Would you like to be fully present as a speaker―for your own comfort and confidence as well as meeting the needs of your audience?
You can do so by listening to your own intuition: your "inner voice". In fact, acting on your intuition is a key skill if you want to speak dynamically while achieving true influence. (You also need to be focused. To achieve that goal, read my free cheat sheet, "10 Ways to Stay Fully Focused when Speaking.") Let's look at how intuition plays out in achieving one of the key metrics of successful public speaking: presence.
The Need for Presence
We hear much about presence these days. Whether it's leadership presence, professional presence, stage presence, or even electronic presence, we seem to mean the ability to maintain a personal brand and to impact those we come into contact with.
Unfortunately, in terms of public speaking, presence is a quality too few speakers embody. Often, that's because a presenter stays focused on the wrong prize, the one concerned with superficial goals rather than genuinely reaching audiences―again, ignoring that "inner voice". As speakers, we forget that we're there for a very simple reason: to give something to people who share our interest in a topic. Rather than worrying about "how we're doing" in terms of impressing anyone, we should listen to the internal feedback that's telling us whether or not we're reaching and truly engaging our listeners.
Presence Means being Present . . . But We're Often Too Busy
I thought of this recently when I read an excellent article by Linda Sechrist in Natural Awakenings magazine, entitled "Trust Your Intuition" (Natural Awakenings, May 2014, 22-25). The piece reminds us that the body is a "wellspring" of wisdom, but that "heeding our innate voice seems constantly tested as society distracts us with the busy acquisition of external knowledge and rewards more visible work (22)."
Think about that in terms of your own public speaking. Have you ever compared yourself with other speakers, wishing you were more "excellent" (whatever that means), more dynamic, more exciting on stage? Or perhaps you accumulate content (that external knowledge referred to above), making that the focus of your talks and presentations. Many speakers do, in the form of those data-laden, undigestable PowerPoint slides. (To enrich your relationship with your listeners instead and make what you say unforgettable, download my cheat sheet, "5 Ways to Captivate an Audience.")
Presence, however, asks something different. As Woody Allen jokingly put it in terms of success in life: it simply asks us to show up. While we're there, we can listen to what our intuition is telling us concerning whether what we're saying is coming across. How in the world can that happen if we're busy concentrating on externals, perhaps apologizing for the "eye chart" PowerPoint slide we're inflicting on our audience?
Are You Divorced from Your Audience?
Too many of us when presenting are married to the wrong partner―information delivery―instead of our true love, our audience. Fear of public speaking certainly leads us down that aisle, as nervousness, anxiety, and self-conscious keep us wrapped in a cocoon of our own response rather than noticing the response of the audience.
But even the non-nervous speaker falls into this trap, missing that the speaking situation is a chance to communicate rather than an opportunity to shine. Here's where intuition can serve us best, giving us a sense of the reality of the moment, if we're only ready to listen to it. Below are some of the questions our intuition is inviting us to ask ourselves:
Trusting Your Intuition
- Are things going the way I want them to in the presentation?
- Is my delivery procceding smoothly at an appropriate pace?
- Does the audience still seem engaged?
- Am I still focused on my message rather than my own performance?
- Am I accomplishing my purpose, rather than just delivering information?
- When was the last time I "touched" the audience with a question or a reference that connects with their world?
- Is the audience in the palm of my hand, or somewhere else entirely? (Cultivate this inner sense that actors develop to a fine pitch.)
- Does the moment feel right?
If your intuition tells you the moment isn't working, change tracks right then and there. Bring in a story if you haven't used one lately. Take your PowerPoint screen to black (simply touch the "B" button on your keyboard when you're in View mode, then "B" again to come back to that slide), and lead a discussion. Ask for questions. Or have your audience get up and do jumping jacks! (You may think I'm joking, but I'm not. I did this with the entire diplomatic staff of one of the permanent missions to the U.N., when I sensed that my training audience was drifting away as we reconvened after lunch).
In the Present Moment
In the waiting room of my office, I keep a painting depicting two carps swimming, with the caption "In the Present Moment." It's there to remind me to listen to my own inner voice, and not get seduced by the too-busy world of putting out fires and seeking external praise.
Listen to your own voice in the same way when you speak in public. And when other voices clamor to be heard, make sure they're from your audience, and not from the sirens who'd like to seduce you too.