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: