Christine Clapp teaches public speaking at The George Washington University and is the founder of
Successful lawyers speak with confidence whether they’re in the courtroom, conference room, or coffee room. That’s because they’ve mastered the five secrets of confident delivery:
Secret 1: Stance
Stand firm and stand tall. Keep your feet planted on the ground about hip distance apart, with your weight equally distributed on the hips. Imagine that your feet have dried in concrete to avoid rocking, swaying, tapping, or pacing. Purposeless movement distracts listeners from your message and is a sign of nervousness.
With your feet grounded, stand tall. Lift your chest, expanding the area from your hips to your shoulders. But keep your shoulders relaxed and rolled back. Hold your head high, like there’s a string attached from the top of your head to the ceiling. Excellent posture conveys confidence before a single word is spoken.
Secret 2: Sound
Fill the room with sound. With the foundation of excellent posture, project your voice by speaking from the diaphragm and not the throat. This also ensures that your voice is grounded, or on the low end of its natural range. A well-grounded voice allows you to project without straining or becoming hoarse.
Speak louder than you think you should. It’s nearly impossible to be too loud. After all, how many times have you left a presentation thinking, “That speaker was just too loud”?
Secret 3: Smile
Show those pearly whites. Smiling not only makes your voice more pleasant to listen to, it also conveys confidence. Even if you’re terrified of public speaking, no one will know if you have a smile on your face. Rest assured, smiling throughout a presentation won’t make you look cheesy. You will appear friendly, approachable, and composed. Whenever it’s appropriate for your topic (and it usually is), throw on a smile.
Secret 4: Silence
Use . . . long . . . pauses. In our culture, we loathe silence. This causes us to turn sentences into run-ons and fill time with junk words, such as “um,” “ah,” “you know,” “kind of,” “like,” “so,” and “well.” These habits make speakers look unpolished, unprepared, and unprofessional. To overcome them, start correcting yourself in casual conversations and enlist the help of friends, family members, and colleagues to point out when you slip up.
Additionally, if you lose your train of thought, don’t apologize or show any outward signs of frustration. These reactions only draw attention to the mistake. Minimize inevitable stumbles by silently finding your place in your notes or taking a sip of water to regain composure. Any pause before an audience feels like an eternity to the speaker. It doesn’t to the audience.
Secret 5: Sight
Make lasting eye contact. Hold your gaze on an audience member for five to seven seconds—much longer than you think you should. Then move on and hold your gaze on someone else in a different part of the room. Lingering eye contact builds rapport by giving audience members the feeling that they are engaged in an intimate one-on-one conversation.
Avoid scanning the audience without stopping to look directly at anyone. Don’t make selective eye contact with the two or three people in the room who are paying close attention. Ignore the suggestion of looking at the back of the room rather than your audience to reduce nervousness; it might make it the easiest speech you ever delivered, but it also will make it the least engaging. Audiences want you to speak to them, not at them.
Remember the five S’s of confident delivery: stance, sound, smile, silence, and sight. Master these secrets and you’ll have the confidence to speak up and stand out in any situation.