So, don’t screw it up.
There are two things that ruin a possibly good speech for me: The Apology and The Resume. The first happens when the speaker steps up to the mic and proceeds to explain how they don’t normally speak in public, how they are technically challenged with or without their PowerPoint, and how nervous they are to be in front of a group of people.
My brain sighs with the anticipation of listening to a speaker who really doesn’t want to be there and has no idea how to take control and make their presentation. From that auspicious start, the audience does not feel sympathy or empathy for the speaker, they feel cheated.
You are in control.
Taking the stage, stepping up to mic, or rising from a crowd to make your point you are immediately endowed with authority with few exceptions. (For instance, if you are that quirky person in the meeting who always has some bizarre point to make then the groans will be audible.)
Your audience wants to listen, they want to hear what you have to say, even if they don’t agree with you. Most of the time, speakers are asked to proclaim their wisdom to a crowd that is eager to listen so don’t discourage them by telling them you have no idea what you are doing. Be confident, have a plan, practice what you want to say, and then get up and say it.
We trust you.
The second thing that ruins a good speech is when the speaker extolls their life history when it has nothing to do with the topic. The audience trusts that you have the credentials to talk about your topic. There is no need to bring out your eighth grade report card or regale the captives with your college years, first marriage, career progression, and spiritual awakening unless it has something to do with the topic.
You can avoid this by allowing a speaker to write a 30 second introduction that the emcee can recite and end with, “Please welcome, INSERT NAME OF SPEAKER.” This gets the ball rolling right into the expected subject and the audience is thrilled to have more time to hear your expertise rather than your resume.
There is one more bugaboo that makes me clench my teeth, and that’s the speaker who announces they are going to ignore the time frame they have been asked to fill. Usually interpreted as they will continue talking until you tackle them or turn off the lights. If you are the speaker, be considerate of your audience and claim your authority by confidently presenting the material requested in the established time frame. That is, if you’d like to be a welcome and frequently requested speaker.
HINT: It is not about you.
Recently, I had to again force myself to not stand in a corner clinging to my coffee cup and mingle with people I barely know. It’s called networking and as an introvert, it is among my least favorite sports. Reportedly, it’s about a 50/50 split between people who love networking and people who would rather find a nice cozy spot to just watch everyone interact.
I dread making small talk. I am a native New Englander, we provide one word answers when we feel chatty. I now live below the Mason/Dixon line and the shortest sentence here is “Amen!” with “Bless your heart.” running a close second, but each of these is actually punctuation, not conversation.
When someone asks me, “How’s business?” I succinctly reply “Fine.” Because #1- I am sure that they don’t want to hear all the rabid chipmunks screaming in my head about deadlines, billing, and time management and #2 because I am also wondering why they are asking. Oh, right… to start a conversation. Okay. Ugh.
My concise retort comes with a micro-pause until I process the aforementioned, come to my senses, and then sincerely ask, “How are you doing?” Which, in the South, sets off a detailed response that covers everything from a health status update, family additions and subtractions, and then finally a quick report on their business matters. When a third person joins our duet, I will excuse myself after gathering enough information from each of them to make my living as a convivial blackmailer. I could, but I won’t.
Instead, I will file away the vital data and send off an email within a day to tell them it was nice to get to know them and that I hope their carbuncle is better and that their mother-in-law is still enjoying yoga. They will remember me as a good listener and will appreciate my attention to their details.
And, now that we’ve started a relationship, we can each reach out to each other more easily.
Your doctor rushes into the examination room dressed for tennis and starts asking you pertinent questions about your health. If this is an emergency you’ll think they are truly dedicated to you and their Hippocratic Oath. However, if this is your annual checkup and the doc appears to be seeing you between sets, you may not have complete confidence in their abilities.
Yeah, don’t judge a book by its cover is something we’ve all been taught.
Then why do people invest so much time and energy designing their book covers if they weren’t trying to get you to pay attention to the potential content? Because the wrapper tells you something about what is contained within.
It’s the same for small business owners with your clients, colleagues, and the general public. If you show up looking raggedy and unkempt, or even clean and shiny but inappropriately dressed, your audience may be at best quizzical and at worst insulted that you didn’t take the time to put your best self forward.
They will be distracted by your appearance and will not be able to focus on what you have to offer. They can feel that because of the way you are dressed you don’t really take yourself, your position, or the situation very seriously.
Your appearance can improve or damage your reputation and your bottom line.
There are some general rules for industrious ladies and gents to keep in mind. Always dress at least as well as (and preferably slightly better than) the people you are meeting. Wear clothes that fit, that are clean, and that are unwrinkled.
Ladies – watch your hemlines and necklines. Blouses cut with deep V-necks, short skirts or shorts, and clothing that clings are not right for business. Gents – wear pants that fit at your waist with a belt to keep them in place and a shirt that you didn’t have in high school. As for shoes: flip flops do not qualify, sneakers are for your personal time, and ultra-high heels are an accident waiting to happen.
Expensive clothes punctuated with rips and tears make you look like you’ve been in an accident.
Business events that are after hours or on your day off still need to be treated with respect. This is when you are most likely to make that important first impression. Think of what you want that to be.
Understand that “business” also means when you are part of a non- profit board. As a board member you represent the organization. If your appearance is suspect, it can raise public concerns about how you value the organization and the work they do.
Just to be clear, there are many business owners who are well respected while wearing shorts, sneakers, and a polo shirt with their logo. They can do it because it’s the uniform for the work they do. Their outfit is in perfect concert with their vocation.
It’s the incongruities that will steal your thunder and make it difficult for people to remember any of your intelligent insights. (I once had a district sales manager give a ten minute pep talk to a group of about 100 people, but his tie was so loud all we could focus on was his horribly ugly cravat.)
You have a great story to tell. Don’t let your cover dissuade someone from listening.
As an actor, I can barely see my audience since they are sitting out there somewhere in the dark theater. Without my glasses, even those people in the front rows lit by the glow of the stage are just mannequins to me. But, light up a room to give a speech and BAM! ….there are real breathing people watching me. It used to make me somewhat uncomfortable.
There are a few tricks people offer to manage the terror of a crowd looking back at you. None of them are good.
- Imagine they are naked.
- Look to the back of the room.
- Have an adult beverage before you speak.
If you really want to control the jitters, do just one thing: Look ‘em in the eye.
By making eye contact you make a connection with your audience. Your presentation is no longer an oratory to the masses but a one on one conversation with the people you gaze upon. You’ll get feedback from them, you will engage them, and they will connect with you.
Eye contact is becoming a lost art.
Flirting used to be done with a glance and a grin… now it is an emoji and anxious moments waiting for a text back. It is a less efficient means of communication. Go direct and catch their eye, cut out the middleman.
The easiest way to practice making eye contact is with friends and family. Start by putting your phone down the next time one of your inner circle speaks to you and look them directly in the eye. You might need to wait a few seconds for them to catch on and to look up from their own digital brain. But once they do, you may hear a celestial choir sing.
Making that eye contact tells them that they are the only focus of your life at that very moment. It proves that what they are saying or what you are telling them is very important. It is so important that you needed to see the windows to their very soul to know that the message is being received.
Test it in the real world.
Your next step is to take your show on the road. When you order coffee or pick up your groceries actually look into the eyes of the person behind the register and say “Thank You!” It could be an earth-shattering experience for the clerk because you acknowledged them visually and verbally.
Spend the rest of your day purposefully making eye contact. It will be odd at first, but the more you work on it the easier it will be. Soon you’ll find that it’s like a super power. You’ll make instant connections with people, they will think you are a wonderful communicator, and your confidence will get a boost, too.
Then when you stand in front of your next audience you’ll look ‘em in the eye and think, “I got this!”