Owning the Room with Viv Groskop #StratfordLiteraryFestival

Writing books about motivation, meditation, and personal development means I get asked more and more to speak at events and to run workshops. It’s the part of my job I love the most even though I’m a bag of nerves every time I step out in front of an audience.

Listening to the incredible Viv Groskop last night at the Stratford Literary Festival I was inspired to discover that she also suffered from the same insecurities before stepping out on stage.

Promoting her new book How to Own the Room: Women and the Art of Brilliant Speaking, Viv entertained the audience with her fabulous sense of humour, a smattering of Russian, and a boat load of sound advice for anyone who wants to own the room.


Her talk offered tips for those of us who hope to stand in front of a decent crowd of willing victims as well as those situations where a formal meeting or setting can make our toes curl such as an interview or appraisal.

Viv started with an engaging exercise that showed us how our mind affects our bodies and in turn our ability to own a room. Standing with our feet hip width apart, Viv asked us to close our eyes, visualise our brains dropping into our belly, and to breathe deeply up through the soles of our feet.

She then guided us to remember a time when we felt small and weak. I was shocked by the image that immediately jumped into my mind as it was a vicious attack by my ex-husband that I hadn’t thought about for many years. I concentrated on how I felt – powerless, afraid, and small. Viv then asked us to open our eyes and look around the room. I was amazed to see that the entire audience was hunched over as we acted out these feelings. She was swift in getting us to repeat the exercise with a positive memory of when we felt proud and confident and when we opened our eyes this time all of us had our chins high and our shoulders back.

It was a strong visual reminder of how our inner critic has power over us if we let it.

Viv gave us a fantastic example of a speaker who owns every space she enters: Michelle Obama. Her energy and passion inspires everyone in the audience. However, Viv was quick to point out that Michelle has a team of people behind her writing her scripts, styling her outfits, hair, and accessories, and supporting her every step of the way. As a single mum from a small town near Birmingham, I don’t have the same luxuries! It was this simple fact that Viv was trying to highlight. We often compare our speaking skills to those powerful women we see on the screen, but in reality, we could never match what they do because we don’t have that support team in the background.We can, however, watch how they speak and how they engage with their audience and learn from them. It’s interesting to see how they bring themselves out from behind the lectern, so they are closer to their audience, or how they adopt a signature stance to avoid flailing arms.

Remembering that the members of the audience might be going through a hard time is another important way of getting yourself out of the inner critic mind set. I thought this was a vital point. How many times have you been to an event when your heart wasn’t in it, but you’d spent money on the ticket and didn’t want to waste it? Have you ever had to go somewhere but you can’t concentrate because you’ve got a sick relative at home or in the hospital? What about all the people who have suffered a loss but managed to get dressed, leave the house, and attend your talk?

If someone looks at their watch while you’re talking it doesn’t mean they’re bored – my friend did this because she didn’t want Viv’s talk to end and had to check that our time wasn’t up! If they have a face like a slapped arse, it doesn’t mean they hate you – apparently, our happy or listening faces do in fact look quite odd!

You have been invited to talk, and people have bought a ticket, or turned up to hear you. To own the room, you must engage that proud feeling (Viv advises doing the breathing exercise before you go on stage). Keep your movement small, your chin up, and your voice level – refrain from adding that lift at the end of your sentence that women are so good at doing. She used the ‘Mind the Gap’ train announcement as an example of how to do this.

The talk was over far too quickly as I could have listened to Viv all night. I felt thoroughly inspired and excited about taking the next step. She definitely owned the room!

I was thrilled to be able to meet with her afterwards and get a signed copy of her book and a quick chat. She is such a lovely, caring, and funny lady and I hope to channel my inner Viv the next time I give a speech.




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