Confidence is more than just managed anxiety. A confident speaker is passionate and immediate with his or her audience. Your audience feels your confidence, rather than sees it. They respond to it and respect it. Ultimately, it is your confidence that garners you credibility. Put passion into action Passion comes from the energy and enthusiasm that a speaker exudes as well as from the words used. When preparing and practicing your talk, be sure to reflect back on what excites you about your topic and how your audience will benefit. Reminding yourself of your motivation can help energize you (or reenergize you if you give your presentation over and over again). Additionally, seeing yourself as being in service of your audience – helping them to learn, grow, achieve – should also ignite your spirits. This energy should manifest itself in how you relay your information. By no means am I implying you have to be a cheerleader for your message, you need to find a method for relaying your conviction that is authentic and meaningful for you. But, your audience wants and needs to feel the “fire in your belly.” Tactically, choose wording that is emotive and audience directed. This will help you reveal your passion. Words such as “benefits”, “outcomes,” and “change” move audiences. Include adjectives to further excite and motivate. Most importantly speak these words in an emotive way that reflects your inner feelings and remains true to both your way of being in the world and the tone of your presentation. Be warmly immediatelyImmediacy is a term coined in the late 1960’s by psychology professor Albert Meharabian to represent the many verbal and nonverbal behaviors people express to build emotional connection. Nervous and novice speakers tend to retreat physically and emotionally when presenting: They step back away from the audience while drawing their arms across their chests and hunching over. They hide behind a lectern. Their language is more formal, such as “one must consider.” Contrast this to speakers who communicate in an immediate fashion by holding an open, balanced posture and using language that is conversational and inclusive, such as “you should know or we all need to...” Research has shown that leaders and presenters who communicate in an immediate way are more effective and better liked. Building on the immediacy work started decades ago, current researchers, such as popular TED presenter and Harvard Business School Professor Amy Cuddy, have shown that warmth is also a key trait of successful presenters. Warmth can be thought of as operationalized empathy. It is a combination of understanding your audience’s needs and displaying that understanding through your actions. Warm presenters acknowledge their audience’s needs by verbally echoing them (e.g., “Like you, I once…”). Further, they maintain an engaged posture, leaning forward and moving towards people who asked questions. By conveying your passion in an immediate way, you demonstrate your confidence. You show your audience that you are authentic in your intent and committed to your message.
“Know your audience” is a key mantra of people who do what I do for a living. Communication professors and coaches know that value of having presenters reflect on the needs of their audience, and we challenge those we teach and coach to target their message so that they meet these needs. Unfortunately, after learning about the need to deliver a presentation, most speakers start by thinking “here’s what I need to tell my audience.” And then they proceed to develop and ultimately deliver their thoughts and ideas. I’d like to suggest that this approach often leaves your audience unfulfilled and lacking in key concepts. For when you prepare a presentation from your perspective, you likely pass over critical bits of information and fail to pull your audience into the content. Others label this self-focused approach “the curse of knowledge.” Simply put, you often know too much about what you present. A better, more thorough approach would be to begin by asking the question: What does my audience need to hear? While this approach initially sounds similar to “here’s what I need to tell my audience,” the difference is more than verbal jujitsu. By embracing an audience-focused approach, you will not only engage your audience more – since you’re giving them what they need, but you will present content that scaffolds their knowledge so that they can truly appreciate and understand your message. This audience-centric approach requires you to truly know your audience. Thus, it really boils down to conducting detailed reconnaissance. You need to spend time figuring out exactly who your audience is and what value you can provide to them. Ask yourself the following three questions to help you better determine your audience’s needs and then adjust your content to best suit these needs: (1) What knowledge and/or past experience(s) have my audience had with my topic? If your audience knows about your topic, you can begin at a much different place than if they are new to it. Often, you have an audience whose knowledge of your topic varies. In this case, start by notifying your audience that you will take a few minutes at the beginning of your presentation to scaffold the knowledge of those less “in the know” and then you will continue. This approach motivates the neophytes and prepares the more knowing members of your audience that their turn will be coming soon. (2) What attitudes and emotions is my audience likely to have toward my topic? Supportive and excited audiences afford you the opportunity to dive right in and share your thoughts. However, hesitant and resistant audiences require more care be spent initially to reduce their defensiveness. Rather than jump right into your arguments supporting your viewpoint, the best way to start with a skeptical audience is to acknowledge common ground. For example, it is often the case that resistant audiences agree with the overarching goal you are trying to achieve, but disagree on your means. By emphasizing the common goal or benefits, you can convert naysayers or at least make them more willing to listen. (3) How proximal am I too my audience in terms of organizational status and influence? The closer you are to your audience in terms of organizational status (e.g., you are their direct manager), the more concrete your message should be. Similarly, the more remote you are from your audience members (e.g., C-level presenting to line employees), the more abstract your content should be. Audiences prefer specifics when the presenter has more direct influence over them in day-to-day activities. If you find yourself in this situation, be sure to relay details (e.g., deliverables, deadlines, etc.) that are tied to individuals in your audience. Your ultimate job as a presenter is to be in service of your audience. The only way you can achieve this goal is to understand your audience’s needs. By asking the three questions mentioned above and doing recon to figure out the answers, you will be able to better tailor your message to address your specific audience so they benefit more. Click here to see my video discussing audience analysis that is posted on my YouTube Channel.
Often how you present something is more important than what you present. In this animated short video, learn the key elements of effective nonverbal behaviors for confident public speaking. Click here to see this new video posted on my YouTube Channel. If you like this video, consider taking my new Stanford Continuing Studies' online communication class. Click here to learn more about this class.
Distraction reigns supreme in today’s corporate world. How can you gain and maintain your virtual audience’s attention? How can you make your content and experience connected and compelling? Informed by scholarly research and industry best practices, this white paper provides a practical introduction to immediately applicable techniques that will help you develop and deliver engaging, participative, and impactful virtual presentations (e.g., conference calls, webinars, videoconferences). This white paper is divided into two main parts. The first portion focuses on preparing your content and getting yourself ready to deliver with impact. The second details how to create content that invites engagement and amplifies your message. Taken all together, the guidance provided in this whitepaper will help you feel more confident presenting virtually and your audience will be more connected and engaged.
*The following article of mine recently appeared in Smart Company Australia.Recent academic research points to specific behaviours you can invoke to become a more authentic, compelling speaker. Results from inquiries into warmth and immediacy, multi-tasking, and processing fluency lead to specific, actionable behaviours that can help you be a more confident, competent and compelling communicator. Warmth and immediacy Recent social psychological research builds on earlier work in the field that suggests that speaking in an immediate, warm manner improves a presenter’s credibility and increases his or her engagement. Immediacy is a term coined in the late 1960s by psychology professor Albert Mehrabian to represent the verbal and nonverbal behaviour people express to build emotional connection. Nervous and novice speakers tend to retreat physically and emotionally when presenting. They step back away from the audience while drawing their arms across their chests and hunching over. They hide behind a lectern. Their language is more formal, such as “one must consider”. Contrast this to speakers who communicate in an immediate fashion by holding an open, balanced posture and using language that is conversational and inclusive, such as “you should know or we all need to...” Research has shown that leaders and presenters who communicate in an immediate way are more effective and better liked. Building on the immediacy work started decades ago, researchers, such as popular TED presenter and Harvard Business School Professor Amy Cuddy, have shown that warmth is also a key trait of successful presenters. Warmth can be thought of as operationalised empathy. It is a combination of understanding your audience’s needs and displaying that understanding through your actions. Warm presenters acknowledge their audience’s needs by verbally echoing them (e.g. “Like you, I once…”). Further, they maintain an engaged posture, leaning forward and moving towards people who asked questions. Multi-tasking While most people think they can do many things at once without losing any accuracy and effectiveness, research by communications scholars like the late Dr Clifford Nash have shown time and time again that the human brain cannot successfully process multiple channels of information at the same time. Nash has observed that “in general, our brain can't do two things at once”. This is especially true if the tasks we are asking our audience to do tax the same regions of our brain. Specifically, your brain processes verbal information utilising one set of neural modules regardless of if the verbal input is written or spoken. For a presenter, this means that showing text-heavy slides while pontificating about them increases the cognitive-load (read: multi-tasking) required of the listeners. To avoid challenging your audience in this manner, multi-tasking research suggests two better approaches:
1. You should use more visual images on your slides than words. Your brain processes pictures and images (e.g. diagrams and charts) differently than words. While there is a multi-tasking burden placed on your audience while talking to your visual aids, it is far less than that of wordy slides. 2. Pause often to allow your audience to focus their full attention on what you are showing them. This can feel very awkward to introduce a slide prior to showing it and then remain silent for a few seconds while your audience decodes it. However, this pausing can increase fidelity and retention. Processing fluency Cognitive psychologists have begun to explore what makes information more readily absorbed and enjoyed – something they refer to as processing fluency. The more fluently information is processed, the more it is preferred, feels true, and is remembered. Expectation setting and repetition play important roles in increasing this type of fluency. When subjects read summaries of stories prior to reading the complete stories, they later reported getting more out of them and liking them more than stories for which they did not read summaries. Thus, providing your audience with a roadmap or preview of where you intend to take them will help set their expectations and increase their connection to your material. Similarly, repeating key ideas or themes helps your audience get your message and enjoy it more. Dr Sascha Topolinski showed that subjects who saw words contained in a punch line prior to hearing the words repeated later in a joke, found the joke funnier and made the punch lines quicker to process. So when presenting, repeat your key concepts in a variety of ways. For example, you can speak a claim as well as tell an anecdote that supports it while showing a visual image that captures it. Taken together, academic insight into immediacy and warmth, multi-tasking, and processing fluency, can help you become a better, more engaging speaker. Try employing these scientifically supported tools to your next presentation.
If you are like me, you can vividly recall with great detail an embarrassing or traumatic public speaking experience regardless of how long ago it took place. While I have many tails to tell about public speaking blunders I have made, my most awful experience happened over 30 years ago, yet I can remember it as if it just happened. I was 15 at my first speech tournament…the one my freshmen English teacher “forced” me to attend. During the first 10 seconds of a 10 minute speech on karate, I ripped my pants from zipper to belt loop as I performed a front snap kick. In front of my friends, teachers, parents, and the girl I liked at the time, I stood there with my underwear exposed as I finished my talk. This teenage experience haunts me to this day. I find myself still ruminating over the embarrassment, fear, and humiliation that I felt that cold, early Saturday morning. However, I recently came across research that has been helpful to me reducing the power this pants ripping event holds over me. Researchers at the University of Illinois have identified a technique that can help people feel better – or at least less bad – about emotional memories such as the ones many of us hold about public speaking. Researchers Florin and Sandra Dolcos found that most people focus on negative personal memories, which in turn makes them feel worse and may even lead to persistent negative outcomes, such as depression or avoidance. Instead, these researchers have found that thinking about contextual elements of the memories can reduce both the short-term and potential long-term effects. They suggest that if you can think about relational or environmental factors that co-occurred with the negative event, then you, in effect, distract yourself from your rumination and negative feelings. For example, you can think about your friends that were present, the weather at the particular time of the event, etc. They claim that this change in attention “is as simple as shifting the focus in the mental movie of your memories and then letting your mind wander." Since so many of us carry negative emotions and associations with speaking due to past experiences, we can benefit from thinking about other aspects of these negative experiences that co-occurred with them. This new focus can release the strong grip these negative experiences have on us. When remembering my pants ripping event, I now focus on my two friends who were in the room and how they were so impressed with my speech that they decided to sign up for karate lessons.
Will you get the funding you need? Will you get the grade you want? Will you get the help you require? All of these fears -- and the myriad of others that nervous presenters have -- originate from concerns about potentially negative future outcomes, such as not getting the needed resources, not doing well in a class, or not getting needed support. Since this fear is a result of potential future outcomes, an effective management technique is to focus on the present and avoid thinking about the consequences of your actions. Having a present-oriented experience, sometimes referred to as a flow experience or rapt attention, means you’re so involved in the present that you lose what academics call “objective self-awareness.” In other words, you are so immersed in what you are doing that you lose track of time. You have likely had moments of extreme present orientation in certain situations, like when you play a sport or musical instrument, watch a movie, or engage in a deep conversation with a loved one. There are many ways to become more present oriented from which speakers can benefit. I know a professional speaker who plays the video game Tetris prior to speaking. The game is so compelling for her that she forgets about her worries about not succeeding in delivering her message. Listening to music is another tool that can help induce a present-oriented perspective. Find a song or a play list that you find engaging and practice becoming absorbed in it. Using humor can also be a fun way to become present oriented. Watch a funny video clip, listen to a comedy routine, or engage in a humorous exchange. Enjoying a good laugh often involves being highly “in the moment.” Counting backwards from 100 by a difficult number such as 17 or saying tongue twisters can also induce a more present-oriented state. Recent psychological research that comes from the exploration of engagement with video games suggests that present orientation not only can help presenters feel less nervous prior to speaking, but can also reduce the post-presentation stress many nervous speakers experience. By doing something absorbing and “in the moment” shortly after speaking, anxious presenters prevent their speaking experience from being strongly encoded into memory. For example, playing an engaging video prior to speaking allows for present orientation that distracts you from your concerns about future consequences. Similarly, playing a video game post-presentation distract you from encoding your negative thoughts about your speaking. Being present helps you focus on your message and connection to your audience – both good things for speakers to do – while distracting you from being as nervous prior to speaking and having your experience as deeply etched in your memory. The bottom line is that you can quite literally game your anxiety.
Noon, June 17th 1991. Interview for corporate training job. Tie straight. Stain on shirt successfully tucked into pants. Notepad for pretending to scribble notes on in hand. Anxiety level…high. 6:30PM, June 17th 1991. Congratulatory toast for long-time friend moving to Europe. Tie straight. Stain still successfully tucked into pants. Notecards with key points in pocket. Anxiety level…high. I clearly remember that warm, breezeless Summer day like it was yesterday. Never before had I worn my one suit all day long, nor had I been so anxious for such a long time. Upon reflection, I am struck by the similarity in my communication goals on that day and my psychological and physiological response to trying to achieve them. You see, in both of these situations, I wanted to confidently and clearly communicate successes – mine and those of my friend, but I wasn’t quite sure how to do it. Twenty plus years later, my academic and corporate work as a communication professor and presentation coach have given me some insight into how I best could have successfully communicated about success. If I were able to speak to my younger self, I would first say “buy cialis another suit and make sure this one fits!” Second, I would detail the Three C’s for successfully communicating about success: Be Confident, Be Compelling , and Be Connected. Regardless of if you are interviewing or giving a toast, confidence is key. When you communicate about successes, your interviewer and guests expect you to be confident. Further, if you are confident and avoid anxiety displays, your audience will be more comfortable and able to listen actively. I often remind my business school students that their first priority is to put their audience at ease so they can pay attention to their message, rather than be distracted by or feel sympathy for a nervous presenter. Confidence is more about what you show and say than how you feel. The first thing people see about you in how you position your body. Nervous and novice speakers or interviewees retreat and make themselves small and tight, such as taking a step back or wrapping arms across your chest. To be seen as confident, stand or sit in a balanced way. Square your shoulders and keep your head vertical and not tilted. When gesturing, reach out and away from your body to avoid in tight, “T-Rex” gestures. These confidence-building tips would certainly have helped me greatly while delivering my early 90’s toast. The old Super 8 film clip of my toast reveals a meek, jittery me shuffling my feet while talking to my wine glass, rather than my family and friends. Confidence is not enough to be successful in discussing successes. You need your message to be compelling to your audience by explaining the relevance of your message to them. Too often toasts and interviews tell a story, but they don’t show a story. Showing requires specific detail to be revealed, such as facts, data, and anecdotes. Further, showing requires that you explain why what you’re saying matters to your listener(s). It’s one thing to tell your audience that your brother is a great guy, but it is more effective to toast your bother’s marriage by detailing his philanthropy and explain how his generosity led to his providing the open bar at the reception. Showing is memorable and compelling, while telling is potentially braggadocios and unimpactful. A very useful compelling strategy for answering interview questions is to invoke what I call the A.D.D. method (for “add”-ing value, not Attention Deficit Disorder): • Answer the question in one clear, declarative sentence.
• Detail a specific, concrete example that supports your answer.
• Describe the benefits that explain why your answer is relevant to the asker. My interview would have gone so much better that Summer morning had I not simply regurgitated my resume in monosyllabic terms. I would have been better served to detail the relevance of my qualifications to my interviewer. By being compelling, I might have become a corporate trainer that year, rather than a Tetris expert. Being confident and compelling clearly would have helped my younger, less balding self. However, the one missing ingredient to communicating successfully about success is connecting your message to your audience. Connection is all about empathy – understanding your interviewer’s needs or the desires of assembled friends and family. The key to connection involves changing the relationship you envision having with your audience. You likely approach an interview thinking “here’s what I need to tell my interviewer,” and then you proceed to develop and ultimately deliver your thoughts and ideas. A better, more compelling approach to your interview would be to begin by asking the question: “What does my interviewer need to hear?” While this approach initially sounds similar to “here’s what I need to tell my interviewer,” the difference is striking. By embracing an interviewer-focused approach, you will automatically alter the way you construct and deliver your message. For example, if you understand your interviewer’s needs, you will adjust the language you use to match theirs; you might fold in examples that reflect his interests; or, you might compliment his accomplishments. This interviewer-focused approach will not only connect your content more — since you’re giving your interviewer what she needs in a way that she needs to hear it, but you will take the spotlight — and stress — off of yourself, which will allow you to be less nervous. It is rare that we get the opportunity to share successes with others. Interviews and toasts afford us a unique opportunity to highlight meaningful and potentially useful information with others. To make the most of these opportunities, we need to leverage the Three C’s for successfully communicating about success. 10AM, June 18th 1991. Headache. Bad breath. Still in same shirt…with more stains. No new job.
We are really mean to ourselves. There are things we do to ourselves that we could never imagine doing to others. Nowhere is this more evident than prior to giving a presentation. The negative self-talk we invoke and the fear stories we tell ourselves set us up for failure. What follows are some easy-to-implement techniques that will help you be kinder to yourself and reduce the anxiety you likely feel when presenting in front of others. Self-talk Like most people, you likely have a critical inner voice that shouts at you when you are under pressure and stress. Prior to delivering a presentation, you might have self-talk that says “I am going to mess this up,” “I should have prepared more,” or “I am going to fail.” This negative self-talk often leads to negative outcomes because it serves to make you even more nervous and stressed. The technique for reversing this vicious cycle is to use self-talk to instruct or motivate, rather than accentuate anxiety and invite poor performance. By replacing negative comments with positive affirmations, you can reduce your anxiety and improve your performance. Rather than saying, “I’m going to mess this up,” you instead motivate yourself by saying, "This is a great opportunity to share my experience with my audience." Or, you provide specific guidance to yourself by saying something like “I will smile and connect with my audience to demonstrate my conviction.” Note that these affirmations are not unbelievably positive. It's not saying, "This is going to be the best speech ever!" They are simply acknowledging the reality that you have a great opportunity to convey your ideas and passion. When you think that you have a great opportunity, that makes you feel positive, which, in turn, makes you more relaxed. The more relaxed you are, the more likely you are to give a good presentation. You’re using self-fulfilling prophecy to obtain a positive outcome, not a negative one. Before you even prepare a presentation, you should create positive affirmations that are relevant and meaningful to you. Then, before you speak, you can consciously say one of these affirmations. Affirmations should not be long sayings or contain too many concepts. Research on sports performance has found that simple, one-word mantras (e.g., focus, calm, fun) confer benefits because they eliminate overthinking and reduce negative self-fulfilling prophecies. If you are struggling to come up with useful affirmations, you can focus on values that are important to you, such as education (e.g., “I will teach people something of value during my talk.”), fairness (e.g., “It’s my turn to share my thoughts.”), etc. Fear Stories In her insightful TED talk watched by almost 1.5 million people, writer Karen Thompson Walker persuasively makes the argument that fear is actually an expression of creative imagination. When you fear something, you internally write narratives or stories about your fear. Anxious presenters are experts at creating very scary stories. A nervous speaker might create the story of her presentation going horrifically bad and ending up with her boss laughing at her talk. Like all good stories, fear stories have a beginning, middle, and end and include lots of vivid detail and emotion. These qualities are what make these stories so powerful. For me, the main insight of Thompson Walker’s talk is that you need to approach your fear stories as a critical reader (she refers to Nabokov’s notion of “reader as scientist”) who appreciates the story from a distance and sees it for what it is -- a fiction authored for a purpose. Our presentation fear stories are designed to protect us from the threat of negative outcomes. In this light, you have the ability to “close the book” on your fear because you see the story for what it is – a vivid fiction – which then allows you to write a new, more positive narrative. The ability to distance yourself from your fear story is similar to a useful mindfulness practice. When you are feeling negative or nervous about speaking, say to yourself, "This is me feeling nervous about speaking." This kind of assertion takes you out of the nervousness and instead allows you to observe yourself being nervous. To be outside yourself affords you the opportunity to calm down. You can gain a sense of control. Further, by thinking of a positive emotion—such as calmness or happiness—once you have distanced yourself from your negative feelings, you will more quickly reduce your feelings of anxiety. Taken together, combating your negative self talk via positive affirmations and challenging your fear stories through distancing techniques like mindfulness, you treat yourself more kindly and set yourself up for greater speaking success.
Much of our communication time is spent trying to motivate and influence others. However, many people approach persuasive communication from an informative perspective. They feel if they teach people why they see something the way they do, then others will clearly come to see the world the same way. Thus, many persuasive arguments end up simply being lists of facts and evidence. There is clearly more involved in being effective persuaders than simply firing facts at people. In what follows, I provide two powerful approaches to persuading others – Framing and Action Forces. Frame to Gain Let’s say you are faced with an awful choice. You have a debilitating disease and your doctor informs you that your only hope of returning to your desired way of life is to take advantage of an experimental treatment. Would the likelihood of your accepting the treatment change if you were told the treatment had a 67% failure rate as compared to if you were told it had a 33% success rate? If you are like most people, your acceptance of the treatment would be drastically affected by the wording -- many more people agree to take the treatment when the treatment’s success rate is presented. Language matters in persuasion. How you position your desired change can increase the likelihood of your effectiveness. Whenever possible frame your messages in terms of potential benefits and successes. By doing so, you short-circuit the natural human tendency to be risk-averse. People will go to great lengths to avoid potential negative outcomes – much greater lengths than they will go to attain potential positive ones. A simple example of this affect can be seen in terms of how much people are willing to pay for a car someone else owned. If you list this car as a “used” car, people will pay less for it than if it is listed as a “certified previously owned” vehicle. The word choice and framing you use affects perception, which in turn affects attitudes and behaviors. Action Forces Broccoli is the bane of my existence. Trying to get my kids to eat this cruciferous vegetable has been frustrating me for years. Then one day, I decided to try some of the persuasion principles that I teach my MBA students, and to my delight, I was able to get my kids to eat there veggies without starting WW III. When attempting to change a behavior or attitude, you must consider the action forces that promote and inhibit the change you are pursuing. Most persuasion efforts focus on promoting forces by explaining why you should make the change being suggested: Eat this broccoli because it will make you strong. Invest in this company so you can make great future returns. Drive this car so you can impress a prospective romantic partner. Promoting forces represent the benefits, incentives, or avoided negative outcomes of enacting the change. Most advertising promotes change. However, promoting forces are not always enough to affect change. You must consider the inhibiting forces that prevent someone from changing. In the broccoli battles I had, my kids understood very clearly the benefits of eating their greens and they were even excited by the elaborate rewards I concocted (e.g., each bite of broccoli translated to two bites of ice cream). However, they could not get beyond the texture and taste. These visceral responses prevented them from consuming the broccoli. With a little culinary cover up (e.g., dipping sauces), I was able to remove the inhibitory forces and achieve victory. Failing to address inhibitory forces can actually decrease the likelihood of behavior change. People can get very frustrated if they desire the change you are promoting but can’t get beyond the forces restraining the behavior. For example, consider a typical campaign to get sedentary people to exercise more. The promoting arguments are clear and desirable – greater health, more energy, etc. However, the lack of time and potential pain that comes with new exercise regimens can prevent people from starting. People bombarded solely with promoting messages might begin to resent those trying to help them be healthy since they are unable or unwilling to exercise. A more complete and effective campaign would focus not only on the benefits of exercise, but one developing less strenuous and less time consuming work outs. The bottom line here is that effective persuasion requires more than simply informing your audience of facts that support your view or desired change. You most take time to craft your persuasive messages so that they appear beneficial to your target while also considering what forces may inhibit them from taking on your desired change. Further, you must frame and word your persuasive intent in a positive manner. Thus, as with most things involved in effective communication, you must undertake thorough audience analysis. You need to understand what motivates your audience as well as what restrains them.