If you’ve seen a typical business presentation you’ve undoubtedly witnessed a phenomenon I like to call ‘The Talking Dead’. You’ll have to look really close to find the life behind the presenter’s eyes and if they are really good you won’t see or hear any vital signs. I’m not sure where this all started. Maybe at some point in history, someone with great credibility stood at the front of the room and bored the pants off the audience while aspiring business leaders watched and thought to themselves, “If I pretend I don’t care, and show no signs of life I can deliver presentations too!” It multiplied and now we have boring, lifeless, information filled presentations.
First, the goal of any presentation is to get a message to the audience. The best way to do that is to make a connection. There are many ways to make a connection, and a rather large one is with your voice. Your voice. Not a lifeless, monotone, business voice. Not a replication of someone else’s or even an exaggerated version of your own.
A term used by vocalists, ‘Vocal Authenticity’. Singers know when they get on stage to perform they will be their most powerful when they use their own voice. They find it through experimentation, studying other artists, and connecting at a heart level with their words. It takes time for a new vocal artist to develop vocal authenticity. You’ll be relieved to know I’m not suggesting you stand at the front of the room and belt out some notes to become a better presenter. Instead, consider these three truths:
When you withhold the life from your voice you withhold your humanity and you sacrifice connection.
Pay attention to your voice when you speak with your best friend, spouse or parent. When you’re in conversation with someone you hold in high regard you instinctively express yourself using your voice. You might lower it when you are telling a secret or get really animated as you add drama to your story. As humans, we are great at expressing ourselves through story. The next time you engage in a juicy conversation take notice of yourself. The voice you bring to that conversation is the voice you’ll want to bring to the front of the room. The one where you talk with your hands, get your facial expressions involved, and naturally bring people along with you. You are interesting. You are relevant. You have what it takes. When you are present minded and sharing a message the way you do you’re sharing a piece of you. Your audience appreciates you and what you have to offer.
When you align your words, your actions, and your voice you build trust.
Have you ever heard someone say ‘I’m excited to be here today…’ and they look anything but excited. In fact, they look like they were forced at gun point to show up. Usually those words come out at the beginning of a presentation. It could be the first indication that the speaker can’t be trusted. If what you are saying is not being expressed in your tone and your body language your audience is left to wonder why? They may interpret this incongruence as nerves, but if they can’t see other signs of anxiety they may decide you are lying. You set your audience up to be skeptical and challenge what comes out of your mouth. This is typically an unintended consequence of holding back. One of my clients described the eleven second walk to the front of the room as if she was walking the plank and soon to be plunging to her death. I don’t take this lightly. The flood of energy and emotions that rise up is enough to create a foggy, frantic brain and leave us wanting to collapse or run away. The best way to get back to you and regain some composure is to breathe. When that doesn’t work breathe some more. Rest assured I am not asking you to act or be someone else. I’m not suggesting you be perfect. I’m asking you to bring your whole self to the front of the room and that means your voice too. You can do this.
Your voice is an extension of your beliefs.
It’s important to know what you believe about your audience, your content, and yourself when it comes to using your voice. I’ve been in an audience as the speaker decided to share her tips and tricks for being better, but in doing so she used a tone just like my mother did when she was mad at me. She looked disappointed at times and shared common pitfalls with us as if we were idiots. I walked away from that presentation feeling worse about myself for having listened to the speaker. I don’t think this was her intent, but her beliefs about the audience were coming out in her tone, pitch, and words. Be sure to get clear on your beliefs before you present because they drive your thoughts which drive your actions at the front of the room.
We all get pissed off. (mad, angry, frustrated, disappointed, fired up, irritated – call it what you want.) We all get pissed off, some of us more than others. I’ve recently been inspired by all of the jerks being jerks to jerks in this world and feel an overwhelming need to extend my thoughts beyond my friends. I didn’t have a perfect childhood, but I do remember hearing this a thousand times.
“Nobody can make you feel anything, you do it to yourself.” My Mom
I assumed everyone was told this when they were young, but I’m finding out that very few have ever been confronted with this concept. It’s incredibly sobering to really understand it. You aren’t pissed off because someone did something terrible to you. You aren’t pissed off because something didn’t go your way. You are pissed off because you choose to be. You are in charge of what goes on inside that head of yours just like everyone else. Nobody is doing a mind control trick on you and making you feel what you feel. Sure, there are circumstances, experiences, people, cultural influences etc. affecting you, but you are the one interpreting all of it and deciding.
What if instead of being victims to our feelings and letting them control us we could rise above them? What if the next time someone really irritated you, you kept your cool and didn’t freak out? What if the next time your day blows up in your face and you want to punish everyone and everything for getting in your way you could shake it off and go with the flow? What if you could take responsibility for the way you feel and the way you respond and the decisions you make? What if you could really own those feelings and the way you operate in this world? I’m asking you. Not the person that pissed you off. Not the boss you hate or the husband you are miserable with, or the driver who cut you off. I’m asking you what would it be like if you owned you and the thoughts you're having, the beliefs you create, and the actions you carry out?
What if we evolved our thinking to understand these negative feelings as a signal for reflection? And when we get mad and want to punch a wall, we instead take a minute to think. Think about the reason this pisses you off. Think about what you want in this scenario beyond instant relief for your feelings. What if we took a moment to understand where this reaches within ourselves? Just a minute to wonder why memories of the past are surfacing. Some time to think about the fact that we have options. Some time to think about the power we have within to stand up for what’s right and not succumb to choosing what’s wrong. What if all those feelings that light a fire inside of us were really our chance to understand what we really need right now? What if we could honor our values even in the heat of the moment? What if we could choose to see the big picture and let our vision of what we stand for guide us in the here and now? I think it’s possible. No, I know it’s possible.
Figure out what you are protecting. Find out what matters to you. Understand what you believe and what you stand for. Consider the big picture. Know what you want in life. If you take a minute to contemplate any of this you’ll separate yourself from the heat of the moment enough to regain composure. You’ll decide what really matters and respond with thoughtful action. If you can’t answer any of the big questions I’ve thrown out here, you have no business reacting to anything. You hold tight until you get it figured out. You pause for however long it takes. You step away or aside or take a walk or go to the bathroom. Figure it out because the way you react or respond becomes a chain reaction in this world. The way you operate affects everyone else. I want to belong to a world that can take a minute to think.
Life coaching is more than a profession. It’s a way of ‘being’ with another person while they travel inward for answers to life’s biggest questions. It’s about holding space for what is needed. In this sacred space, the client can be truthful, authentic, and aware. It’s unlike any other relationship because the coach invites their client to step off the hamster wheel of life and into a planetarium where they can observe, make connections, and begin to intentionally design a meaningful existence. To say the least, life coaching is powerful and transformative.
My training at Learning Journeys International Center of Coaching started with a certification as a Life Coach Practitioner, followed by the Mastery program and eventually a specialized Narrative Coaching program. I guess you could say I’m hooked. Not long ago, it occurred to me that many of the competencies required to make a great life coach have contributed immensely to making me a better and more confident speaker. Below is a list of five competencies and how they affect my approach to speaking and training.
I trust my audience
As a Life Coach, I am trained to trust my client to have the answers. I know my client is the expert of their lives. I believe my clients is resourceful and capable. It’s my role to ask powerful questions and source their brilliance. I don’t assume to know what’s best. I don’t lead or manipulate for my own gain or agenda. I know this empowers my client to find answers within, make decisions, and lead self.
As a Speaker and Trainer, I believe my audience is brilliant. Certainly, the whole audience is smarter than me. When I’m delivering a presentation, I like to uncover what my audience is thinking, what they know, and what they struggle to understand. This requires me to believe the audience is smart and capable and will answer and engage. I craft each of my presentations with the intention of learning about where my audience is in the present moment. I invite them to share, learn, and experience my message. We have one opportunity to come together and there is power in that. This mentality allows me to be flexible and in service of my audience. I love having my audience work together to answer tough questions. They become active participants experiencing rather than detached and passive. It makes me approachable, relatable, and accessible to them.
I trust myself
As a Life coach, I need to trust that I will know what is needed in the moment. I trust that I will be able to ask appropriate and powerful questions and let go of judgement. What is real for my client is where I need to start.
As a Speaker and Trainer, I practice my presentations and do my best to be prepared, but as I head to the front of the room I say a little prayer. It goes like this, “Please provide me with the right words as I need them.” It’s my way of letting go of all that I had control over in exchange for dancing in the moment. There is great freedom in this thought process which promotes confidence in the heat of the moment.
I am authentic
As a Life Coach, I have learned to embrace my values and my strengths. I’ve also had the opportunity to discover my faults or those things that make me absolutely human. Sometimes all I can do is laugh at those parts because there is nothing else I can do and they are what make me a whole person. I’ve learned that authenticity breeds authenticity and when I step into my wholeness (weaknesses, faults and all) I am able to truly love myself.
As a Speaker and Trainer, I bring my whole self to the front of the room. I don’t feel vulnerable and exposed like I used to because ultimately, I love me. I hope my audience senses this permission to be human and this willingness to be real. There really is no other way to be in the world. No more hiding, trying to be perfect, and constantly feeling like you can’t measure up. It’s time to get real and I show my audience what that looks like each time I go on stage. They will meet the same Sara Krisher off stage and there won’t be any guess work about who I really am.
I am curious
As a Life Coach, I know that curiosity is essential to establishing a coaching relationship. I ask powerful questions I don’t know the answer to in hopes that my client will reach deep to pull out truth. Being curious is a conduit for building trust and abandoning judgement.
As a Speaker and Trainer, I am curious from the moment I step out of my car and walk up to the building. There is nothing better to bring me to the present, calm my nerves, and get me out of my head. I pay attention to my surroundings. I am curious about my audience and I can tap into their energy. It allows me to meet them where they’re at before I launch into my presentation. It allows me to be flexible in the moment and serve them.
I am a great listener
As a Life Coach, I listen for what is being said and what is not being said. I listen for beliefs, values, mindset, habits, and energy. I know we express ourselves in verbal and nonverbal ways and I illuminate aspects of both so my client can derive understanding of self.
As a Speaker and Trainer, I use listening skills with my audience much like I do with a coaching client. If I am listening I can hear what my audience is experiencing while they are with me. I listen for simple things like the room is freezing and making it difficult for my audience to focus, or the microphone isn’t loud enough for those in the back of the room. I listen for more complex things like frustration, fear, and disappointment. My audience may not come out and say they are frustrated, but if I’m paying attention I can hear a struggle with an activity. Often, I’m asking my audience to participate in getting out of their comfort zone which is met with apprehension. When I can hear the signs, I can respond. I can share an alternate or helpful perspective. I can invite them to experiment and reward them with appreciation. When I listen, I connect more deeply and they participate more fully.
I recently took a trip to Warsaw, Poland. In the month leading up to the trip I did the best I could to prepare myself. I packed a huge bag as well as a carry on. I had my adapter for my hair dryer and phone. I called all my credit card companies in advance to let them know I would be in Poland. I had music, audio books, magazines, and a book to keep me busy on the long flight. I even downloaded and app to learn to speak polish.
I stepped on to the plane that day feeling as prepared as I could be for this trip across the Atlantic. I describe myself as cautiously confident. Stepping foot on foreign ground just a few hours later; however, was a shock to my system. I wasn’t prepared at all. I was no longer able to read words plastered all over the airport walls. I was no longer able to hear familiar words and understand the language. I felt disoriented and uncomfortable. Somehow, I was able to get into a taxi and get to my hotel, but even spending money was confusing. Everything I took for granted every day was now a complete cluster. My anxiety was off the charts and I felt completely vulnerable. I told myself I would never do this again. I would never put myself in such an incredibly uncomfortable position.
Now, back at home I find myself reflecting on my travel experience. That may have been the first time I’ve traveled out of the United States, but it wasn’t the first time I felt completely vulnerable, exposed and unprepared. I have, on many occasions felt completely prepared to give a speech, but taking the deliberate steps to the front of the room triggered an enormous flood of anxiety. My body and mind went haywire and that was enough to prove to me that all I had prepared for meant nothing at all. At the front of the room, energy from the audience hit my body like a lightning bolt. Eyes stare through me with anticipation. In an instant, all that I had prepared over the previous weeks dissipated into a mysterious fog. Not knowing what to do, I shrunk inside of myself and stumbled my way through the experience only to come away horrified. I said the same thing once if not a thousand times ‘I will never do this again’.
I’m not implying that preparation is futile. Instead I’d like to shine a big bright bold light on ‘the right preparation is key’. After many years of trial and error and speaking experiences like this I’ve learned a thing or two. Here are three truths to consider for yourself:
1.Everyone has their own unique preparation process for speaking.
(They may not have discovered it yet.)
2.Practice does not make perfect – in this case experience is key, and there is no perfect.
(Experience, experience, experience – there is no substitute for the real deal.)
3.Preparing your body is just as important as preparing your mind.
(Be ready with strategies to calm yourself in the heat of the moment.)
I said earlier that I would never travel outside the U.S. again, but the truth is I would do it in a heartbeat. I met incredible people who became my good friends. I was introduced to a land with unimaginable history. I witnessed the amazing architecture standing tall where ruins once blanketed the landscape. I left Warsaw, Poland a changed woman. The discomfort and anxiety at the beginning of my trip gave way to curiosity and gratitude. This is exactly how I’ve continued to travel down my journey of speaking too. Each time I speak I experience life in a way I would never had otherwise. Each time I discover more about what I’m capable of and what the world needs to teach me. All of the anxiety and discomfort is worth it to have had the experience.
It doesn’t interest me that you forgot your sport coat.
I want to see you own every bit of who you are and forget yourself in the moments you express yourself fully without apology.
It doesn’t interest me that you just made a mistake.
I want to hear what you have to say because the road you travel intersects with mine and may sustain me on my trip to the unknown.
It doesn’t interest me to know you are an expert.
I want to know what all of the learning means to you and that it reached your core to come out full of richness only you can extend.
It doesn’t interest me that you are scared.
I want to see you be brave because you have something to share that’s bigger than you. Something that won’t merely settle deep inside of you, but longs to surface at the risk of all the judgement you can’t possibly endure.
It doesn’t interest me that you’re rough around the edges.
I want to see you come alive in your beautiful unique way and in doing so will exquisitely give me permission to do the same.
It doesn’t interest me that you’re technically nailing it.
I want to feel your passion reach inside of me where I can experience its full nature and for a brief time connect with you in another dimension, deeply, as if our spirits know each other.
It doesn’t interest me that you can hold your own under pressure.
I want to know you are real and true and that you stand tall in all that you stand for now and into the future. I want to see you allow what’s true for you to surface and breathe life into it until it lands delicately on me.
Written by Sara Krisher, inspired by “The Invitation” by Moriah Mountain Dreamer.
When I was sixteen years old my family moved to a small town in Iowa half way through the school year. It wasn’t the first time I had to make new friends and start from scratch, but I admit I was intimidated by the small class sizes. I integrated quickly because I joined the basketball team. The season was coming to a close and I was told there was a parent’s night. I didn’t think it was a big deal. I mean, I imagined a bunch of parents and a potluck dinner.
I told my mom about it but she was exhausted from work and my father lived a couple hours away so he wasn’t able to make it. In my oblivious teenage fashion I show up for the parent’s night only partially interested and soon realized this was a lot bigger deal than I had thought. There weren’t just parents. Entire families showed up to this thing. Brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and grandparents. I was instantly horrified. The bleachers were set up to watch some sort of show and the podium was centered in the gym. My attention turned toward the lectern and I started rationalizing. It was obvious that we would be recognized in front of our families. No big deal. Nobody needed to know my family wasn’t there. As we lined up for our trek across the gym floor to get recognized I realized that the Moms and Dads were escorting each of my teammates across the stage! I had no Mom or Dad and I was the only one. My heart sunk. Anxiety filled my lungs and I started to panic. Why had I not made a bigger deal of this night? Why had my mother not thought enough of me to join me? Why am I sixteen years old, all alone in a gymnasium full of caring family members and none of them are mine?
Names kept being called and another set of proud parents walked the sweet apple of their eye across the floor. My mind frantically ran through escape scenarios. I could run out the back door. I could fake being sick and run out the front door. Oh why, oh why am I going to be humiliated in front of all of these people? Just then my name was called. I froze. Just then, I felt an arm lock in mine and a man led me across the gym floor. The man was the father of the teammate behind me. I looked back and saw her mother nod me off as if to say ‘go on, I will walk my daughter out’. The man that rescued me from crushing embarrassment was Coach McNeill. He was the boy’s basketball coach so I didn’t know him well. How did he know how desperate I was to have someone with me that night at that very moment? How did he know I wanted someone to save me from the humiliation of a lonely walk across that stage? How did he know to grab my arm in that moment? I am so grateful for his intervention.
Not only did Coach McNeill’s act of kindness that day warm my heart and bail me out of an absolutely agonizing situation, but it greatly impacted my life. The difference he made echoes through me and has a ripple effect into the next generation. I want to make a difference like that one day. I keep my eyes open for the opportunity to be the one to walk with someone in a time of need. I became a life coach for this reason. I know it also affects and impacts my daughter. She sees my example, the example set for me all those years ago. A thoughtful gesture in a moment in time can make all the difference in a person’s life. I have Coach McNeill to thank for that gift.
Years ago, becoming a master of a trade could be evidenced by the quality of the work you produced. A blacksmith could forge iron into something tangible like a gate or a tool or a decorative element. He would heat, hammer, bend and cut the iron or steel into a valuable work of art. It took years to master the art and the skill was developed in an apprentice relationship with a master.
In today’s information age it’s not only difficult to determine who is a master of their trade, but it’s almost impossible to differentiate one expert from another. I know many experts who have worked tirelessly for years to become the most credible and effective attorney, financial strategist, accountant or ‘fill in the blank’ in their field. These experts continually go unnoticed and their level of impact is minimal. Unfortunately it’s not the top expert who takes the front position, it’s the leader. The leader is not only an expert in their field, but spends time learning how to communicate, inspire, and educate. The leader stands out in his or her profession and makes an impact.
Being a leader demands that you step out of the crowd. A leader is called to share knowledge, create a movement, motivate others, influence the masses, and make a difference on a larger scale. If you’re goal is to be a leader in your field you’ll want to master the art of leading from the front of the room. Standing up and sharing a message effectively takes knowledge and skill just like anything else. Sure some people are more naturally gifted, but if it’s something you struggle with, it will comfort you to know you can be taught.
Authenticity means being real at the front of the room as well as in the hallway afterwards. Your audience needs you to be real if they are going to trust what you have to say. If they are going to follow your advice, change their thinking, or do something as a result of your message they will need to trust you first. If your actions don’t match your words you will appear to lack integrity and trust will never happen. Getting your message across is the reason you’re speaking so you’re going to need to ‘be you’ at the front of the room. If ‘being you’ at the front of the room means you say um or ah a few times, so be it. The audience will forgive you for ‘being you’. They will not forgive you for being a phony.
If you feel yourself going into presenter mode when you get in front of the crowd you’ll want to work on this. It’s easy to feel as though you are performing or having to turn on the charm when it’s your turn to speak, but I caution you to be aware of how this is coming across. If you’re concerned with perfection you will need to work through your deep interest in being flawless. The more flawless you are the less personality you have and that is an energy killer. The audience wants you. Vulnerable, imperfect, goofy you. They want to know what you have to say and they want to know that you’re the real deal. Use humor to bring personality out and ease nerves whenever possible. Again, consider your audience and what they need from you.
You weren’t fast enough, smart enough, strong enough, clever enough, or funny enough. The voice inside got louder as you tried something new or worked at making a change. With your eyes on the goal you tried to do better and do more each time. You were committed and motivated and in the beginning it worked. You saw progress and it inspired you to do more. You had your eyes on the goal and put maximum effort in.
Unfortunately, it didn’t last. You had a couple of days of setbacks. You started to question whether you were doing everything correctly. You trudged on while gritting your teeth. You started to wear down. Your results weren’t at all what you were looking for so you took a break. Finally, you went right back to your old thinking and doing and lost all ground you previously gained.
We live in a goal oriented society where we feel it’s appropriate to celebrate only when we win. We are competitive and constantly climbing the rungs of the ladder of achievement. It perpetuates the stop start cycle of defeat and disappointment. Sometimes we give up before we even start, sure we’ll fall trap to the familiar plight.
Next time, try pivoting slightly for maximum impact. Change your measurement of success to effort instead of achievement. When you consider real effort as a reason to celebrate, check the box and motivate you begin to build consistency. Over time real effort is what it takes to sustain forward movement. Next time you set your eyes on a worthy goal think about what type of effort it will take to make this happen. Create benchmarks along the way that reinforce your ability to continually put in real effort verses your ability to achieve more. Reinforce your continual effort by asking yourself one question every night that has you answering yes or no. Yes you put in the effort or no you didn’t. Tracking effort is important because in time you’ll develop new habits and lasting change. If you don’t put in the effort you’ll have to consider if it’s really worth doing at all.
“What you do all of the time is more important than what you do some of the time.”
~ Mark LeBlanc