What I didn’t realize when I started speaking a few years ago was just how much I would enjoy it. It’s not so much the idea of being in front of people; I don’t need to be the center of attention. What I do like is the chance to pass along information and know-how to others and speaking allows me to do this on a larger scale.
Along the way I also discovered I was pretty good at putting a presentation together and delivering it in a manner that people really liked and found to be quite helpful. All good.
But, now, I know I can do this even better.
I recently traveled to New York City to attend a Masterclass on public speaking with Michael Port. It was part of the launch for his new book, Steal the Show. I didn’t really know what to expect, and I didn’t even know what type of forum a Masterclass was. I just knew that after a few years of following Michael that I wanted to see him in action.
Being in attendance at a Masterclass allows for learning to be done in a group but with an intense focus on one student at a time. The teacher (in this case, Port) gives advice on how to present, from specifics on the tone or actual content to the way the student uses the stage or her body. As the student incorporates the advice, the presentation is delivered over and over until the student and teacher agree on an approach. What’s neat is that we, as spectators, see this process and come to understand that to present is, in reality, to perform. And it doesn’t matter if it’s for a speech, an interview, or for a boardroom presentation.
A Masterclass is an intimate experience and it completely takes over one’s attention. Email, phone calls, social media are pushed aside willingly. You are not even aware of the people sitting near you.
My day in New York attending Port’s Masterclass upended my perspective on what it means to be a public speaker, i.e. a good, engaging speaker. As I left that day, I couldn’t have been happier about this and what it would mean for my speeches to come.
As always, when leaving a great conference, we’re completely inspired and motivated to get ourselves on track with what we’ve just heard. We want to be the one in action! But, it’s not so easy to just jump in and make changes to how we do things. In this case, I knew there wasn’t going to be an overnight overhaul to my speaking style. For that reason, I instead came back, read my notes from the Masterclass, and found the keys to understanding how to incorporate what I had learned into what I do. It’ll take some time, but now I know how to begin to unlock the performer in me.
Embrace Authentic, Personal Engagement
Every day we each have many conversations, meetings or interactions with others. In each we both provide and obtain information. Each interaction is an opportunity to connect with another person or group and to make an impression, to influence or serve them. We need to be aware of this and realize how critical it is that we make that connection with an understanding as to why we are doing so. We need to understand why and this knowledge will allow us to wholeheartedly, genuinely engage with others and have the type of impact desired. Our audience, be it one or many, will then feel and see our personal connection which will heighten their responsiveness to what we say and offer.
Clarify Intents and Purposes
We have many opportunities to take lessons, gather tips, or study techniques to improve our presentation skills. Learning how to control your voice or breathing, how to hold a microphone, or how to put a good PowerPoint together can be invaluable to our ability to speak with authority and impact. These are desirable skills, for sure. Alone they are helpful and make us better speakers. But an even stronger linchpin in a wildly successful speaking performance is a clearly stated reason why you are presenting, why it’s different, and what you hope to bring to those in your audience.
Know When It’s Time to Shine
Earlier I said that I didn’t need to be the center of attention. That’s true, but I also have to admit that when I get the chance to be on stage, I enjoy it. Every presentation, whether solo or on a panel, offers the chance to be front and center. Port refers to this as the time when you can ‘steal the show.’ It can be a pretty heady experience, but don’t let it go to your head! Recognize and own your moment. Bask in it and make the most of it but know you’re still ‘in it’ to touch the audience and, above all else, know when it’s time to hand the spotlight back to the audience or to another.
Storytelling is a Powerful Way to Connect
Our personal and professional lives are busy and full of adventures, celebrations, and heartaches. We all have a backstory. One of the most powerful ways to connect with others is to let them know who we are and what we’ve experienced. Tell them one of your personal stories. Tell a story that allows the audience to move closer to you and lets them know we are particularly well situated to hear, see and feel the “space” in which they find themselves, i.e. the challenge or problem they are working through. If the story is told well, our experience becomes a key piece to resolving their challenge or conflict because we’ve let them know that we stood where they are at and we’ve overcome. The audience actually sees itself in our story. They come to know and trust we want to help them – and we can.
Practice Leads to Memorable Performances and Lasting Impact
I played the clarinet when I was young, had roles in school plays and studied hard for college exams. I didn’t play on a sports team but I imagine that you might have. To perform well at most things in life means knowing the materials, the goals and how to gauge achievement. And, performing well takes practice, lots of practice. Think your presentation through. Know every aspect of it, every nuance of it. From the why to the who, what, where and when. Practice it over and over again, critically looking at what works and doesn’t work, and make adjustments. And then practice again. That’s how to create your moment to shine, to have a memorable performance and to achieve the impact you desire.
Persistence and thoroughness in planning and preparation allows us to be ready to tackle our most important goals, professionally or personally. Sure there is always a risk at not achieving what you set out to do but with clear purpose, planning and preparation you will be so much more ready to stand firmly in front of any challenge or, more importantly, any opportunity and confidently rise to the occasion. You will know how to perform.
Understanding these basic performance boosters will strengthen any presentation you make, whether you’re keynoting at a conference, interviewing for a job, or looking to close an important sale. Time and effort has to be made on the planning and preparation. What should you present and to whom? Where will you find an audience well-suited to hear your message and act on your offer? If you’re not sure where to begin on getting this work done, contact me or, better yet, join me on November 19 when I host a webinar on how to develop and deliver a powerhouse speech that sells.