April 10, 2008

Are you encouraging or discouraging your audience?

In a study at UC San Diego, researchers Kari A. Wasilenko, James A. Kulik, and Rebekah A. Wanic assigned 45 female undergraduates to exercise next to either a fit peer, an unfit peer or no one (the control group).

Women who exercised next to unfit peers exercised longer than the control group, whereas women who exercised next to someone who was more fit exercised for a shorter time and expressed greater body dissatisfaction.

This reminded me again of the reason why we, as speakers, shouldn't try to appear flawless, perfect, and all-knowing to our audiences.

An audience member who finds a speaker's achievements to be unattainable is going to focus less on the message of achievement and more on how far he has to go to reach his goals.

This has more to do with the audience member's insecurities than it does with your actual content, but unfortunately, you have no control over that. People bring their insecurities with them everywhere they go, including your presentation.

It's your job to be aware of and sensitive to your audience's self-doubts and reluctance to take risks, and show them that "it" is not as hard as they think it is.

An audience member who recognizes a speaker's humanness and understands that the speaker has struggles and challenges, just like everyone else, feels empowered and motivated, realizing, "If he can do it, so can I!"

When you try so hard not to be human and you're so focused on your own anxiety and insecurities, you can't possibly be giving your audience what they need, and you're just not going to be as effective getting your message across.

I know I harp on this one a lot, but only because I see so many speakers out there who are trying unbelieveably hard not to be "found out."

Letting go of this could be the one thing that takes you from just okay to monumentally powerful as a speaker.

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4 comments. Please add yours! :

Unknown said...

note to self - find someone bigger than me to work out with.

note to self - encourage audience to work out with me cuz I am bigger than them

note to self - don't lose too much weight or audience will leave

Kidding of course. Great post. Great reminder. Thanks!!!!!

Lisa Braithwaite said...

That's it, exactly. :-)

Anonymous said...


This makes a lot of sense.

My two pieces of advice for making presenters seem more approachable is to remind them to use the story and to be somewhat informal.

If the presenter tells a relevant story, the audience will start to empathize with them.

One way to do this is to weave your background and resume into a story. You will get to tout your experience while also gaining attention and building rapport. Use personal stories to make points. These are the elements that can make a story effective.
• Common reference points
• Characters
• Recognizable archetypes (Cheerleader, Office Gossip, The Grouch, Office Clown, Geek, Petty Gatekeeper, etc.)
• Conflict
• Details
• Dialog between characters
• A good segue back to your topic

Another good idea is to fashion personal stories that show you in a vulnerable light (when you were struggling as a young sales rep, at your first job out of college, etc.)

This is especially pertinent to your point Lisa.

The next thing I suggest is to be more informal when presenting.

While many people tout the importance of executive presence, I think that looking extremely professional and deferring to those higher up during presentations can actually backfire. For instance,if you defer too much to executives, you are projecting that you are not on an equal business stature. Respect the position professionally but relate to the human informally. By speaking to them more informally, you project that you are equal. They will read that as confidence.

It is also important to have a unique point of view; there is a common phrase at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center: “Point of view is worth 80 IQ points.”

I feel that being somewhat informal (but still professional) during presentations and in most business situations is more authentic and engaging to audiences than the stiff formality and rigid “professionalism” that people tend to slip into when presenting about their technology solutions.

Finally, a great sense of humor is important in business; if humor is a strong element of any interaction style, then it will serve you well. It is important to always find opportunities to insert it into your interactions with audiences / customers.

I've always found these as useful tips for anyone who wants to seem more authentic and therefore more approachable.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks for the great tips, Terry!

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