How to maintain your cool and effectively communicate
It’s not just the factual content of your presentation that determines how well it is received by your audience. You can’t consistently sell ideas by pure showmanship with no substance either. The most carefully thought out and designed slide deck can be marred by the attitudes of the speaker. There are 4 common pitfalls that you must learn to avoid if you would like to be known as an effective speaker and communicator or ideas.
All those hours of preparation, fell flat
You are devastated. You put in hours of research in making sure that all your facts were accurate. You built a careful chain of reasoning. The slide deck followed all the rules for good presentations: good images, clear and meaningful charts, well paced … and no bullet points either. You finished, and the audience sat on its hands. The Q & A session was lacklustre.
What went wrong? I have been witness to many such events by young and eager professionals. Their intense disappointment undermines all future presentations. Show biz is as much about audience reaction as the intensity and style of the performers.
The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.George Bernard Shaw
Wise word from a great writer. Why did this disaster happen? In my experience, it is not about what was said but the way it was delivered. Another quote worth repeating:
People often fail to remember what you said but they will always remember how they felt when you said it.Variously credited: ? Frank A. Patterson Jr., ? Maya Angelou, ? Carl W. Buehner
And that’s the reason for you failure: the way you spoke and delivered your message. Your audience experiences emotional reactions from your presentation from many signals that lie unnoticed and not sensed.
- Tone of voice
- Body language
The big 4 that can scuttle your best efforts
If you wish to gain reputation as a speaker, there are 4 common attitudes that you must watch out for and rein in at all times.
1Adopting a “holier-than-thou” attitude, behaving like a strict schoolteacher, being paternalistic, acting like a proselytiser: are all instant turn-offs. Most of us hate being talked down to. Portray yourself as human, as being prone to err and fail, as being just like your audience. Don’t carry it to it limits by taking on a tone of false humility.
There’s only one right way — mine
2Even if you are 100% right or sure of a fact, give yourself and the audience wiggle room. Avoid terms like “always” and “never”. Use milder substitutes like “most of the time” and “very rarely”. It is highly likely that there is someone in the crowd who knows more than you about the subject or may even be a recognised authority. If you know ahead of time about their presence, invite them into the discussion sessions. Just recognising them as part of the room stokes their ego and will bring them to your side. Their endorsement and added support sends strong signals to the others in the room.
Combative stances and words
3In situations where your point of view is counter to popularly held ideas or likely to provoke strong reactions, avoid “fighting” words. Most of us dislike direct confrontation. A good tactic is to stay away from “you” and use “I’ as a point of view. Instead of saying “You are wrong (stupid, idiotic)” use “I hold the opinion that …”. Once again, show grace in conceding that there could be other ways to look at the situation.
Personal (ad hominem) attacks
4Never, ever, name people in a derogatory manner when taking down an idea or concept. It’s a political tactic that does not look good in meaningful discourse. If not in words, avoid gestures like smirking or eye rolling when addressing a person.
Learn to breathe
In tense situations or when there is great anxiety in you, step back for a short pause and breathe slowly. It’s a proven physiological mechanism: the conscious interposition of a slow, deep breathing cycle brings the parasympathetic nervous system to the main stage. High emotional states invoke the strong, well entrenched, “flight or fight” response. This reflex is geared for action without thinking and is a negative force in civil discussions. Invoking the parasympathetic system by slow deep breathing, counters the sympathetic and allows you to step back and make a meaningful assessment of the situation.