Listen to the audio version of this post here.


Are you willing to be seen?

And what does it mean to be seen, anyway? You’ll find synonyms like “stand out,” “catch the eye,” “be conspicuous.”

Talking with clients about this lately, I’ve been suggesting something a little different.

I have a sense they’re holding back, especially when they speak to a group, whether it’s in a conference room or on a Zoom screen.

And I don’t think they’re alone.

It can be a big challenge to show up fully and completely in those settings. With no pretense. No façade. No protective coloration. To be who we really are in front of other people who aren’t our close friends or family.

It’s also essential if you want to make a real connection with the people listening to you. If you hope to make an impact on them. If you intend to influence their thinking, much less their actions.

Masterful speaking isn’t about being conspicuous or flamboyant. It is about being real. Bringing your essential you-iness to the moment. Inviting your listeners into your world and being willing to enter theirs.

How does a person hide in front of an audience?

  • They start talking even before they take their place at the front of the room. Or they begin with meaningless chatter, sort of sliding into their speech as if they hope we won’t notice they’re “on.”
  • Their eyes dart around the room as if they’re seeing their audience, but they never really make eye contact with anyone. On virtual platforms, they look at their slides or the chat or the faces on the screen rather than through the camera.
  • Their hair covers part of their face, blocking some in the audience from seeing them full-on.
  • They wander around the stage or pace from side to side.
  • They race through their content, so even their most compelling stories and signature lines don’t really land.
  • They trail off at the end of their talk, sounding unsure about how to end.
  • They flee the stage the moment they say their final word, and sometimes even before that.

What to do instead?

  • Take your place, face your audience, and ground yourself. Breathe. Pause. Then open with an intriguing story, a strong statement, a startling statistic or something else that captures attention immediately.
  • Make eye contact with individuals in the room. Use the camera when you’re on Teams or Webex.
  • Remember your face is a spotlight. Shine it on the people in your audience. And don’t hide your light behind your hair!
  • Ground yourself, then move for a reason, then ground yourself again. A reason to move might be to convey a change in subject or the passage of time. Or to draw closer to a section of the audience. Or to illustrate a story.
  • Allow your words to make an impression on your audience. No matter how quickly you speak, make sure you pause to let your point sink in before you continue with the next topic. Stick the landing!
  • Take questions if you want to, then deliver your closing message like you mean it. This is where you tie your talk up with a big red bow and hand it over to your listeners. You might restate your main idea, issue a challenge, or suggest a course of action based on what they’ve heard from you.
  • Pause, as you did at the beginning, stay grounded at center stage, and breathe. If there’s a host or MC, wait for them to arrive on stage before you walk calmly and confidently off.

What does it take to be seen?

What you just read might seem like simple steps, the sort of thing any speaker would naturally do. If we’re standing there in front of an audience, of course we want them to see us and hear us, right? It just makes sense.

And yet …

Many of us have the opposite impulse, maybe at the non-conscious level. Part of us wants attention, influence, even admiration. And then there’s that other part. The part that hides our light under a bushel.

Here are two ways you can make a shift if you’re brave enough to decide you’re willing to share the whole of you.

Get grounded in your body.

Changing our physicality is one route to changing our internal state. I think it’s the most direct, effective route, by far.

I suppose I could talk to myself, argue with myself, even scold myself about my impulse to stay safe from scrutiny … and never really change anything on the outside.

Or I could consciously and deliberately plant my feet, sense their contact with the floor beneath me, fully inhabit my body, and breathe.

Here’s why it works. Even when I’m speaking to a group, my thoughts can be scattered. “That guy in the third row looks annoyed, what is he thinking?” “Is my hair okay?” “Wait, I just skipped something I meant to say.”

Likewise, my feelings can be all over the map. I’m worried about someone’s reaction. Self-conscious about my clothing. Upset about missing a line after I worked so hard to plan what I’d say.

My body can only be right here, right now. This place, this time, with this group. A lot of those distractions vanish when I stay with that.

You might want to try it right now. Sense your feet on the floor, your seat on the chair, and breathe from your belly. Notice how your state begins to change as you come back to yourself.

Put your attention on your audience.

The more focused I am on them, the less I’m noticing, much less worrying about, how I look or whether I sound smart, or if I should have said something a little bit differently. All the head-trash that can plague a speaker evaporates if I don’t give it any fuel.

Try this. Imagine a beam of energy traveling from you to each individual in the audience. You generate that energy, and they feel it, I promise you.

Now, if you take your focus off the audience and put it on yourself, what happens to those beams? They’re interrupted. They don’t reach the people in the seats. Instead they circle back to you … and that excess energy creates angst and agita.

Keep the beams traveling toward your listeners, and you’ll find there’s no excess energy to stir up self-doubt.

And listen, if you could use some help with any of this, please reach out. I’ve seen speakers accomplish amazing things when they manage their energy and use it to connect with the individuals in front of them.