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Public speaking coach Ges Ray on fighting the fear

PUBLISHED: 10:56 09 July 2019 | UPDATED: 10:56 09 July 2019

Ges Ray speaking at an Insitute of Directors Open House event © David Copeman Photography 2018

Ges Ray speaking at an Insitute of Directors Open House event © David Copeman Photography 2018

©David Copeman Photography 2018

Public speaking is often cited as one of life's biggest fears. We chat to public speaking coach Ges Ray to find out how to fight the fear

I am terrible at public speaking. I dread it so much that in job interviews I will often happily mention it as one of my weaknesses in that hope that I won't be made to do it if I get the job. Luckily I am rarely called upon to speak publicly, but for many people it is an important part of the job - be that delivering a presentation, making a speech or chairing a meeting.

Daunting though it may seem, Surrey-based seasoned public speaker Ges Ray says that there are techniques that can be learned to make us all more confident when speaking in public. And he has just released a book to teach us to do just that.

Speak Performance is a pocket-sized guide on how to become a confident, compelling and confident speaker that is drawn from Ges' 40-year career in the world of commerce.

"It was in 1979 that I was asked by the bank I worked at to join the British Junior Chamber of Commerce and deliver its public speaking competitions. And of course, you don't realise that the training you get given when you're younger comes back to you in later life," Ges explains.

His proficiency in front of a crowd means that he has often been called upon to do thank you speeches at formal dinners, run meetings and now regularly MC's the Leith Hill Music Festival. And Ges put all of this practice to good use five years ago when he set up his own business to deliver public speaking workshops to company's staff.

"I thoroughly enjoy delivering workshops, you cannot beat being in a room with a group of people and helping them build their confidence," he says. "And to be able to transfer that into a pocket sized book that you can dip into on the train gives people that extra bit confidence."

The aim of the workshops and the book are to teach people the skills needed to look and sound more confident when called upon to speak in public. For me, my voice is the first thing to give me away when I'm nervous - often shooting off to a pitch that can only be heard by dogs. And I'm not alone, as Ges explains: "We undervalue what our voice can do, which means we under treat it. How often do you rush into the office to give a presentation when all you have done in the morning is have a cup of coffee and not speak to anyone? People expect it to perform perfectly as soon as they open their mouths but what you actually get is the frog in the throat."

But in his book and at his workshops, Ges gives handy tips and exercises on how to control your vocal chords in times of stress. For these, he has drawn on his passion for singing in the Dorking Choral Society. To sing well and to speak well you need to warm up your voice with a few vocal exercises or even a good yawn and learn to control your breathing.

Indeed, Ges suggests taking one good long breath before starting to speak will instantly help your voice to relax. "Taking that breath helps to lower your diaphragm, which helps to slow the pace down. When I run workshops, I find that alone can make a dramatic difference," Ges advises.

Starting to speak is one thing, keeping your audiences attention is quite another. I've daydreamed my way through enough meetings and conferences to know that the average audience's attention span is short - reportedly as short as eight seconds. One of the tips Ges teaches in his workshops is to throw challenges and questions out to the audiences. Movement is another way to engage with the audience, with Ges suggesting that "simply stopping, pausing and walking to the other side of the stage can help get attention back".

But if, like me, your arms suddenly feel about five miles long as soon as you stand in front of a crowd, Ges says: "A tip that I often throw into workshops is that if your brain suddenly goes: 'what are these plates of meat on the end of my wrists?', just drop your arms to your side for a few moments and take a pause."

Throughout the book there are also helpful tips on how to use your voice to deliver different messages for story telling, engaging with the audience on a personal level or demonstrating gravitas and authority. There are lots of little exercises too, which can be practiced before your speaking assignment or followed up at one of his workshops.

Ges mainly delivers his workshops for staff at their company's offices, but offers one-to-one sessions too. Plus, he is currently in the process of setting up a package of audio and video content to enable people to get instant access to help before a big event. And you can always keep his book in your pocket for emergencies. That might even be enough to convince me to give it a go.

Speak Performance, RRP £9.99, from Amazon.co.uk or speakinginpublic.info

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