortable in their own skin.” Presence is a holistic experience, where our entire being – mind, body and spirit – is engaged, not just our minds alone. At the same time, when a person is fully embodied, she authentically engages the human beings in her audience, not just their thoughts.

©Carla Kimball, 2013One simple but effective mechanism for developing body awareness while speaking is to focus on how you are making contact with the solid ground while presenting. When anchoring attention to your physical experience and also connecting with the audience while delivering the message, you bring more of yourself to each interaction. This has the effect of drawing your audience towards you and engaging their interest and regard. It does take practice as it requires multiple awareness’s at once.

3. The power of the relationship: Place a priority on connecting with your audience rather than your material.

This is paradoxical for most people. When asked to give a talk or speak up in a meeting, their focus is naturally drawn to the subject matter and how to convey it. But the truth is that effectiveness as speakers and leaders is less about what is said and more about who you are and how well you connect with your audience. People respond to a message because of authenticity, humanity, and ability to connect. If a speaker focuses entirely on himself and the material, he creates an experience of separation and is not available to connect with his audience.

20110228-_MG_7694Instead, if you give careful thought to why you are speaking, what you want the audience to leave with, and how you can be helpful to them, you will “invite” the audience to join you. Ironically, when your relationship with the audience becomes the priority rather yourself, you’ll be less anxious, your thoughts will quiet down, and your audience will trust you more.

Here are several simple ways to invite the audience in:

Maintain eye contact with a soft, receptive gaze even while thinking. Linger with each person, truly see them, say hello to them in your mind as you speak.

Think of it as a conversation rather than a presentation. Speak naturally as if you were having coffee with a friend.

Ask yourself: How can I be of service? Instead of: How can I be perfect and show my expertise?

Let yourself be human! Don’t try to be perfect. Making mistakes is OK, it’s part of human nature. The best way to do this is not to take yourself too seriously. We are the most engaging when our audience sees that we are accessible and human just like they are.

Leadership enhanced with presence.

To enhance their leadership presence, Jane, Jim and Miriam began to incorporate these strategies into their daily interactions. While doing so, each placed special emphasis on one practice.

As Jane became more fully embodied in her meetings, she noticed that while her voice wasn’t necessarily louder, there was more power behind her words and her team members began to listen more and consider her opinions.

Jim started to place a priority on connecting with the human beings on his sales team rather than focusing his shyness and the differences in age, and he found himself more able to align with them and garner their respect.

Miriam found when she slowed down and took a breath between each major point and eliminated much of the detail in her presentations, her audiences were able to absorb more of her message.

In accessing their own natural presence, these three leaders found themselves to be much more effective in communicating their message while enjoying themselves more as well.

I’ve just posted the new schedule for this summer’s public speaking workshops.  Check it out!

(Original article copyrighted in 2008)

I was at a team meeting recently where a group of us were talking about the leadership training program in an organization employing about 275 people. One person in the group asked the CEO, “What’s the opposite of leadership?” The CEO without any hesitation immediately said, “Absence!”

How interesting! I was intrigued by this view of leadership because I often think of absence being the opposite of presence. It made me start to wonder if presence and leadership are synonymous.

One way to compare absence and presence is to examine the distinction between self-consciousness and consciousness-of-self. When we are self-conscious, we often feel awkward, clumsy and alone, with a sense of separation (or absence) from the outside world. When we are really present, we are quite aware of ourselves in a balanced way as we fully engage in the activity of the moment and we connect to those around us so that we no longer feel separate, alone, afraid.

This is especially true when we speak in public or take on a leadership role. When we are anxious, we become self-absorbed and fearful about looking inept, making mistakes or forgetting what we planned to say. If, instead, we stay aware of ourselves as we focus our attention outward, placing a priority on the people in our audience, becoming open to receiving them, being genuinely curious about them, and thinking about how we can be of service to them, we lose that self-consciousness, we are in-the-moment, and we can then drop into a shared, collective place with our audience. This is being fully present!

Think about a presentation you’ve done when you didn’t feel you were as present as you know you can be, then complete the Obstacles to Presence Check List. You’ll notice that many of these obstacles reflect either an absence from the immediate situation or a degree of self-consciousness.

Occupy… The Conversation

October 18, 2011

Over the past month, I’ve been quite intrigued by the growing Occupy Wall Street movement.  My interest has been on multiple levels. Most especially, though, I’ve been particularly curious about the group process and the community self-organization that seems to have emerged.

As I thought about what I’ve seen through videos and commentary, I decided to write an article for my new blog, Meaningful-Conversations, entitled “Occupy… The Conversation“.  In this article I reflect on the unique speaking style that has emerged from this movement, the respectful way people listen, as well as the quality of group conversation that has no leader at the top.  And, I end with the question, “What if all our important conversations had these qualities?”

read more…


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