WIth TEDxMuscat taking place this week, Joe Gill talks to some of the speakers about the art of oration
Glossophobia is a dread of public speaking – a condition sometimes so intense that, according to psychologists, many of us fear it more than death.
Theatre director Tania Masri says actors, like anyone else, often suffer stage fright before going out in front of a live audience.
“It’s difficult not to get nervous – nerves can manifest themselves in the shoulders, neck and jaw, and eventually in the lips and tongue. Tension rises up, making the face tense, speech unclear and robbing the speaker of charisma.”
Award-winning Omani IT pioneer, Tariq Hilal al Barwani, who is appearing at the TEDxMuscat event on Wednesday, has been speaking to audiences at businesses, colleges and universities for many years, but says nerves can strike anyone before stepping up to the mike.
“I don’t believe any person who gives a presentation, even professional speakers, can avoid a bit of fear, especially for the first few seconds. It happens and the important thing is to go prepared and to get past it. The beginning is the difficult part – it’s like taking off on a flight. Once you are through it and in the air, you are on your way.”
Al Barwani, whose TED talk will be about the work of digital volunteer group Knowledge Oman, has some very simple tips for speakers. “Prepare, prepare, prepare, and know your subject very well. I have done many presentations but every day is a new day – and a new audience.
“Try to be as simple as you can and use few words. Don’t clutter your presentation with a lot of information.”
In terms of visual aids, again, less is more. “Use just a few colours, or just black and white. You don’t want to create distractions. You can use a few video or audio clips to illustrate what you are saying,” adds al Barwani.
Another TED guest who will be using visual illustrations as part of her talk is Omani artist Safiya al Bahlani.
“My art plays a really big part of my talks. I tend to use visual presentations to show how my art collided with the challenges in my life, and how I was determined to keep trying. I show it all with the progression that is presented in my art.”
As in all TED events, speakers come to share expert knowledge and unique personal experiences with audiences. Al Bahlani has spoken at a number of schools and colleges, as well as government and business audiences, about her own life journey as a physically challenged artist.
“Based on the audience I am speaking to, I try my best to tailor the message. Sometimes it is the same, but how I present it may differ depending on the age group.”
Al Bahlani has a powerful story to tell about how she overcame challenges to pursue her talent, but she sometimes has to overcome scepticism among her listeners.
“Usually, when I walk into the events that I am talking at, I see the puzzled faces of the audience, perhaps wondering about what I am going to say, or how am I going to benefit them. But usually, mid-way through my talk, the puzzled faces change to eagerness to learn more and more.
“When I am done with my talk, the acceptance and change in point of view from the audience is visible. Some walk up to me and tell me that.”
Another TED speaker, Sabirul Islam, a social entrepreneur and inspirational speaker who has spoken to hundreds of audiences in more than 25 countries, had a dramatic realisation of the life-changing impact of his words after speaking in Lagos, Nigeria, in front of 3,500 people.
“A guy who had heard me speak flew over to the UK – he came all the way to shake my hand. He had spent six months in drug rehab, and wanted to thank me for helping him turn his life around.
“It opened my eyes to how you can change someone’s mindset and feelings through your words.”
After this experience, Islam, who grew up in London’s East End, decided he would bring his ‘Inspire 1 Million’ message of youth potential and entrepreneurship to all the countries in the world. “I wanted to share my vision with people who really appreciate it, who really value who you are and what you’re saying.”
Evidently, the content of what you are saying and the receptiveness of the audience matters as much as delivery – hence the importance for curators of TED events around the world in creating alchemy with the people in the room.
Masri, who has directed and performed in many countries, teaches a Japanese technique to help actors project and command an audience. “You have to push your energy downwards and imagine holding it like a ball of energy three fingers below your belly button. In Japanese culture this is the place called the Hara – where it is believed the soul resides.
“I always tell actors a Japanese saying: ‘When a Samurai warrior reaches for his sword, run. When he stands completely still, run for your life.’
“In the ability to stand still and hold your energy low in your body, you are grounded, strong and from here begins charisma. You avoid excess hand waving and body tension; you look at your audience from your centre not just your eyes, and you have a solidity which commands energy in
*TEDx Muscat takes place at the Bait Al Zubair on October 2, from 9am-5pm.
Don’t try copying others; just talk the way you would normally talk. It makes things much easier, and the audience will quickly connect with you.
Be simple: Don’t try using big words – even though you may know the meaning, not everyone in the audience will. Always remember who you are talking to.
Share: Try as much as you can to share examples that people can relate to.
Safiya al Bahlani, artist and inspirational speaker
“Practice, practice, practice. Try to be as simple as you can and use few words. Don’t clutter your presentation with a lot of information.”
Tariq al Barwani, technology expert and public speaker