Monday, July 18, 2011

How Marching Band Made Me a Better Presenter

One topic that seems to pop up a lot in the academic blogging community is how to give better presentations, or how women can command respect. Many people rather more qualified than I have commented on the rules of Power Point, and Better Posters is a fantastic resource.  However, most often, it's the speaking part that people seem to really struggle with. After four years of marching and 4 years of anti-m******* band, I've learned a few things that help me present more effectively. While I may not be a renowned public speaker, I'm pretty sure I don't suck at it. So here's some of the things that I learned that I think make a difference:

1) How to stand "at ease": Standing up straight conveys confidence to your audience, as well as making you feel more confident. However, many people tend to also become very tense when they try and stand up straight. By standing at ease, with your feet spaced at roughly shoulder width and deliberately relaxing your shoulders, you still look confident, but much less tense.

2) How to breathe properly: Ok, so you aren't fainting from a lack of oxygen, and you've been breathing your whole life. That doesn't mean you're doing it in the most effective way properly. When you take a deep breath, does your chest move first? Then you're doing it WRONG. To fill the lungs fully, you have to start at the bottom. Musicians learn to do this to maximize phrases and support tonal quality. Taking deeper, controlled breaths can slow you heart rate and calm down some of those presentation nerves. It also feed directly into my next point.

3) How to speak loudly (without yelling): Project from the diaphragm. Volume shouldn't come from the throat, it should come from lower. By using air to support your voice, you have a more solid tone that will carry more effectively. For women with higher-pitched voices, thinking about speaking from the gut instead of the head can help shift your tone down a bit, which tends to help you sound a bit more mature.

4) The importance of pauses: Take a few moments and listen to Shenandoah: (it's ok, I'll wait)

It's a very fluid piece, and it seems like there's always something happening. But if you pay attention, there are certain places where everyone seems to stop for a breath, creating more interest in the line that will follow. By pausing, you can subtly emphasize the statement following your pause. Use this as a time to take a proper breath. For a true masterpiece of pausing, Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man is hard to beat:

Sometimes, just by thinking about little things, like breathing, rather than focusing on what word you are going to say next, you can seem much more confident. And if you ever need to find a marching band geek to help you, just mention how amazing you think John Phillips Sousa and wait for them to come out of the woodwork (warning: there are very few moderate opinions on Sousa, especially amongst brass players).

No comments:

Post a Comment