As a kid, I never got that excited about Halloween. I probably went Trick-or-Treating a few times, and probably attended a community event or two. I loved the candy, to be sure, but dressing up to fool people into giving me stuff never felt… genuine.
And then, I had kids. It was fun to dress them up. Lion. Football player. Fairy. Buzz Lightyear. Fireman. Take them out. Eat their candy when they weren’t looking. That may or may not have happened.
A few years ago, the MBA class I was privileged to teach scheduled my class on Halloween. I decided to show up in full regalia. My go-to adult costume is that of a referee. It got wild reviews at Disney one year with the kids in tow. So I figured it would at least get a laugh in the college world. It did. Class went off splendidly. But it still didn’t feel right.
One of the biggest battles we face as we coach speakers is the internal feelings of what we’re asking them to do. “That feels fake.” “I don’t think that’s the authentic me.” “I am not comfortable doing that.” “That just isn’t me.” The “that” could be a big gesture, a change of voice, or a particular posture. It doesn’t really matter. The battle is in the mind. When it doesn’t “feel” right, where do we go to decide what action is appropriate? Sadly, most people stop right there. If it doesn’t feel right, then why should I do it? After all, aren’t I the foremost authority on what the authentic me really is?
It sounds like a nice argument. And it would be, if it were true. But, like most questions around communication, the answer is found it Rule #1. It’s not what I think, feel, or believe. It’s what the audience thinks, feels, and believes. It’s hard to convince ourselves of this when we’re in the moment, which is why feedback and training/practice are so important. We must train ourselves to do what the audience needs, even when it doesn’t feel right.
We recently had a coaching client relate that he felt “foolish” and “completely embarrassed myself and my company” when asked to give an impromptu introduction. But when he asked the audience, they not only gave compliments, they repeated a core message and theme that they remembered.
The best argument against these complaints is bedtime stories for children. Parents have no trouble acting out the big, bad wolf or changing their voice when quoting the three little pigs. They do it because the child wants and needs their bedtime storyteller to give maximum expression. But ask them to be expressive in the work environment? “That’s just not who I am.” They aren’t little pigs, either, but they act like it because the audience needs them to.
Here are three tips to train yourself to act according to what your audience needs.
Get a (professional) outside opinion. Not your spouse. Not your friend for the last three decades. Someone who represents your best professional interests and the interests of the audience you intend to reach. Preferably someone who hasn’t seen you speak a lot. Let them speak candidly about what they want to see.
Record and watch yourself frequently. One of the reasons people don’t express much is they don’t really have a good idea of what they look like. Once you know what seems big to you really looks like, you can produce it on command much easier.
Constantly push yourself. When we ask if people typically err on the side of too much or too little expression, the answer is always “too little”. And that’s the correct answre. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had to ask a client to tone it down for fear they might embarrass themself. Go big. As we say in our workshops, “It’s never as big/crazy/wild/stupid as it feels.”
It’s really not that scary to act how your audience wants you to act. Dress up that presentation with the greatest costume of all – a speaker who appears passionate and can keep an audience’s attention.
Communication matters. What are you saying?
This article was published in the November edition of our monthly speaking tips email newsletter, Communication Matters. Have speaking tips like these delivered straight to your inbox every month. Sign up today to receive our newsletter and receive our FREE eBook, “Twelve Tips that will Save You from Making a Bad Presentation.” You can unsubscribe at any time.