Finding the right person in the audience can help you relax
So, you have a big presentation. It might be a sales call with a group of buyers, a meeting with executives or board members or speech on the stage in front of 20 or 200. No matter the venue or audience, how do you calm the nerves? You’ve probably already heard some of the worst advice ever: “Just imagine your audience naked.” Noooooo!! Not a good idea.
Here’s a better idea: imagine mom in the audience. If not your mom, imagine your most adored friend or relative. What would s/he be doing if sitting in the audience while you present? Smiles, interest, head nodding, leaning toward you… all non-verbal signs that s/he wants to see you win.
Find the audience member who is behaving like your dear friend or relative would act if in the audience. Make eye contact a few times during the presentation and feed off that positive energy. Let it grow your confidence. The smiles will quiet anxiety. Just don’t spend too much time making eye contact. That would be creepy.
Don’t see that person in the audience? Create it! How? Smile. Smile more than you think you need to smile. Amp up your energy. Just be you. Human beings reflect the behavior of those around them. If I meet you and you smile at me, I’ll smile back. It’s almost impossible not to mimic the smile.
A quick recap of the books I'm reading now and what's in cue
Reading books is one of the best ways to improve verbal communication skills.
Reading helps eliminate crutch words. Reading broadens vocabulary. Reading helps express thoughts in a concise, coherent way (because you have access to the right words). Give it a shot. Read intentionally for 15-30 minutes per day for two weeks. Pay close attention to your verbal presentation skills along the way. I bet you get better.
Three steps to get your message across clearly on your next Skype, Zoom or WebEx video call
Video rules the day. We watch video on our phones, share video on social media and use video to communicate with family, friends and coworkers. Your presence on the screen makes a big difference in how well your message is received and understood.
Think about it: when you are a member of an audience and the sage on the stage says something like, “Here’s what I’d like to say…” What’s your reaction? Probably much like mine. I tune out. The phrase and any iteration of it is redundant. It’s condescending (you’re saying it, duh? Do you need to clue me in to that fact?). And, yes, so many people use the verbal crutch as they communicate a message.
Telling stories and making your audience priority one takes practice. Habitual practice. The two areas are most important for anyone wanting to make an impact through presenting. Before you think storytelling and audience appreciation is only for the stage, think again. If you’re having a conversation with one person, that person is your audience. Pay attention to that one person’s reaction. Watch for non-verbal cues. Listen with empathy (not waiting your turn to respond). Tell vibrant stories during conversation. Being intentional in the areas of storytelling and audience engagement – especially when communicating with one or two people, makes for a powerful presenter.
I recently caught myself practicing the art of storytelling and audience appreciation in a simple thank you note.
Two co-workers bought me a monthly subscription to socks. These aren’t just any socks. The socks have cool names and come with a story printed on a double-sided glossy postcard. The socks are off the chart colorful. Wild designs.
Sure, I could have sent a simple thank you note or made a call. But, I had a chance to practice the craft of story telling and making the recipient of my message feel even more special and appreciated.
Here’s the note I penned to my coworkers: So… I was having lunch with a friend today, and I notice another guy in the restaurant is wearing “unique” socks. I think to myself: “Maybe it’s time I explore wearing something different…. Matching sock color to my pants color is boring.” Then, I walk into my office afterwards and there’s a package on my desk. There, inside the envelope is a note from Soul Socks saying Julie and Heather have signed me up for a new pair of socks each month. And, there’s the first pair…. exactly what I wanted (but didn’t know I wanted until 60-minutes earlier). How cool!! Your timing is impeccable. The gift is perfect (and very generous). I’m excited.. and most grateful! Thank you!!
The story contained the elements of challenge (realization I’m fashion challenged), struggle (where do I even start in choosing socks when I have a difficult enough time color coordinating every morning) and resolution (I get cool socks – delivered to my desk each month) – highly simplified.
By making a habit of story telling and audience appreciation in the small, everyday conversations, I make it easier to be real, spontaneous and authentic from the stage.
How and when do you most enjoy telling stories?
Hope is crucial for each and every person. If you have no hope, you don’t have aspiration for a better tomorrow. No hope equates to helplessness.
However, hope is not a strategy in any situation. This is especially true as you approach preparation for communication through presentation. If the following thoughts ever go through your mind as you prepare to take the stage, I’m going to dash your hopes:
“I hope people will pay attention.”
“I hope the technology works.”
“I hope I don’t forget anything.”
“I hope, I hope, I hope…”
Those hope statements are red flags that you are not prepared to be the best version of you as a presenter. The moment you catch yourself hoping you are ready, hoping people will pay attention, hoping the technology works or hoping people will grasp and understand your message, stop and use those points to create strategy.
Turning hope into strategy may be as simple as turning the hopeful statements into strategy questions. For example (using the hope statements from above):
“What will I do to help people pay attention?”
“How can I gain confidence and comfort in using the technology?”
“Where can I place reminders of important points?”
Now, out of those strategy questions, develop tactics. Here’s a sample checklist based on the above evolution of hope statements to strategy questions:
I will find ways to be physically closer to the audience while speaking (i.e., I won’t stand behind a podium, I’ll walk out into the audience when appropriate, I’ll position myself closer to the center of a large board room table, etc.)
I’ll be sure to be conversational as I speak, avoiding reading.
I’ll change vocal pacing, volume and inflection to help people pay attention.
I’ll conduct a microphone check before the audience arrives.
I’ll use a remote and practice running through the slides on the computer.
I’ll have the presentation in the cloud, on a thumb drive and a CD.
I’ll check to be sure t
he computer connects to the projector with no issues at least 60-minutes before the presentation.
I’ll be sure I can give the presentation if there’s a technology malfunction.
I’ll write on an index card, a small piece of paper or create other reminders of key points.
Turning an “I hope…” into a strategic question with a tactical checklist gives you the confidence to take the stage and present effectively – whether it’s a one-to-one sales call, speaking up at a company meeting, presenting at a board meeting or presenting to a large audience.
“Can you give me an example of a word picture?” The question almost always comes with that scrunched up confused look on one’s face. You know the look. The eyes squint, the mouth purses as the jaw sets. Lines appear on each side of the nose.
“Word picture? What’s that?!” A formal definition is not much help. Here it is: “A vivid description in writing.”
The back of a box for electric razor replacement heads. Spot the word picture?
An executive took the stage to talk about his company. He froze up and could barely compose a complete sentence. An officer in a publicly traded company was asked to answer questions from the board of directors. He started sweating profusely and couldn’t speak.
All are true stories. Agony doesn’t begin to describe how each of the above feel in their respective situations. We’re talking about real people dealing with real fear, anxiety and self-doubt.
The first two stories inspired Sweating Bullets. The third story shows it can happen to anyone.
If you’re going on stage, or in front of a group, here are three steps to go over in your mind as you take those bold steps (didn’t Michael Bay look confident striding on stage!):
1. Remind yourself, “There’s a reason I’m here. I only need to be me. No one else.” Think about Bay, he truly creates stunning images on the screen. Your tastes in movies aside, he’s an expert at the craft. Within the expertise, find confidence to share your story.
2. Tell yourself, “I’m going to have a conversation.” Bay was walking into what should have been one of the easiest gigs of his life: Talking to someone about his life’s work and creating images; answering questions about a topic of which he is an expert!
3. Breathe. That’s right, breathe – times seven. Take seven deep breaths – counting to seven with each inhale and exhale. You’ll be amazed at what the infusion of oxygen can do to calm your nerves and clear your mind.
My heart goes out to Bay and all the others who have – and will – literally freeze up mid-sentence. I don’t care if it’s in front of hundreds at an electronics conference or a dozen at boardroom table. It’s a horrible feeling, but it doesn’t have to be that way.