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Whether you’re in front of one potential client or a whole roomful of people … you’re more likely to get what you want when you show up as the real you.
For most of us, the more eyeballs looking back at us, the harder it is to be our genuine selves.
We might start to think we have to put on an act of some sort. We might start putting on an act without even thinking about it. And when that happens, we’re not doing the audience – or ourselves – any favors.
People who plan big conferences will tell you some popular, polished, professional speakers are in less demand these days because authenticity is all the rage. And if audiences want the pros to be authentic, they surely want the same from you when you speak to your professional association or in a networking meeting on Zoom.
Instead of a speech, presentation, or performance—think conversation.
The speeches, presentations and performances have become old hat. What your audience really wants from you is you.
That’s exactly what you need to give them.
No orating, no pontificating, no lecturing. Just talk with them. If you share something valuable with them, so much the better. We love conversations that leave us smarter or more knowledgeable than before.
Use natural language.
Stay away from stiff or formal. Sometimes when we take the “stage” we get preoccupied with grammar and vocabulary and our own need to sound smart.
The result is potentially an extremely formal sentence structure that does not resemble actual speech because it contains too many clauses and multisyllabic words, and it does not include the contractions that most individuals use when they are conversing with fellow human beings.
And it does include three-syllable words where one would do.
Let them see you as you really are.
Well, yes, there are limits. I wouldn’t show up to speak as I really am when I roll out of bed in the morning. Some things, an audience doesn’t need to see.
And, it’s easy to get caught up presenting a façade that turns into a barrier between speaker and listeners.
The more you can be your own imperfect self, the more your audience will connect with you. That connection is critical if you want to influence them. And of course, you wouldn’t be speaking if you didn’t want to influence them in some way.
So, bring the real you to the front of the room or the virtual platform.
Forget about having to speak like anyone else.
I learned this in a coaching program for speakers, run by two strong personalities who each had a catchphrase they used from the stage.
Larry Winget asked audiences to respond with “You Bet!” Suzanne Evans encouraged people to yell, “Hell Yeah!”
The call-and-response worked really well for both of them; they could have a whole roomful of folks on their feet hollering “Hell Yeah” and “You Bet.”
So, what happened when it was our turn to take the front of the room? Some budding speakers came up with catchphrases of their own and urged us to shout them out.
And they sounded exactly like—pale imitations of Larry and Suzanne.
You can learn a lot from listening to a really good speaker. Then take the lessons and make your talk your own.
Make sure your voice, gestures, and facial expression match your content.
Audiences can spot phoniness in a heartbeat. When they do, they tune out. And they will spot it if what you say doesn’t match how you say it. Incongruity will kill the connection you’re trying to make with them.
You can test this out for yourself next time someone you know is just furious. And you notice them saying through gritted teeth and clenched jaw, “I’m not mad.”
When the “what” and the “how” don’t match, people will believe the “how” every time.
So, practice what you’re going to say until you’re comfortable with it. And massage the content if you have to, so it aligns with your real feelings.
If something goes wrong, don’t pretend it didn’t.
Sometimes we’re tempted to act as if we didn’t just make that mistake. Or suffer that technical snafu. Or get a comment from the audience that was out of line or mis-timed.
It’s a huge rapport-breaker to pretend people aren’t seeing what they see and hearing what they hear. What? Do you want an audience that’s not paying attention?
Just the other day, I launched into a talk on Zoom using my laptop, only to notice feedback coming from my nearby phone. No, I didn’t pretend that wasn’t happening. I acknowledged it, fixed it, and started again.
Did I lose the audience in the process? Nope. Listen, anyone who’s been in a Zoom meeting has had some kind of technical challenge along the way. They get it.
In general, the audience is on your side, especially when you begin speaking. They want you to do well, they’re there to learn something and have a good time. You’re more likely to maintain that good will when you act naturally … even in the face of something-went-wrong.
You may not want to be a professional speaker, or even a professional of some other kind who uses speaking as part of your marketing plan. These suggestions will serve you well in casual conversations too, don’t you think?