How Do You Make Your Audience Feel?

Movement for speakers

How do you move your audience? Move yourself. (photo of Zerafina conducting stretches for best voice usage in Brisbane)

I get a lot of requests to help people feel more confident speaking in front of an audience. We work together on everything from preparation to content and nonverbals (body language).

I was coaching a highly competent leader today, let’s call her Liz, and this was the biggest revelation for her:

It’s not all about you, it’s all about your audience.

Liz, like many others, felt self-conscious about presenting because:

I don’t like everyone looking at me

What are audiences looking for when they are ‘looking at’ you in a presentation?

They are looking for information that supports their understanding of what you’re saying. For example, if you tell them you are happy about something, it helps if you look and sound happy about it.

Ideally, your audience wants you to help them understand what you have to communicate. And they are hoping that you will keep them interested.

Presenting is like singing a song

I explained to Liz that when I first started singing when I was nineteen I was terrified of the audience. I remember my singing teacher, Andi Garing, coming to one of my early performances at a small bar, the Maluca Bar in Gertrude st, Fitzroy.

I have a clear mental image of my shoes; they were black, shiny brogues. I remember following all the swirls and dots in the patterns on the leather as the audience applauded, thinking:

If only they would stop clapping, I can get back to singing.

Wisely, my teacher suggested that I acknowledge the applause (something most people, even professional public speakers forget to do).

At nineteen, before a performance, I was so nervous, I would change my outfit about ten times before the gig. I’d get to the bar and have a drink of wine or vodka to try and settle my nerves. Then I’d be so worried about feeling too sleepy that I’d follow the drink up immediately with an espresso coffee. In retrospect, it wasn’t a particularly productive pre-performance routine, and did nothing to calm my nerves.

Performing was such an emotionally harrowing experience, that I put an enormous amount of research into finding ways to master the mental and physical tools for positive performance.

My brilliant singing teacher, Andi,  helped to put some of it in context:

It’s not about you when you sing a song; it’s about the audience. You are asking them if they have shared the experience you are singing about. ‘Do you know what this feels like? Have you been here too?’

Presenting is all about your audience

How do you want to make them feel?

After hearing the story, as many great marketers are aware, Liz looked relieved and said:

‘What’s in it for me?’ That’s what the audience wants to know.

The reason this was a relief for Liz, and a relief for me when I was nineteen is this:

It takes the pressure off you to present brilliantly, and to think mainly about the needs and interests of your audience instead.

What would be the opposite of self-consciousness? Consciousness of others? Perhaps lacking self-consciousness is all about thinking about others.

What can you do for your next presentation to consider how you want your audience to feel?

Leadership: The Host with the Most

You're the host with the most, or you're dining alone

You’re the host with the most, or you’re dining alone

 

Leadership: The Host with the Most

This week I was in a meeting at the headquarters of an international sporting brand, having a conversation with some very inspiring people about leadership. We were talking about a range of questions around leadership, and especially this one:

How do great leaders make others feel?

I was thinking about what an astute observer mentioned when I had spoken about a superstar connector, Ineke. Ineke had introduced herself, and a group of people to one another with enviable grace and warmth. On mentioning this to a consultant friend, she said;

‘The trick is to imagine yourself the host of the party.’

No matter where you are, if you think about making others feel comfortable, and connecting people with one another, you are leading.

What makes a great leader?

In this meeting with a very talented HR professional, and a highly regarded leadership coach, we were talking about what makes great leaders. It was this idea of being a great host (or hostess/’hostess with the mostest’) that resonated with everyone.

The great host/leader:

  • Notices the comfort of others
  • Directs the tone of proceedings
  • Lets everyone know where things are, and when they will happen
  • Is in the present moment

If you thought about yourself as a host, as much as a leader, what would you do differently?

Perception Management

What do you communicate to others that you are not aware of?  Photo courtesy of Gratisography.com

What do you communicate to others that you are not aware of? Photo courtesy of Gratisography.com

What is perception management?

We sum people up in about three seconds when we first meet somebody. It’s tough. We would all like to be understood for our true selves, but that often takes a lot more time than three seconds.

What do your nonverbals communicate about you?

We ‘broadcast’ a lot of information though:

  • how we hold ourselves
  • the language we choose
  • our tone of voice
  • what we wear

We choose to either ‘norm’ to a group, or define ourselves as being on the edge of a group through what we wear. Sit in the foyer of any large corporation to get a sense of the dress-code for that particular business. Even the counter-culture has its own codes (beards, anyone?)

Where do you stand in relation to the ‘norm’ of your group?

Do you need to amplify, or balance something out?

I once worked with a tall, handsome and fit mortgage broker on his nonverbals. He needed to communicate trustworthiness, warmth and credibility straight away to new clients.

With a large build, and over six feet of commanding height we needed to balance these elements out with warmth so that his stature wasn’t intimidating.

How can you find out how others perceive you?

  1. Ask. Often people I coach have been given feedback repeatedly about certain elements of how they are perceived. If you hear something more than once, it might be worth paying attention.

  2. Seeing is believing. Video yourself. In a recent coaching session, a wonderful, vibrant leader saw herself hunching in the video of her presentation, and said ‘I can’t believe I sit like that!’

  3. If you were to be played by an actor, how would they need to dress, talk and hold themselves to accurately portray you? Again, ask someone you trust.

Once you have some information, you can make choices about how you want to be perceived. If someone says that you appear intimidating, and dress like a mafia boss, it might be time to look around your office and take note of what others are wearing- then get a friend to take you shopping.

Unless you are a mafia boss… then you can be secure in the knowledge that nobody has to stretch their imagination to see you how you want to be seen.

What top 3 nonverbals communicate leadership?

What are the elements that will actually help communicate leadership? Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/11131921694/

What are the elements that will actually help communicate leadership? Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/11131921694/

This week I’ve been coaching leaders from an international sports brand. They have deep knowledge and experience in their area. One question that has surfaced is ‘How can we make sure that we are communicating with authority?’

Leaders take up more space

From the great ape to the peacock, when we demonstrate leadership (though we call them dominance cues in the nonverbal world), we take up more space.

Watch people in your next meeting:

  • Who spreads out their belongings across the table?
  • Who has a wide stance?
  • Who drapes their arm over the chair next to theirs?

Leaders move slowly

Think of a movie where the king or queen enters the room.

  • What is their pace?
  • Is is faster or slower than those around them?

Leaders take their time.

This may be a reflection of how our body reacts when we get into a power pose. Our sense of competence rises, with an increase in testosterone, but it’s the reduction of cortisol that is most interesting because it reduces our reactivity to stress.

If we are less reactive to stress, we can make better decisions, and this makes us stand out as leaders.

 

Leaders’ gestures are larger

A funny thing happens when we experience a stress-response. Our instinct is to protect ourselves. It’s a good instinct to have if we are about to fall over…we can protect our vital organs, and do less damage to ourselves as a result.

Unfortunately, this reaction kicks in when we are presenting in front of groups of people, and it means we restrict our gestures. We also restrict our gestures when we are lying, or do not have full confidence in what we are saying. For most presenters, that means that if we are to look more confident, we need to practise larger gestures to support our content.

Try to get some space around your armpits at some point during your presentation. This will help to remind you to open up your gestures.

See the nonverbals (body language) of leadership in action:

This video contrasts Hilary Clinton and Michelle Obama speaking, with the nonverbals commentated by Joe Navarro.