Anxiety to Engagement

Do your audiences remind you of these masks? In my 35+ years helping emerging and accomplished leaders enhance their capacity to lead by becoming great speakers, I have noticed that all of them have expressed at least some hesitation, fear, anxiety, or pure terror at the prospect of facing their audience. On some level they are sure they will screw up, be harshly judged and will bring shame to their organization and themselves.

Why are we so very frightened? Certainly there is a herding animal phenomenon making us, on a primal level, react to being separated from the “herd”. And in that mindset we see our audience members, staring at us, as predators. Our bodies often behave in a fearful way as if we are about to drown in that huge wave of adrenaline we feel. Our habitual way of interpreting that rush of energy is to call it “fear”.

However, there are several simple strategies that can transform your experience. Because speaking/presenting is primarily a physical practice rather than an intellectual activity, the strategies we employ deal with the body of the speaker, not the content of the talk. By changing the way we physically respond to the “herd” and by practicing new habits we can shift from a feeling of loss to one of ease, engagement and effectiveness with our audiences, teams and groups.

If you feel challenged with the symptoms of fear: shortness of breath, shaky voice, rapid heartbeat, dry mouth, trembling, loss of memory, sweating, blushing and the rest, contact Connie for a 1-1 coaching program to cure your speaker’s anxiety or come to one of our new monthly Saturday morning workshops on September 23rd, October 21st or November 18th, 2017. See registration information here

Accessibility

Why do many presentations fail, leaving audience members confused, sleepy, restless, bored and wishing they had not wasted their precious time? Most likely the cause of this response is that the content was poorly constructed, not applicable to this audience, lacking in clarity, not engaging, and/or not memorable.

How can we avoid this kind of communication failure? We need to make our presentations accessible. In fact, if we can prepare our presentations with the sole focus to make our presentation accessible to at least 90% of our audience members, we will at the same time, make our job easier. If every choice we make in preparation holds up to a standard of accessibility, we will keep our audience members engaged and contributing to the success of the presentation.

What are the areas that will make the most difference? We first need to analyze our audience: who are they, what are their characteristics and how do they normally access information. What are their values and beliefs? Do they need more or less structure, data, images, verbal articulation, action, stories, participation, written information, etc. 

If our audience is mostly dependent on what they can see, we need to provide rich visuals in the form of well-designed charts, maps, and evocative images, or even rich verbal imagery, but not bullet points or text. 

Increasingly our audiences are more kinesthetic – dependent on interaction and participation. We need to find ways to engage them with questions, activities, and encouraging them to share their knowledge with each other.

The other crucial need is for clear structure and clear transitions, so our audience members are able to follow the arc of the presentation. A crisp introduction at the beginning and a crisp ending will give them that confidence and clarity that demonstrates your professionalism. To make transitions from one topic to another, you will need to end one discussion and begin another by telling your audience what you just finished and what you will address next. Think “white space.” Guide them through your presentation, like a camp counselor with a cabin full of newbies. Care for them.

Lastly, use repetition, repetition, repetition and avoid using acronyms unless you are positive that 90% of your audience uses them as well.

Keep thinking: ACCESSIBILITY. 

It’s About Time

Woman holding up clock

Have you ever attended a presentation when the presenter said, “We only have time for one more question,” or “We don’t have enough time today to address this part of the issue,” or “Our time is short so we will move quickly through this part”? Of course you have heard all of these references to time, often uttered in a worried tone.

Does it drive you crazy like it does me? What’s wrong in this picture?

The presenter is tasked with creating a presentation that fits in the timeframe described by the host. It is the presenter’s responsibility to create a short enough, simple enough presentation that the word “time” never has to come up. It is not the responsibility of the audience to deal with the presenter’s inability to fit within the given time.

In fact, it distracts from the core message of the presentation and gives your audience something to worry about. After all, we humans prize time more than almost anything else. We’re always saying we don’t have enough of it. So why remind the audience of something that makes them stressed when you don’t need to?  They don’t own the problem – you do.

If you are preparing a presentation, create a talk that is 5-10 minutes shorter than requested, so that if anything takes longer, you will still have enough time and will be able to experience that luxury all the way through.

If you find you are zipping along to fit everything in and a bit breathless, rather than speeding up, there are options. You are giving your audience too little “white space.” Pause and take a breath, so your audience members will be able to absorb all you just blurted out. Build pauses into your talk. If you don’t give your audience time to breath, they will forget what you said.

And if there are more questions than you have time for, simply say, ”I would love to address the rest of your questions. I’ll stick around after this session to talk with you. Or if you have to leave, please email me – my email address is on the bottom of the materials.” In other words, finesse the issue rather than trying to share the responsibility with the audience. You’ll look a lot better, enjoy yourself more and so will your audiences.

 

If you would like help organizing your speech and/or rehearsing your delivery, Connie can provide you the expert assistance you need. Look here for a list of her services.

Begin with Story

Storytelling

We all love a good story – stories reach us on so many levels. Over the course of the last year I have been searching for ways to help my clients enliven their presentations. Since the most memorable and pleasurable elements of presentations are the stories that are told to make the points accessible, I decided to focus there. Here are my current thoughts. Please share yours with me.

At least one-third of the people coming to me for help with their presentations habitually begin with a slide deck that they or someone else has designed. This is a challenging approach as they often struggle to refine and shape their talk after the bullet points and graphics have been created. The presentations end up being episodic, losing the through-line and core message.

Begin with a strong core message and 3 points that support that message. If you are not sure how to do that you may discover the 3 supporting points by doing a Mind Map related to your core message. (ask me how)

Another third of my clients show up with a written script – a first or second draft – that is written in long sentences and paragraphs By writing down their presentation in this narrative form they have made it difficult to vary from that narrative, to be more responsive to their audience in each moment. This is is made even more challenging when they attempt to memorize their script. If the speaker loses his/her place it is extremely difficult to pick up the thread.

Here is my new approach. Please do send comments.

  1. Brainstorm as many personal stories, stories you’ve read or heard, examples, what-if’s (stories about the future), or stories you’ve made up, for your core message and for each of your supporting points.
  2. Practice telling these stories, adding and subtracting from your list after you’ve told them, based on how pleasurable it is to tell the stories, which flowed easily, which had the strongest contrast and which moved the core message along most accessibly.
  3. Of those, choose the stories that support your points the most effectively. It’s OK to have several stories for each point and sub-points
  4. Fashion a path from the 1st story to the last, making sure it is like a river, flowing along with both rapids and stretches of slower and wider water.
  5. Think through the transitions and place them in between the stories. Think of yourself as a guide taking them from one experience to another.
  6. Add the Beginning or introduction and the Ending or conclusion. (Ask me for my Presentation Outline for ideas)
  7. Plot a beginning and ending sentence for the whole presentation.

This should make your presentation lively, engaging and memorable and be a great pleasure for you to deliver!

Curious about our workshops and retreats? Look HERE

Be the Light

As we sat around the table on Winter Solstice this past holiday season, the warmth from the golden tablecloth, the candlelight and sharing yellow food and drink together conspired to make us feel that the Sun would soon be with us once again. The intimacy of our conversation, the relaxed pleasure of taking this special time together – etched memories that will feed me all year. I will keep my vision of that glowing table in my memory especially during these dark winter days to help me stay warm and fired up, inspired.

Meanwhile, my thoughts keep going back to the enormous inspirational power of that warm, glowing light at our Solstice table. And, as I am looking forward into this New Year, I think about the opportunity we have as speakers to bring warmth and light to our audiences, and to share our true selves, as we did around that Solstice table.

As speakers we shed light on issues and new ideas. We create enlightening talks. We can be the light for our audiences when we model the courage every speaker exhibits.

This year, this month, right now, I invite you to step up, raise the stakes and communicate with a glowing intensity. Rather than reaching for some sort of imagined perfection, choose connection. Bring new, fresh, beginner’s enthusiastic energy to your audiences. Share yourself. Be open. Be bold. Be hopeful. Be profoundly interested in what your audiences will teach you. Be the light!

 

If developing your speaking skills is a goal for this year, contact Connie. She will help you identify what stands between you and your ability to be a compelling speaker. She will help you clarify your messages and learn new ways to practice, using video recording, written materials and expert coaching.

Clarity & Reflection


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To speak with clarity is a luscious space. The room is quiet. Your voice is a luminescent bell. You make such sense, yet there is some spice there as well – you play with your audience. Pleasurable, such flow.

Because you are so clear in your presentation structure, because you are freed by that stability you are able to improvise in the moment, draw out the humor, find new insights and be steered internally by an immense curiosity about the audience members and their needs. You stick to your outline, but you feel free to take the time to connect with those who have come to collaborate with you and your presentation, interact with them, sharing stories and insights.

And when your presentation has finished, a kind of bonding has taken place: you were clear in your introduction, clear in your content, clear in your closing. You are mixed emotionally as you are feeling both the joy and relief of coming together with your audience members in that way. You feel satisfaction and anticipation about how this audience will pass on the experience of the day to others.

Our last practice tip about clarity spoke more about the mechanical aspects of clarity – putting together a well constructed presentation.

This time let’s look at reflection and the value of the clear reflection. When you speak, communicating information, feelings, your audience listens. When they have heard you say something that they feel stimulated by, they pause and take it in. They naturally reflect. This is the way they absorb it, digest it, embrace it and make it enough of their own to be able to communicate it to others later. They are your messengers. They need time in which to do this.

Do not rush through your key information, but do not reign in your passion for your subject either. Plant your ideas clearly and then give your audience members time to reflect before you go on to your next main point. In many situations you can even ask them to reflect back to you their thoughts and feelings about the information and how they will use it. This is a great way to cross pollinate within the knowledge, experience, creativity of your audience members making your  presentation far more valuable to all.

If you would like to learn more about how to create a clear and sturdy structure making it easier to prepare and give your presentations – take advantage of this timely opportunity to participate!

WORKSHOP – SPEAKING WITH CLARITY: Creating Viral Presentations

   
 

Go Viral

Go Viral

I have come to think of my audiences a little differently than I once did. If you take a look at the dynamic function of your audience, you can see that ideally these individuals are really not simply the end receivers of your presentation’s core message. Rather, you want them to be so informed and enthused that they become your messengers, carrying your message accurately back to their teams, colleagues, friends, community members and constituents. Your audience members are your messengers!

How do you accomplish this? Clarity of structure and content. Make it easy for them to remember your message. Make it accessible, vivid and sticky.  Here’s how:

  • Create a simple, clear, memorable core message, repeating it at least 3 times during your presentation.
  • Choose no more than 3 main points to support that core message.
  • Choose visual images, kinesthetic activities, stories and interactive elements for each main point and sub-point.
  • Guide your audience members through your presentation clearly with a crisp beginning and ending, a strong structure, opportunities for them to participate if appropriate and evocative stories.

By carefully constructing your presentation in this way you will have the best chance of sending your audience member messengers out into the world, spreading your message and increasing your ability to circulate your ideas.

•   •   •   •   •   •   •   •

If you would like help with developing clear messages and using storytelling look HERE.

What Shall I Do with my Hands?

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When I was a professional actress performing in regional theaters my fans would consistently ask me, “How did you learn all of those lines?” Of course the answer to that was, ”I read and walked and practiced those lines for hours and hours.” In other words, lots of hard work.

Since I have been a speaking coach to executives and policymakers the most common question I am asked is, “What shall I do with my hands?” My clients are frustrated by the sensation they experience when they are up in front of a group – their hands and their whole body in some cases seem foreign, detached, uncooperative, out of synch with their words.

My guess is that because we feel so vulnerable, so exposed when we are at the podium, there is a self-protection mechanism that wants us to be able to physically fight. Our brains are reacting to the adrenalin rush, throwing us off balance and in that state we see the audience as“predators” who will kill or abandon us. So the body responds by urges to fight or flee. But we are not fighters and we cannot just leave the podium – so we are left with the strange sensation in our arms and hands, feeling awkward.

This reminds me of another phenomenon related to our arms and hands. In our dreams when we are being physically attacked we find that our arms and hands don’t respond. They seem detached, won’t defend us and we suddenly wake up from the dream, quite relieved to find out it was only a dream. The physical sensation is quite similar. What do you think? Does this sound familiar or do you have another theory?

As a speaker what can we do to counteract this uncomfortable sensation? In a workshop, a speaker’s retreat or private coaching session we focus on being fully IN the body, finding how to stay in it, to use it, and to enjoy its capacity to express our ideas and feelings effortlessly. We explore the mind/body connections and learn a series of exercises and strategies to employ for our next presentations. We plan to use our body to tell our stories and make our points, to speak from the whole body, not just the head. This frees us to forget about our hands and ourselves and focus instead where it needs to be – on our audience.

Transforming Fear

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In my 35 years helping emerging and accomplished leaders enhance their capacity to lead by speaking effectively, I have noticed that all of them have expressed at least some hesitation, fear, anxiety, or pure terror at the prospect of facing their audience.

On some level they are sure they will be harshly judged and could bring shame to their organization and themselves. Why are we so very frightened? Certainly there is the herding animal phenomenon making us, on a primal level, react to being separated from the “herd” and see our audience members as predators. Our bodies often behave in a fearful way as if we are about to drown in that huge wave of adrenalin we feel. Our habitual way of interpreting that rush of energy is to call it “Fear.”

Being curious about habits, I have learned that it is extremely difficult to break a habit without substituting another habit for the one we trying to break. You may have noticed in your own life when you are feeling down you might choose to eat junk food or drink alcohol or watch a lot of TV. But if you choose instead to go for a walk, take a shower, take a nap, meditate, be in nature or dance you are choosing a positive, energizing activity that transforms your emotional state from negative to positive.

I have discovered that we can do the same thing with fear. It’s a matter of interpretation and choice. Rather than allowing myself to dwell on my negative feelings about the “predators” in my audience, I prepare for the certain adrenalin rush by reminding myself that I will have the opportunity to meet new fascinating and resourceful people. Sometimes I look at my audience in the receptive way I would if I were in a bakery looking at all of the beautiful and delicious pastries, each one a little different in look and taste. It is like the way I approach the flowering plants in a garden I haven’t visited before. Each variety and stage of growth fascinates me and gives me pleasure. I have a receptive attitude, anticipating pleasure rather than dread.

The very next time you are preparing for a presentation, and feeling fearful, remember you have the choice of interpretation. You don’t need to drown. Surf that adrenalin rush and be happy that wave gives you the energy to share your message with 20 people or 500.

Expect pleasure! Enjoy it!

 

Do you still feel challenged with the symptoms of fear: shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, dry mouth, trembling, loss of memory, sweating, blushing, and the rest? Contact Connie for a coaching engagement to cure your anxiety.

The Perfect

Hundred PercentI expect you have heard the saying, “the perfect is the enemy of the good,” attributed to Voltaire, an 18th century French Enlightenment writer, historian, and philosopher, famous for his wit. This makes a lot of sense – we’ve had too many experiences when we struggled to create a perfect version of a presentation, spent a lot of time and energy on it, and in the end felt we had fallen into a black hole.

Really, how important is it to have created a presentation so refined that when we are giving it we are so married to each word, each phrase, that the pleasure of presenting drains away as we struggle to remember all of the perfectly crafted phrases we worked so hard on last week or even last night?

And, as Wikipedia says, “Achieving absolute perfection may be impossible and so, as increasing effort results in diminishing returns, further activity becomes increasingly inefficient.”

I remember reading an article about Mali’s culture that said they do not believe trying to achieve perfection is proper, that it insults the Creator as only the Creator is perfect.

My observation of my clients over 35 years and of my own subjective experience is that when we are focused on achieving The Perfect, the dynamic that kind of intention produces in the presenter’s mind prevents the presenter from being present, creative, receptive to the audience or flexible and adaptive to the actual situation.

Instead the presenter is stuck on a one-way track that was created only in their mind in the past. In other words, The Perfect is the enemy of the miraculous, the transcendent and the transformative. It limits our ability to inspire our audiences and tends to make us sound canned, insincere, and hollow.

My recommendation is to work from an outline that allows flexibility, like a simple recipe, where you are able to substitute ingredients or adjust the taste. This will allow you to adjust to the circumstances you find in the room, play off your audience’s responses, go off on a riff when the situation calls for it, invite participation and expect miracles.

Now, isn’t that going to be a lot more fun?