The Changing Role of Visuals

web conferencing

Back in the late 1980’s, presenters with live audiences had limited choices when it came to visuals. If you wanted to use a visual aid in your presentation, you were confined to props, displaying a transparency on an overhead projector, or referencing some type of visual on a large poster. Visuals were clearly supplemental and played second fiddle to the main speaker. Regardless of whether you were presenting to teach, inform, persuade, or entertain, visual aids were the secondary messenger and the speaker was primary.

For example, if a presenter claimed something should be done about the high cost of healthcare in the 1980’s, they would likely reveal a poster with a table chart depicting how health care costs have risen dramatically over the past several years. The visual would offer supporting evidence with accurate statistics from a credible source to support their claim that health care costs were rising. Then, when the presenter was ready to move to another point, the poster was covered. In other words, visuals were used to clarify points at the time the content called out for more clarity. Once the point was made, the visual was removed and the speaker became the focus of attention once more.

Flash forward to the advent of web conferencing nearly 20 years ago, where this operating principle got turned on its head. Suddenly, a constant barrage of slides became “the presenter,” while the audio commentator of speaker took the back seat. Visuals were shown at all times throughout the presentation, which also became common place with PowerPoint slide presentations as well. Slides visuals took over as the primary messenger, and the speaker’s audio became secondary. Why? Visuals simply steal the show. As John Medina in his book, Brain Rules says, “the visual sense trumps all other senses.” Unfortunately, to make matters worse, stagnant slides in the early days of web conferencing displayed for long chunks of time, while presenters often droned on with audio commentary.

The result?

Paper airplanes flying around workplace cubicles during webinars.

Today we’ve seen how dramatically web conferencing, webinars, and virtual classrooms have evolved. Yet the challenge to continually engage attendees remains as strong as ever. One shift is the improved quality and ease of video and integrated webcams. We see this adoption of streaming live video growing. In fact, some presenters stay on camera through the entire webinar presentation, in addition to subjecting viewers to continual slides. Although we’ve made improvements over the past decades in the number of slides shown, as well as shortened the amount of time they remain static, a new challenge has emerged.

When presenters leave their webcams on for the entirety of a webinar, in addition to showing multiple succession of slide visuals, viewers experience competing visual stimuli. Where to look? The disadvantage is that by focusing on the speaker’s video, for example, absorption from the content of the slide takes a hit. From what we know about research in neuroscience and cognitive psychology, this type of attending and processing involves task switching, holding content in working memory, and likely, some cognitive load if the content is complex. The challenge is that viewers will likely not successfully absorb all slide content, while simultaneously watching and listening to the video of the speaker. Virtual attendees cannot attend to both and do them well.

Therefore, it is the presenter or the facilitator’s job to guide the viewer where to look. By turning off the webcam at strategic points, attendees can be directed to focus on the slides only, for example. By turning off slide display or displaying a fully colored, blank slide (explaining why it’s blank) or a slide with minimal content, attendees’ attention can be directed to the speaker’s video.

The lesson here is that just as a film director works with a cinematographer to direct where the audience should focus in a production, so also, we should carefully and thoughtfully determine when and where to best turn our webcam on and when to project slides. Video works great to introduce the presenter at the beginning, as well as during question and answer periods, for example.

Some web conferencing platforms now even allow for frames to be adjusted to consume more real estate, and then be reduced in size later. This is yet another tool at our disposal for helping communicate what the primary messenger is and what should be supplementary at any given time.

Using visuals to enhance and clarify our presentation should not be a 3-ring circus, but instead, a well crafted and directed production that considers the attendee first and foremost.

What say you?

The Top 5 Online Video Mistakes

A  friend of mine recently shared how she conducted a job interview with a candidate in a non-traditional way.

She and her team interviewed the candidate online . . . using video.

The candidate used the built-in camera on his laptop to connect visually, and my friend and her colleagues used video conferencing equipment at their workplace. As the interviewer, my friend shared how pleased and surprised she was with how well the interview went using video technology.

But then at the end of the interview, the unthinkable happened . . .

Apparently, both parties had said their “thank you’s” to close the interview. But instead of the interviewee turning off his video, he unintentionally kept the video live and used his hands to half close the laptop while remaining seated to do other work.

The result?

The laptop’s video camera was now directed solely at the candidate’s lap, and suddenly his job interviewers found themselves staring directly at a crotch onscreen.

ONLINE VIDEO MISTAKES

Not exactly how you want to end a professional interview, right? Let’s just say, it was . . . well, awkward.

Because video is being used more and more for video conferencing, job interviews, video tutorials, corporate messaging, e-learning, telepresence conferencing, there is plenty to learn as we move toward becoming a video literate society.

Below are some common mistakes people tend to make when on-camera. Knowing what these errors are can help you avoid them, so your onscreen time can leave audiences with a powerful impact, and not the opposite.

TOP 5 COMMON MISTAKES

5. Long Openings 

Nothing says boring like a long introduction, a lengthy bio, a drawn out welcome, etc. Think about online video as brief snippets of information. Everything you say should be concise and relevant. Remember, viewers can always go back and view it again, if needed. Keep those first few seconds short and to the point, afterall, this is when you make a first impression.

4. Mellow Energy

Even normally energetic personalities sometimes lose their energy when placed in front of a cold, lonely camera lens. Remember, your energy as presenter is contagious to those watching. If you have come across with low energy and no passion for your content, we will feel the same way.

3. Deer in Headlights Expression

There’s nothing like a semi-coma look to energize viewers on the other end of the screen. Facial expression cannot be blank on-camera. Remember, video is all about movement. Natural facial expression and subtle movements keep us interested and attentive. We don’t want to watch a presenter who doesn’t look delighted to be there.

2. Irrelevant Tangents

Although you do want to come across with spontaneity, you want to curb the topical tangents. True, these can be cut in post-production but that requires more editing time and time is money. Prepare your video presentation ahead of time with a script or talking points, so you can keep yourself on topic. Think about talking in sound bites on topical chunks. Your viewers will thank you.

1. Camera Know-how

The most important part is realizing when your camera is on, when it’s off, how to turn it on, and how to turn it off. It’s also about knowing what’s visible to viewers and what’s out of frame. Where is the camera targeted and can viewers see you scratching your belly right now or is the camera really off?

Let’s keep all these common errors in mind, and allow them to inform the success of our future video presentations.

Please let me know in the comments below what memorable mistakes you’ve observed with video users?

What say you?

 

Video Presentations: The Power of Conversational Delivery

In the last blog, we highlighted the importance of coming across in a personable way when you present on video. Establishing eye contact with viewers through the camera lens is one way to accomplish this.

Another way to connect with viewers and communicate in a personable way is to be conversational.

If someone were to coach your next video presentation and remind you to relax and “talk” as if your viewers were right there with you in your living room, it might seem laughable to you. However, you coach has–in fact–hit upon an ingredient that will make your videos more successful.

If the viewer feels like you are having a conversation with them, that you are talking with them as if it was just the two of you in your living room, their natural communication instincts will engage and they will be more inclined to be attentive.

The real question, however, is how do we achieve that conversational quality?

In our everyday, normal lives we all know how to do this naturally. We share thoughts formed as words, we listen to other’s responses, and we respond to other’s comments. Words are in the moment, spontaneous, informal, and real.

The obvious challenge with video is that the reality of the video is artificial, while the effect needs to be real. Sure, it’s staged and yes, it’s been scripted. However, the real trick is communicating your message in such a way that we retain the freshness of the moment as if that line or sentence is just being thought of at that time.

There are several ways to come across conversationally, and we’ll explore more of these ways in the coming posts. For now, let’s focus on one strategy in particular. To be more conversational, script your message ahead of time. The task of carving out time before your video shoot day to carefully think through what you’ll say, and more importantly, how you say it is vital. In this process of thoughtful preparation, you’ll become more familiar with the content and how to recall it.

After scripting your message and thoughts in a way that feels smooth and genuine, practice out loud several times by initially just reading it. Next, identify the key main points and/or sub-points that must be communicated. To help remind you what to say, you can even post these key points on posters or paper notes right next to your lens or use a teleprompter.

Before you shoot your video, rehearse your script by looking at the camera and choosing the words that you speak at the time that you speak them. Your preparation in writing the script down helps your preparation process, but doesn’t necessarily need to be read verbatim when you record your video. This is one way to ensure that your message will be extemporaneous, and of course, conversational.

Stay tuned for future posts on additional tips you can use to be more conversational on camera.

What say you?

Show and Tell: What Video Cameras Do Best

old-camera_cropped

We’ve come a long way from 19th century cameras like this one. In the 1830’s, photography required an exposure that sometimes lasted 15 minutes or longer. In order for the portrait images to be clear, subjects had to remain still for the duration. It’s no wonder my great grandfather and great grandmother were not smiling!

Now “flash” forward to today where photography is no longer a luxury, but so common that it has become ubiquitous. Today average citizens find themselves holding high-end camera capability in the palms of their hands. Unlike 19th century photography, a professional photographer is no longer required. Video, too, has become accessible and affordable through mobile devices and tablets, and no longer require professionals to operate them.

What’s interesting about human patterns with new technologies is that one pattern remains very consistent. As human beings, we tend to carry paradigms from the old mediums to the new medium, regardless of whether or not it remains relevant. For example, early television began by mimicking what radio did; i.e., placing reporters at a table in front of a microphone. It wasn’t until later that we realized television had many more affordances that could be explored, and we began experimenting with several camera angles, movement, and multiple sets. Additionally, when e-books first entered the literary world, many traditional print books were simply converted to PDFs and placed online. Yet the online medium offers many more multimedia platform capabilities which the traditional “book” cannot.

Similarly, the traditional paradigm of face-to-face instruction or presentations is being transferred directly to video. What we need to remember is that video is a completely different medium, and with new mediums, the rules change and opportunities emerge. For example, in on-camera presentations, video can also support audio effects, visual illustrations to clarify content at the right moment, cut-away shots to referenced content, expert interviews, music, and many other innovative supports. Naturally, the goals and purpose of the video must guide thoughtful design.

Essentially, video is a show and tell medium. Picture book authors know that the text to their stories only tell part of the story, as the partner storyteller is the illustrations. Together, they share the journey of “show and tell” together. So, also, it is with video. Video provides us with many options. Video can capture dynamic movement (visual and audio)–unlike its cousin, photography–and video can also convey subtle, affective and interpersonal elements which can impact how a message is received. For example, in on-camera presentations, video can also convey interpersonal elements related to personality, passion, intimacy and attitudes, and these elements can either effect the viewer positively or negatively. We’ll cover this area in greater depth in a future blog post. One tip to consider is to be careful not to rely solely on your video script to describe places, people, and events, but rather, cut away to images of referenced people or places to share in telling the story. When content requires greater clarity for your viewer, reference supporting visuals as well in your video.

Thankfully, we no longer need to remain “still” for 15 minutes in today’s world of photography or videography. Yet it would serve us well to remember that what video does best is capture dynamic movement and affective, interpersonal speaker elements which influence the message. When you create videos to teach, market, or inform, design your video content to show and tell, and most importantly, remember to wear that “new paradigm lens.”

Using Video to Improve Your Speaking

Twenty-five years ago, we began videotaping our students’ speeches in college public speaking classes. As faculty, we thought that incorporating this technology was fairly advanced for the time and were rather proud of ourselves. Cameras were installed in the ceiling corners of all speech classrooms, cabinets were built with VCR shelves inside each lectern, and video viewing labs were opened to provide opportunities and equipment for students to watch their own recordings. All was well in the world of learning and speaking, that is, with the exception of one slight problem.

Students hated watching themselves on video.

In the world of human experience, I think you will find this to be a common sentiment. There’s something about listening to yourself on the phone, watching yourself in movies, or worse yet, viewing yourself present on video. On the other hand as you may have guessed, there really is no better substitute for seeing yourself as “others see you” – which is the affordance this tool provides. Over time, some students discovered this insight for themselves. If students actually took the time (and it was required) to view their presentation from the lens of an “audience member,” they too, saw strengths and opportunities in their abilities and techniques to which they were not privy before.

I recently participated in a training certification which required each speaker to present a number presentations over the course of several days. Once again, all presentations were recorded on video and we were required to view them. Now with the tables turned, I too, dreaded the task of watching myself on video. However, I must admit that watching those tapes was invaluable. For example, my sister has often remarked at how fast I talk. Over the years, I’ve thought my pace was not that fast; however, after viewing several of my presentations on video over time, I see how I do have the tendency to speed up during certain phrases at ends of sentences. Add repetitive gestures to this list, posture opportunities for improvement, removing vocalized pauses, strengthening transitions, etc. and soon enough, very specific professional development goals become very clear.

There really is no better way to improve your speaking performance than to watch yourself present on video and see yourself as the audience sees you. This lesson crosses many genres as well. The best actors I know understand what it’s like to sit in the back of the auditorium and not be able to see actors’ gestures and movement on stage. Good actors maintain a stage presence and mind’s eye that keeps this audience’s perspective in mind, and reminds them to match the size of their gestures to the size of the theatre. Additionally, a good teacher knows what it’s like to be in a classroom as a “student” themselves with no prior knowledge to connect to the content being taught. So the skilled teacher creates a context or shares a metaphor to which students can connect, always keeping that new student perspective in mind. And the list goes on . . .

With so many technological advancements at our fingertips now, we have no excuse for not leveraging tools to help us improve and sharpen skills. This is true whether you’re a speaker, presenter, teacher, trainer or leader. Even recording a presentation on your own computer camera and viewing it over time is one way to advance your presentation skill set with the help of technology.

Professional speakers, teachers, and presenters can always improve, always grow, and always continue sharpening their saws. But in the process, be careful not to rule out video. It may just be . . .  your best improvement tool.

What say you?

Audio Lessons from Carnegie Hall

As a violinist, many years ago I was offered a wonderful opportunity to perform in Carnegie Hall, New York City. The performing orchestra was in need of more violinists and after hearing about the opportunity, I auditioned. Naturally, I felt very fortunate to be awarded one of the slots. The performance was a wonderful experience. I was thrilled to play violin in the famed, prestigious hall, and although several of those memories are still vivid for me, there is one item that stands out above the rest.

What I remember most above everything else is the Carnegie backstage crew clearly telling us, “when you get on stage, DON’T MOVE anything!”

What they meant is that we should not re-position our chairs, we should not shift our music stands from where they were placed, we should not slide our chairs with our shoes . . . Nothing.

Perhaps I remember this most because the backstage crew emphatically emphasized it. Or perhaps I remember it most because we knew it was important. So after walking on stage for the performance, we were all careful to sit quietly in our “previously placed” chairs. We did not attempt to re-position them in even the slightest way. We also resisted any temptation to pick up our music stands or move them closer to ourselves.

The reason behind their request is quite simple. The natural acoustics in the Carnegie Hall are so phenomenal that had we re-adjusted our stands or any of the equipment on stage, the noise would have resounded and resonated throughout that great hall. These audible distractions would not have been professional and would have distracted the audience from the performance’s feature.

According to legendary story, one pianist (a frequent Carnegie Hall performer) always spent an hour or more testing the acoustics of his piano in the hall prior to performance. This resulted in the crew shifting the piano all around the stage to find the perfect and exact position–according to the concert pianist’s trained ear. After several technical rehearsals over time, the crew began to notice an emerging pattern. The piano’s final position always seemed to land in the same spot.

Thinking ahead the next time, the crew cleverly marked the spot and positioned the piano there before the pianist arrived. They secretly hoped to save themselves an hour of piano re-positioning.

Alas, when the pianist arrived for the tech rehearsal, he sat down to play the piano but then to their surprise, motioned for it to be moved again. The normal pattern ensued as the pianist requested the piano be moved all around the stage, as was his normal custom. When the pianist made it clear that he was finally satisfied with the piano’s placement, the crew looked down to observe its final resting place. To their astonishment, it had arrived back in the same spot from where it had begun!

These stories are certainly enjoyable to hear and share, but they also highlight the importance of taking the time and making the effort to ensure great audio for performances. Whether you’re delivering a live presentation, recorded presentation, speaking for a video bio or recording, reading a voiceover, or educating others with a virtual presentation, quality audio makes a significant professional difference.

If you record video, ensure you wear a mic instead of relying on the microphone in the camera, iPad or tablet which can create the “cave sound” effect. If you record a voiceover, take the time to find a secluded room and remove all competing audio distractions. Invest in a quality recorder where you can transfer files to your computer for audio editing instead of just recording from your smart phone or tablet. Use pop filters on your microphone to prevent consonant pops like “Ts” and “Ps” and save you editing time later. When you present to live to audiences larger than 25, you use a house speaker system and lavalier microphone and test audio and feedback ahead of time.

Audio lessons from Carnegie Hall are clear. If you want to deliver a professional performance or presentation, it’s worth the time to eliminate all potential audio distractions and to deliver to your audience or viewers the best audio possible.

Is PowerPoint your Teleprompter?

Back in the late 1980’s, I taught collegiate public speaking courses. After the initial diagnostic speech to help students get their feet wet and warm-up in front of peers, we progressed to graded speeches. Back then, the first graded speech was the Visual Aid Speech. Because laptops, tablets, and presentation software like PowerPoint were not accessible at that time, supplementary visuals were often posters, props, and other tangible items.

Most students set their posters on a table tripod and turned them backwards or covered them up until it was time to illustrate a point in their speech. When the speaker displayed their visual, it was intended to provide a visual depiction of what the speaker was already delivering verbally.

It is important to note that posters back then were visual, with only a few minimal words, if any words at all. For example, a brief title might be written at the top of the poster or key words visible in a chart legend. However, the “visual aid” poster always displayed a visual (an image, a drawing, a photograph, a chart, a graph)–and never, never–text only.

Over 25 years ago, it would have been ludicrous for a student speaker to reveal a poster while discussing a main point, only to reveal a poster filled with text of everything they were saying!

Talk about redundancy.

However, a poster filled with text would have been unbelievably familiar, because it would have resembled the speaker’s own speaker notecards!

Now imagine that. Imagine a speaker projecting their own private notecards to the audience, which were intended to be notes that remind the speaker what to say.

That would have been ridiculous.

Now flash forward to today where the norm has evolved to displaying heavy text and bulleted list after bulleted list on “visual aids” or presentation slides.  Speakers are basically using presentations slides to remind them of what to say, and as a result, we are overloading our audience with visual repetition and verbal and visual competition. Slides populated heavily with text and words are not doing our audience any favors to illustrate depictive content. In other words, speaker notes are meant for the speaker, not to be projected in front of an audience, and clarifying visuals are meant to serve the audience, not the speaker.

So how did PowerPoint teleprompting evolve?

With the advent of presentation software which allowed us to create text and bullet points with great ease, we were convincingly smitten. In truth though, shouldn’t technology be there to serve our purposes, goals, and desired end outcomes, not the other way around?

In their purest essence, visuals are for your audience. Speakers and presenters should use them to illustrate, clarify, depict, and support the verbal content being presented.

And visuals . . . should be visual, not our teleprompter.

The next logical question, then, might be “how can I remember what I’m supposed to say?” Thankfully, there are some options available.

Hand-held tablets can provide us with speaker note guidance while presenting, some laptops have displayed note sections you can reference, rehearsal and familiarity with your content can help you avoid prompts altogether, paper notes and notecards can still remind you of main points and supporting points so you can speak extemporaneously, smart phones can remind you of key main points as a reference, and of course, seeing “a visual” on your visuals will likely remind you of what to say next as well . . .

. . .  just without all that teleprompting text!

What say you?

How Parts Impact the Whole: Life Lessons for Presentations

Recently I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a professional Christmas Symphony and Choir Concert, complete with the traditional carols and hymns to usher all who were there into the holiday spirit. The concert was a stunning success, as evidenced by the thousands of attendees visibly smiling and laughing–including myself–as we exited the concert hall still humming the songs in our heads.

The positive energy during and after the concert was simply palpable!

What struck me most about this particular concert, however, was the sheer volume of participants who comprised the musical ensemble, and yet, how each participant’s ability to sing, play, and conduct ultimately contributed to  . . . “one voice.”

There was a 100-piece orchestra with the usual diverse representation between strings, brass, and percussion. They were joined by a 200-person choir, comprised of Symphony Choir members, youth choirs, and other adult choirs. Additionally, there were professional guest soloists who joined the production on tour, and of course, last but not least, the conductor leading them all.

While the diversity within this impressive group of musicians is clear, there is obviously more than meets the eye. For example, in addition to the instrumentalists, soloists, choir members, and the conductor, there were also lighting specialists, audio technicians, stage design, stage manager, etc. and other specialists at work who also contributed to the ultimate “one voice” in a variety of ways.

Yet regardless of the wide spectrum of diversity within the ensemble, as each one came together to play, sing, light the stage, or conduct, their efforts became “one” song. Each song, each melody line reached the audience’s ears as one, while its members contributed in their own unique ways. And yet, the impact of the resulting impact was incredibly moving to the audience.

In nature, we also see many examples of the whole and its parts, and the parts and its whole. In science, the big bang delivered amazing parts from what was formerly “one” in form, the elegant minutia of a flower eventually becomes one with the soil after it dissolves, and a healthy forest ecosystem relies on a wide variety of species, trees, and smaller organisms to maintain a thriving forest environment to comprise its “whole.”

When we design and deliver impactful presentations for audiences, we follow this same guideline that life and nature model for us. There are many parts and elements that work together in a presentation to comprise the “whole”; that is, the overarching effect on your audience.

Some of the variables that comprise a successful presentation include:  a catchy opener or hook; knowing your audience and where they stand on your topic; being attentive to the speaking context around the presentation; being clear on your main idea and the effect you want to have on your audience; including supporting material with your main ideas; using visual and verbal transitions to flow from section to section; allowing natural humor to emerge; using information and message design to shape handouts for audience reference, polishing delivery skills to keep an audience engaged; designing and placing visuals where the content needs more clarity, summarizing key points, and closing your presentation with a relevant and memorable lasting impression that leaves your audience wanting more–to name a few.

So, the “whole” in the context of presentations is the overarching effect you have on your audience. Similar to a full musical ensemble, each contributing part of a presentation works in tandem with the other elements to leave an audience impression. What effects are you targeting for your audience? Stay tuned . . .

Remember, attention to excellence in each part contributes to the overall excellence of the whole. Every element contributes to the greater impact.

Happy Holidays and happy presenting everyone!

What say you?

Speech Anxiety: What Can You Do?

Speech anxiety is certainly very real. In previous blogs, we’ve explored why it’s a natural survival response to perceived fearful situations. We’ve also identified the 4 Rs to help you manage your anxiety. The purpose of this particular post, however, is to dive even deeper and help you begin to discipline your thoughts leading up to a presentation.

The challenge is that when we begin to focus on the fear of being center stage in front of a large audience, or focusing on what COULD go wrong or embarrass us, it’s counter-productive. These are all of our Ego’s attempt to self preserve and remain in tact. A worthy goal, but under the circumstances, it actually becomes problematic.

Now this isn’t to say that things never go wrong. They certainly can, but it doesn’t guarantee the presentation will be a failure. When things happen, solutions can emerge, and you simply need to be present enough to perceive an emerging solution and go with the flow.  For example, I once saw a keynote presenter speak live in front of thousands of people at an International Conference, when suddenly the technology that projected his slides stopped working. He lost all his visuals for several minutes. Technicians came on stage to remove the equipment to a backstage area, and then returned quite a few minutes later with the equipment working again. Throughout all of this, however, the speaker kept talking. He told us stories that he had experienced, and made it a seamless experience presentation-wise for the audience.

The point is that things can certainly go wrong, but solutions can emerge as well. There’s no need to focus on something, until the time it actually happens. Many of you have personally experienced technical glitches while presenting. Clearly, we need to do our homework and be prepared from a technical perspective, but what we don’t have to do is allow ourselves to become prisoners of fear before a presentation. You do not need to focus on all the scary possibilities that “could” occur, etc.

It’s exactly this kind of worrisome thought that gets us in trouble. You’ve been there. Remember those famous thoughts of “but what if,” “but this could happen,” “they may not like what I have to say,” or “I might forget.” Unfortunately, this all-too-familiar list is endless.

Have you noticed a pattern yet?

That’s right, these are all thoughts.

Pure and simple. Just thoughts.

Unfortunately, thoughts carry great influential power. They can influence our emotions, our physiological reactions, and even perpetuate more fearful thinking patterns. To make it even worse, the more we focus on something, the more it expands. So if you have any conditioning from prior life experiences to consistently focus on things that could go wrong, breaking this thinking pattern may be more challenging for you.

What we need to do, as it relates to giving presentations, is first become aware of what’s happening. When thoughts of doubt or fear about how a presentation could go wrong or how you might embarrass yourself in front of total strangers creeps in, see it for what it is. It’s just a thought. That said, you don’t have to listen to it. You don’t have to believe it. You don’t have to react to it.

In the old days, the Baby Boomers grew up believing that whatever Walter Cronkite said as a news anchor must be true, simply because he said it, he said it on television, and he was, afterall, the news anchor. Tremendous crediblity. However, just because a thought pops into your head, does not mean it’s credible and should carry the same tremendous credibility. For example, you may hear your voice in the head say “I’m going to embarrass myself,” “They’ll be bored listening to me,” or “I have nothing interesting to say.” These examples of interior monologue are non-productive, should be seen as “noise,” and dismissed from your focus as the popular theme song from the Disney’s movie Frozen suggests, “let it go.”

The other important aspect to watching your thoughts before a presentation is to realize that thoughts are usually reflections on the past or projections for the future. However, a presentation–as is true for anything in life–is really “in the moment.” You should be experiencing the magic of interacting with an audience in the moment, here and now. Now when thinking kicks in before a presentation, it’s almost always future projections. Rather, root yourself in what’s happening now. You’re standing. You’re backstage. You’re breathing. The cure here is to silence your thoughts. Go to the place of no thought, just being aware of your inner self and your surroundings. Then once you’re rooted in that, enjoy the ride.

Sure, it’s important to have rehearsed with a few individuals beforehand, intentionally and carefully prepared your presentation ahead of time, added supplemental visuals to clarify your message, etc. However, right before you step on stage . . . you no longer need to be rehearsing anything. Your preparation is complete by now. You do not need to have any thoughts about past or future at this moment.

All you need to do is place your attention on a few deep breaths, welcome a smile to your face for positive energy, and enjoy the magic of connecting live with an audience, who–much like yourself–is really there to enjoy the moment.

What say you?

4 Tips for Speech Anxiety

We’ve all observed a variety of nervous speakers over the years. For me, none was as terrified as a student of mine on her first day of Public Speaking class in college. She was so scared of the words “public speaking,” that she could not even allow herself to enter the classroom. Before starting class I had to speak to her in the hallway and let her know we were about to begin. Although she had registered for my class, she was in a great state of angst and simply could not bring herself to cross the threshold of the classroom door. Her fear of speaking in public was too great. Sadly, nobody was even delivering speeches that first day.

This example of severe speech anxiety is unfortunate. Obviously, there were deeper issues at play here as well. For most of us, though, it is possible rise above the fear of the unknown and deliver memorable, powerful presentations to a complete group of strangers. Following are some tips I’ve devised for clients and myself over the years. Feel free to experiment with them and see how they work for you.

No, there’s no beta blockers involved! This is the all-natural approach. Keep in mind, too, that speaking is a journey. The more presentations you do, the more your confidence and ability will grow.

4 Rs for Rising above Speech Anxiety:

1. REHEARSE out loud to somebody you know beforehand. Even if you’re not thoroughly ready to do a run-through with a friend or family member, do it anyway. The dynamic space that you create when a presenter and a real audience member interact is invaluable. You will always learn something from the rehearsal, and the elements that need to change will naturally emerge. In addition, practicing out loud is the medium in which you’ll be delivering your presentation. Different parts of your brain are engaged for oral delivery versus just reviewing speaking notes in your head. Because you’ll be delivering it as an oral form, you need to practice formulating the words in oral rehearsal. Inviting someone you know to be your live audience member will be enough to simulate any speech anxiety symptoms in a safe environment. Observe any anxiety signs that manifest and practice the 4 Rs as you rehearse.

2. REALIZE your body’s survival response to a threatening situation is normal. Your body will organically experience a physiological reaction to any seemingly life threatening situation (see last blog post). The trick is to allow these symptoms to be, but not to let them impact your thoughts. If you see your hands shaking, don’t let your mind create more fear by thinking “everyone must see my hands shaking, I look stupid.” Accept it – it’s a natural response to your fight/flight/freeze survival instincts. Don’t focus on them because what you focus on will grow. Instead, keep your head in the game, and focus your thoughts on your audience and content. Redirect any remaining nervousness into energetic delivery. This will help you deliver a more upbeat, animated, and energetic presentation.

3. RE-FRAME Your Mindset. Kindly remind yourself, “It’s not about me, it’s about my audience.” Do not allow your mind to create more fear than the body’s physiological response, because this can amplify any anxiety that’s already there. The most important outcome to focus on is the effect you want to have on your audience: influencing them, informing them about something, persuading them, challenging them, etc. Keep in mind we are often harsher in our minds about what could happen in the future than what reality actually delivers. I have not witnessed an audience yet that wished a speaker would do poorly. They are not thinking, “This better be terrible!” No, your audience wants you to do well. They’re hoping it’ll be fun and they’ll enjoy what you have to say. So keep a close monitor on what your inner dialogue is saying. There’s some interesting research out there that shows that students who say they are bad in math are actually bad in math. And those who say they are good in math, are actually good in math. Keep check on the dialogue in side your head. If you tell yourself, this will be great, it likely will be.

4. RELAX as soon as you can in the presentation. By relax, I don’t mean be lethargic, but rather, assertive and calm. For some of you, you may not be able to relax until it’s over. Others of you may be able to relax half way through. Some may be able to relax within a few minutes, or when the audience laughs for the first time. Ideally, you would relax before even stepping on stage. Again, this is a journey and the more experience you gain speaking, the quicker you’ll be able to lock into a comfortable rhythm. Once you do relax, you’ll begin to enjoy your audience, the magic of the moment, and sharing what you’re passionate about. If you’re truly relaxed, you’ll also be able to think on your feet, natural humor will emerge, and you’ll be more attentive to your audience’s reactions. Ahhh, but how do you find this calm? It’s there, because it’s always been there. It’s that deep stillness core that lives inside you. Use slow, deep breathing to find your calm before walking on stage. Your body and thoughts will respond to this lead. When you focus on the in-flow and out-flow of your breath, all thoughts will clear in your head. For those of you who meditate regularly, this will be easier for you. By using slow, deep breathing beforehand, you will notice your body began to settle and anxiety symptoms begin to calm.

Experiment with these 4 Rs and see how they work for you. Then you’ll be on your way to being more prepared, more confident and more comfortable!

How do you manage speech anxiety? What say you?