In February 2010 I launched my first company, Phenomenal Women Ltd, and, in typical devil-may-care fashion, had my first event scheduled for six weeks later. My public speaking skills were almost non-existent, so I decided I’d better do something about that, PDQ. Thankfully, a speaker I greatly respect, Blair Singer, was delivering a Train the Trainer programme a few weeks before my event, so I booked myself on it and set off to learn everything I could from the programme.
It was quite an intimidating experience. People had flown in from all over the world and many were very experienced, having been on the speaking or training circuit for years. Many were entrepreneurs who were passionate about sharing their message or product, desperate to emulate their heroes, such as Tony Robbins, Marianne Williamson and Les Brown. I felt totally outclassed.
Towards the end of the first day, Blair invited people up onto the stage to give the classic one minute elevator pitch about who they were and how their product could add value to the listeners’ lives. I slid down in my seat whilst others waved their hands frantically, eager to be picked. Once up on stage, the guinea pigs tried really hard to ‘hook’ the audience, using impactful language, confident posture, significant pauses and every other technique in their repertoire.
One particular man who took the stage has stayed in my memory. Blair was supportive in his comments, helped the volunteer overcome his nerves at speaking in front of 400 people and his delivery certainly improved. Then Blair stopped him. “What you’re saying is fine, but I wouldn’t be buying, would you?” he asked the audience, who admitted with awkward mumbles, that, no, they would not. What he said next deeply impacted my perception of public speaking/training and has influenced it ever since. “You are so worried about being professional and getting everything right that you have forgotten the most important thing: it’s about your audience, not about you.” Blair then added, “Show us what makes you passionate about what you’re sharing, how it has changed your life and then people will see what’s in it for them.” The man’s whole demeanour changed. He stopped trying to impress but instead shared that he had created a natural health programme because he knew that it could really save lives. Some years ago he had been best friends with a girl who was obese and while he had teased and cajoled her a little, he had never really challenged her eating habits and life-style. When she had a heart-attack and died at the age of twenty-six he was devastated. He made a promise to himself, then, that he would do everything possible to wake people up to the dangers of poor diet, which had lead him to develop his eating plan. It was one of the most compelling deliveries I had ever seen. He was not polished or poised, just totally authentic and assured that his product was really valuable.
My fears about my event disappeared. I may not be as experienced or polished as I would like but knew that I cared about my audience and what I would be sharing would really benefit them. On the day, I was nervous, initially, and stumbled over my words but when I remembered it was all about the crowd and not about me, I forgot my fears and focused on sharing my valuable message. The testimonials that came back after the event bore witness to the fact that the women in the room had taken away distinctions and tools that had made a powerful impact on their lives.
If you have delivered a presentation, or a training session and your audience develop the glazed look of those who have lost the will to live, ask yourself the question, “Was this about them, or was it about me?” Sometimes we can get bogged down in the minutiae of wanting to dot every i or cross every t of our presentation and we don’t realise we have lost the room. Just as bad is when a delivery turns into the Me Show, where the person takes advantage of a captive audience to postulate their favourite theory or talk about themselves, irrelevantly. It’s fine to share stories to illustrate a point – but only if they add extra value. This is not your fifteen minutes of fame. People soon lose interest if there is nothing in it for them and you will have created resistance in them against future training. It’s possible to make any subject engaging, even IT training, as long as you remember it not what your delivering but how you do it.
I’m sure we’ve all had tough crowds in our time. Many people have been subjected to poor training or presentations so often that they shuffle in to your event in survival mode – just let me get out of here alive. Once again, ask yourself the question, “Is this about them, or about me?” If you are thinking about yourself, you are likely to anticipate trouble and be defensive, which is only going to impact the room. There is nothing more rewarding in that kind of environment than to turn the room around and have your audience leave at the end of the day with a change of perspective and some valuable insights or tools. We can achieve that when we think about what’s in it for them, not us.
As I am committed to being a top class speaker/trainer (there, you can hold me accountable), I have looked at ways to continue to develop my abilities, which I share with you, here. Toastmasters is one great resource www.toastmasters.org. There are branches all over the country that meet regularly, for people to practice their presentation skills. It’s well-structured, fun and very inexpensive, so if public speaking still falls into your top three most horrifying scenarios, it would be worth dropping in to a meeting.
For a more exclusive experience of speaker coaching, Emma Stroud and her business partner, Deon Newbronner have created the Perfect Pitch Club, where you can received their exceptional support in an intimate environment. Their expertise have enabled people to really tap into their power as a speaker, with a depth of connection and authenticity that captivates their audience. www.perfectpitchclub.com
Whatever your audience, I wish you success: happy speaking and happier audiences!