When you present in public speaking, do you embody presence and charisma on stage? Here's how to be in the moment for connecting with your audience!
To truly "touch" listeners in Public Speaking, you need to be in the moment—probably more than you realize. When it comes to connecting with your audience, that is, you can only do so if you're present in the here and now.
Makes sense, doesn't it?
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Yet it's surprising how many public speakers are really "somewhere else" when they present! In most cases, that means they are either A) in their heads, over-focusing on their content rather than the people they're talking to, or B) in the grip of fear, or at least obsessing about their own performance. Either situation is guaranteed to keep you from establishing rapport with listeners and changing their lives for the better.
And in the end, that's really what speaking in public is all about.
Are you up to the challenge?
How to Aim for the Right Target As a Speaker
Let's take Situation A: being over-focused on your content. This problem usually starts as early as possible, long before you're actually delivering your speech. To be sure you're actually giving your listeners truly valuable information, you have to know how to determine your audience's needs from the start.
Yet how do most of us prepare? We think about our topic: "What am I going to speak on?" But there's another "small-'w'" question that should come first in your mind: not 'what,' but 'who'? For until you know who your listeners really are; how much they know or don't know; what their true needs are; and how they can best retain the information you're about to give them . . . until you know these things, how do you know what the 'what' will be? Making your audience the "center of your universe" like this is one of my free Six Rules of Effective Public Speaking.
So always ask yourself, first, who your listeners are, and once you are clear on that, what your purpose is in speaking to them. Until you are clear on your purpose, you won't really know what you need to bring to your talk! Conversely, once your purpose is clear in your mind, it should be much easier to put together your speech, because now you'll only bring in elements that will allow you to achieve it! Genuinely knowing your audience and purpose is one of the ways of knowing how to speak for leadership.
One other point: Pay attention to what you're seeing in terms of nonverbal behavior, and sometimes, actual questions people ask you. These can be excellent indications that you're either hitting a rich vein in terms of what matters to this audience, or digging in the wrong direction. (Here's my free resource, 7 Tips for Overcoming Audience Resistance.) Both are valuable sources of feedback you can use to truly be in the moment, adjusting your approach so you're actually reaching and influencing listeners.
Is Fear of Public Speaking Limiting Your Impact?
Now to Situation B: the fear-of-public-speaking trap. I say "trap" because this is a problem that can make it impossible to accomplish what you're setting out to do.
Here's how it works: When we're severely self-conscious about speaking, lack faith in our abilities, or suffer from emotional or physical over-activation, we naturally try to save ourselves pain and humiliation. Remember, speech fright is an inappropriate response caused by social anxiety. It's telling us we're in a dangerous situation and have to act quickly—the "fight, freeze, or flight syndrome." Hence the instantaneous release of stress hormones, and the physiological and mental changes that launch us into uncomfortable overdrive.
The natural response to facing danger, of course, is to protect oneself. In the case of fear of public speaking, the peril is obviously coming from speaking before this audience. So the solution seems to be: to ramp up our defenses and back away from the danger. As I tell clients who are enrolled in our Fearless Speaking Course, it's as though we wrap ourselves in a protective cocoon . . . and the last thing we want to do is venture out of it! So the question becomes: how can you reach people that you're figuratively running away from?
There are many approaches to overcoming glossophobia. If you suffer from it, you should explore some of them to discover what you think is the best approach for overcoming speaking fear. But one of them is surely this: Remind yourself that the audience not only represents the people you're there to influence; but they're also the source of your power.
You're there to help an entire group of people . . . how wonderful! Stay in the moment while you're there with them, and you'll really connect and make a difference.
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Gary Genard is an actor, author, and expert in theater-based public speaking training. His company, Boston-based The Genard Method uses performance techniques, through in-person and online training, to help executives and leadership teams embody presence and confidence to achieve true influence. In 2020 for the seventh consecutive year, Gary has been ranked by Global Gurus as one of The World's Top 30 Communication Professionals. He is the author of How to Give a Speech. His second book, Fearless Speaking, was recently named as "One of the 100 Best Confidence Books of All Time." Contact Gary here.