July 3, 2019

I dare you to be expressive

One of my clients has been working her way through the upper levels of her organization with a culture-changing idea for her company. She flies jumbo jets, and her idea would impact all pilots in her airline, and ideally, pilots across all of aviation.

After her first presentation, to which she had invited some of her peers for support, she felt really good about her performance. She made a brief comment to her (all male) peers about an area where she thought she fell short, and they immediately began critiquing her.

For 45 minutes they deconstructed her talk, giving only negative feedback, and the piece that really stuck with her was the idea that she's was "being a showman."

When she and I first met, she was very clear with me that her style is forceful and bold. As the commander of a jet, she can't be shy and retiring. She's knows her personality is strong and she's a very expressive presenter.

Luckily, she didn't beat herself up about the feedback. She carefully analyzed it and went into the following morning's meeting with resolve to get the results she needed for her project.

And she did. The chief pilot suggested sending her idea up the chain of command and having the legal department take a look.

Let's talk about this concept of showmanship, and some speakers' fears around being seen as enthusiastic and passionate.

My client is passionate about her cause, and when she speaks about it, her passion comes out. When I hear her speak, I get excited too!

However, her male colleagues (but not the boss!) were extremely uncomfortable with what they deemed to be unprofessional behavior.

This is partly because women in general are often judged in the workplace for expressing emotion - any emotion. Not just sadness or anger, but also excitement and enthusiasm. But so are men, especially in the workplace, and mostly for enthusiasm.

"Emotions are just not professional," according to some sad, dreary dude in a gray suit way back in the olden days.

The problem with this belief is that it's wrong. And also, as a speaker, you must engage your audience emotionally in order to be persuasive. People don't change attitudes, beliefs or behaviors based on data alone.

Take a look at advertising, where experts in consumer psychology persuade us to buy things every day based on our emotions. Sure, there's some data, but we use that to justify our decision, once we're already sucked in emotionally.

If you want results from your presentations, you must activate your audience's emotions.

That doesn't mean you, personally, have to be emotional in a big way. But digging into your own emotions about your topic and taking your audience on a journey with you so they feel something is how change happens.

My client and I discussed how she can be persuasive but not "stagey," and this is a valid concern. She's expressive (as am I), but she needs to be careful not to "perform" expressiveness so that it looks like she's acting.

As speakers, our voice, our hands, our bodies and our facial expressions are all connected, and they're connected to our emotions. They have to be, otherwise we look like we're faking it.

There's a middle ground between stagey and conversational, between over the top and just having a chat.

If we want to activate emotions, we have to tap into our own emotions and be willing to express them in order to bring our audience into our world. I know you might feel embarrassed for your audiences to perceive you as human, but human and authentic is what they want!

For me, expressiveness is a big part of my presentation style. It's not easy to get photos of me presenting, because I am ALWAYS making a face. My hands, my body and my face are all quite expressive. So on a scale of 1 to 10, I'm probably at a 9 when it comes to expressiveness.

This may not feel comfortable to you! But a 1 out of 10 is going to put your audience to sleep, guaranteed.

How can you increase your expressiveness in a way that is authentic to you, but also helps activate your audience's emotions? Can you move the needle from a 2 to a 4? From a 4 to a 6?

I dare you to upgrade your showmanship. 

Let your emotions flow naturally. Let your body and face be expressive, the same way they probably are when you're sitting around at a barbecue telling stories to your friends or kids.

There is no shame in being enthusiastic. There is nothing wrong with being expressive.

You can be in solidarity with the sad gray guy who decided enthusiasm is unprofessional. Or you can take a risk and free yourself from the restraints that one or two people in your workplace or audience would place on you.

My client got her results because her superior wasn't intimidated or threatened by her energy, and he was able to hear her message, get the data AND allow his own emotions to be activated.

Don't let small-minded fearful people interfere with your bold and courageous message!

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!

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