Imagine the scene.
Hundreds of people are packed into an auditorium.
All eyes are on the speaker.
I walk onto the stage feeling tense and nervous. The butterflies in my stomach are definitely not flying in formation. I can feel all those eyes looking at me expectantly. How had I got myself into this situation and how was I going to get through it?
I was working for a US based IT company launching a new product at an industry trade show. We had worked for months on the presentation and agreed I would deliver the keynote and present our masterpiece. We rehearsed content and timings and I was ready.
Finally, the day came. I was introduced to the stage and completely tanked! I forgot most of what I was supposed to say, delivered the whole thing from a stationary position behind the lectern and riffled through my 40-minute presentation in about 15 minutes! It was horrible!
Looking back on that first presentation, I realise that, while we spent months on the content, we didn’t give any thought to my ‘mindset’ for the delivery.
Fast forward 20 years and I have now delivered thousands of presentations, to audiences as small as two or three and as large as tens of thousands; even millions if you count live television audiences. Through my experience, I have developed my own methodology, which I call Communicating with P.O.W.E.R.
P is for Presence
Thanks to Amy Cuddy’s excellent book Presence, there has been a lot focus on body language recently. In her famous Ted talk, she discusses how power posing can actually make you feel more powerful and by using this technique before important events you will be more successful. Presence works! In communication, however, presence is three fold: presence of mind, body and voice.
When I say presence of mind, what I mean is developing a mental connection with your audience. This can be as simple as asking a general question that is widely relatable, such as:
“Have you ever been in a situation where you were forced to make a difficult decision? “I have, let me tell you about it.”
(Are you thinking about a difficult situation now after reading that line?)
Or painting a picture in the heads of your listeners:
“As a young child growing up in Southern California, there was nothing like the fourth of July! Our neighborhood used to have a block party every year and the whole street would spend the day in our front gardens. To this day, I can still smell BBQ hotdogs and have fond memories of playing baseball with all of our dads in the sandlot next to our cul-de-sac, while our mothers sat around chatting and getting all the food ready for us to feast on after the big game! As soon as it got dark, our dads then began the DIY fireworks display, each one bigger than the last as they competed for title of “Dad with best fireworks.”
(Can you see it? Do you have a picture in your head?)
Developing this mental connection with your audience is perhaps one of the most important things a speaker can do and often the thing that is overlooked the most. Even in corporate settings, many presenters jump into the facts and figures of their presentation and fail to develop a rapport with their audience. If we take time to connect, be present in mind, we are priming our audience for what we are about to say.
Presence of body starts with Cuddy’s pre presentation power pose and continues throughout your talk. Thinking about your posture as you stand on stage and the way you move around the room is key here. When you are the presenter on stage, you immediately have a position of authority.
As we move around the stage, we can anchor the audience to our thoughts based on our position. For instance, if I move to the left and talk about a recent holiday, the audience will come on the trip with me and have happy thoughts. If I then move to the right and talk about the loss of my mother, the audience will also come on that journey with me and perhaps feel sad. The next time I move to those spots on the stage, I can elicit the same feelings in my audience with little to no effort. If I plan my stage movements accordingly then my audience is not only in sync with me but with each other, which enables them to receive the information I am delivering much more effectively. When we are on stage, we should be mindful of these finer points of our delivery, and move and speak with purpose and authority.
Finally, presence of voice will further emphasize your position. Our voices are wonderful things and provide light and shade to our stories. When used appropriately, emotion comes through our voices. Telling a story about how someone cut you off this morning in traffic on your way to the office will have a certain inflection and tone. Explaining to someone how to use a TV remote control will have another. Losing a loved one will have yet another and telling a joke at a dinner party will have another. These voice inflections will all help us to convey our message and when preparing for a presentation. Thought should be given to each of them and how to use them appropriately. I have developed a helpful acronym:
Speak to the E.A.R.S.
1. The Evangelist (think excited TV preacher – think getting cut off in traffic)
2. The Architect (think logical, disciplines – how to use the remote control)
3. The Romantic (think tenderness, vulnerable – losing a loved one)
4. The Stooge (think humour – telling a joke)
O is for Own it
When we are in front of an audience, we must remember that the stories we tell are ours! Whether it’s an after-dinner talk, a motivational speech or a sales presentation, they are our stories to tell and no matter what the size of the audience, storytelling is a conversation.
In my workshops I talk about owning your stories, owning your mindset and owning your relationship with your audience. All three of these areas will enable you to become a more confident, more capable speaker.
When we own our mindset, we begin to understand the triggers and behaviors that can potentially throw us off our game. Once we identify these triggers, we can then begin to understand that we are responsible for our metal state, and because of this, we can own our nerves, instead of our nerves owning us.
Finally, when we begin to own our stories and own our nerves then we can see the speaking task in front of us as a conversation and begin to learn to own the relationship with our audience. After all, it’s just a conversation!
W is for What is your purpose
Finding our purpose in speaking is one of the things that make good speakers great! When we find the thing that we are beyond passionate about, the thing that drags us out of bed in the morning and then drives us throughout the day, and we begin to talk about that thing, naturally, we come to life! Our talks become more engaging and our audience more engaged.
I have heard great talks on everything from what it’s like to be on a space station when it catches fire to the finer points of chartered accountancy and the thing that makes the difference, in both cases, is the passion and purpose of the presenter. I happen to be passionate about presenting. For me the opportunity to impact an audience is one of the main drivers in my life! What is it for you?
You can start defining your purpose by asking yourself some key questions:
What did you want to be when you were a kid?
If you were independently wealthy, how would you fill your days?
What sort of things do you talk to your closest friends about?
Starting with these questions may not reveal your purpose straight away, but will definitely put you on the right track!
E is for Evolve your thinking
Evolved thinking begins when you understand that, for good or for bad, you will have an impact on your audience. When we are in front of a group of people delivering a talk, the audience will naturally be affected by the stories you tell them. Perhaps as important is the fact the WE are affected by the stories we tell ourselves. We tend to tell ourselves stories about how we will perform, about how we will feel in front of the crowd and about how we will deliver our material. For many, this ‘self talk’ can be less than confidence inspiring and have an impact on your delivery. The good news is that we are in control of this self talk. In fact we are the ONLY ones in control of it. We can control our internal state by simply changing the script we run in our heads.
We all have programmes in our heads that we run based on input such as our experiences, our values, our memories and so on. Much like a computer programme may have a routine that says when the user pushes the letter A then put a letter A on the screen, our internal programmes may say something like, “When I am in front of a crowd I get nervous.”
Guess what? We are the programmers of our own minds and evolved thinking will allow us to change the programme. “When I am in front of an audience I am confident and will make an impact.” Understanding how your programmes are created and how you can change them will revolutionise your speaking abilities.
R is for Re-imagine Yourself
Re-imagining yourself becomes a culmination of the other four points discussed. I have worked with many athletes in my career and re-imagination, or visualization, is often key to success. Our brains have trouble differentiating between actual memories and projected memories, and visualizing your success in a situation over and over again will implant something special into your subconscious. Re-imagining yourself as a successful speaker, for instance, or delivering a stellar presentation in your upcoming board meeting will give you that extra edge. Having spent some time visualising your success, once you come to deliver your speech or presentation you will have a sense of familiarity because in your mind you have already been there and triumphed.
We all want to become the best speakers we can be whatever the context we are speaking in: the sales presentation, a conference speech, a wedding speech. Please make use of the tools I have presented to you here. If you are ready to practice and learn as you go along, you’ll be amazed at what you will eventually be able to achieve.
About the author
Bret Freeman is an award winning international speaker and member of Toastmasters International, a non-profit educational organisation that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of meeting locations. Headquartered in Rancho Santa Margarita, California, the organisation’s membership exceeds 352,000 in more than 16,400 clubs in 141 countries. Since 1924, Toastmasters International has helped people of all backgrounds become more confident in front of an audience. There are more than 300 clubs in the UK and Ireland with over 7,500 members. To find your local club: www.toastmasters.org Follow @Toastmasters on Twitter.