Viv Groskop has been on my radar for years. Initially as the person who told me what to read in Red Magazine each month. Then we had our 3rd children within weeks of each other and exchanged messages on social media about that. (I had children 2 and 4 within days / weeks of Victoria Beckham, but she was a much less communicative pregnancy twin, although clearly we looked practically identical………) I’ve always made a conscious effort to seek out Viv’s writing and podcasts (most recently for the dearly departed ‘The Pool’). I was therefore aware she’d written this new book ‘How To Own The Room’ but had decided it wasn’t really relevant to my day to day life anymore (fool!) as I no longer have to do big presentations or sales pitches as I’d done in my previous working life.
Then my Nan died.
This did not prompt a Damascene moment, when I decided I should try my hand at being a stand up comedian, or start giving Ted Talks – but I volunteered, as eldest of my sisters, to speak at the funeral. I have a 2 minute slot (strictly policed, as we will be fined if we run over at the crem) and I need to make sure I say everything without just weeping – so I was hoping for some advice from Viv’s book.
Here’s the blurb:
“Most books about public speaking don’t tell you what to do when you open your mouth and nothing comes out. And they don’t tell you how to get over the anxiety about performance that most people naturally have. They don’t tell you what to do in the moments when you are made, as a woman, to feel small. They don’t tell you how to own the room. This book does.
From the way Michelle Obama projects ‘happy high status’, and the power of J.K.Rowling’s understated speaking style, to Virginia Woolf’s leisurely pacing and Oprah Winfrey’s mastery of inner conviction, what is it that our heroines do to make us sit up and listen – really listen – to their every word? And how can you achieve that impact in your own life? Here’s how.”
And I wasn’t disappointed! It was funny, informative, empowering, brilliantly written and really inspiring. I liked the clever idea of bringing in a different public speaker into each chapter*. Having just read Michelle Obama’s autobiography I was intrigued by that chapter and how Viv interpreted her changing speaking style over her husband’s tenure and as she gained experience.
But I also liked that the book was very much about finding your own voice – so JK Rowling has a very different, but still effective style to Mrs Obama – and then Angela Merkel is different again. Even if you don’t speak German, you can guess she’s not going to be wise cracking her way through speeches – but speaks with an organised, calm, in charge demeanour. I need to find a Mrs Merkel speech on Youtube to notice the finger temple Viv refers to as well!
There’s also practical help. From power poses (to be done in private in advance of speaking, I don’t plan to be stood at the front of the crematorium like a power hungry politician!) to breathing through your feet. Viv also talks about practicing loads (which I have done, and made my youngest sister cry on the phone when I practiced on her!) And also about recording yourself to watch yourself / listen to yourself back. I haven’t done this as yet – and know I will be shocked at how Brummie I sound……
Similarly there’s practical advice about the structure of a speech. My 2 minutes opens with a joke (Viv actually says a funeral speech is the one time you wouldn’t be expected to do that – but I think it will be fine!), has three themes and then a conclusion. I am such a teacher’s pet………
Whilst I have memorised my 2 minutes (actually about 1 minute 50 seconds in case there are any LOLs from the congregation) I have it printed out as a security blanket. Having recently attended Nan’s brother’s funeral – I know I, along with everyone else in the church, was willing his son and Grandson to get through their speeches without breaking down – and I know that it will be the same when I’m stood up there, that the other attendees will want me to speak well and are all there because they loved my Nan – but being prepared is also fundamental.
All in all, reading ‘How to Own The Room’ now has been perfect timing for me – but I can see how it could impact on so many areas of life. There is the expected public speaking or work presentation – but I also think it would be really valuable at other times. From a personal point of view I can imagine using the techniques when trying to have a forceful conversation with utility suppliers (admittedly somewhat niche, but the bane of my life at the moment) or to stop getting tearful at my kids’ parents’ evenings (not sure I will ever stop that happening – but I will try!)
I would thoroughly recommend that everyone reads this – female or male.
* since the first of January, Viv has been posting on Instagram her room owning women of 2019. Some of them are from the book itself – but many are not, and are totally diverse. It is totally worth following her Instragram for this alone. I *may* have got quite excited the day that Tea Leoni (Elizabeth McCord in Madam Secretary) featured and brain dumped all of the facts I know about her……… And there’s a definite Brummie bent, with Jess Phillips and Malala (adopted daughter of Birmingham) featuring thus far! Some women I know of already, some are revelations and new heroines – but all are interesting and thought provoking.