Scrolling through television channels one day, I came upon a famous doctor talking about the ideas in her most recent best-seller. She was addressing a large audience of her biggest fans. I was interested in her subject – women and aging – because, let’s admit it, I am both! I wanted to see if I would be motivated to read her book. I was eager to listen; I tried hard to follow; but after fifteen minutes or so, I gave up.
What went wrong?
For one thing, she never stood still. In a narrow dress and fashionably high heels, she seemed anything but comfortable. She shifted awkwardly from foot to foot, taking several steps right and several steps left with every few words she spoke. Her discomfort made me squirm. But I was still trying to follow her ideas.
She had a pleasant voice and demeanor; she seemed to mean well; I wanted to understand why she and her work were so popular. Yet, as she continued moving back and forth, back and forth, she kept talking. I felt sorry for the cameraman. He had to follow her side to side to side, across a tiny section of a large proscenium stage. I started getting seasick. And this was only 90 seconds into a 2-hour broadcast! What came across was: “I have so many important ideas and so little time to share them, let me talk as fast as I can and get them all out.”
Slide projections appeared. I think they listed and explained the seven principles she was trying to teach us. But I can’t be sure of that, since I was barely finished reading one wordy bullet point before the next slide was briefly shown. One after another they flashed by. The doctor kept moving and talking, moving and talking, not giving me enough time to absorb her ideas. She seemed to forget that this was the first time I was hearing them. Not being one of her long-time fans who’d already read her book and could laugh along knowingly at her allusions, I felt excluded; or, worse: not taken into consideration at all. That’s when I gave up and turned off the television.
This woman is a pro. She’s been writing and lecturing for years. And she’s successful. Still, I can’t help wondering how many viewers – potential customers for her ideas – were turned off by her pace and her style, and gave up, like I did. I have no doubt that she could expand her influence and make her audience feel more included in the conversation if she’d add a few simple tools to her presenting repertoire:
1. Start in neutral. When you first “take stage”, assume a centered stance with your legs at least hip-width apart. This may feel uncomfortable at first, but you will get used to it. Not only will this stance ground you and give you a solid base from which to launch your talk, but it will also make the audience feel that you are open and energized. Feel like an athlete at the start of a match – on your toes and ready for anything.
2. Breathe. Look and really see details of your surroundings and the people you’re addressing. This helps you get and stay “present.” Again, at first, it may seem as if you are standing there forever doing “nothing,” but your breath allows the audience to catch theirs and focus with you on the present moment.
3. Move with purpose. There is nothing more distracting than undirected, unconscious pacing and wandering; or repeated gestures or tics that don’t support what you’re saying. Become aware of those tendencies and re-direct unconscious energy into purposeful movement and body language that enhances rather than detracts.
4. Investigate. Pay attention. Pause after you speak, to see if you have “landed” your points, giving your listeners time to absorb them, and most of all, take time to investigate and see that we, your audience, are “getting” the message you wanted to communicate.
Remember: the art of speaking is not the same as the art of writing. You might be brilliant; you might have very important insights to share. But getting your spoken thoughts across clearly and concisely and getting them to stick in the listener’s mind takes skill and practice. If you want to gain stature, feel more comfortable and confident presenting, and, especially, if you want your audience to feel “taken care of” the next time you have a presenting opportunity, try out a few of the principles above. Who knows, if the good doctor had used them, I might have bought her book!
About the Author: Diane Seymour, a founding member, director, and senior coach at The TAI Group, helps clients to develop their leadership skills, express their unique point of view and see their personal impact. Visit The TAI Group LinkedIn page, like us on Facebook, and follow along on Twitter (@TheTAIGroup and @TAIDiane).