Ten Ways to Sound Like a Scientist

Stewart Bewley

On 27 March this year, Daniel Kahneman passed away. He won a Nobel Prize for his research on how the brain works and then wrote a book about it – Thinking, Fast and Slow. He was a genius and it is worth paying attention to what he says.

He says our brains have got two systems. System one is the intuitive system and it knows that 2+2= 4, because at some point we learnt it. To learn this, we had to engage our system two. System two’s learning pace is a bit like a slow jog. It will learn but it needs to go slow. If you give it too much information too quickly, it will stop learning, your pupils will dilate and you will no longer be able to take information in.

We have all had system two overload in presentations – too much information, too abstract, too quickly. When I was coaching entrepreneurs at Cambridge University last week (and in fact, when I am with anyone) it was my job to make sure system two did not overload and the brilliant stories behind the science shone out. And it worked! I now know a lot about science because I was able to learn at the pace I needed to.

Here are 10 ways to not get system two overload and to sound like a true scientist should.

01. Barbecue guy

Imagine you are at a barbecue and there is a guy cooking meat. He is a big South African and he’s got about 30 seconds to listen to you before he moves on, emotionally. He says. ‘What do you do?’ You have to answer him. He knows nothing about your industry. Have a go at speaking in short sentences for 30 seconds and see how far you get before he flips a burger and turns away.

02. Teenager

Now imagine that you are doing an assembly for a room full of bored-looking 15 year olds. It’s 9am and they don’t want to be there. You have got more than 30 seconds now – you have one minute – but you have to speak in short sentences with a lot of energy the entire time. You can’t rely on your insider language. Use those 60 seconds to describe the problem you are solving in language that relates to a teenager. I don’t mean talk about PS5 game consoles and boyfriends and girlfriends (‘leng and chatting’ anyone?), I mean use words to paint a picture of what you do. Paint a lot of picture and you will be surprised what comes out.

03. Walk it

The most dangerous thing after these exercises would be to sit down and prepare a PowerPoint. The best way of getting your words out of your mouth and your energy into your body is to take your pitch out for a walk. Do it – go for a walk! Don’t mumble it or whisper it. Speak it out loud as you walk past cars, dogs and humans. Put in some headphones so it sounds like you are on the phone if you feel a bit awkward.

04. Play Line 5 to Line 1

I have said this many many times, but if you look at your fifth line, you will find that it is a very good line. It is easy to say and it sounds strong. Why? Because you have spent four lines getting into your flow and you are now speaking in headlines without realising it. This is good. So let’s take advantage of that and instead of waiting 30 seconds to hear something of value that grabs us, move that headline (line 5) up to the first sentence (line 1). We only have an attention span of 8 seconds. Leap in.

05. Take it to Aylesbury

Aylesbury is a town just outside of London and home of the Waterside Theatre. This theatre  is where new West End shows try out their plays and musicals – they practise on smaller, non-critical audiences. They want to see if their shows will land with a West End audience. Find your  Waterside Theatre – 1 or 2 people who care about what you are saying but aren’t the target audience. You need to experience their faces and the pressure of presenting, so you can change things if you need to. Better to find this out in Aylesbury than the West End – the high stakes moment where everything matters.

06. Warm up your body

55% of what we present is body language, so you might as well learn how to use your body well. Do this: plant your feet shoulder-width apart with your toes facing forwards (like you are on skis). Take a breath in through your nose, allow your chest to expand as your stomach fills up and you will feel your body getting straighter. Just doing that one small exercise prepares you for what you are about to do. It reminds your body that you are using it.

07. Warm up your breath

Your voice comes from your breath, and 38% of what we present is tone – how we say what we say. So when you are standing tall and have breathed in and out, do this: breathe out to the count of four from your mouth. Hold your breath to the count of four, then allow your breath to fill up your stomach and breathe in to the count of four. Do this four times and you will feel grounded. Your voice will sound more grounded. And you will be calm.

08. Warm up your voice

This is the weird bit. Imagine that your voice is a bit like a runner’s legs before they run a 5k. If you just go for it their legs will be in pain and complain about not being prepared. In the same way, our voices need preparation. Send a gentle hum around your mouth, from the top of your front teeth all the way down to the back of your throat. Do this for one whole minute, as quietly as you can and see how high and low your voice can go. Then speak your first line and you will be surprised at your power.

09. Find the bathroom

If you are delivering an in-person presentation, always find the bathroom just before the moment you enter the room. Sit in a cubicle, plant your feet on the floor, breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Close your eyes and visualise yourself speaking. It is great mental preparation. If you are presenting digitally, the chair you are sitting on in front of the laptop is your bathroom moment.

10. Leap

There is a reason public speaking is one of the world’s biggest fears. It’s not natural. It requires effort. And a huge amount of energy. It requires a leap – and a leap at the start of your presentation, not in the middle. So just leap. You might feel you are leaping off a cliff (emotionally, you are in a way), but you won’t fall and smash against the floor.

If you follow these 10 steps you will deliver with strength and clarity.

Stewart Bewley

Stewart founded Amplify back in 2011 from an acting background, believing that if you unlocked people’s voices you would unlock their story and their businesses would thrive.

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