Four Questions: Toral Livingston-Jha

In this ongoing series, we interview working professionals and presenters on how they build executive presence, connect with their audience, and manage the inevitable anxiety that comes from speaking to a crowd. This week’s interview, Toral Livingston- Jha, ACC, is founder and principal of TLJ Coaching and Consulting, LLC and a leadership and life coach in Madison, Wisconsin.

How often do you present—and to what kind of audiences? What becomes the purpose (typically) of your presentations?

In an earlier career as a spokesperson of environmental policy, I presented at conferences or meetings throughout the state. Our goal was to convey our legislative work and to understand our audience’s pain points as we worked on new legislation. Today, my presenting ties more to coaching. The goal becomes helping leadership development/organizational needs and to curate/deliver the facilitation or training they requested of me.

How do you use voice to show and display confidence, leadership, charisma?

Voice, tone, cadence, and rhythm all become extremely important because how confidently a person speaks determines how well they’ll connect with their audience.

One way I build that confidence is by rehearsing to the point where I don’t need a script. I want my voice to have ease, calm, and I want to become so familiar with what I have to say that it becomes a part of me.

Also, I want to speak so authentically that I sound like I’m speaking to people I know. If I achieve this, I feel no need for nerves or worry and become clear in what I have to say. For me, executive presence is that; you’re conveying trust in yourself and the people listening to you can then trust you in the same way.

Whatever patterns you adopt are those that feel natural to you. For me, I pause in places where historically I might have inserted an  ‘um’ or a ‘like.’ I feel comfortable with silence and also have humor, self awareness.

Finally, charisma comes through not just from your subject matter expertise, but the passion you show for that topic. If you can show you believe your words have value and feel vital for your audience, you will connect with them.

What body language and gestures do you find both off-putting in others and then useful for you? 

When someone looks continually at their slides behind them, they no longer converse with the audience. They read and use the slides as a crutch vs. connect with their audience.

When someone stands behind the podium (or stays locked in one spot), we also lose an opportunity to connect. Keeping your body hidden can challenge presenters in some contexts. I’m short in stature (five foot tall) and if I stood behind a podium, the audience would only get my eyes and above. So that strategy wouldn’t work for me. (Laughs.)

Moving around the room helps me become more a part of the audience. Make your presence known. Additionally, make eye contact with those in the room. Use non-distracting hand gestures for emphasis.  Holding something—like a pen or pointer—can also help alleviate nerves.

With the data telling us 75% of Americans fear public speaking, what advice do you have for those feeling timid, fearful—or petrified? How do we ground ourselves before we go live?

Stay self aware. Honor that you might feel nervesyour body will exhibit fearbut don’t judge yourself. You will feel less nervous from this shift.

The coaching approach I embrace helps me: If I deny who I am, I’ll constantly fight myself while presenting to someone else. If I acknowledge who I am, then I can feel and convey that peace and ease to my audience, too. Additional tips include:

  • Prepare for the presentation, understand your audience, your motivation and why you’re presenting to help you present in the most authentic way.
  • Gain feedback from others as you practice.
  • Speak from the heart and remain grounded in the language you’re using.
  • Stay concise and organized with your framework.
  • Remember and honor who you are. Before I go in, I remind myself: I’m here to share a gift I haveothers have invited me into this space to learn from me. This idea becomes extremely grounding and reminds me: I’m not trying to be something I’m not. We’re here to have a conversation.


More blogs on business presenting live here. 


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