- Aimee Mullins is a double-amputee athlete, model and actor known for her role on Stranger Things.
- She’s also known as for her popular Ted Talks.
- Mullins has spent her life on stage sharing her personal story and inspiring people to believe in themselves.
- She says that all of us can be powerful public speakers, by following a few simple tips.
You may know Aimee Mullins as No. 11’s mother on Stranger Things.
Or maybe you know her as the woman who designs her own legs. Or the double amputee collegiate runner who made the “Cheetah” carbon-fibre sprinting legs world famous. Or the model who walked the runway for British fashion designer Alexander McQueen.
Perhaps you are one of the millions of people who have seen her on YouTube over the past decade. She has given hugely popular Ted Talks, covering her career as an athlete, how a disability to one person is a superpower to another and how the power of imagination can bring you a life you love.
“I’m just living my life,” she tells Business Insider. “I’m in a fortunate and privileged position to share stories about it … and be paid well.”
Business Insider recently met with Mullins and heard her speak live in Las Vegas at Okta’s tech conference. Her talks weave triumphant personal stories with her message of how to turn your own so-called shortcomings into strengths.
Her talks make you want to cheer.
So we asked her, How does she lure listeners in like that and are there tips that others can use to make their own public speaking more powerful, be it a Ted Talk or a business presentation?
Short answer: yes. Long answer: hell yes!
She explained that the term “choking on stage” comes from the fact that nerves literally tighten your jaw and your throat.
“The adrenaline surge, the cortisol, the stress, there’s a reason we say, ‘he choked’ because it literally does tighten your jaw, you feel your mouth get dry,” she explained.
The first step to a great talk is to stop these physical changes from happening.
Don’t lock your knees or your hips. Obviously, the more relaxed you appear, the more the audience focuses on what you’re saying and not signs of nerves. By not locking your lower body, you will feel genuinely more relaxed, she says. More importantly if you lock them, you cut off your blood flow, which contributes to tension and choking.
Relaxing your knees and hips also takes less energy than holding them tense.
“When you go out on stage, take your space, find it and just feel that softness in your ankles,” she says.
Start paying attention to your jaw and how often you clench it. “Throughout your day, try and put some space between your molars. Just release your jaw,” she says, adding that it took her a full year of practicing this before a relaxed jaw became her natural state, “I was holding so much tension.”
If you want to get better at public speaking, un-clench your jaw in daily life.
Hum. “The morning you have to do a talk, you should be humming all day,” she says. This keeps the jaw and throat open and relaxed.
How to draw the audience in
The next step is to work on bringing the audience with you, drawing them in.
To avoid coming off as canned, corny or insincere, imagine that you are an excellent host at your own dinner party.Think of the room as your guests.
Don’t “lose sight” of the corners of the room.Look at, and speak to, actual people in the room, in all parts of the room, from those up close up to those in the back corners.
“Literally, I find eyes, I find faces,” she says. “You are metaphorically putting your arms around the whole room, saying, ‘I got all of you.'”
Do not look over people’s heads. If you do, people won’t feel included. When you look directly at people “they are with you” and it will be energizing for you while you are talking.
“Now that everyone has a phone, it’s a thrill to see that they aren’t looking at it. They are with me,” she says.
Share your real self
The final step is to create a talk that people can relate to, by putting your own life and observations into it.
Be truthful. “Only you have actually lived your life,” she said. So trust that your stories and observations about your own life will be relatable and help you emphasise your bigger point.
Keep a file on your phone, write down anecdotes, what you learned from them and how they made you feel. In 2017, she was indicted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. While she was deeply honored she was also unnerved. Many of the others had been awarded posthumously.
Mullins is 43 and still in the early stages of her acting career. She began to wonder: was the peak of her life already behind her? No. This honour was coming to her in the prime of her life and she could use it as a tool. Those thoughts became a topic for future talks.
Feel the incident as you relate it. Mullins says that even when she’s sharing a story about a humiliation that happened 20 years ago on stage, a story she’s told over and over again, she still feels it as if it was happening right then. Allow yourself to feel what you are trying to share and your audience will feel it, too.
Keep flexing your “reinvention” muscles: naivete, curiosity and daydreaming. “These are tools you’ve had since you were kids,” she says. Don’t “let them atrophy,” she says, and they will be a continuous source of new accomplishments and reinvention. That will fuel your life which will, in turn, inspire your talks.