Monday, December 1, 2008

Just Go Out There And Be Yourself Yeah Right

Writen by Simon Raybould

I've come across this advice in quite a few places over the years, and while it sounds good, it's somewhat limited (and occasionally even just plain wrong). I know it's usually meant well - spoken by a friend just before a terrified speaker goes up on stage to make their business presentation in a last minute attempt to reassure them that all will be well: sadly the truth is that being a good presenter requires more than that. You need to "be yourself" and you need to "perform" at the same time. Tricky? Of course; if it wasn't tricky we'd all be doing it!

Think of the techniques to help you 'perform' as being like walking. Once you're passed the toddler stage, you don't really think about the mechanics of walking, you just use them - without thinking about it - to do the important stuff of getting from A to B. When the techniques are mastered you can concentrate on the business in hand - making your presentation.

What is certainly true is that all the great performers and presenters are themselves when they're delivering their material: with a master, you never get the feeling that you're on the receiving end of 'material'. It always seems to be 'just them talking'. Therein lies their expertise, of course. Billy Connelly, for example appears to be just standing their and saying the first thing that comes to mind.

With this in mind, I've jotted down a few bits and bobs of advice which might help anyone who's got to 'get out there' and make their presentation..... (By the way, number three is the hard one!)

1. Know your material inside out, back to front and sideways. That way it really comes from you and you're not "delivering" it. Comedians can't tell each others jokes because they somehow "don't fit" and a presenter can't deliver someone else's material (or material they're not comfortable with). If you try you'll unfortunately come across as confused, insincere (or both!). You won't have time to think once you're in mid-presentation. (Well, some people do, but not anyone who needs enough help to be reading an introductory article like this! ) Make sure that you've thought about all the different directions you could go from any point in your business presentation.

2. Forgive yourself a mistake. They happen. Your audience will almost always forgive you (and may not even notice!). What they won't forgive is you allowing something trivial to put yourself off. It's not the end of the world. A bad presentation is not a disaster. It's not likely that there were many deaths involved and precious few people will have lost their homes just because of one bad presentation. Think of it as a kind of arrogance to be so upset by mistakes: you're not that important to the people you're talking to, 99.9% of the time.

3. Learn the right techniques for making presentations. It's all well and good being comfortable on stage, being yourself, having good material and so on, but if you can't deliver it you might as well just stay in your room. Learn to use your voice correctly, to carry to the back of the room. Project, don't shout. Making your voice louder is counter-productive: you'll sound like you're trying too hard and your credibility will plummet. To make matters worse, you'll alienate the people at the front and you'll finish absolutely knackered - assuming you don't do permanent damage to your voice, of course!

Techniques should be so integrated to you, your presentation and your style that they stop becoming "techniques" at all, and just become a part of you. You should never let the people you're talking to see the techniques, either. Last year I toured with a dance company and I can distinctly remember hearing a member of the audience enthusing to one of the dancers about how amazing it was to be able to work that hard and for that long: they amount of physical effort involved as "utterly amazing". The dancer was gutted, despite it being intended as a complement by a fan who was absolutely blown away. Why? Because it shouldn't have looked like it was a physical effort at all. Remember this one motto...

If it looks like you're working hard, you're not working hard enough.

4. Don't try and fake it. Stay with who you are. The last thing the audience wants to see is an impression of some else. If they'd wanted to see someone super-confident, ultra-swarve and free from fault, they'd have gone to see someone super-confident, ultra-swarve and free from fault! They've come to see and hear you for a reason.

That's it: four simple suggestions - but I'll say it again... Number three is the hard one: that's the key to all the others. If you can get the right method and techniques so far into you that you don't think about them, you can both be yourself and perform at the same time while you make your presentation.

Remember that this isn't the whole story - and the details of how you do Number Three is something I've drawn a sheet over here....... but never the less, I hope it helps someone.

Dr Simon Raybould is the author of a book on voice (The Little Big Voice) and an ebook on business presentations. His company - Curved Vision - does really good presentation skills training in the UK .....

..... with fantastic results!


David Portney said...

If we really want to dig into what "comprises our self" and what it means to "just be yourself" or "be authentic, we open up a serious can of worms.

Liars are not always caught lying, and people telling the truth can come across as liars.

So to keep this comment brief, because this could (and maybe should) turn into a book, there are 2 sides that make the water here very muddy, very quickly:

1. Listeners don't know what authentic or inauthentic really is. Just because someone has a "gut feel" about something doesn't make it reality.

On the listener's side, presuming every listener has a "truth-ometer" and BS detector that is fully functional and perfectly operational 100% of the time give them far more credit than is deserved.

Every day, people are duped by con artists who "seem authentic".

2. What is "authentic" and what is it to "be ourself"? Our self is actually a conglomeration of influences. We consciously and unconsciously sponge up influences and behaviors growing up.

And we are not 100% in control of what we sponge up. So "our real self" is a highly dubious concept right out of the gate.

Furthermore, if I get up in front of people and emulate qualities of great speakers, it's still my face, my voice, my body doing the delivering of the message. So how am I not "me" when it's my voice my face my body, all the time?

It's a funny irony that we can never not be ourselves, while at the same time our "self" is a conglomeration of influences from our past.

Given the muddy waters one enters when considering what it means to "be yourself" or "be authentic" what it really comes down to is a state of relative congruity.

When we feel that we're congruent and not split, our nonverbal communication is different than if we feel "torn" when delivering a message.

My 2 cents ;-)

simonr said...

I guess I'm just more optimistic than you David - the people I work with and train can spot a bullshitter a mile off! :)

Mind you, I did write that article a good few years ago now and my views *have* changed a bit over the years!


David Portney said...

Hi Simon, I like optimistic people! and I hope you don't mind me commenting on your students being able to spot a BS'er a mile away...

Some time ago I was taking a presentation and communication skills training where we did a very interesting exercise:

The facilitator split us into groups of three and instructed each of us to tell 2 stories in turn:

One story was to be a total fabrication, not based on any actual truth whatsoever, and the other story was to be the unadulterated truth.

After we all told our stories, we were all to vote, in our groups of 3, as to which story was true and which was false.

The 2 people in my group both voted incorrectly - they thought my fabricated story was true and my true story a total lie. I was dumbfounded when they actually became upset, even saying "but that story CAN'T be true" and vice versa.

When the groups were reassembled into the main group and the facilitator went 'round the room asking how it went, there were mixed results but there was a huge amount of BS that went undetected.

I'd like to highly suggest that if you have time in your next presentation skills training you have your students try this exercise.

I very highly doubt people will 100% of the time be able to detect the BS story!

People want to believe they can spot a liar, but when put to the test, it's really hit or miss, unless the fabrication is so outlandish as to be patently and ostensibly false.