Sunday, June 17, 2007

Presence

As an audience member, it's not that hard to tell if a speaker has presence. Yet it's one of those terms that many people avoid quantifying and tend to say "you either have it or you don't," similar to the idea of "talent." In my book, that's an indication that a coach simply doesn't have the tools to help clients learn it.

So what is presence? Personal magnetism? Let's start by discussing what it's not.

First of all, it need not be conflated with other situations in life, be it how you feel when socializing at a party or one-on-one. Talking in front of groups, both large and small, is an entirely different animal.

Second, presence has nothing to do with being "entertaining" or having the ability to tell a good joke. In fact, that can really get in your way from having presence.

So what is it?

Take a look at the word: presence. Essentially, you need to be fully present. That is, not in your head - not worrying about how you come off, whether you forgot something, what events happened before you spoke or what will be coming after, or what you hope will result from the speaking engagement.

So how do I get fully present, Mr. Wizard?

Great question. Luckily, there are specific answers. Many of them are truly experiential, and I teach them in my workshops and coaching sessions, but here are a few that can be conveyed in words.

  • Get in your body. Do a full physical warmup before you speak. As my students and clients know, most people view speaking as happening from the neck up, and maybe involving their hands a bit. I see speaking as a whole-body experience.
  • Honor it changing in the moment. So many speakers (including myself) are perfectionists, and we want everything to come off exactly as we planned it. Unfortunately, this can never happen - because you're in front of a live audience. Even if you've given the exact same talk before, it was likely in a different room with a different group of people. Two speeches are never the same, because a speech - even one that is a strict lecture - is an interactive engagement. If you're not really engaging and connecting, you're not present!
  • Think process, not product. Following up on the last item: be in the process of the moment, not in the product of the idea of how you expected it to go. Go with the flow!
  • Connect with your audience.Use good eye contact. And pause - pauses are a way of listening.


Again, these may be easier to recite than to learn how to do - even something basic like eye contact may feel forced and awkward in front of a large group. But don't despair! Whether you get coaching from myself or other professional speech coaches, these can be very quickly learned; most of my clients learn the bulk of it in just 3 to 5 sessions - tools they will use for their whole lives. But for the short term, the tips above are a great place to start!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

the elevator pitch

I was having coffee with Liz Ryan (formerly of WorldWIT, now of AskLizRyan.com) the other day, and we were discussing how people suddenly lose common etiquette when they enter a business networking situation. If you have your own business or even work for one, you may easily find yourself at a local chamber of commerce mixer, or even at a coctail party where people tend to ask "What do you do?"

Like myself, you may find that situation to feel forced and artificial. Perhaps that's the reason the response gets awkward: doing what professionals recommend, memorizing a 30-second "elevator pitch" or speech. Why is that so forced? I'll bet you that's not how they talk with their loved ones and friends. But in this networking or social situation with people you don't know well, it can become very forced, because this "workplace persona" gets divorced from the rest of life.

When meeting someone to talk about what you do - perhaps at some sort of mixer - it need not be a "pitch," which inherently equates to "Hire me" or "Buy my product." Nonetheless, a an elevator "speech" - or locker room talk, or ran-into-someone-at-Starbucks banter - is important. Just being able to talk about what you do in simple terms, with zero agenda, is a good skill to have.

Memorizing a 30-second blurb and reciting it, unless you're a professional presenter, will likely sound forced and artificial. My recommendation is to just have in the back of your head a few key phrases or words about what you do. That way, depending on the situation, you can give the 3 word title or the 3 sentence description, depending upon the situation and, most importantly, the listener's level of interest. (Look for nonverbal and verbal cues.)

Keep in mind, though - it may be more appropriate to talk primarily about the game last night, the weather, or the news. If you force it in the conversation, it becomes a pitch. Being yourself and being human and connecting naturally will go much farther. And even if your aim is to make business contacts because you really, really need a job, perhaps it will be more appropriate the next time you see them. Making connections is about really connecting, however is most natural and appropriate to the moment.

P.S. - Liz Ryan's Yahoo Groups are a fantastic way to connect with other people locally, about business matters, finding jobs, or just getting a recommendation for a dentist. Check 'em out at www.lizryan.com.