Ann Makosinski & Grace Miles on Public Speaking Tips

Ann Makosinski and Grace Miles

“This girl is unbelievable.”

That’s what I first thought when I discovered Ann Makosinski and her work. Plus, she can rock a stage.

As an introverted girl (and naturally on the shy side), these are skills I wish I had when starting out, before the dealing with music students’ parents and design pitches.

Today, I’m THRILLED to share this chat with Ann Makosinski. She is awesome, as in full of awe. Not only did she invent the body-heat powered flashlight at 15 years old, but she easily commands a theatre-full of people. For musicians, this skill is especially useful for teaching music classes and workshops.

In this video, we’re chatting about public speaking tips, and other big ideas, like how to be “yourself” when you don’t fit with everyone else.

The ideas for public speaking transfer to other types of performance as well, especially piano playing and teaching.

Let’s jump right in! Here are the public speaking tips that Ann goes by:

See Ann Makosinski on the Tonight Show | Follow Ann on Twitter

How to improve your public speaking (and performance) skills

1. Watch good speakers

Everyone has a unique style, but find people you enjoy and notice how they speak. Perhaps they speak slower. Perhaps they let their sentences breathe longer. Perhaps they enunciate more.

Ann recommends listening to classic radio shows like Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes. I have a few episodes waiting on my computer!

2. Enunciate

People sound confident when their words are distinct.

Try to say New York ten times quickly, but clearly.

If you want a quick fix for enunciation, try (what I call) the Pencil-in-the-Mouth. Grab a pencil– surprise!– and a book. Pick a passage in the book and read it out loud. Clamp the pencil between your lips, horizontally, and read the paragraph again. Then read the paragraph again, without the pencil.

Your words will be clearer and your pencil will be wetter.

3. Loosen up

Researchers from Imperial College London and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama conducted a study where a trio (flute/harp/viola) played five different Classical pieces, two times each. The first time, they played as if they were in competition, striving for perfection with zero risk. The second, they played spontaneously, in a flexible, improvised manner.

It turns out, most listeners preferred the improvised performance. Their EEG brain signals showed more engagement and attention during the latter as well.

People prefer natural flow rather than robotic perfection, so let yourself shine through.

Don’t be afraid of mistakes– because they will happen. Perhaps in a different moment in time, under different circumstances, you could’ve done better. But in that moment, you did everything that you could have, and you should be happy about that.

What was your last experience with public speaking or performing? Are you happy with the results– why or why not? We’d love to hear about it in the comment section below!

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  • Betty August 6, 2014 at 4:43 pm

    Two weeks ago I had to present to a theater full of unfamiliar kids. Nothing I had prepared would open on their computer/projector, but I realized hey! My stuff is on pinterest! So, with the crowd watching my every move on the screen I googled myself and we looked at my paintings via pinterest.

    • Grace Miles August 6, 2014 at 6:59 pm

      One lesson I learned (in self-confidence and public speaking) early on, was that people love journeys and uncertainty– the idea that you could mess up or succeed is like a journey. That’s why people keep watching figure skating– the figure skaters are still learning during the Olympics and no one knows whether they’ll nail the trick. I love that you guys Googled your art– that’s interesting.

  • Laurie McLean August 6, 2014 at 8:47 pm

    It’s very true, Grace, that if you take the time to listen to really good speakers and note they’re style, intonations, pacing, and I suppose a bit of storytelling, it can really help you grow your public speaking. I haven’t done much public speaking in the past many years and I find myself feeling slightly anxious about workshops I’m planning to present. It’s odd because I did theatre for 20 years, usually in a lead role, and public speaking and performance were NEVER my problem! Maybe I’m just rusty. I’m grateful I don’t have the paralyzing fear of it that many people do. Thanks for the tip around loosening up, I think that is huge!

  • Paula August 7, 2014 at 10:30 pm

    This is great Grace, thank you so much for introducing me to Ann I’d never heard of her great work and now I do! I love the story around the making of the flash light. It’s so true we in the Western world do take our access to light for granted, so thank you. Secondly, I am holding my first ‘Google hangout’ session on Sat next week and the tips have really come in handy, I shall me referring back to the video though just to remind myself and definitely trying the pencil speaking bit! Thank you again, a great interview and so very interesting….I hope I make a great job of it like Ann!

    • Grace Miles August 10, 2014 at 4:23 pm

      Ann is a gem! Good luck on your next hangout– I’d love to know which tip resonates and helps you out the most.

  • Menucha August 8, 2014 at 7:12 am

    It’s been a while since I’ve been in a position of public speaking, but my husband finds himself there all the time. He usually refuses the option as he hates doing it. I think the third tip, to loosen up, is what he needs most. Thanks for this helpful piece!

  • Natalie Kane August 8, 2014 at 10:12 pm

    First of all… wow! You provide some outstanding content here. I LOVE the pencil trick… what a good, practical tip! Sharing for sure. Also, the EEG reading for improv is very interesting to me… I improv as a dancer and definitely feel like people connect emotionally and resonate better with my piece if I’m simply, unapologetically passionate, rather than if I’m trying to showcase a bunch of complex moves. As for public speaking, even when I try to use notes, I end up storytelling! It can be tricky to catch yourself and find a balance between authenticity and not rambling! Thanks for this awesome interview!

    • Grace Miles August 10, 2014 at 4:24 pm

      Most of the time, storytelling is a good thing because humans are wired to consume stories. But you’re right, getting rid of the rambling is a mission. It all takes practice!

  • Sarah August 9, 2014 at 7:51 pm

    Excellent tips! I am a fellow introvert (and a recovering shy person) and I have given speeches quite a bit. It is always nerve wrecking but I push through. I will be referring to your article next time I have to speak either to a group or in a situation that makes me nervous (job interviews are the worst for me).

    I find if the situation allows I’ll start with something funny, If I’m using my phone for notes I make a gen y crack about it being for my notes and that I’m not live tweeting. That gets laughs, especially from the older members of the audience (the baby boomers). And sometimes admitting your nervous actually helps.

    • Grace Miles August 10, 2014 at 4:25 pm

      I love having go-to lines and cracks. I’m still playing around with mine, but kudos on having yours down pat! What’s another funny line you’ve used in the past?

  • Wendy August 10, 2014 at 1:29 pm

    A few years ago I had to speak at work in front of the staff – oh my gosh was I nervous! I am always been terrified of public speaking though I don’t kow why. I know all of these people and they’re mostly my friends! WHY should I be nervous? lol

    Drives me nuts.

    Great tips! I have realized since then that being natural instead of trying to be robotic perfection is the way to go and will have to practice that. I envy everyone who is comfortable on a stage!

    • Grace Miles August 10, 2014 at 4:28 pm

      Hey Wendy, this might surprise you, but because I have a small circle of close friends and many ‘acquaintances,’ or buddies, I tend to get nervous around people who aren’t in my close circle. So you’re not alone in that aspect!