INVEST: Putting Yourself in the Game

February 22nd, 2011

A long time ago, I attended the end-of-term evaluation for a singing class. Each member of the class was required to perform one song they had prepared during the previous weeks. Out of the whole group, one singer was memorable. Not because of the song she chose or the interpretation she brought to the piece; we’d seen her do it all before—maybe too often. She stood out because she got up there and threw herself into the performance, almost literally. For a couple of minutes, she pulled out all the stops. The other performers sang all the words and hit all the notes, and I don’t remember them. She took a risk, put something out there and made an unforgettable impression.

As a speaker, it’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming it’s all about the words. Your voice gets quiet. Your gestures get smaller or disappear, and your face becomes expressionless. You pull back. You dial down the energy. You stop putting anything forward. Then, your listeners become unresponsive because you’re not giving them anything—and that makes you feel bad. You disappoint yourself. You feel weak. Instead, you should be coming out to play.

Your goal as a speaker is to make a connection, and that challenges you to be fully available to your listeners. So turn it up a notch. Give 110%. Throw yourself into the speech. Remember why you need to communicate your message. Reignite your passion and invest yourself more intensely in the delivery.

When you’re completely invested in the delivery of your message, you reinforce yourself. It’s invigorating. You feel strong. So take a chance. Look’em in the eye. Let your voice fill the room. Allow your gestures to take up more space. And remember this: an imperfect speech, delivered with passion, will always trump a polished but lifeless performance.

FOCUS: Knowing the Real Task

February 14th, 2011

I had a potential client, last week, whose primary concern was dealing with the nervousness undermining her credibility and impact in meetings. She discovered voice training has the unexpected benefit of giving her a constructive focus, an alternative to focusing on how miserable she felt.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking the presentation is about you. Yes, you may be at the front of the room. You may be the only one speaking. You may indeed be the center of attention, but ultimately it’s not about you. It’s about your audience. They have to get the message, or the whole exercise is a waste of time. Acute nervousness is a sign you’re focused on the wrong thing, yourself, instead of getting your message to those listeners. The more you focus on your discomfort, the less attention you have to devote to your listeners. If you become preoccupied with your nervousness, you become disconnected from the conversation. That will begin a downward spiral of self-consciousness that really could cripple your speech.

In addition, when you notice symptoms of nervousness, it’s easy to feel you’re doing a bad job. That’s a trap. A pounding heart is just a pounding heart. Shaky knees are just shaky knees. Not a sign from the gods that you’re going to fail. Let the symptoms of nervousness, your pounding heart, your shaky knees, remind you that you have an important job to do: get this message to those people. Your audience needs you. Cultivate the ability to care for your listeners and maintain a fierce focus on your task as the messenger. Nervousness and anxiety will fade into the background and perhaps disappear altogether.