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5 Simple Ways to Be a More Commanding Speaker

Time- and experience-tested methods of improving your image and drawing more attention in meetings and other public settings.

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Do you feel people at work aren't always paying attention when you speak, or that your word seems to carry less weight, even if you're right? Due principally to evolutionary factors, humans tend to respect and hold in higher regard those who portray strength, confidence and poise.

Here are methods I've found that can boost all those qualities in a public speaking setting.

1. Unqualified speech

"I feel like, maybe, we should try X instead of Y. Is that ok with you guys?"

Examine that sentence. How watered-down does it feel? It's natural to be cautious about expressing an opinion, especially if it's controversial or if there's a high price for saying something wrong.

But consider this alternative statement: "Based on its merits, I believe X is a more cost-effective idea than Y." In this version, a lot less doubt is conveyed and there's both an evidence-based argument made and a specific motivating principle (i.e. cost) as the basis for your viewpoint. This balances concern of being wrong with the need for being more direct.

2. Active versus passive voice

As a listener, explore the differences between "The project is going pretty well" versus "Our team is executing the project very well." By giving credit to the actor (the team) and not starting the sentence with the subject (the project), a sentence is made more dynamic, while also offering team kudos. The second statement is in the active voice, which adds to the power of speech generally. Passive voice, by contrast, is better used when we don't want to point out people involved, and is often applied when something has gone wrong and/or an attempt is being made to protect someone from blame (but also not holding them accountable, which is a different problem).

Related: A Cognitive Scientist Reveals Why We Choke Under Pressure and How to Avoid It

3. Reducing fillers, and breathe

"Um." "Uh." "Like." "So." "Maybe." Words like this are referred to as "fillers," since they are taking up space that might otherwise be an awkward silence while we think of a response. Of course, everyone knows we should use fewer of these, but the question is how? One simple technique is to make yourself comfortable with that silence. Another is to go slow; when we speak too quickly, we outrun the speed at which our brain can conjure the next word. Finally, concentrate on breathing: Speaking is a physical activity as much as it is a mental one, and breathing deeply and regularly will result in stress reduction, and gives you an opportunity to consider the next statement.

4. Use shorter sentences and punchier keywords

This is a no-brainer. Including punchy phrases and sticking to the point helps an audience focus on the main ideas. Stuffing more words into a sentence is like putting more clutter on a table: the user can't find what he or she is looking for. When it comes to keywords, emphasize the things that should be remembered — maybe even come up with slogans like "short lines, clear minds." (See what I did there?)

5. Self-confidence

This factor seems like simple common sense: If you don't believe in yourself, how can an audience? But again, the question is how to boost such a critical need?

First, wear smart clothing. It might seem superficial, but try giving a speech in a T-shirt and then do so again wearing a suit or pantsuit. Makes a world of a difference. Secondly, practice your stance and gestures in front of a mirror. Looking good is great, but moving great is even better. Keep your chest out and your back straight, with shoulders as broad as possible and feet as far apart as the shoulders. Finally, give the audience a smile (but no teeth) to put them at ease.

Related: If You Cringe at the Thought of Talking to Your Co-Workers, Follow These 5 Steps for Better Conversations

Lastly, remember what brought you to this point — all the hard work and hours you've put in and the accolades you've earned. You deserve to be here, no question about it. The audience genuinely wants to hear something good from you today, so give them great ideas and insights and show how much you believe in them. If you do, there's a good chance they will, too.

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