A screen in the corner of a room shields a person changing clothes from others’ eyes.
A screen in your windows protects your house from the insects outside.
In basketball, a screen blocks a defender so that the person with the ball can get open to score.
What does your screen do? We imagine that they connect us to others, open up the world beyond where we are right now, and sometimes they do.
But the word “screen” implies a barrier, a block. A screen protects, it shields, it impedes. A screen hides and obscures.
What’s on the other side of your screen?
It used to be that if you wanted to communicate with someone, you only had a few choices. You could talk to them in person, on the phone, or send them a letter. If you wanted the letter to get there faster, you could fax it.
This stone age state of affairs was how I began my work life. Email existed, but I rarely, if ever, used it for work purposes. Now, of course, we email, conference call, text, Zoom, blog, Slack, tweet, SnapChat, webcast…Each of these methods has inherent advantages and disadvantages. They’re tools, but we think of them as if they are actual communication. Don’t be fooled. They’re not.
Communication requires someone to send a message and someone to receive it. Too many of our current proxies for talking don’t require a two-way street; we just send and send, and then we get frustrated when things don’t get done, or it seems like no one is reading our emails.
This is like the middle school basketball game I watched last night–time after time, players would throw haphazard passes out of bounds, to the other team, off their own feet. If there’s no one to catch it, it’s not really a pass. If no one hears you, it’s not communication.
Pop quiz: If you’re addressing a room full of people, do you stand or sit?
Stand. Yes, even if you want it to seem casual and laid back. Yes, even if there’s another person there feeding you questions. Yes, even if you don’t feel like it and prefer to sit.
Here’s why. Imagine the room. It’s got, let’s say, nine tables in it arranged in rows. There are six or seven people at each table, and they’ve moved their chairs to face the front of the room where you’re speaking. Your chair is the same height as their chairs, and there’s all this other furniture, nine tables, between you and them. There are laptop and water bottles and bags on the tables. The chances that they can all see you easily, from each vantage point in the room, are slim.
Here’s why. You have more power when you stand. You are in charge of the room, so take charge of the room.
Recently I had an experience that falls right into the “Everything is a metaphor for everything else” category.
The head coach at my gym was describing what it feels like to train too hard without adequate rest and fuel. He said, “It’s like in a video game where you’re a character that’s walking down the street, and you get in fights with other characters. You have an indicator on the screen that tells you your character’s health—how much longer they can continue doing what they’re doing. If that indicator dips down and starts blinking, you have to pull back. You have to lie low until it recovers enough to go on.”
He was talking about pushing too hard in a workout, but isn’t this true of everything? We know when we’re running low on energy, enthusiasm, optimism, curiosity. It happens to everyone; the question is, what do you do when you notice it? Do you try to push through, drawing on willpower alone? Or do you pull back, retreat for a bit and recharge? What are the activities, and who are the people, that help you get that indicator back up to full?
I have a question as a speaker: how do you insure that your words reach the global audience and not just a few?–PHY
Thanks for this great question. It’s is a tough one! I don’t think you can guarantee that your words reach everyone, but there are concrete steps you can take to get your message across to the biggest possible proportion of your audience.
Content: Don’t try to tell the audience too many things. Drill down in your preparation to a few key points. I like to ask my clients: if someone got to your talk just as it was ending, grabbed someone coming out, and said “Hey, I missed it! Tell me what she said!,” what would they say? Hint: it’s cheating to just summarize your long talk.
Once you’ve settled on that main message, the nugget you want them to get, support it in several ways. Tell stories, give examples, set up analogies, give data. Come at the key points from several directions. This allows you to do a couple of things: you repeat the message, so you have more chances to get it across, and by employing different strategies, you engage different types of learners and listeners.
Delivery: Don’t rush. You’ve boiled your message down to the essentials, so you should have plenty of time. Pace yourself, breathe, land your sentences, and let them sit for a moment. Vary your cadence and speed. Use eye contact to connect with different segments of the audience.
Presence: Be aware of the room. Look at people’s faces. Watch for signs that they’re following you—nods, smiles, leaning forward. Watch for signs that they’re not—confused expressions, phones coming out, side conversations. When you’re planning your talk, build in some interaction. This will help you gauge their engagement and their understanding.
If you’ve got a question, email me. I’d love to feature it on the blog!
The number one reason people are sent to us for coaching is this: “Person X needs to be more confident.”
I’m going to tell you a secret. No coach can give you more confidence. And? That’s not really what matters in this scenario.
When someone says “Hey, we need to get so-and-so some coaching so that they can speak with more confidence,” what they’re really saying is “I don’t feel confident about them when I listen to them speak.”
When you’re in the audience, you want a baseline level of confidence in the speaker you’re listening to. You want to trust that they know what they’re talking about, and that they’re not so nervous that you need to worry about whether they’ll make it through the talk. Once you’ve satisfied yourself on that front, you can settle in.
But here’s the thing. The speaker doesn’t have to feel confident in order to make the audience confident. The speaker merely has to behave confidently. Obviously, it would be better if both things were true, but if I have to pick, I’m picking the audience every time.
Instead of thinking about whether you feel confident, plan how you want the audience to feel. Be intentional about what you are creating for the people listening to you. The result will be that the audience trusts you, and, surprise! you may actually feel more confident. 🙂
I know, I sound like your grandmother. But when your back is straight, your presence shines.
When actors are trained in a conservatory or graduate school program, they learn to bring their bodies and voices to a neutral place. They lose any regional accent they may have and maximize their ability to use their bodies in any way a character may require. Actors cultivate very strong relationships with their bodies, a deep self-awareness that serves them well in their craft.
Like actors, we all live in these bodies, and the way we use them sends messages about who we are, and how we’re feeling. When we slouch or slump, it can look like we’re deflecting attention, or that we’re apologizing for being there, or that we don’t have much energy.
Standing up straight gives you options. It’s the neutral setting. It says “I’m here, I’m paying attention, and I’m not afraid to take up space.”
I was at a seminar recently. The people who had put it together did a great job, and the information they were giving us was interesting and useful. They had clearly planned and prepared. Most of the audience were paying close attention, nodding along, asking questions.
There were two people near me who were on their phones. Their tapping and scrolling was distracting, and it felt rude to the people who had worked hard to put the event together.
Here’s my wish—if you’re in the audience, can you put your phone away? If you have to be on your phone, can you leave?
Make a decision about where you are and what you’re doing, and commit to it.
When I first started coaching communication skills, I had to haul along a bunch of recording equipment. It’s really helpful to be able to video clients in action, so they can see what’s working and what they can improve.
Now, of course, most of us have excellent recording capability in our pockets at all times. For some reason, though, we don’t take advantage of it when we’re preparing for an interview, a meeting, or a speaking event.
The next time you’re preparing to speak in public, even (or especially) if it’s for something that’s not a big deal, video yourself making the remarks in advance. Here are some things to look for:
What kind of energy am I bringing to this? Do I seem engaged and prepared?
When I’m not quite sure what to say next, what do I do? Do my eyes look up or to the side?
When I move, am I doing it with intention, or does it seem random?
and most of all…
Would I want to watch me if I were in the audience?