We tend to forget sometimes that the people who present and the people we are presenting for are humans. We focus on the information presented and the techniques that we almost lose touch with the people we are presenting for. We stop using real words in presentations and stop telling interesting stories and anecdotes and start using jargon and pie charts.
An emotional connection has little to do with your content and so much to do with the human you are and the human you’re presenting. It’s about connecting with yourself and others emotionally and cognitively. The amazing reality is that we are all connected, personally and professionally, and that who we are as humans matters as much as who we are as presenters.
How can you connect with yourself and be present in the moment when you deliver a presentation? How can you connect with others and come across as authentic and relatable?
- Connecting with yourself: Before you connect with others emotionally, you have to connect with yourself. There are multiple ways to connect with yourself such as finding a quiet space before your big presentation or simply managing the voices in your head that tell you you’re not good enough
- Connecting with others: People will always care about the person you are before they care about what you’re presenting to them. They want to connect with the human before connecting with the expert. Find out why you’re doing the presentation and use that to build the story and your call-to-action.
- Ways to connect with people: Being yourself is great advice if you know how to use it. Sharing relatable stories about yourself can connect you with your audience. Being a good listener and being aware of your surroundings can help you manage the energy in the room and reconnect with everyone.
Connecting with yourself
For most of our adult life, we were told to distract ourselves whenever we felt nervous or anxious instead of cultivating a healthy relationship with ourselves. If there is something that connects us all, it’s that we all feel nervous before an audience, no matter how experienced we are. Some of us can manage those feelings and connect with themselves better than others.
Before a high-stakes presentation, Christina Bowe recommended that you check in with yourself and try to understand how you’re feeling. Think of where those feelings are coming from. Every presentation and every audience gives you a different energy. Why is it important to connect with how you feel? It’s important because it is an insight into how you’ll come across to your audience. It’s an insight into how you’ll behave.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am an extrovert and I display so much energy around people but that doesn’t mean I never get nervous in front of an audience. Extroverts tend to speak fast while introverts fall back into their tendency to avoid speaking in front of others. Extroverts need to be conscious of how they feel to be able to dial it down and manage their excitement. Introverts should check in with themselves often and avoid running away from the experience.
“I found it frustrating being pigeonholed into either camps, extravert and introvert. A few years ago I discovered some terms which connected with me, omnivert and ambivert. An Omnivert is someone that can be either introvert or extrovert, depending on the situation. An Ambivert is someone whose overall behaviour is between introversion or extroversion, the main body of the population.” — Monique Wintle-Camp
Before your next big presentation, take a few moments alone. Find a quiet spot and disappear right before your presentations. Breath in and out, and center yourself. If need be, use words of affirmation to remind yourself that you’ve gotten through many things successfully and you can do hard things, as Christina Bowe recommended.
Feeling like an imposter? We’ve all been there! When you start to have these voices in your head that try to sabotage your efforts, try to think of them as just voices and separate them from the person you are, as Monique Wintle-Camp said. They are just voices. Try to understand why you feel what you feel and find your balance. Connect with your emotions and find ways to quiet these voices in your head. Sometimes I do not even try to quiet these voices. I use them to fuel my energy to do better and prove them wrong!
Monique Wintle-Camp suggests that we spend time listening to and building up the positive, supportive voices, the ones that tell us “we have got this”, and “you know your stuff”. We so quickly listen to the negative voices and ‘accept them’ but the idea of listening to positive voices seems so odd to us. What would your day look like if you spend more time listening to those positive voices? What could you achieve?
Often times we dress-rehearse tragedy as Brené Brown said, and we imagine ourselves being nervous. Maybe the answer is to dress-rehearse for success instead.
Connecting with others
People not only care about what you’re telling them; they care about how you feel about what you’re telling them. If you’re passionate about something, most people will feel the same way because passion is contagious.
Your body language and the language you’re speaking should align with how you want to come across. Some leaders have a vision but they can’t get people to buy into it because when they speak about it, they dampen their presentation. Their tone of voice is not as enthusiastic as it should be.
To connect with people, you have to come across as human. There should be no difference between someone talking about a product, a service, or even a sport they like to play on the weekend. Some of the best sales presentations are the ones where you don’t feel you are being sold to. You feel so connected with the speaker that you actually want them to help you, as Christina Bowe said.
Before you even put pen to paper for your presentation, think about what you’re trying to achieve: are you trying to connect with them, are you asking for help, are you trying to inspire people, or are you trying to drive them to do something? Think of the response you’re looking for. If you have that in mind, you will tell a well-crafted story with the right language and your audience will experience the same emotion that you’re experiencing as a speaker. Align that with the story you’re telling and the language you’re using. If you have that in mind, as Monique Wintle-Camp said.
Ways to connect with others!
(1) What does being yourself even mean?
I never thought “just be yourself” is good advice. What does it mean to be authentic and is it the right thing to do? Is it much simpler than we think?
Being authentic means being genuine. “It’s erasing the gap between what you think and feel on the inside and what you share on the outside”, as Adam Grant said. It’s the most valuable real-estate of your personality that you share with others. Sharing how you feel, helps you come across as authentic. Hajar El Haddaoui thinks that we need to start blurring the line between who we are as humans and who we are as professionals. To come across as authentic to your employees, you need to share something about your personal life that they can connect with.
We’ve all been around those people who we really like in real life but the moment they present, they get in character and lose the person they are, or as Monique Wintle-Camp said, “they lose the charisma and the spark”. Once you start to like who you are, you will across as more authentic because you’re not afraid to show that. It is so much more fun to connect with people and engage with them.
(2) Is there a better way to connect with others than storytelling!
There is no better way to inspire a lot of emotions than storytelling. When you tell the story, you want to focus on the emotions you are trying to inspire people to feel, think of the action you would like them to take. If you realize that there is a gap in what they do and what you can offer, use storytelling to bridge that gap and provide a solution, as Christina Bowe said. Stories are personable and relatable which makes them also vivid and imaginable, just like the Harry Potter stories as Elena Crescia said. You could almost imagine everything that J. K. Rowling wrote about even before watching the movies.
When you tell the story, use a tone of voice that is personable instead of authoritative. Speak to others the way you speak to your friends and family. Your voice adds so much character to your presentation in so many unimaginable ways.
(3) What we mean by listening, actively
Effective listening is active listening. It is something that you can practice around people and while presenting to people. Being aware of your surroundings. They are as important as listening to what people say to you.
Contemporary literature typically defines three levels of listening, as Monique Wintle-Camp explained:
- Level 1: Internal Listening — listening to your own thoughts and monologue
- Level 2: Focused Listening — being present and listening to someone else intently like it’s just the two of you in that room
- Level 3: Global Listening — listening to others in the context of your environment including the body language, the feel, the look, and the energy
“Have you ever walked into a room and had a feeling that someone was talking about you? Have you walked into a club and felt like dancing immediately.” — Monique Wintle-Camp
This is what it feels like to be present in the moment and to actively listen to others while presenting. You’re better off learning about your entire surroundings and getting feedback from others than just listening to what’s being said to you or even to your own thoughts.
If you’re half-way through your presentation and you feel the energy dropping in the room, stand up and call it out. Go off-script and be authentic and tell people how you feel about it, as Monique Wintle-Camp advised.
(3) Practice. Practice. Practice.
Do you think you should fake it till you make it? This advice is almost getting out of fashion, as Christina Bowe said. People don’t want fake anymore. They are looking for authenticity and relatability. Instead of faking it, sometimes you have to act as if you own it even if you’re not feeling like your great self today. The intent behind that saying is great, but try not to fake anything!
There’s nothing more humbling than seeing the greatest experts and speakers talk about how much they practiced to become who they are today. There is no such thing as too much practice, I believe. However, while practicing, make sure that you practice it the right way and that you’re practicing the right thing! While it’s important to practice the technique and content, don’t lose yourself in the process. Practice being yourself in front of an audience as Christina Bowe explained.
Here’s a great example that Monique Wintle-Camp shared: a great musician, learns the craft, practices, and learns ‘the rules’ before creating their own music style and music. The same is true with presentations, the more you learn the craft of presenting, the more you can show your authentic self.
Find those who inspire you to become a better presenter and look for the little nuggets in their performance that make them great at what they do. Imitate them in their game and try to apply that to your own game. Follow the Creative Curve Laws.
Do not underestimate the last 24 hours before your big speech (or TED talk), as Elena Crescia said. The 10 months of training leading to your marathon day are as important as the last month, last week, and last 24 hours. Practice words of affirmation and remind yourself that you’ve got it going on!
“I have a dream” is one of the greatest statements in the history of speeches as Sorin Sighinas said, and it wasn’t even prepared for. Sometimes, life throws you a curveball and someone will ask you to create a last-minute presentation. What do you do in this case? Wing it. Improvise!
Does it even matter?
It does. People buy from people they know, like and trust as Maurice Hellemons always says. When you decide to present to other people, remember that they are humans and that you’re a human too! Find what makes them excited and learn more about their values. Create your own version of authenticity by being yourself and by displaying vulnerability and sharing those pieces of you that make you who you are.
Recommended reads by the contributors
- Co-Active Coaching, Fourth Edition: The proven framework for transformative
- Impossible to Ignore by Carmen Simon