Speech of the Month, July 2020 - Kate Middleton
By using her voice more, Kate Middleton is becoming less of a clothes horse. Do you think to use yours when you feel conspicuous?
‘Whose is that voice?’ I asked myself, slumped in front of the Wimbledon offerings that the BBC served up this July. I knew the voice but the face just wasn’t springing to mind. It wasn’t Sue Barker. It definitely wasn’t Boris Becker. It could be Annabel Croft. But no it couldn’t be, because I wouldn’t know Annabel Croft’s voice yet I did know this one.
“You have always been there, come rain or shine,” it continued as shots of Sir Cliff singing on a rainy Centre Court and a Chelsea pensioner mopping his sweaty bald head filled the screen. ‘Who is that talking?’ It was driving me crackers! “This year sadly though things are very different” it said, with an appropriately sombre tonal gear change. And then I had it. Well knock me down with an empty bottle of Robinson’s – it was Kate Middleton!
Then, as her pleasant, measured narration continued, it occurred to me how much more vocal she’s been in the last year, especially during lockdown. A year ago, I probably wouldn’t have known her voice. But interestingly, now that ‘Kate does speaking’, I don’t think to clock what she’s wearing so much because I want to hear what she’s saying. I’m sure this is true for a lot of people. And I’m also sure that if Kate had known that the effect of speaking would result in less visual scrutiny, she’d have opened her mouth sooner. Because once we stop feeling conspicuous, we start feeling natural, and once we feel natural, we're on the road to feeling confident.
And doesn’t this apply to us all? Thankfully, most of us will never feel as noticeable as Kate Middleton, but from time to time the wicked witch of conspicuousness will pop up and turn the most socially savvy of us into an aching sore thumb: you pitch up to a networking event where all the people you’ve never met are happily mingling together; you’re the lone dad at a busy, seemingly cliquey playgroup; you’re sitting on a yoga mat at a new class and the regulars are chatting around and above you… If only there was an invisible button you could hit.
Your best bet in these painful situations is to open your mouth. But when you’re feeling your most self-conscious - and your neck and shoulders are beginning to stiffen and you’re tempted to hide yourself away in your phone or just go - actually speaking feels very difficult, probably because it feels risky. What if our effort is ignored or shut down?
So here’s what I recommend you do when these uncomfortable moments arise:
- Look around the room. Is anyone giving you eye contact? Is there anyone else on their own? If so, join them. If everyone’s in groups then you need to pick your group. Don’t approach the one where people are huddled together tightly (not that that’s an option right now) as the members will probably resent the interruption. Rather, pick the one where the bodies form a loose, roomy circle.
- Smile as you say ‘Hi, I’m X. Ok if I join you?’ They’re unlikely to say ‘no.’ And then, and this is the important bit…
- Trade some information. This might happen through a question – ‘Cool in here, isn’t it? Have you been coming to this group for long time?’ Or a compliment – ‘Fab manicure. Did you do it yourself?’ Observations on the environment can work too – ‘I’m glad I don’t have to clean those windows!’ It doesn’t really matter which tack you use, what matters is that it ignites conversation. From ‘I’m glad I don’t have to clean those windows!’ we could hear about someone’s Polish cleaner, then someone might tell us about their wonderful weekend in Gdansk and from there we might discuss Lech Walesa’s incredible moustache. The options are endless. And that’s the joy of it.
However, the reality is that the more attuned you are to the rules of formal public speaking, the easier it is to find those first words in a less formal – but sometimes more awkward – arena.
If you enjoyed this post, have a read of last month's; the subject is the splendid Marcus Rashford.
“Emma has a really original approach to delivering effective programmes of personal development. Her grounded, practical approach pays immediate dividends. I have commissioned her to lead programmes to help middle managers develop their personal presentation styles, both written and oral. The programmes have been fun and effective; and the messages stick!”