You can’t do a presentation if you’re not present. In fact, when it comes to communicating, you can’t do much of anything if you’re not present.
And yet, people try all the time to run a conference call, or a department heads’ meeting, or a big speech on a stage without being fully present in the moment.
The experts will tell you what people are looking for now is not the perfectly memorized and recited speech. No, authenticity is all the rage. And not only for professional speakers.
The actor Josh Pais was talking about his own craft when he said, “People today want spontaneity and truth … and no manipulation.”
You may not know his name, but if you’ve been to a movie or turned on a TV in the past 20 years, you know his face. (You’d find him now “at a theater near you” in The Joker.) Josh is such an expert at engaging an audience; he also teaches classes for other actors.
And, it’s not just those movie-watchers sitting in a theater. When Josh says people want spontaneity and truth, he could just as well be describing the people you talk to, the people you lead, the people you sell to.
They want spontaneity and truth too. And no manipulation.
Of course, masterful speaking requires planning. Crafting your content and rehearsing it. How do you balance all that advance effort with being authentic?
The way to find the balance is to be present in the moment. The more present we are when we’re speaking, networking, running a meeting … the more our audience is fully engaged.
And how do we get present?
Josh Pais tells his Committed Impulse students that to be successful, they must be in their body and get connected to their environment. For people who do the kind of work we do, I’d add, get connected to the people you’re talking to.
Sometimes nervous speakers talk about having “an out-of-body experience” in front of an audience. That’s not good for the speaker or for the audience!
So, (especially if you’re uneasy or anxious or scared out of your wits) the mission is to get back in the body. Connect with the environment. And connect with your audience.
- Start with the sensation of your feet on the floor. To be in your body and connect with your environment, I recommend tuning in to your feet.
Whether you’re standing or sitting, make sure both feet are planted firmly on the floor. Your weight is evenly balanced. You’re grounded in this space at this time.
- Eye contact will connect you with those people listening to you. I tell my clients we connect with an audience eyes to eyes, heart to heart. (There’s a reason they call it eye.)
That means you face people straight on with your heart center open, and you look right into their eyes. One person at a time, completing a thought before you move on to share that connection with someone else.
What if you’re on a conference call or a web-based platform? Settle your gaze on something. That starfish-shaped speaker in the middle of the conference table. The camera in your computer. A photo of the person you’re talking to.
Look at something rather than letting your eyes bounce around the room, and you will sound more present and engaged.
- Stay out of your own head. Imagine a ray of energy going from you to each person in your audience. If you find that line of energy circling back and shooting into your own head, the connection to the audience is broken. Shift back into your body (remember your feet!) and engage one person with full frontal eye contact. Then move on from there.
- Sense the back of you. That might mean noticing the back of your head, your shoulder blades relaxing down your back, or the heels of your feet pressing down slightly more than your toes.
The idea is to magnetize the audience to you rather than pushing out toward them. Thanks to mirror neurons, people will pick up on tension and reflect it back to you. Energy that feels forced can repel people instead of engaging them and drawing them to you.
- Whatever feelings come up, don’t squelch them. Maybe you get anxious. Somebody ticks you off. Or you’re impatient with the A-V guy. As Josh Pais says, it’s all just energy … and whatever feeling it is, it’ll pass in about 17 seconds. So, don’t try to hide it or squelch it. Use that energy to connect with your audience.
That’s exactly how my clients learn to handle stage fright. Notice those butterflies … and take a ride on their wings.
I know from my own experience that being present can be a challenge. The more emotion we’re experiencing, the more likely we are to be drawn out of the moment and into a flight of fancy—or fear.
I also know what it’s like to make a genuine connection with a roomful of people, so they’re fully engaged with you right here, right now. It’s worth every bit of effort it takes to get present.
Maybe you’ve felt that electric connection during a talk or a meeting or even a phone call. Or you may have a question about how you can make that happen.
Post a comment below.
Thank you so much for including me on your weekly emails. I learn from all you teach us and I love your informal, caring style and brilliant advice. I used your advice today from this recent post. I’m in Toastmasters and had been avoiding giving speeches. I give 1 about every 6 months! I was very well-prepared but still felt nervous and anxious. I remembered your wisdom of remaining authentic, connecting with the audience, keeping my feet balanced and on the ground, staying in my body and staying present. It worked! I received lots of good feedback. I still need to keep working on public speaking but I’m happy I was brave enough to take on this challenge.
Thank you for sharing your insights every week.
Sharyn, that is so good to hear! Nothing makes a writer happier than knowing a reader found real value in what was written and actually DID SOMETHING WITH IT. Well, maybe I should speak for myself. Nothing makes ME happier.
Your Toastmasters experience delights me. Thanks for letting me know about your success — and keep it up!