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Learn to project a more confident you

13 February 2020

It is important for every professional to be able to speak to others with clarity, empathy and confidence. Architects are almost always part of a team, and the more responsibility they take in leading projects and people, the more essential it is that they can communicate effectively.

There are plenty of techniques that can be learned by even the most introverted of ‘people persons’, and the least confident of public speakers. They can be practised until they become second nature, to be summoned and drawn upon on any occasion. But it is important that, in doing so, we do not end up trying to be someone we are not.

Authenticity is a quality vital in a team leader, explains Emma Zangs. A communication and movement coach, she will be explaining the science behind effective speaking techniques at the first of this year’s Future Leaders events, Developing a Leadership Mindset, on 26 March at the RIBA.

Zangs has observed that, when we are under the spotlight, it is easy to fall into a way of presenting ourselves that is not genuine. Many of us will default to a fake persona when nervous. Our colleagues in the workplace, or any audience we might be addressing, are unlikely to be convinced.

“People connect when the communication appears genuine,” Zangs points out. “We are very well trained as human beings at spotting fakes. If, on the other hand, a speaker comes over as slightly vulnerable but is being themselves, it will generate more empathy among the listeners.”

It is therefore important to find out what techniques work best for you, rather than attempting to fit into any preconceived mould of a dominant, charismatic individual.

Techniques that you can ‘wear comfortably’ allow you to adapt to any situation, be it a job interview, a client meeting, a networking event, a presentation to colleagues or an informal on-site talk with an engineer.

Practising self-awareness of our body and speech can identify ways to be our 'best selves' when presenting in public.

“Different things work for different people,” Zangs continues. “Coaching can help people find which techniques work for them.”

There are innumerable physical aspects to the totality of how others perceive us, from voice projection to the hand gestures we make. We can gain a revealing and often painful insight into how we come across by watching ourselves on film.

“I always tell people to film themselves,” Zangs reveals. “Everyone finds it cringeworthy initially, but it is easy to have a disconnect between how we see ourselves and how others see us. Film yourself and you will find out.”

This might seem contradictory: finding an authentic way to present yourself in public while simultaneously trying to change the aspects that are not working. Zangs sees it more as a process of self-improvement.

“Seeing yourself from the outside helps assess what works already, what needs to be improved and lets you spot any unconscious bad habits.”

When we are unsure of ourselves, nervous or panicking, we are more likely to end up speaking or moving inauthentically. Zangs places great emphasis on the anchoring benefits of controlled, self-aware breathing.

She describes this as being grounded physically in your environment. Your brain should be consciously aware of where your feet are, your own body weight, your breathing. Zangs’ background in dance has informed her coaching of both individuals and teams, guiding them to become more self-aware of their bodies, their active posture and movements, and the entire space they are in.

The science behind this is that one side of our autonomic nervous system (the sympathetic system responsible for ‘fight-or-flight’ and our panic reactions), can be counteracted by the parasympathetic system which calms and relaxes us. Breathing and other techniques can be used to activate this parasympathetic system.

“Being grounded in our performance space and breathing properly creates a positive feedback loop that increases the effectiveness of how we communicate.”

One happy corollary of these techniques is that they keep the brain occupied. Our overactive and self-sabotaging brains are engaged in both carrying out these techniques and delivering the message we are there to present. There is little space left for overthinking, anxiety or panic.

Thanks to Emma Zangs, movement and communication coach.

Tickets for this year's RIBA Future Leaders: Developing a Leadership Mindset are now on sale.

Text by Neal Morris. This is a Professional Feature edited by the RIBA Practice team. Send us your feedback and ideas

RIBA Core Curriculum Topic: Business, clients and services.

As part of the flexible RIBA CPD programme, Professional Features count as microlearning. See further information on the updated RIBA CPD Core Curriculum and on fulfilling your CPD requirements as an RIBA Chartered Member.

Posted on 13 February 2020.

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