Have you ever noticed that there are some speakers that are act very differently when they are off stage than when they are on stage? When off stage they are lively and interesting and just fun to talk with—you can’t wait to hear their presentation. However, once they get ON stage they become very stiff and robotic, artificial and awkward. Didn’t it make you wonder where that lively and interesting and fun person went?
I’ve seen this “Dr. Jekyll/ Mr. Hyde” speaker personality change more than once. In the past I know I’ve been guilty of this myself. There are a lot of causes—such as speaker anxiety—for why this happens, but regardless of the cause, the following phrase has been a helpful solution for me and might help you as well: “THINK CONVERSATION—NOT PRESENTATION!”
The first time I heard that phrase, it make a lot of sense to me. When you have a conversation with someone– say a friend– you are usually pretty relaxed. You don’t “overthink” about your vocal variety, or your gestures, or your eye contact, etc. You just have a conversation. For your next presentation, imagine yourself having a series of one-on-one conversations with various folks in your audience. This mindset change will help reduce your speaker anxiety, will make you look more natural and “real” to your audience, and will make it much easier to connect with them.
When you are engaged in a conversation, you typically are looking at the person you are speaking to. We’ve discussed the importance of eye contact as a presenter in a previous blog titled The “Eyes” Have It , and it is one of the best ways to make your audience feel like you are having a one-on-one conversation with them. If your audience is smaller, during the course of your presentation, you probably can look each of them in the eye at some point for a few seconds. If your audience is larger and that isn’t feasible, you can at least shift your gaze so each section of the audience feels included. Don’t underestimate how effective eye contact can be with making a presentation more conversational.
Another aspect of a typical conversation is “energy”. If you were speaking to a friend and you were telling them about how much you loved your new car—you would likely be giving energy to your words. When I say “energy”– think emotions (like enthusiasm) and/or power (like conviction) and/or honesty (straight from the heart). Does that make sense? Have you attended a presentation that was missing that element? How was it? Probably life-less, painful to sit through, and likely forgettable. Speaking with energy makes you an engaging speaker.
For your next speaking opportunity, make an effort to make it more conversational. Have good eye contact, give it some energy, and you will likely be pleased with the results. “THINK CONVERSATION—NOT PRESENTATION!”