June 25, 2010

The audience can sense your guilt

Have you ever eaten a really garlicky salad or pasta dish, only to find yourself exuding garlic perfume for the next 24 hours?

I've written before about apologizing or qualifying at the beginning of a presentation, and how it does nothing to benefit you or the audience when there's nothing to apologize for.

But how about feeling apologetic and not saying anything? The audience can sense that, too!

A client recently told me that, because of her administrative position in the company, she is always the one delivering either bad news, or compliance- and HR-type issues like sexual harassment or open enrollment. She is certain that no one wants to come to her presentations, and she feels bad for always having to talk about such "boring" and "downer" topics.

Like that garlicky Caesar salad you ate that is now oozing from your pores, that hangdog attitude permeates your presentation through your body language and voice. "I'm sorry I'm so boring." "I feel bad about having to give you this information." How can you hold your head high and speak with conviction when you feel so guilty about what you're saying?

First, we talked about how to make these presentations not boring! There are a million ways to change up her talks to make them more engaging, interesting, and even fun for the employees. And she's in a position where she has the luxury of delivering that kind of presentation, where most of her colleagues are stuck in very rigid and inflexible roles. She was pretty excited as she started thinking of ideas for spicing things up.

The second thing we worked on was reframing: taking these guilty feelings and turning them around into positive ones. Instead of telling herself, "I feel bad that I have to talk about these issues," we talked about telling herself, "This is important information that they need in order to make important decisions for themselves and the company." She needs to own the stage and take pride in this part of her job.

Again: Don't apologize, even if it's in your mind! The audience will sense your discomfort, and you can't expect them to feel good about your message if you don't.

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