I recently saw a key note speaker at an event whose presentation left me with a very uncomfortable feeling. That was not his intention nor his objective. It got me thinking about some of the mistakes that are commonly made when presenting, and wondering how we unwittingly leave our audience feeling, about us and the subject matter we’re sharing.
For most people public speaking is pretty scary, at best, an unpleasant necessity to be avoided where possible and rushed through when escape is no longer an option. It can however, inform how people around you perceive you, your confidence and competence. It is also, often, important information you are sharing. If its not then why bother?
And that’s the first thing to consider, why bother? Is what you are saying vital for the people you are saying it to? Is this the best way of communicating this message? At the beginning your objective must be clear. Next is how. How you want people to feel at the end of your presentation. Not the murky uncomfortable feeling I had, I’m sure.
I have reflected on what happened during that presentation and I think there is universal learning to be had from a pronounced version of the mistakes and pitfalls we can all fall into.
The speaker was nervous, most of us would be. There’s a lot to be said for nerves when we can harness them for the good. They are energy, they are a desire to do well, they are an excitement and an aliveness that, if we can embrace them, we can use for the power of good. Nerves can make us shine with passion and enthusiasm for our subject matter. When those nerves work against us they stifle us, block our throats, restrict our voice and stop the breath we need to be heard and understood. Preparation is the key. If it’s a big presentation, rehearsal is vital, and not just alone, but with a trusted audience (even of one) so you can get a sense of those nerves and the adrenaline, so they don’t side-swipe you when the real time comes. Connecting to the breath that will anchor you through the most nerve wracking of speeches before you step out there, so your safety rope is in place to steady you if you wobble. Finding your physical strength, positioning and grounding will hold you and give you a solid platform from which to rise up and speak. There are more, many more ways in which you get yourself ready in mind and body. How many you use and for how long in advance will probably depend on how high the stakes are for you in your presentation.
Returning to ‘how you want people to leave your presentation feeling and thinking.’ Is there some change you want to make within them? Is there a request or simply a giving of information? Whatever it is, you need to be fully connected to that driver at all times, so you don’t sway off course.
For me, in the recent speech, the lack of connection to message went further, and I think to the heart of why I left feeling so uncomfortable. There was a disconnect between what he was saying and how he was feeling. He was talking about a difficult personal subject matter with the hopes to inspire us with his story. But there was a disconnect between the story he told and the emotions he chose to show us. As instinctual animals, humans pick up on this level of unconscious communication and it un-nerves us. We become worried. All is not right. Our brain tries to reconcile what it is seeing and what it is being asked to believe, with what it hears and knows must lie beneath.
We can all fall foul of this. Maybe our presentation contains bad news for some of the people we are addressing. Maybe we are not clear on what we are delivering but must look professional and as though we have all the answers. Perhaps we don’t agree with what we are saying but have a responsibility to deliver the news regardless. Maybe our own emotions feel so big that we are compelled to protect others from them. Whatever the disconnect, large or small, where there is one, you will have a negative and unwanted effect on your audience that will stay with them longer than the words you said or the diagrams you showed.
Truly great speakers are entirely authentic, they may also be feeling in the same circumstances as mentioned above, but the truly great have found their authentic voice. They will be willing to be vulnerable. To acknowledge their feelings, their misgivings, their mistakes even, and still be compelling and strong in their delivery. They will allow the audience to see their truth, which takes away the audience’s need to work hard to decipher the unconscious messaging and focus on the words you are compelled to share. That’s where success lies, in presentation, in the connection to self and the connection to message.
Without it, why bother?!