The kinds of things you can practice include: eye contact, tempo, inflection, and volume of your voice, deliberate movement and gestures, and most importantly, coming to the interaction with deliberate, not default, intention.
If you make time to practice in regular meetings, on the phone, even in casual conversation, you’ll expand what feels comfortable and natural to you. You’ll start to see the range of behavior that’s available to you, and you’ll see the impact this kind of presence has on other people. You’ll be using the whole suite of software, not just the formula function.
When someone says, “How are you?” what do you say?
Here’s the thing. We’re all busy. Answering “busy” has become a non-answer, another “fine.” Plus, it’s a conversation-killer with the added threat of initiating a which-person-is-busier escalation.
What can you say instead? How can we turn a routine exchange into something with some meaning?
How are you?
Good! I’m working on a project that I’m excited about.
Swell! Had a terrific weekend with my buddies.
Great! I’ve got a lot going on; it’s fun. How about you?
Pretty good. Working hard on this new project.
When you’re presenting or leading a meeting, you’re in charge of the room.
Maybe it goes back to our days as students in class, maybe it’s just part of how we understand authority, but when you’re the one at the front of the room, you’re in charge. That means you have responsibilities that go beyond your content. Everyone is looking to you to keep things moving, give a coherent message, and handle anything unexpected that pops up.
Have you ever been in the audience when something goes wrong? It could be anything—the computer freezes, an audience member’s phone goes off, one person is dominating the Q&A with long-winded assertions masquerading as questions. The audience’s discomfort can only be mitigated by the person in charge—you. My advice is to address it as soon as it becomes clear that the issue isn’t going to resolve itself quickly. The attention of an audience is a fragile and fleeting thing, and as soon as the dominant thought in their minds is “when is she going to handle that?,” you’ve lost them. And it’s hard to get them back.
The computer freezes? If there’s a tech person available, ask them to come up and address the problem while you continue without the deck. If your slides are crucial to doing your presentation, pause for some discussion while they get you back up and running.
Phone rings? Pause, ask everyone to go ahead and pull their phones out to silence them. No shame, just action.
One person is dominating the Q&A? Pull out a thread you can respond to in order to get the floor back, then without batting the conversational ball back, say, “I’m glad you have so much interest in this topic. Now I’d like to hear from some people who haven’t had a chance to speak yet.”
The big thing to remember is that the decisions here are yours. You need to make them quickly to keep the energy up and the attention on you and your message.
People love to tell me that they are good public speakers, and maybe they are. But often the only evidence they give is this: “I don’t get nervous!”
One of the great misunderstandings about public speaking is this: not being nervous doesn’t mean you are serving your audience well.
And this works in both directions. Most of the great speakers you’ve seen have been managing some level of nerves or anxiety, and often the folks who are congratulating themselves for being so confident didn’t spend enough time preparing. (The Venn diagram here of “I don’t get nervous” and “I do best when I wing it” has lots of overlap.)
When you’re talking to other people, it’s about them. Full stop. The level of nervousness of the speaker is relevant, but only if it affects the audience.
Reminder! I’m getting ready to do a post that answers reader questions. Send ’em to me!