In this short video, I’m going to debunk a couple of myths about making eye contact in presentations, and also tell you what we recommend instead!
Why isn’t “to get it right” a good intention? Isn’t it important to get it right?
When we’re thinking about needing to get it right, we’re thinking about ourselves. We’re holding onto achievement and getting an A, rather than being willing to be vulnerable, attempt genuine connection, and risk failure.
One way to think about this is to reframe what “getting it right” means. Let’s forget “getting all the words in the order I wrote them down,” and “running through all my bullet points.” Instead, what if getting it right means that the people we are talking to walk away feeling changed or motivated or ready to think about something differently? What if they remember your message, not because you said it just how you planned, but because they were moved by who you are?
When do you default to your old habits?
I’m thinking about this today as I recommit to budgeting, and meal planning, and generally being more intentional. All the tools I need to be good at this stuff are literally at my fingertips—apps, information, lots of ways to monitor and measure. But the driver of all those tools is my intention, my willingness to make it happen.
This morning at the gym, I was working on a gymnastics movement that has eluded me for a long time. And today, I was getting it! It was working! I was finally doing the thing that I’ve seen other people do seemingly effortlessly.
And then, in the very last minutes of class, it all fell apart. My form got sloppy, my body got tired, and I couldn’t quite finish the last rep.
Couldn’t quite finish the last rep. Man, if that’s not a metaphor for all this other stuff. When it gets hard, what do you do? When you’re tired? When you’re hungry? When does your deliberate, positive intention slip away, leaving you with a sloppy default intention?
If we know when we’re likely to throw in the towel, maybe we can strategize how to hold on for that last rep.
Our faces are our billboards to the world. They are telling the people around us how we’re feeling, whether it’s okay to approach us, what kind of person we are.
What is your face doing when you’re not keeping an eye on it?
I do, too.
But you know what I hate more? Feeling unprepared. Forgetting what I wanted to say. The clammy feel of my palms sweating as I realize I’m not sure I checked my slides after the last time I used them to make sure they’re updated with this client’s info.
I practice so I will feel great. I practice so I can forget about the content and concentrate on the audience.
I practice because the people who are taking time out of their day to listen to me deserve it—whether I’m leading a meeting, holding a call, or giving a keynote.
It’s very easy to be too busy to practice and prepare. But it’s worth it to slow down, take your time, and make sure you’re ready to connect.
I’ve been reading and working through a revolutionary book. It’s not Karl Marx or Tim Ferriss or the latest by Yuval Noah Harari.
It’s “Become a Supple Leopard,” by Dr. Kelly Starrett. Starrett is a physical therapist and trainer, and he started out as an athlete himself, paddling for the US canoeing and kayaking teams. In this hefty book, Starrett takes the reader through the mechanics of the body, explains where chronic pain and limited function come from, and details hundreds of techniques to get the body back in effective position (and out of pain). The title of the book comes from the idea that leopards don’t need to stretch or warm up in order to be at their best—their lifestyles and natural movement patterns support them always being ready to leap into action.
In our coaching work, we often run into something that seems like a paradox: we are coaching clients to be authentic communicators, to be relaxed and genuine. At the same time, we know that there are vocal and physical patterns that are distracting to audiences and that take away from the impact of even the most intentional communication. Sometimes clients say, “I’m just more comfortable this way,” as they pace relentlessly, twist one leg around the other, or end every sentence with an upward inflection. And they’re telling the truth—it does feel more comfortable.
In Starrett’s work, he would say that these are learned habits, repeated for years, that have actually physically changed our bodies—shortened ligaments, made some muscle groups compensate for others, and kept some from working much at all. And the irony is that these habits that make us feel comfortable are the same ones that finally cause us injury when the adaptation breaks down.
The same is true in our coaching. The habits and routines we’ve all built to protect ourselves from feeling vulnerable when we communicate are the ones that keep us from showing up powerfully when we need to. When we cross one leg in front of the other, teetering, we take away the stable base that demonstrates we are comfortable in front of the room. When we pace without stopping, we deny the audience a chance to pause and take in our message. When we vocally connect every thought with the one in front of it, never landing a sentence, we strip the impact silence can have.
The answer to the paradox is that what may seem comfortable is merely familiar. And to generate the outcome you want, whether it’s to become a supple leopard or to move your audience to truly hear you, you’ll need to get out of that comfort zone.
We all know that weddings are big business. What they also are is a fascinating place to learn about other people.
In the last couple of decades, wedding planning has begun taking an a la carte approach. The couple notices what they’ve experienced at other weddings, they incorporate some parts and leave others out. Many elements of an American wedding that would have been standard forty years ago (church or temple, cake, white dress, wedding party, garter, bouquet) are now negotiable.
This means that as we experience a wedding, we learn about the couple. Everything from the venue to the officiant to the clothing to the music to the vows to the food tells us who they are and want to be. The intentional planning of this major life event is incredibly personal.
It makes sense that we are intentional about our weddings. They are a big deal. We want each detail to be something we love, something that reverberates in our memory forever.
What would it look like to bring that level of intention to our everyday conversations? What would it mean to slow down, to think specifically about the choices that we are making and how they will affect those around us? Each utterance doesn’t have to be planned like wedding vows, but to think, “How is what I’m about to say going to land on this person? What do I really mean?” is a powerful practice.
Do. Not. Memorize It. I’m serious. My colleague Neela describes the phenomenon of watching someone deliver a speech from rote memory as being like they are reading it from a ticker tape right in front of their eyes—they aren’t connecting with the audience because their brain space and focus are all taken up with remembering the speech word for word.
I can hear you now: “But that’s the only way I can be sure I won’t forget anything!” “But lots of great speakers memorize!”
Let’s address these comments one at a time. First, the ever popular: “But that’s the only way I can be sure I won’t forget anything!” I have a couple of points to make about this. A.) Just because you don’t know another way doesn’t mean there’s not one. I’ll teach you a better way to be sure that you cover everything you need to in your presentation. B.) It doesn’t matter if you forget something, unless you’re giving CPR instructions to someone who is simultaneously using them. C.) The intention of your speech should not be “to make sure I don’t forget anything.”
Next! “But lots of great speakers memorize!” I’m not so sure about that. Lots of very practiced speakers use teleprompters, and are really good at it. Those speakers (think President Obama) also have writers who do a spectacular job of writing in the voice of the person who will be speaking—also, Obama edits and rewrites his speeches so that he can deliver them authentically. People like this—who speak frequently and on a huge scale—are in a different category. Their job and lifestyle support an immense amount of preparation and deliberate practice. In other words, they do their speeches so often that they move through “memorized” as our friend Neela describes it, and they come out on the other side, where they truly inhabit the content. In this way, they’re like actors. I had a client argue with me once that she should be allowed to memorize her speech “since that’s what actors do.” I asked her, “Are you an actor?” “No,” she said, “I’m an accountant.”
For most people, memorizing a speech word for word is going to result in a speech that comes off as rote and robotic to the audience. The speaker has dedicated all her prep time to memorization instead of working specifically on what impact she wants to have on her audience. This is misplaced time and energy.
One other problem with memorized speeches is that the people who write and deliver them are often at the mercy of their more “writerly” phrases and structures. Most people don’t write a presentation as if they are actually going to say it out loud; they write it as though it’s going to be read. So when it comes time to say it out loud, it sounds strange and stilted. How do we avoid that? Practice out loud. Note what sentences and phrases sound awkward. They may have been fine on the page, but they aren’t going to translate to the stage.
If you insist on memorizing, remember you’re going to have to put about twice or three times the amount of time into preparing. This is because once you’ve memorized it, the real work begins—making the presentation seem natural, and connecting with your audience.