Interview 1997 – Uniquely You, Use Your Fear, Use Visuals

ASTD – Interchange, Los Angeles

What do you think the most important element of successful speaking or presenting is?

The personal. Infusing your message with something that is uniquely you. This is what will add expression and color to your message and most directly interest your audience. It’s also the most difficult element for many people. In my workshops when people are asked to add something personal to their self-introduction, they often freeze up or give some facts versus letting us know some special aspect of who they are, what they love.

We are taught in our culture, especially regarding business to separate or exclude the personal. There are a lot of maxims like – “Don’t mix business and pleasure” – that express this attitude, warn us, and shut us down. It’s really a shame. If people sit down and calculate how they spend their time, these days, it’s often heavy on the work end. So if business and pleasure, or business and the personal, are separate; people are not spending a lot of time being open and authentic, or enjoying themselves. Sometimes when I’m working with a client on effective interpersonal communication I’m offered the excuse that he or she is just very strict or closed at the workplace, but is an affable saint at home. I’ll have the client do the time calculation exercise and then ask him or her who they are in the world, in this life, based on how much time they spend as that persona, and the point hits home.

I think expressing the personal, letting people know how you feel about whatever it is you must talk about, adds tons of interest and energy to any message. Its wonderful to watch people come alive when they find that they are very interesting, valid human beings, as they are. That’s what happens when they have the courage to add high level meaning by including how they feel, talking about what they love.

One of the most known facts about speaking is that it is the #1 phobia. What helps speakers get past the fear?

There are a lot of fun and interesting techniques I teach. I encourage participants to find one that works for them and use it. Largely, I think reframing your purpose refocuses your mind. What are you there to do on a moment to moment basis? Most people who are stopped by fear, freeze because they let their mind stay focused on themselves. Focus on your intention. What are you there to give? Ask that question, keep asking it, and keep finding moment to moment ways to give it.

Love is a great thing to give, no matter what your topic. If you show up looking for ways to give love, you’ll find them and your focus will be off receiving it, which is really what we all want when we step out in front of people: acceptance. If you give it, you tend to get it. Keep it genuine and sincere, notice how many ways you can give love, and no doubt you’ll relax and see love smiling back at you. Remember, that’s what your listeners want most too. Even if you’re there to present bad news, or reprimand, or challenge, it can be done from a place of love and that’s what everyone wants.

It also helps tremendously to find ways to relax physically. Stand effectively, move with purpose, learn to use your body in a way that energizes you and centers you instead of giving over to negative physical habits. The mind and the body interact in the creation of our being. ItÕs funny. Many people actually identify with the negative physical habits they have learned or fallen into over the years. They’ll say “You’re asking me to change who I am… That’s not me… I’ll be phony if I do that… ” I usually smile at these remarks and then begin to explore how a particular habit is who they are. We always find that it’s not an expression of who they are, nor who they want to be.

I offer the warm up exercises and physical skills used by performers. Speaking and presenting is a performance, so if you allow yourself to accept that, and prepare as a performer would, the preparation helps relax you. You must also know your material. That’s essential for getting past fear and achieving relaxation. It’s not necessary to memorize a script, in fact that can hinder your ability to be relaxed and natural. You should rehearse “talking” about your subject until your points flow smoothly.

There seem to be a lot of different opinions about how to use A.V. Equipment. What do you suggest?

First of all, it’s good to use it. Especially if you and want them to remember information. Be as close to and coordinated with your visuals (projector screen, TV, product boards) as possible. That creates focus and empowers you. Break tradition in intelligent ways. It will set you apart. Even if other speakers are using a lectern — if you don’t have to, don’t. Many speakers hate it when I say that because the lectern is their security fetish. Anything that puts a barrier between you and your audience, puts a barrier between you and your audience. Do you really need the visual authority, or will they respond better to surprising openness? I’m convinced Clinton’s staging during the debates for the last election helped him win. He stayed open to the audience.

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