Tuesday, March 31, 2009


A fish rots from the head down. There are no bad audiences, just bad experiences. A presenter who feels the audience was boring, was most likely bored themselves. A presenter who finds the audience is angry, was probably stirred up or frustrated. Public speaking acts like a mirror; you see outside of you an amplified version of what is going on inside of you. Great speakers choose their state.

That's not to say that you don't have bad days. Of course you do, we all do. The difference is that if your work that day is to present to a room full of people, you are required to get over it and get on with the presentation.

I spoke In New Zealand the day of 9/11. My audience of 500 woke up to the news coverage. The convener decided to go ahead with the program that day. That required a lot of state preparation on my part. I think it was the right decision but I took a good 3 hours just getting my head into a state where I was OK speaking into that environment. At another event a young delegate had fallen off a balcony during the night and plummeted to his death. Again, they continued with the program. How do you manage the state in scenarios like this?

Often, just before I go on, people will say things like… (and I kid you not, each of these has happened to me...several times)

(a) Gee you shouldn't wear those jeans, they make your ass look big.

(b) You better be good, I travelled 3 hours to be here today.

(c) Oh, it's you again… I saw you speak last year and I didn't like it very much.

(d) OK, so thanks for coming, the speaker we wanted wasn't available so best of luck. and on and on it goes...

In each case I have come up with some pithy retorts. I suggest you stand on the high ground and do not resort to these.

For me, the lighter side of life allows me to shift my state. In any situation, if I can see the funny side I can almost immediately get out of a funk or an unproductive emotional state and choose a better one. Do not give your power over to other people. I think that's a life lesson and one we learn on the road of speaking all the time.

State is also a case of preparation.
Things almost always go wrong and having done what you can to be in a productive and positive state means that these things don't affect you quite as much.

There are several things you can do to help manage your state more effectively;

Focus on the game plan.
A method and outline for what you are going to say, designed in advance, can often help you out when you feel less than inspired. I am often glad that I have a planned opening, I may not always use it, but its acts like a mood fall back.

Develop pre-speech rituals.
I clean my teeth before I speak no matter when I am speaking. I like to shower before a speech if it's possible. You may listen to a certain song on your Ipod. Michael Jordan wore his North Carolina shorts under his Chicago bulls uniform every time he played. The rituals act as triggers for state. Make your rituals mean something to you.

Eat right.
Protein, not carbohydrate food types will help you remain mentally alert. Watch your caffeine intake as it's a diuretic and makes you need to go to the toilet and get a dry mouth. Plan your da
y and force food down. When you are on adrenaline your body shuts down the hunger response and the last thing you want to do is eat. Fight this or else you will end up with a sugar crash and lose the mental energy required to stay in state.

Exercise on the day.
Excess nerves and mental run throughs all compound the amount of cortisol in your body. Cortisol is like the adrenal systems back up fuel. Too much cortisol though can make you angry, sad, afraid or guilty. These four emotions are state killers for a speaker. Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day advised the Groundhog ‘don't drive angry' - you don't speak angry either. Some vigorous exercise on the day of the speech helps take the excess stress hormones out of your system.

Be your own Barometer.
As a World Class Presenter, you try to read your room and adjust what you do accordingly. The problem with this is you can misread a room and assume things are going better or worse than they are. Don't assume you know what's going on with an audience. Stay a little detached and self-referring with your state. Remember, if you feel good, they will too.

Take care of yourself.
People often ask me if I choose my pre show music to match the demographic of the people in my room. That would be so clever. I don't. I choose music that lifts me and gets me ready.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Presenter Evolution

As you start to watch different presenters and listen to what they say and how they say it, you might notice some distinct differences. A sports person who just won gold in their chosen event might be sharing a story of how they did it. A consultant on customer service might be sharing the steps you go through to improve your service. A spiritual guide might simply sit in service doing what appears to be an off the cuff yet profound question and answer session. They are setting a state of energy in the room.

What follows are my thoughts on the evolution of speakers. It steps out what is for me, an easy to follow process for taking your presentations to the next level. Once again (as it's not how we normally see things), each stage is ‘AND also' not ‘Then NEXT'. It's about incorporating the best of what you learn from the early stages into each next progressive level. This is key to getting better exponentially. You always need to build your next learning on the foundations of your previous knowledge. It requires more continuous focus but I think it is the determining factor between competence and mastery.

First Stage:
You see this with kids at primary school. My 5 year old son will present a message from his point of view (I) and will deliver his message through narrative (story). Assuming you are interested in him and his stories, and of course I am, it's compelling. This stage is used to stimulate interest and is often best delivered with a semi theatrical style. ‘An amazing thing happened to me the other day...'

Second Stage: Teachers tend to come from this stage most of the time. They will set out a sequential process (steps) and deliver it with a training outcome approach (you). The idea is you acquire a new skill, a way of doing something. This stage is designed to impact the audience in some way and is very much delivered with an instructive show and tell style. ‘Here is some thing you may find useful...'

Third Stage:
A great coach with an elite sports team will often present from this third stage. They use tone and shift the energy in a room. It's all about the energy or mood (state) they create. Often they challenge, confront, excite or inspire, depending on the outcome they are hoping to facilitate. It's very much about getting into the heads of the audience and connecting (engagement) with them in some significant way. This is the stage most change occurs from. ‘Together we can create history here today, but you have to want it bad. Do you want it? I know one thing; physical pain disappears but the feeling of defeat lasts a lifetime...'

It's not that one stage is better than another but rather that all stages are better than one. Access techniques for all three stages and as a result you will create presentations that are at the same time stimulating, having an impact on the audience and shifting things positively.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Inspired or Simply Surviving?

For me, there is nothing quite as powerful as someone with an idea to share and the ability to share it. This is Thought Leadership and has been my obsession for 30 odd years. I believe that the tools to express your Thought Leadership are public speaking skills, the art of oration and the science of influence. The ability to get up in front of a group of people and share an idea in a way that is engaging, relevant and meaningful.

There are countless books on public speaking and they all talk about dramatic pause, or body language or share techniques for structuring and preparing a speech. At first this abundance of books on the topic of public speaking made me a little reluctant to write yet another one. So I started reading those I could lay my hands on and noticed something common to them all. They were written from a fear management perspective and offered templates and techniques for just getting by when you speak in public. It seemed to me they have been written for people who plan to speak once in their life for 15 minutes and never again. They seem to be coloured by the brush of ‘just get out of this without embarrassing yourself and we have succeeded.'

What has been fundamentally missing for me in all the work so far on public speaking and presentation skills was the ‘Inspired' approach. The challenge to step up and be truly world class. To be extraordinary, to be so damn good at speaking in public that your are invited, seduced and yes, maybe even paid to share your thoughts. Can you imagine that? What would you need to know to be able to do this ‘thing' called public speaking so brilliantly?

Well, before we get into that let me lift the game, raise the stakes and up the anti! (you can tell I've been a motivational speaker for a touch too long.) Let me suggest a bunch of reasons (seven) why speaking in public is inspirational and something you need to get very good at very quickly:

1. It is the new leadership imperative.
Followers require so much of their leaders. The post industrial age, hierarchical, authoritative leadership styles make way for empowered, flat organisations whose competitive advantage lies in their culture and great cultures are run by inspired leaders.

2. It is the ultimate personal development vehicle.
There is something phenomenally challenging about speaking in public. There is nowhere to hide, what you don't say says more than what you do and people form judgements very quickly about who you are and what you are saying. The more you develop YOU as a person, the more effective you are as a speaker.

3. It is leveraged influence.
One on one listening is great, but not easy to do at scale. If you are building a fast growth movement or organisation you need to quickly get everyone on the same page. Speaking in public is one of the truest ways to do this.

4. It is a new media.
News sources are biased. We don't trust the paper or TV to let us know what's going on, we trust the person in front of us. Speaking to large audiences is the new media. Unedited videos on say, You Tube, are now extending the reach, and its the whole speech not just edited highlights on the six o'clock news.

5. It is a certainty filter.
Managing what you know to be true versus what you think might be true is hard to do well when you are only thinking about it. Speaking it out loud forces you to really consider what is true for you and what is just imagined. Speaking is the ultimate ‘light of day' test for your ideas. The minute you say something out loud to a crowd that rings untrue, you know with absolute certainty that it is not right. Of course, the positive opposite is also true.

6. It creates transformational moments.
Turning points in life both for you and those around you are often defined by the small acts of courage and moments of inspiration. Standing up for what you believe and putting it out there and open to ridicule is courageous. And when you do it often, breathes a little life into those who listen to lift, to elevate their perspective or shift their consciousness.

7. There is magic in a live shared experience.
Listening to your favourite artist on a CD or MP3 player is great, seeing them live at the stadium is something else. Public speaking is the show, you don't get the same experience reading the speech as hearing it and hearing it live versus recorded is another level again.

So, if you were not nervous about speaking in public before, you just might be now!