April 7, 2008

How accessible are you to your audience?

In my recent guest post on Jeremy Jacobs' blog, my first point about public speaking fear was that you don't have to be friends with everyone.

People in the audience may or may not like you, and how people feel is just something that it's pretty impossible to control. Sure, you're warm and friendly, funny and smart. You're well-dressed, respectful and have a nice smile. You like long walks on the beach, drinking wine and watching sunsets . . . Oops. Wrong blog.

No matter how spectacular your personality is, it's a fact of life that you cannot connect with everyone.

But how about when you don't connect with anyone?
  • Are you so concerned with presenting the "right" appearance that you end up buttoned-down, stuffy, and looking as gray and dreary as your suit?
  • Are you so concerned with appearing "fun" that your patter is forced and you say things like, "How's everybody this morning? I can't hear you! I said, 'How's everybody this morning?'"
  • Are you so concerned with coming across as intelligent that you are drowning your audience in a sea of statistics, charts, graphs, numbers, letters, symbols, fractions, decimals, percentages and, just for good measure, lots of jargon?
  • Are you so concerned with being the "perfect" speaker that you turn yourself into a lifeless automaton?

If you're forcing yourself to fit a pattern or mold or style that's not you, it's not going to fit. And the audience will know it doesn't fit.

Your authenticity is shot the minute you try to be what you think you're supposed to be. You become unapproachable and inaccessible to the audience.

I don't like suits. I don't own a suit. Yet, I manage to dress myself properly when I speak to corporate groups. I want to dress appropriately for the audience and I want to "fit in." But I'm just not a suit kinda person. So I put together appropriate outfits that "suit" me and "suit" the audience without actually being suits (was that bad or what?).

What are you doing right now as a speaker that isn't you?

What are you doing right now as a speaker that's keeping you from connecting with your audience?

What are you doing right now as a speaker that's making you inaccessible and unapproachable?

Figure out who you are. Then be that.

On The Everything Page you'll find everything you need to build visibility, credibility and influence through engaging presentations that move your participants into action: freebies, low-cost products and courses, and 1:1 coaching!

5 comments. Please add yours! :

Jeremy Jacobs said...


Thanks for the plug! Of course, you are quite right. In any audience, 2% will think you are the second coming and another 2% will think you are the devil incarnate. It's the 96% in the middle one should concern oneself with.

Qurioux said...

Well said!

My guess is that when the speaker thinks more about himself/herself than the subject we get into trouble.

When a Maria Sharapova or Serena Williams stretches for a winner, I suppose the last thing on her mind is how her dress looks!

Lisa Braithwaite said...

That's a great analogy, Qurioux!

Anonymous said...


Once again, great post! I've seen the exact dynamic you describe numerous times in my presentation classes.

One thing I would like to extend about this post is that often when things go wrong in a presentation, is when being authentic can pay off the most.

In the event of a crisis or a disaster, and if you happen to be the manager of a company facing that crisis or disaster, it's best to be mentally prepared. Crises can happen any time. Just like they can in our personal lives. And like our own individual preparedness for disaster, a good manager should be prepared to handle an internal or external crisis effectively. To help counter the bad taste a mistake or disaster may leave in the mouths of clients, the best approach for dealing with the situation is to explain things calmly and with authenticity.

When a mine owned by Murray Energy Corporation collapsed, CEO Robert Murray rushed to a private jet to the scene as soon as he heard of the collapse, appearing at the disaster within hours. He took command of the rescue operation. He provided the media with constant updates. He responded to the crisis with excellent textbook public relations. The presence of the concerned CEO at the scene has been crucial ever since the Valdez , Alaska oil spill in1989 -- one of history's worst environmental disasters -- when Exxon's CEO took far too long to appear on the scene, thereby intensifying public anger at the company.

So Murray was ahead of the game and ready for the next step when he appeared at the site of the mine collapse. But soon after, his crisis communication broke down. He denounced the media and blamed union organizers for suggesting that the dangerous practice of "retreat mining" had led to the collapse. He erroneously blamed an earthquake (tremors actually caused by the mine collapse) and blasted environmentalists for their crusade against global warming, calling it an affront to the coal industry and to the American economy. Suddenly, although he was physically there, he didn't appear "there" for the trapped miners or their families. Then, after three rescuers were killed in a cave-in, he seemingly disappeared from the scene altogether.

Despite all these negatives, Murray 's actions were noted in a positive vein by one writer who described his candor and refreshing authenticity. In Shades of Gray, a public relations blog by David Murray (no relation), he writes that "Despite [ Murray 's] occasional moments of near-insanity, I suspect he's better liked by the general public than he would be if he'd gone by the crisis communication book." Because of his authentic approach.

The Murray example shows that, in times of crisis, spokespeople (especially CEOs) should trust in the redeeming power of honesty and authenticity in the actions they take. The public will immediately empathize with the leader who bravely steps up and takes charge at the scene of a disaster. Those waiting for action and a solution will feel cared for and relieved. Forgiveness for the leader's other faults will come naturally and readily toward that person as long as they feel the spokesperson is being truthful.

Mistakes can be made, but can also be recovered from, especially if they're honest ones. But once credibility comes into question, once authority is compromised, there's a steep climb uphill before we're able to regain people's trust. Stumble and fall but be real. Tell the truth, at least the way you see it. Even if you're wrong, at least it's your opinion, and people will be able to feel your authenticity and understand your good intentions. Truly confident people (who know themselves and are willing to be seen as vulnerable and imperfect) project a rock-solid belief in themselves. "Yes, I made a mistake in this case but I still believe in myself." So then others will believe in you, too.

You can't force authenticity, especially in the corporate world, according to Don Tapscott, author of The Naked Corporation, a book about corporate transparency. Given the public's distrust of corporations today, it's more important than ever for CEOs in particular to operate authentically when facing a crisis. It's pretty easy to see through a flimflam spokesperson -- one with the gift of gab but lacking sincerity. Tapscott explains through several examples how corporate flimflam is not the way to go: Diebold, for one, insisting its voting machines were unhackable until someone posted a video of himself rigging a mock election on them; Microsoft, for another, offering to pay people to improve on the company's Wikipedia entry. And more.

In today's electronic age, it's more of a challenge for corporations or for anyone to get away with something. Don't even try. Be authentic. Authenticity is the only way to operate in today's world, particularly in a critical situation. Face a crisis or a disaster by revealing yourself through both confidence and vulnerability. The willingness to be up-front, to be vulnerable, to show your warts can go a long way toward showing that you mean it -- that you're facing the situation in an authentic way, and ultimately inspiring trust.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

This says it all right here: ". . . often when things go wrong in a presentation, is when being authentic can pay off the most."

I can see you're passionate about authenticity, Terry, just as I am!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...