As an executive communication coach, Gina Barnett works with incredibly talented people who usually have very obvious flaws. Obvious to other people, that is; unconscious habits usually need the most fixing.

Drawing on her experiences, Barnett, who has also been coaching TED speakers for the past five years, wrote the forthcoming book Play the Part: Master Body Signals to Connect and Communicate for Business Success. Ahead of its release, she spoke with Inc. about some not-so-intuitive rules to remember about public speaking.  

1. It's About Being You

Delivering a compelling presentation is less about channeling Steve Jobs than it is about being your authentic self. If you aren't confident in your public speaking abilities, then being you in front of an audience probably sounds like a bad plan. But the idea is to act like yourself without the fear and anxiety that commonly come with public speaking. 

"The challenge for many people is they get freaked out," Barnett says. "They get hijacked by their amygdala. They're pumped full of adrenaline, and they don't breathe and they get shaky. They just dampen down their personality. And the question becomes, how do you then mitigate that? How do you learn to work through that so that you're you?" 

Barnett says that breathing, positive thinking, and other exercises will all help. But becoming comfortable speaking in front of others ultimately takes lots of practice.

2. No One Wants to See You Bomb

A common sentiment among public speakers is that the audience is the enemy, Barnett says. But that's far from reality. "Audiences really cannot bear to watch somebody fail on stage. It's painful," she says. 

True, you'll be judged, and sometimes harshly. But rather than focusing on what the audience is thinking, Barnett recommends reminding yourself why you're there to begin with: "They need to hear what I have to say. That's why they're in the room." 

"They may challenge you," Barnett says. "They may disagree with you. They may have diametrically opposed political or economic views. But they don't want to watch you suffer up there."

3. Leave the Past in the Past 

Each public speaking event rarely feels like a fresh start. Memories from past presentations--usually the bad ones--and even other traumatic events can creep into your psyche. 

"The body houses our history and the lives that we've led--culturally, gender issues, emotional challenges, psychological trauma, physical trauma, any accidents we've had," Barnett says. "These things really do not just vanish. They go into how we move and think and operate." 

For example, one of her clients was delivering a business presentation when she looked like she was going to faint and had to lie down on the floor. Fortunately, the client was able to compose herself later and deliver the talk.

When Barnett asked her what had gone wrong, she replied that she had suddenly felt as if she was back in 10th grade being scrutinized by her horrifying teacher.

"We carry this stuff," Barnett says. The key is recognizing it so these memories don't surface during high-stakes moments.

Published on: Jun 4, 2015