Skillset New Zealand Blog

Ideas to help your team develop personally and professionally.

Yes, at home.  If you get caught trying this in the work loo, your colleagues will recommend a psychiatrist.

This is for you if you suffer from symptoms of nervousness that your audience can see and/or hear. Examples: a nervous smile, a tremor in your voice, speaking too fast and without pauses, a twitch, or very little body language, a reluctance to look directly into people's eyes.  If any of your symptoms are like those, then this cure might work for you.

  1. Pick a serious topic you could speak about for about 20 seconds.
  2. Imagine what you would look and sound like if you were even more nervous than usual. Now look in the mirror and speak, deliberately exaggerating your nervous symptoms. (Just exaggerate slightly, don't turn yourself into a clown.)  What you're doing is externalising and objectively noticing your own symptoms.
  3. Reverse it. Strongly imagine what you would look and sound like if you were confident and really wanted the audience to get your message. What would you be doing with your eye and head language? Your hands and arms? The rest of your body? How firm would your voice be?   Now look in the mirror and do that.
  4. Alternate 2 and 3, until you're comfortable with 3. Now think to yourself, Could I make that (3) happen in front of a real audience?

The method works for two reasons.  First, you're showing your own brain the difference in symptoms between nervousness and confidence.  Second, by practising the symptoms of confidence, you're building into your brain the circuitry of confidence. 

Keep building and the act turns into reality. Make confidence a habit.

Yes, it's brilliant.  I'm not exaggerating, the method below will do all this for you: 

  1. it's easy to do (many people get this in just a few minutes) and it's easy to turn into a habit.
  2. it will lend you the look and sound of personal authority
  3. you'll feel more in control
  4. it will instantly cure your ums and ahs
  5. if you have a strong accent (English a second language?) it will make you instantly more understandable.

All that from one, very simple idea. I call it 'Speaking in packets'. Let me spell it out:

Don't slow down. Instead, speak a phrase (or short sentence) at your normal pace, then pause for just one second (a single heartbeat) before you start the next phrase.

That's all there is to it. The extraordinary thing is that you're still speaking at your normal fast pace, but the audience does not think of it as too fast.  Here's an example - try reading it aloud with the heartbeat pauses:

What I suggest (...deliberate 1 second pause...) is that we start the new schedule immediately.(...deliberate pause...) At the moment, some of our clients are confused (...deliberate pause...). Jamie says he's had 10 calls just this morning from clients who don't know when to make the corresponding change in their own systems.. (...deliberate pause...) We can't let that confusion continue.

Notice that the pausing is not regular or predictable. That longer second-to-last sentence still does not seem too fast, now that you've established a controlled pace.

Now try it out with your own words.  Tell your friend in the mirror why you enjoy your sport or hobby.   Don't worry about where to pause, in just a few minutes you'll find yourself in a rhythm where it happens naturally.

That word 'deliberate' is important. Even in that tiny pause, you are making it obvious that you're making the audience wait for the next bit. They respect that. (Points 2 and 3 on the list above.)  And of course, it you are deliberately making them wait, you'll automatically cure the habit of filling silence with ums. (Point 4.)  Strong accent? The silences give the audience a chance to let each bunch of words sink in and make sense. (Point 5.)

Try it out on a trusted work colleague with a serious work topic. You'll be pleasantly surprised.

Well? Are you pleasantly surprised? In that case go to this self-administered master class: make some pauses longer, and during the silence look from one part of your audience to another. You will look convincing, confident, in control. Believable.

I'm excited by how good this 'packets' method is - I've seen the results directly in my presentation skills workshops. But I would also love to hear how it works for you. Do let me know through This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.






About Michael Brown

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Michael is a senior trainer with Skillset, based in Christchurch.

He is a leading authority on training in presentation and news media skills in New Zealand. He has special expertise in how to present emotionally charged topics to challenging audiences. Michael has trained thousands of New Zealanders and worked with people who speak on behalf of some of the country's largest organisations.

Michael is a prolific author and his books on speaking and working with the media are in their fourth editions.

Speaking Easy: how to speak to your audiences with confidence and authority

Media Easy: how to handle the news media with confidence and authority

One of Michael's books is about his family's adventures sailing in the Pacific.

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