Like most people, I was never able to draw very well…just stick figures and scribbles. Then in my 20’s, I picked up a brilliant book called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. It very simply taught me to see things differently when I drew. And seemingly overnight, I was able to produce, what I thought were really good drawings.
I believe that the fear many people have over public speaking and presenting can change just as quickly and just as easily as changing how you see yourself, your role, and your audience. I’ve helped myself and many others over the years get more comfortable with presenting by changing perspectives and drawing on some of the tools of facilitation. The following are what I believe to be the key tips to help you make this shift.
1. Connect to Yourself to Connect With Your Audience. We often feel that we need to hurry up and spill the goods to keep people interested and engaged so that they’ll feel their time is well spent. It’s easy to default to the McDonald’s version of presenting: quantity over quality and image over substance. While we all suffer from information obesity, most of us are starving for quality, depth, and connection. The first and most important step to making a connection with your audience and delivering something fresh and alive is to slow down and be present.
Connecting with your body is an excellent way to connect to yourself. Your body is always in the present moment. It can’t be elsewhere. So you can use your body as a centering aid. There are several ways to do this as you move through your presentation. You can notice any tension in your neck and shoulders. When you notice these areas, you can relax them. You can gently bring awareness to your breath or feel your feet on ground. When you notice a stray thought or a sensation of any kind, let your attention go to your neck, shoulders, or to your breath. Or if you’re standing in front of a room, you can fold your hands in front of you or let your attention be with them. Again, your body has no choice but to be present. When you bring your attention to it, you are present once again.
2. View Your Audience as Participants. An accomplished public speaker came to me once for coaching on how to be more facilitative in her workshops and presentations. During the course of our work, I asked her this question: What behaviors do you exhibit as a presenter to satisfy what you believe your participants expect?
She believed that her audience expected her to: entertain, give lots of explanation, talk fast to keep everyone’s attention, avoid long silences, maintain control of the group, focus most of her attention on how she’s coming across to her audience, and to view comments from her audience as threatening versus shedding light on their views and desires.
While hearing herself say these things, she realized that she had painted her audience into a corner with regard to participation. Once she came to view her listeners as her participants instead of her audience, her role shifted as well. Now she believes that her participants are expecting: invitations to share their inputs with the group, occasional silence as opportunities to share, her focus on them rather than on herself, and a slower more conversational speaking pace.
3. Make Experiences, Not Speeches. Though many people process information predominately through their audio channel, not everyone does. People learn, engage, and change by actually participating in some behavior that engages multiple senses. Providing participants with an experience that engages multiple senses is far more powerful than anything a mere speech or lecture can provide.
For example, once I was asked to speak at a local chapter of the Habitat for Humanity. The request was to help them understand how to better support candidates to receive assistance from their organization. Now I could have just given them my advice on the subject as an expert on human behavior. They might have heard some of it, but most likely would have quickly forgotten most of it. Instead, I facilitated an experience that got them feeling, hearing, and seeing from their client’s perspective. I split them into pairs and asked them to imagine a time in their lives when they needed some kind of help. Perhaps when they were children struggling to ride a bike for the first time; or when they left home and had difficulty finding or affording a place to live; or when they lost a job and weeks went by before they could find another, etc. I then asked them to share with each other what it was like going through this experience, what they most needed to hear, and how they needed to be supported. After the partners shared with each other, I asked them to share their insights with the group. This exercise gave them a “real-life” experience of working with people like their clients, and now they could feel it in their bones!
4. Show First, Tell Later. It’s far easier for humans to relate to experience than concepts. Sharing your experience in the form of a story, allegory, or metaphor, that relates in some way with your learning objective, helps people feel what you’re trying to share with them. When you impact people with a physical or emotional experience, they’ll have something of themselves to share.
For example, do you remember what it was like the first time you tried to ride a bicycle or drive a car? Doesn’t this question inspire a rush of feeling packed memories? Don’t you want to share them with someone? When you’ve stimulated your audience with a story, an experience, or a provocative question, ask them to share their experience with one another or with the group.
5. Don’t Give Speeches. When I’m asked to give a speech on a topic I feel comfortable with, I accept. But when I’m introduced as a speaker, I love to change that perception by saying, “Well, I am going to stand in front of the room today, but I don’t plan to be your speaker. Instead, I hope to serve you better by being your listener.” The rebel in me revels in this! So how can you be more of a listener than a speaker? Here are some ideas:
a. Check in with your participants periodically and see what they have to say about what you’re saying. Are they getting it? Do they have questions? Do they have something to add that can amplify or validate your point?
b. Get Participants Talking to One Another. Offer participants opportunities to talk to each other about their experiences, what they’re learning, what they want, etc. This brings more energy and attention to the group and brings new perspectives when shared with the larger group, creating a far more dynamic experience for everyone.
6. Give up Your Need to Look Good…and You Will Look Good! One of the greatest gifts we give to one another is the sharing of our honest thoughts and feelings. In a society overly concerned about “political correctness,” hearing someone share the truth of their experience is quite a gift. You can make a profound impact on your participants by transparently sharing your inner experience with them. This doesn’t mean that you necessarily share your every inkling, sensation, and observation. What and when we share should always be informed by the question, Will what I share further the group’s goals and support my intention?
I used to worry about looking good in my classes and in my workshops. I’ve since learned that my mistakes often offer the greatest lessons for my participants. One day during a Teleclass Leadership course I offered, the technology went awry in a big way. Things went so bad in fact that half of the hour-long class was “wasted,” or so I thought. Throughout the process, I was transparent about my concerns and decision-making process. Later, participants noted that if I could be ok with things coming unraveled, they could be too. My transparency gave them confidence that they could handle one of their biggest fears around leading teleclasses. Being transparent and human makes you approachable and has the potential of teaching real world lessons you couldn’t have planned. Being real builds trust. Building an image does not.
How might you adopt some of these tips the next time you’re in front of a room speaking, presenting, or training? Please share your questions, feedback, or experience in the comments section below. I’d love to hear from you.
Do you shiver in fear whenever you have to address a group? Fear of public speaking is all too common. What if only a change of mind could have you looking forward to these opportunities?
Do you find yourself comfortable speaking in front of groups but wish that you could get the audience to participate more? The role you take as a dynamic, high energy presenter may at times get in the way of your group’s progress.
So what can you do to engage and empower your audience without surrendering your strengths as a presenter?
I’ve helped myself and many others over the years get more comfortable with presenting by changing perspectives and drawing on some of the tools of facilitation. I’d like to offer you a 15-minute Presenter’s Rescue Consultation where you can bring your most pressing presentation challenge and I’ll do my best to help you make a shift. Contact me here with your interest and a brief description of your challenge.
Many presenters take advantage of the ease with which mountains of verbose slides can be produced in not time using PowerPoint. In truth, Death by PowerPoint became a cliche because presentations are usually designed by presenters, for presenters, making the creation of a lot of information way to easy. In this 30-minute Webinar, we look at mistakes to avoid, key mindsets and practices to breathe new life into your presentations, and potential barriers to enacting best practices.