"There's only one reason I registered for your class," stated a young man who worked for a top accounting firm. He was in my public speaking class at New York University. He went on to explain that every time a partner would shoot a question at him in meetings, he would freeze. This happened even when he knew the answers. With a little probing it became evident that he believed he had to respond rapidly.
Has this ever happened to you? You feel you're under the gun. It may be a high stakes meeting a job interview, or media appearance. It could be a panel presentation where you freeze in response to a moderator's question. There are times when presenters feel like they're speaking in the line of fire. Scientists at Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute published research that indicated that when someone perceives group members as having higher status, it can affect problem solving abilities with a decline in "expression of IQ". What happens in the brain is the amygdala (primitive brain) takes over the pre-frontal cortex (thinking brain). But high pressure situations don't have to derail your presentation.
Here are 8 tips to stay cool under pressure:
1. Prepare. If you're going into a pressure situation, know the players and anticipate their questions. Don't wing it. Plan your answers and if you're really nervous, practice your answers out loud.
2. Gather allies. Talk to a few people in the meeting and learn how they feel about an issue. Float your ideas with key players before the meeting to gain buy in or support.
3. Ground your energy. Right before the meeting, do a 1 to 5 minute mediation by using your smart phone. Take a Break and Headspace are two popular apps. You'll feel less nervous if you assume a grounding position. Lean forward at a 15 degree angle and rest your hands on the table.
4. Pause and think. You're not required to give a rapid fire response. You're not speaking against the clock. Take a breath and think before you speak You need time to construct your answer.
5. Ask a question. Clarify your understanding of the question. "Are you asking about the efficacy of the product or the time to market?" Clarifying will buy you time and will endure clear communication.
6. Answer concisely. A response that is short and to the point will prevent you from being taken off track. Provide further details if asked but don't get stuck in minutia. (See tip #1)
7. Don't repeat negative language. In the case of a hostile query, rephrase the question to sound neutral. Question: "Are you gonna screw up like the last project?" Answer: "You're concerned about the quality of the output. I can assure you we've learned from our past mistakes and this is what we're doing to ensure success." This allows you to take control.
8. Get a coach. If you find that you continue to freeze up continually there may be a memory or past experience that triggers the anxiety. A coach can identify limiting beliefs and provide confidence building techniques.
The young man in the public speaking class learned to use tip #3. As a result, he was able to hold his own in meetings and no longer froze when asked a question. Most public speakers don't like presenting under pressure. But pressure is inevitable. When you practice these tips you'll be able to speak in the line of fire. What is the tip that most resonates with you?
Professional speakers got a peak into the future on February 16th to the 18th as hundreds of speakers descended on Baltimore for the NSA Winter Conference on the Future of Speaking. With the changing marketplace, speakers were eager to learn the direction of the speaking industry and the changing role of public speaking.
The conference, which was held at the Marriott Waterfront hotel, was designed by two amazing co-chairs, Sylvie diGuisto and Ben Wolff. They did not disappoint. The theme and music were futuristic and included interaction with a robot.
Speakers experienced something for the first time-they met the "other NSA". David Hogue, from the National Security Association spoke about A Day in the Life of Cybersecurity, a topic that no one can ignore.
The Million Dollar Speakers Group shared how they reached the million dollar level and recommended attending the Consumer Electronics Show in order to see the future. The conference attendees were treated to Future in Five presentations. Each presentation was five minutes, a type of mini Ted Talk and covered topics such as Teaching, Meetings, Disabilities, Emerging Technology, Timeless Wisdom, and Asking Powerful Questions. The concurrent sessions were conducted as labs and covered the Future of Thought Leadership, The Future of Storytelling, and the Future is Global: Using Online Summits to Reach Billions.
On Saturday and Sunday morning, Jeffrey Hayzett, Founder of C-Suite Network, conducted two breakfast meetings-one on podcasting and the other on book marketing. The early start time of 7:15 was not a deterrent as the room was packed and the audience energy was high. The conference culminated with a futuristic program called Imagine the Future. In a theater-in-the-round setting, the audience of speakers listened to presentations on The Imagine Stage, Imagine the Future of Marketing, Imagine Physical Media in a Digital World, Imagine Mobile Technology Revolutionizing the Speaking Business, and one of the highlights, Imagine Content Creation in A World with Creative Machines. Drew Tarvin took us through an enactment of crafting a presentation. Only he wasn't in front of a laptop. Using artificial intelligence Drew spoke to an Alexa or Siri type voice, where he asked questions to which the voice responded with research, ideas, jokes, etc. The categories or topics appeared on the screen as he made his requests. It brought new meaning to the experience of "hearing voices".
Before closing the conference , the new CEO of National Speakers Association, Mary Lue Peck, was interviewed on stage. She acknowledged that associations and the speaking profession will have to change and one step for being ready for the future was to focus on data analytics. The attendees left with new ideas, new technology, and new friends. The future looks exciting.. And the future is now!
Roger (not his real name), a financial services leader, was newly promoted. He was well respected in his company and he was considered a good choice for this new role...until the first executive meeting! Roger prepared for hours and pored through all the numbers. He knew his material and was ready for questions. He created a presentation deck and proceeded to take the team through the slides. Ten minutes into the presentation, he looked up to see the partners’ eyes glazing over. He could feel the sweat on his forehead and started speaking faster. Having lost their patience, the partners began shooting rapid-fire questions. Roger didn't see this coming.
How often has this scenario played out? It could be an executive meeting, a sales, call, or a group interview. The presenter looked the part, knew the content, but it was the wrong context. In Roger’s case, he was so accustomed to reporting numbers that he believed that was what the partners expected. But in his new role, he needed to speak at a higher level, report trends, and make recommendations. His executive presence was being compromised because he lacked executive voice. Executive voice requires a visionary view, with a focus on the enterprise. not the details. He was still the subject matter expert, but the context had changed. And this is how presenters derail. They look like they have executive presence but they lack an executive voice.
Executive voice requires the leader or presenter to not only have the content but to understand the context or role.
For example, if the presenter is the subject matter expert, the context or role would most likely be to lead the meeting and to make decisions. If there were several leaders participating, their roles would be to provide input and connect the dots for the listeners without overshadowing the leader. If a participant were in a learning mode, the context or role would be to listen and observe.
Executive voice is about clarity, meaning that the ability to speak concisely will garner attention and respect, as well as, the ability to modulate the voice. The voice of authority is direct, even toned, with the right amount of projection. Rising inflections will detract from vocal authority and convey emotionality. The voice of authority doesn’t get rattled in an emotional storm; rather, the speaker sticks to the facts.
To develop an executive voice, be part of the solution. Develop strategic relationships. Do some homework to understand the context and know your role.
Have you ever been told in the workplace that you're too emotional? Or are you considered low affect and lacking energy? Leaders with executive presence convey passion. We're reminded that passion sells and that leaders need to be persuasive communicators if they expect their teams to follow their lead. So what's the sweet spot? It's like the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. The first soup was too hot, the second soup was too cold but the third soup was "just right".
Where is the dividing line between passion that conveys gravitas and passion that results in a loss of credibility? The answer is Controlled Passion. Let's take an example from Hollywood. When the actress Halle Berry was the first African American actress to win an academy award, she delivered an emotional speech. It was an historical moment, a moment wrought with emotion. Her passion was on full display but she became unglued and cried through her speech. This was passion out of control.
When Steve Balmer, former CEO of Microsoft, took the stage, his passion was over the top. It took on a clownish quality, like a bad imitation of a motivational sales rally. His audience may have liked it, but then, he was the CEO. And you know what they say-Rank has It's Privilege. But for anybody else that kind of unbridled passion could be a career killer. It's certainly not the definition of executive presence.
So what is Controlled Passion? Recently, Oprah Winfrey was the first African American woman to receive the coveted Cecil B. Demille Life Time Achievement award. She delivered her acceptance speech amidst the backdrop of the Me, Too movement protesting sexual assault. All the women wore black in solidarity. The stage was set for an emotional explosion but that didn't happen.
Oprah was poised, measured, and passionate. She commanded the stage and began speaking with an even tone. She employed rhetorical techniques of storytelling, self disclosure and word pictures. Her body language was congruent as she literally stood her ground. Verbally, her words clearly depicted the pain of injustice and were punctuated by the gravity of her tone. She masterfully integrated the pause to allow the message to sink into the hearts of the audience. Oprah raised her voice as she culminated with a call to action. With a raised fist, and a louder impassioned tone she called for a time when "nobody would ever have to say Me, Too."
There were no tears, her movements were not staccato, her pace was not rushed. Oprah owned the room and held her ground. She exuded a power that comes from an inner belief in herself and her message. The message came through her and not from her. And that's controlled passion.
When you hear those words you're transported back to childhood when you loved hearing a story. That love of stories never left us as adults. What left us was the practice of telling stories. As we developed our logical brain and entered the workplace, we valued facts and information. We learned to speak in soundbites, write bullet points, and get to the point.
The downside of that kind of public speaking is we don't feel the message and we don't engage with the speaker. It's too easy to tune out. The best public speakers are storytellers. Just look at the popularity of TED Talks.
So why are stories so powerful? Because they talk directly to the heart. Here are tips to tell your story and move from speaking to the mind to capturing the heart.
1. Grab attention with a hook. In childhood, the hook was Once Upon a Time. For adult audiences, open with a problem or a desired dream. You'll know you have it when you see the audience nodding.
2. Engage all the senses. Build a scenario that is visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. That means they can picture you in a scene, they can hear what you would hear and they can feel what it was like for you. When I tell the story of first meeting Charlie, I describe his limp, jellyfish handshake. It was like shaking hands with a squid. As I describe that handshake, I can see the audience grimace. Sometimes I hear groans. That's because the audience is experiencing that weak handshake viscerally with me.
3. Create conflict. Most movies and stories follow a pattern. In its simplest form, it would be Boy Gets Girl, Boy Loses Girl, Boy Gets Girl Back. Without the tension of conflict, the story falls flat. Take your listeners on a journey from high to low to high.
4. Break the pattern. The audience will expect a logical, linear flow which means they will tune out because the pattern is predictable. So use a "pattern interrupt" to shock them out of complacency. Think of a movie that has an unexpected twist at the end. When I finish telling the story of meeting Charlie and his limp handshake, I add that when I told this story to an audience of 100, a man in the audience raised his hand and said... At that moment I hear gasps because the audience expects that it's Charlie in the audience. I then finish by saying, "He pointed to the person next to him and said, "This woman wants to know if you still have Charlie's phone number." It gets a laugh. They weren't expecting that twist.
5. Use analogies and metaphors. Rock star, Bruce Springsteen, wrote a line in his song I'm on Fire that goes..
"At night I wake up in the middle of the night with the sheets soaking wet with a freight train running through the middle of my head."
That metaphor of a freight train is a vivid description of a hangover or headache. He could have said:
"I woke up at night sweaty with a bad headache." Which is more powerful? Which do you feel?
6. Get Personal. Nothing is more compelling than telling YOUR story. A good actor can tell someone else's story as if it were her own, but most of us don't have that skill level. There is an element of vulnerability when telling a story. The audience will connect with a public speaker faster and more intently when that presenter reveals herself. Take your audience on your journey. By sharing your flaws and mistakes you become more relatable and authentic. Then bring them with you on your path to success.
Talk facts and the audience may nod. Tell a story and they'll stand and cheer. And that's the power of story to connect heart and mind to make impact!
The news is full of allegations of sexual abuse against women by men in the media. It prompted my friend to ask me if I had ever encountered inappropriate sexual advances. She told me she hadn't found one woman who didn't. I had to think for a minute. And then the situations started to surface-from the subway perverts to the inappropriate comments on the street or at work. Fortunately, my job was never compromised and I didn't have to make those hard choices.
As women professional speakers, we work for ourselves but it means that we encounter a lot of different decision-makers and travel to a variety of venues. We don't often hear our female speakers talking about this subject. Maybe it's not prevalent for keynoters whose business model is often "one and done". Regardless of the business model, women will encounter unwanted advances in their travels. How you present yourself can be a deterrent or invitation.
Here are some thoughts on how to avoid these situations:
Protect your reputation. You are always on stage even when the show is over. Don't show favoritism to any particular gentleman before or after the speech. The reverse can happen. One male speaker spent time speaking to a woman after his speech. He was chastised for 'trying to pick her up". That wasn't the case. She approached him with questions and he thought he was being helpful by conversing instead of rushing out of the ballroom. Rumors start quickly. Be friendly, not flirtatious.
Don't get into an elevator with a male partnerwhen retiring for the night. When co-training, wait until there is a group entering the elevator or wait for the next one. All it takes is one person to see you and your speaking partner get in the elevator together. Ask for rooms on separate floors.
Do not dress provocatively. Aim for professionally attractive-not sexy. It's tempting for women to dress up for a cocktail hour and want to look like a glamazon. We can still look beautiful without the cleavage, slit skirt, and bare back.
Socialize in groups instead of pairing off. We all want to network with key people but if you spend the evening with Mr. Wonderful it may not be wonderful when you hear the talk the next day. Circulate and speak to as many people as possible.
Make an appearance but decline seedy invitations. Say no to strip clubs or other similar establishments. Sounds like common sense, right? If you're a convention speaker in a male-dominated industry, the guys will want to party. If you join them at strip clubs, you'll feel uncomfortable and probably have to ward off unwanted attention from them or the patrons of the establishment.
Never meet the meeting planner or host in his hotel room. If your prospect or client is staying at a hotel, agree to meet in the lobby or offer to take them to a restaurant of your choice. Once you meet in the room, you lose credibility. The question asked will be, "Why did she go to his room?"
Appear business-like. Whether the meeting is a sales call or for networking, bring a notebook and pen. Be cordial but let it be known from your behavior that this is a business meeting and not a date. For single women, if you're meeting with a group of men and you're the only female, it doesn't hurt to wear a wedding band. It may discourage their advances.
Limit yourself to one drink. In social situations, most people enjoy the cocktail hour. Alcohol can loosen inhibitions so know your limit. When I worked on Wall Street, holiday parties were a big drinking fest. I'm not much of a drinker, so I would attend the first party and start with something non-alcoholic. By the time I arrived at the last party, I'd have one glass of wine. It's easy to lose track so the one drink guideline can be a good way to stay alert and in control.
Put the car key in your hand when going to the parking lot. I find many women do this intuitively. By having your key in your hand before you enter the parking lot, you'll avoid fumbling and digging through your bag. And there'll be less opportunity for someone to approach you from behind.
Have a strategy for off-color remarks. Some comments are intentional but others are a result of having too much to drink. The person may need to save face if the remarks were not intended. Some women laugh it off and walk away. If you have the wit of Joan Rivers, you can deliver a quick comeback. Or you can choose to "not hear " it and immediately introduce them to someone else at the event. (John, have you met Roy?)
When dealing with unwanted comments, get very serious. Confront the perpetrator by letting him know it's not appropriate. One woman was asked about her weekend. She said that she went to the beach. The interviewer said, "I bet you look good in a swimsuit". She looked at him quizzically and said "Excuse me?" That was the end of his remarks.
Even the most professional women may encounter unwanted advances when least expected. The best defense is to have a strategy.
What have you done to protect yourself from compromising situations?
I'm swimming with the sharks! Last year I learned from Kevin O'Leary of Shark Tank. His relaxed public speaking style was delightful. O'Leary was a real storyteller. During his presentation he even predicted Trump's election!
This month I got to hear my favorite shark, Daymond John. He kicked off the C-Suite Advisors Network NYC Thought Summit on December 5th where I had the honor of speaking about Perfecting Your Presence. Unlike Kevin O'Leary, he didn't give a formal presentation. He was invited to give a fireside chat on the main stage. Daymond was interviewed by Jeffrey Hayzlett, Founder of C-Suite Network. They traded stories of success and failure in business. Daymond talked about his Shark Tank team members and how he got along with all of them. He addressed the importance of team members in business and hiring people who were smarter than he. The conversation took a number of turns, addressing the value of finding a mentor and not waiting for success to happen. He revealed that the downside of success is the "demands on you are so crazy that you sacrifice your family, your health, and time/life balance. You can also drown in opportunities. If you're not focused on the one thing - you can spread yourself too thin". Additionally, he credited his mother for the lessons she taught him. The main public speaking lesson I learned from him was to be authentic and vulnerable. Both Daymond and Jeffrey are straight shooters and exhibited a "take it or leave it" attitude when it came to their presentation styles.
During the live on-stage interview, there was no 5 second delay button and both let out an expletive more than once. It suited the audience of entrepreneurs and one got the impression that it wouldn't matter anyway. He is the same person on and off the stage. And that's presentation power!
Clearly, Daymond was the main star, but the event was energized by panels, five minute showcases, and group masterminds.
If you're ready to conquer fear of public speaking (and even if you're not) here are 3 strategies that will help you to appear confident:
Manage your Mind. Manage your Body. Manage your Message
Fear is mental so the first step is to Manage your Mind. Most people invite fear by accepting a negative story. They see themselves as nervous and view the audience as the enemy. Visualization will allow you to change the picture. Create the desired picture in your mind . What do you want to see, hear, and feel?
Example: Close your eyes. See yourself in your mind's eye as you confidently approach the audience. See the audience smiling and nodding with approval. Hear the clarity and conviction in your voice as you begin your presentation. Hear the thunderous applause. See yourself standing tall and walking off with confidence. Feel what it's like to know you gave a knockout presentation.
Once you're visualized the outcome you desire, give voice to your picture. Choose to say positive affirmations out loud: "I am confident", "I am dynamic", "I know my subject". The subconscious mind is literal. It believes every word you say. Let your words have power. You get to choose.
With the right mindset you can Manage your Body. Assume the body language of confidence. Before the presentation, stand with your hands on your hips like Superman or Superwoman. Hold the position for two minutes. This is based on research from Amy Cuddy from Harvard University. You'll gain a surge of testosterone, the courage hormone. Stand tall with your shoulders back and feet shoulder width apart. This is a grounding position which will make you look and feel confident.
Tune in to the audience. Visually divide the room into sections and look at one individual in each section for one or two sentences. This creates a one-on-one connection which is more intimate and less nerve racking. Take in some deep belly breaths to center your body and slow down a racing heart. Next, find the acupressure point on your third finger between the knuckle and base of the hand. This will reduce anxiety. (From the book, Success Under Stress by Sharon Melnick).
The last strategy is to Manage your Message. You can know all the mind-body techniques but without a clear, compelling message, you'll lose focus. To create clarity, start with the end in mind. Write your intended outcome for the presentation and create bullet points to keep you conversational. Practice the Rule of Three. Create 3 agenda items, 3 main points, 3 benefits. Then, tell your story. The Rule of Three will help you to be concise and storytelling will foster a connection with the audience. You'll become more present and you'll lose your self consciousness.
You can conquer fear of public speaking. Choose confidence and practice these 3 strategies: Manage your Mind, Manage your Body and Manage your Message. Now go out and give a Knockout Presentation.
Can you hear me now? How often have you said that to somebody while talking on your phone? Suddenly there is silence and the call drops. You wonder what happened.
Well, this scenario happens too often with audiences. This past weekend I attended a conference where many of the speakers were, let's say, microphone challenged. In addition, the audio level was so low that it didn't amplify past the first few rows. As a result, the message wasn't heard, a sales opportunity was lost, and the audience was frustrated.
Here's what to know about using a microphone:
Do a Sound Check. Arrive early and listen to the speakers before you. If you have any difficulty hearing the speaker, contact the AV technician to amplify the sound until it can be heard by all. And, "Can you move up front? " is not an acceptable solution.
Stay in Your Zone. When moving across a room, if you walk too close to the speakers, it will set off ear piercing feedback. Practice walking during a rehearsal with a live microphone to test your walking space.
Know Your Microphones. The type of microphone you use will present different challenges.
Attached.Many lecterns have a microphone built in. This is the least desirable model because it requires you to stay glued behind it. When using an attached mic, position it so it’s close enough to your mouth to pick up sound but not so close that you’re swallowing it. You shouldn’t have to lean in to talk. Keep your head up and speak directly to the crowd. And be careful not to turn your head. One speaker I know turned his head each time he projected a new slide. When he turned to look at the screen, people in the audience couldn’t hear what he was saying.
Handheld. Some presenters prefer a handheld microphone. It gives them something to do with their hands. You’ll need to practice holding this kind of microphone the right distance from your mouth. If it’s too close, you’ll get extra plosion when pronouncing “p” and “b” words. One way to minimize these sound effects is to request a windscreen. A windscreen is a spongy net-like covering for the head of the mic. For men with beards, don't touch the mic to your chin or you'll hear a scratchy sound. If it’s too far away, it won’t pick up your voice. Don't hold the microphone against your chest. It will change the tone. Clasp it in the middle of your hand and hold it out from your body. Check to see that the switch is turned on. When you plan to have audience interaction, request an additional handheld microphone to pick up questions and comments from the audience.
Cordless.This is the microphone of choice. It’s compact, it clips onto your lapel, and the battery pack is placed in your back pocket or clipped to your waist. It’s lightweight so that you can forget about it, and you don’t have to worry about tripping over cords. One cautionary note to female presenters: Wear a suit with a jacket. There will be no place to attach the battery pack to a dress unless you have a belt. And a jacket will hide it from the audience should you suddenly pivot.
One other word of caution: if you’re going to take a break, be ever vigilant about turning off the mic. One woman forgot to turn it off when she went to the restroom. Talk about embarrassing moments! An advantage of the cordless is you can gesture with both hands. Be conscious of your gestures, If you pound your chest to make a point, it will sound like an explosion.
Rehearse with a Microphone. Don't wait until the day of your presentation. Practice with the microphone before your talk. Test the right distance for your voice. If you are soft-spoken, place the microphone closer to your mouth. If you are louder pull it further away so that you're not yelling. One speaker held the microphone at chest level but the volume was too soft. Finally, the speaker projected and said "I'm usually loud." She thought she had to soften her voice when using a microphone. Be natural and project. And you'll never have to say, "Can you hear me now?"
Are you satisfied with your life? It's National Evaluate Your Life Day and what good timing. It's the fourth quarter of the year and there's still time to meet your communication goals.
The quality of your life depends on the quality of your communication. Have you been putting off working on your presentation and communication skills? Take a moment to evaluate the effectiveness of your communication. How would you rate your self in these areas?