In this episode, Jim James interviews Ed Darling, founder of Project Charisma, a Manchester-based training company that helps professionals overcome public speaking fears and communicate with credibility, confidence, and charisma. Ed shares how he overcame social anxiety and turned his biggest fears into a profession in acting and public speaking.
Ed emphasises that public speaking is a skill and with practise, anyone can improve. He starts by teaching clients the importance of breathing, focusing on diaphragmatic breathing to activate the "rest and digest" response and calm the nervous system. Ed then discusses the three components of public speaking: body, voice, and mind. Using animal analogies, Ed describes the difference between squirrel and lion body language, emphasising the importance of taking up space, being purposeful, and being confident when speaking in front of an audience.
Ed also shares practical tips and insights on how to improve public speaking skills and overcome anxiety, making this episode valuable for entrepreneurs looking to improve their communication skills and getting noticed.
Post-production, transcript and show notes by XCD Virtual Assistants
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The UnNoticed Entrepreneur is hosted & produced by Jim James.
Welcome to the Unnoticed Entrepreneur. This show will tell you how to get the recognition you and your business deserve. Our guests share their practical insights and tools, which you can use straight away. Your host is International entrepreneur, podcast host, and author Jim James.Jim James:
And welcome to this episode of The UnNoticed Entrepreneur. Today, we are going to sunny Manchester, up in the northwest of England to meet Ed Darling. And we're gonna talk about "Project Charisma". We're gonna talk about how your body, your voice, and your mind all impact your ability to communicate on stage and to have stage presence. And Ed has built this business amazingly from the ground up and he's dealing with clients including like the "Alliance University of Manchester" and "Hilti" and a number of other organisations, mainly, in the northwest. So we'll talk to Ed today. Welcome to the show, Ed.Ed Darling:
Thank you very much, Jim. It's lovely to be here from, definitely raining outside Manchester.Jim James:
Well, I went to university and lived in Manchester for eight years. Which is the weather is not one of the reasons that people move there or why people stay there, but it's a wonderful city. Amazing. And you are doing some amazing work there in Manchester. So, Ed, tell us about "Project Charisma". And then you're gonna help us to understand I think at least three elements that would help someone on stage and present. And let's face it, most of us are afraid of public speaking, especially after a few years of being locked in sites. Ed, over to you. Tell us about "Project Charisma".Ed Darling:
Thanks, Jim. I do think that a lot of people are afraid of public speaking, especially after you say, "Lockdown". Some people have been working from home for the past couple of years, and it really has set people back. And if people listening kind of do think, "Yes, that is me. I experience anxiety or fear or nervousness." Then, the first thing to say is that I know exactly how those people feel because I used to have severe social anxiety. And when I was at university myself here in Manchester about 12 years ago, I know it probably looks like I'm still there now.Jim James:
Yeah, he does. For those of you that can't see. Ed really looks as though he is an undergraduate, still.Ed Darling:
Yeah, I can't grow a beard to save my life. Some it would probably help if I could. But while I was at university, I developed a really crippling social anxiety almost overnight, after having a panic attack in a seminar room. And right at the moment when I was having this kind of crescendo of anxiety, the lecturer turned to me in front of everyone and said, "Ed, tell us what you think about this issue". And every single person in the room turned to look at me. And you can imagine, I had to stand up and without saying a word, I just left the room. And it really shook me. I didn't really understand what happened. The next day I went into the seminar, same thing happened again, and before long that had spiraled into a whole kind of anxiety disorder, where even answering a phone call or buying a train ticket would make me feel this overwhelming, anxiety and panic and heart palpitations. So I spiraled down quite a lot. I became very depressed. I felt quite helpless to do anything about it. But eventually, I hit a bit of a rock bottom and I decided rather than trying to avoid my fears, I needed to turn around and start facing them. And the two scariest things that I could think of at the time were "Acting" and "Public Speaking". So Jim, I just thought, I will throw myself at the wall of both of these things, and surely if I do that for long enough, something's gonna change. And to cut a long story short, you know, it wasn't an overnight transformation. It wasn't overnight success story. It took many years of facing my fears. But eventually, I became a professional actor and I performed in theaters all around the UK and off Broadway, around Italy, and a professional speaker as well. And I became the president of my local speaking club. And anyway, all of that led me to then creating "Project Charisma". A training company here in Manchester. And our main ethos is about helping professionals to overcome these fears that so many of us have in order to communicate with more credibility, more confidence, and of course a little bit of charisma if possible.Jim James:
Ed, I love that story. And you know, I don't want to interrupt you because you've got so much value to share. You know, where does one start? Because we're not taught really at school, how to do this at university. We're certainly not taught how to do it. Where would you begin? I know you're working with some big companies and some smaller ones, but where do you start with a person that comes to you and maybe they need to give sales presentations or you know, they're gonna go to a conference, for example, to articulate what the company stands for as a Founder, maybe. Where do you start, Ed?Ed Darling:
Well, the first place that I like to start is to really get across the idea to people that public speaking is just a skill. And unlike any other skill with practice, you will get better. We seem to put public speaking on a bit of a pedestal because we have these fears around it and we think, "Oh, I was born feeling nervous or unconfident and I'll never get there." But I'm kind of living proof that you can go from one end to the other with enough practice. So I think, understanding that is crucial. And then from there, I think getting into the practicalities of it. I think breathing is a massive issue that a lot of people have at a very fundamental level. You know, there are two different types of breath. There's breathing into the diaphragm and breathing into the chest. And one of which connects to your "fight, flight, freeze" response, which makes you more nervous and anxious. The other one connects to your "rest and digest" response, which calms your system. Most people aren't even aware of this. And I often do an exercise with people where I get them to put one hand on their stomach, one hand on their chest and just breathe normally. And then, I ask them, "Which area is moving the most? Is it your chest or your stomach?" And for a lot of people, I see their chest kind of, you know, going in and out massively, and that shouldn't be happening if you're at rest. It should be that your stomach is breathing the most. So a lot of these basics things, I think kind of tie into why so many people have a problem with public speaking. But from there, the main three areas that I like to focus on with people is the body, the voice, and the mind.Jim James:
Body, voice, and mind. Once we've started to work on the breathing, Ed. Take us through the body, the voice, and the mind. And for those people listening, you know these, I'm sure, Ed, are gonna be thoughts and tips that we can use at home, right? You need to at least to start. So take us through those three items.Ed Darling:
So with the body, it's interesting because I think everyone knows what positive body language is, right? No one needs to be told, "You need to stand up straight and put your shoulders back, and not slouch. And use your hands." We all instinctively know this. The trouble is as soon as you put someone in front of an audience, it all goes out the window and they start to cross their arms or fidget with their hands or shuffle their feet, and it's a nervous, instinctual reaction that we're having. So with body language, you have to become more aware of what your body is doing. And I like to give people an analogy from the animal kingdom. So I talk about a "squirrel" and a "lion". And I ask people to describe the squirrel's body language. And you might say it's kind of nervous and fidgety, and it's, you know, it's holding its claws close to itself. It's ready to dart off at a moment's notice. A lion on the other hand, is usually taking up lots of space. It's not trying to hide. It's rather relaxed. If it's going to move, it will be very purposeful. Now, the main difference between these two animals is one is a predator and one is a prey animal, and the body language is just a reflection of that reality, right? The squirrel has to keep itself small. It has to be ready to pounce away because it's being hunted from above and below. The lion doesn't have those same issues, and so it can chill out and be very relaxed. The interesting thing is that as humans, we have both predator and prey hardwired into us. You only have to go, you know, 10,000 years ago to when we were living in the, you know, the neolithic and we would be hunting, but also getting hunted from various types of beasts, right? So I like to kind of give people this idea that you've got a "Squirrel Pathway" and a "Lion Pathway" in terms of your body language. Now, when you stand up in front a group of people to speak, whether it's your peers or a large audience, and you feel that perception of threat, your body reacts much like a squirrel does. You start to close off, you start to close in, you become flighty and fidgety and nervous. The real trick is being able to do a little bit of what's called a "Pattern Interrupt". So whenever you find yourself doing any of these negative behaviors, you need the self-awareness to notice it. And then you need to try and do the opposite. So if you're looking down at the floor, you need to bring your eyes up and look at them at the audience. If your hands are nervously shuffling around, you need to start using them. If you find yourself stepping backwards away from the audience, you need to step forwards. And I find that when people do this, it sends a signal back to the subconscious mind that says, "Maybe there isn't quite the level of threat that we assumed. Maybe we can stand down our, you know, reactions a little bit." and people start to feel more confident. So that is my version of the psychology underlying body language and how we can use that to become more confident.Jim James:
I love that, and I've gotta ask the question, "What do people think is going to happen to them if they do raise up their eyes, raise up their arms, and open up?" Because you've mentioned the fear, but what do you think people are afraid of? Just briefly.Ed Darling:
I think it's clear that people are afraid of judgment, aren't they? We're all afraid of looking foolish in front of our peers, making mistakes, being shunned out of the tribe is where that comes from, right? If you were pushed out 10,000 years ago, again, that would be certain death, and that kind of is still instinctually very sensitive within us.Jim James:
So it's, primal. It's a primal instinct and the fear of being is, say, "judged" and then "ejected", right? And then, I guess ultimately famished and perished.Ed Darling:
Exactly. Yeah. But I think as soon as you get over that initial figure and you do look people in the eyes and step forward, and speak a little bit louder. It dispels that quite quickly and you do immediately start to feel that bit more confident. And it creates a kind of a positive feedback loop rather than a negative feedback loop.Jim James:
Okay. That's wonderful. So that's the body. What should we talk about next?Ed Darling:
Well, I usually go into the voice next, which is the next sort of aspect of public speaking, which is so important. And for me, I think the voice is maybe even more important than body language in some ways, because I think it's a little bit underappreciated by people who are even quite experienced speakers in many ways. And so there are five key elements of "Vocal Variety" that I tell people about which is, "Pitch", "Pace", "Tone", "Volume", and "Melody". Now, some of these we have more control over than others. Your "Pitch" is obviously whether you've got a "low pitch" or a "high pitch", and there's little things you can do about that. I think maybe some of your other guests might have explained that in more detail. "Tone" is another one, on one end the scale you can have quite an "edgy tone", which sounds a little bit harsh, and on the other hand, you've got quite a "breathy tone" where it's almost like the therapist's voice. "Come in. Have a seat. And are you okay here?" And in a business scenario, perhaps you don't wanna go too much down that line because it can lack a little bit of assertiveness perhaps. "Pacing" is how quickly you're talking. Now, a big problem a lot of people have is simply talking too fast. A hundred words a minute, trying to get through it as quickly as they can so they can sit back down. And of course, you know, that's a problem. So learning to slow down is a really important thing for people. "Volume" is underappreciated. I think a lot volume isn't just about being loud enough, but it's something you can use for effect. You can go much louder to get people's attention and you can go much quieter to draw them in. And then finally, maybe my favorite one is melody. "Melody" is the opposite of monotone, right? So if you've ever logged onto a Zoom call and heard someone say, "Hello everyone. Welcome for today's Zoom, this is gonna be a fantastic show. I hope you're all ready for the next three hours." And it's all along one note and it very quickly turns people off. So injecting more melody into your voice means using more of that scale that we all have, right? Rather than hitting one note on the piano, you are using the whole instrument.Jim James:
Ed, I love that. And I'm gonna say to you, right now, Ed. I think that's fantastic about the voice. Yeah. We did have Jimmy Cannon on the mic a little while ago. And he did talk amazingly and used his voice. It's a great theatrical effect. Ed Darling, from "Project Charisma" in Manchester. I love that. Now you've talked about body, voice, but also mind. So let's cover off number three if you will.Ed Darling:
Perfect. So mindset is where a lot of people fall down, obviously. In my own experience over the past 10 years, having gone through severe anxiety to acting on stage, to now speaking in public. I've kind of picked up on these three specific mindset shifts which have helped me and which I now share with everyone who I work with. The first one is "Confidence beats enthusiasm." So confidence beats. And, oh, sorry that's the wrong way round. Let me repeat. "Enthusiasm beats confidence." So enthusiasm beats confidence to be clear. Now, the thought behind that is that a lot of people put confidence on a pedestal as well, right? We think confidence is the be all and end all. "I must feel confident, sound confident, appear confident. Otherwise, everyone will judge me and they'll think I'm terrible." And that makes us put so much pressure on ourselves to be perfect, right? That we need to come across a certain way. But confidence isn't something that you can rely upon, Jim, because you can stand in front of an audience and no matter what you've done previously, your confidence is gonna just leave you in a moment's notice. And then you've got nothing else to base yourself on. Whereas, enthusiasm is a quality that we can tap into, even if we feel nervous, even if we feel a little bit uncomfortable, we can choose to focus on enthusiasm, and I believe that any audience will forgive you for looking a little bit nervous if they can feel your enthusiasm.Jim James:
Ed, I love that. And I think you're right that, you know, confidence can come and go in a moment. But enthusiasm is almost a physicality, isn't it? It comes across in your body language and people get enthused about a topic. That's fantastic. Now, before we were talking, you mentioned about you've got the mind, the voice, and the body. You've managed to build this business fantastically by, you know, overcoming some of your anxieties. For which, you know, I applaud you. Ed, as an Entrepreneur, you know, on this show I like to hear how people have managed to get noticed. How have you managed to get "Project Charisma", you know, if you're like out of the student dorms and into the main streets of Manchester?Ed Darling:
Into the main streets of Manchester. Yeah. What an amazing place to be.Jim James:
Well, to be honest with you, Jim, I originally had the idea for this business quite a few years ago with two good friends of mine. And we were really passionate, but we struggled to get anywhere for the first five years. We were putting on free events and we were doing very low paid things, and we were just struggling continually. And a couple of years ago, they both took a step back from the business and just decided where this isn't gonna be able to work. And I had the choice of whether to carry on or to leave it there as well. And I chose to carry on and give it one more shot. And since then, it started to finally pick up and go places. And so I think the one lesson I could learn from that, to share with people, is that sometimes you have to have one direction and one person setting the, you know, the intention to begin with, at least. Rather than too many people pulling in too many different directions. Now, in terms of what has actually helped get it off the ground, honestly, it sounds maybe a little bit boring and mundane, but getting a really decent website, I think has been key for my business. Building up the SEO, making sure that your branding is on point, making sure that it's tailored to the right niche that you want to target. And I've settled in on professionals, that's my niche now. For a while we kind of maybe didn't know who that was, and then you know, you're talking to different markets. So I think that's been one of the most important things for my business so far.Jim James:
Okay. And you say, website. I've got it open for those people that are watching the video be able to see it. And for those people that are listening, it's "projectcharisma.com". Tell us, did you build this yourselves or did you outsource it? Because it's very nicely done and you've also got some testimonials on there, which of course is a key part of any sort of social proof package. You've got lots of lovely pictures. So just tell us about how you went about that and how much money you spent on it.Ed Darling:
To be completely honest with you, Jim. It's all my own work on WordPress and Elemental. I learned how to, you know, do all of that myself. I've done all the design myself, the color branding. I didn't really have much money when we were first starting the business, so it was very much kind of bootstrapping it. Do whatever you can yourself. And you know, that might not be for everyone. I'm sure I could almost certainly go and pick up a Web Developer who could do a much better job than I did. But I think if you can do good enough to begin with, then you know, that can be sometimes the best option.Jim James:
Ed, I think it's fantastic. And tell me you are using Daniel Priestly's Score App, I can see here, "Charisma Scorecard". Is that working for you as a tool set?Ed Darling:
Well, I've only been using it for the past couple of weeks, Jim. So I can't really give you that much of an overall feedback on its kind of performance. But I haven't had what's called a "Lead Magnet" until now. And the "Score App" works as a really good lead magnet because people get an instant feedback and analysis on the public speaking skills and strengths. I then get their email and everyone's a winner, and I'm a big fan of Daniel Priestly, like we mentioned before. I think he's a fabulous Entrepreneur and a great voice to learn from. So, I was happy to try his product.Jim James:
Ed, that's fantastic. And Daniel Priestly has been a guide and inspiration for the whole industry. It's amazing. If there's one thing that you've made a mistake on when it comes to getting noticed, Ed, what would you be willing to share? Maybe a little tale of what you might have done that hasn't worked.Ed Darling:
Definitely. Yeah. So back when I was still in the wilderness of trying to get the business off the ground, me and my two business partners, Dan and Chris, we tried to put on some public speaking events in Manchester. And it was a bit of a case of, you know, the old idea of build it and they will come, or in this case, build it, market it, put money on the ads, and then they won't come. And so one of the lessons I learned is that, if you're gonna spend money on advertising and marketing, you know, it does work, but you have to have all the other things in place. You have to have a solid website. The credibility to back it up, the testimonials. If people see all that, then they might convert, but without it, you're just throwing your money away.Jim James:
Great advice. Yes, put that in order. And Ed, you know, I always ask a final question, and that is for my fellow unnoticed Entrepreneurs, you've come a long way. What would be one, if you like, piece of advice you'd give, that does work in the getting noticed. Is there one thing that you can suggest everyone should at least think about doing?Ed Darling:
Yeah. I do think, again, maybe it sounds a little bit cliche, but if you do a fantastic job for the people that are in front of you and really serve them as much as you can, And try to help them with whatever their problem is. Then they will leave you a great testimonial. They will mention you to other people, and I think that is the kind of the groundwork that you need to put in place. So just doing a great job for the person who is right there in front of you.Jim James:
Ed Darling, you've done a great job for me in front of you today, and thank you so much for sharing what you are doing with "Project Charisma". Help people to share their genius on stage. Thank you, Ed Darling.Ed Darling:
Thanks, Jim. It's been a real pleasure to be here. Cheers.Jim James:
Yeah, well you've been listening to a youthful looking, but plainly, very experienced and wise Entrepreneur, Ed Darling up there in Manchester. Of course, I'll put his details in the show notes. If you want to go to sunny Manchester, I'm sure that Ed would be more than happy to see you there. Just take an umbrella is my only advice. So thanks for listening to this episode of The UnNoticed Entrepreneur. If you've enjoyed it, please do review it on the app. Please do share it with a fellow unnoticed entrepreneur. And you know, there are over 50 interviews like this included in the latest version of "The Unnoticed Entrepreneur" book published by Wiley, and available on Amazon. So just encourage you to have a look online for that. And until we meet again, I just encourage you to keep on communicating. Thanks for listening.