I had been called into another company to help a rising star from becoming a falling one. Her presentation skills were holding her back.
When I called her manager for feedback, he offered these observations:
“She’s so self conscious when she’s up there. She fidgets and is at a loss with what to do with her hands. She is reading from the slides, and when she’s not, her talk is filled with ‘umms and ahhhs.’ I am a nervous wreck by the time she sits down….”
My rising star had adapted a performance orientation to presenting. She was hiding her true self behind the material and speaking to the room, not to the individuals in the room. I had to help her see public speaking was not about performing but expressing authentic self.
“Leaders can no longer simply stand in front of a room and tell people what to do,” writes Lee Glickstein in his book Be Heard Now! Tap Into Your Inner Speaker and Communicate with Ease. “To make an impact, we need to forge a strong heartfelt relationship with people. That means we have to be authentic and human with them. We have to let them in, so that they will let our message in.”
Psychologists say a family dynamic occurs whenever two people come together. These dynamics also haunt us when we speak. As the youngest of three boys (there is a 12-year age difference between me and my next brother), I was constantly being teased. I began to edit myself, speaking and acting in ways I believed would garner my family’s approval. I adopted a persona I called my “heroic image,” and it had little to do with who I am.
When I spoke publicly, it was my heroic image speaking. I felt protected. My image became my mask and my words, my shield. My natural voice caused me such shame that I switched it to a rich baritone. Little did I know, audiences sensed my inauthenticity and discounted much of what I said.
As I became more comfortable with myself in my late thirties. I began to crave more connection. I wanted to be seen and heard for who I really am. When I spoke publicly, I slowly stopped performing and began to share more and more of myself.
“We can’t try to be real,” writes Glickstein. “We can just relax and let ourselves be whoever we are.”
It takes a lot of practice to be real in public. Now with practice, I can have a conversation with twenty or more people. I focus 100 percent on each person, even if I don’t connect with 100 percent of the people in the room. Instead of focusing on information, I focus on communication, because most audiences don’t care what we know until they know we care.
By caring and sharing who we are, we become the powerful presenters we were born to be.
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