Over coming months there will be a series of guest blogs. The first comes from, a great friend and client, Jo Collie of Imaginantics. Jo is an expert in the written word and Imaginantics offer a staggering array of literary services for you and your business. I’ll let Jo take it from here…
The first time I was called upon to stand up and talk about my new business, I froze. I was standing before a convention of forty, suited and booted delegates, each of them with a good fifteen years’ experience more than I in their respective fields.
Dammit! I thought, helplessly feeling my throat constrict and my kneecaps begin to juggle. Stage fright? Me?
I hadn’t struggled with the horrible, gut-melting fear for years. Now, as I dumbly locked my gaze with all of those quizzical, expectant faces, I knew I’d screwed up.
I’d spent much of my working life on stage, facing audiences of up to 25000 in a chequered career as an author, actor, lecturer and vocalist. Since childhood, I’d developed my own strategies of dealing with stage fright and, in later years, added some basic NLP techniques to my repertoire, thanks to Anthony Robbins and his smudgy-thumbed CDs.
Don’t get me wrong: I wasn’t ‘winging it’. I’d thought long and hard about what I needed to say, and had delivered my ‘elevator pitch’ perfectly during the networking session before the meeting started. I had a fistful of cue cards to help me segue seamlessly from one point to the next – but hell, right now I couldn’t even remember my opening line!
The reason why I fell to bits that day was because I didn’t have a scripted character to hide behind. I was stepping into nobody’s shoes but my own – and I completely underestimated how much pressure I’d feel in a live performance as myself, representing my own, precious business.
I vowed it would never happen again. Once I’d recovered from the shock of my business talk debut, I decided to research what Top Business Speakers do and how I could nail it myself.
I attended every networking meeting I could find, every author presentation, every debate and even ventured into the world of trades conventions (a hardy crowd!) and married what I learned with what I already knew as a performer.
From the get-go, I discovered that Top Business Talkers are fond of bullet points. So, in ten bullet points, here’s what I’ve learned:
HOW TO BE A TOP BUSINESS SPEAKER IN TEN STEPS:
- When preparing, the ‘point of entry’ to your talk is where you make the story about YOUR AUDIENCE, rather than YOU. Write something your audience can relate to as early as possible – the point of ‘shared empathy’. The worrying news is that it’s likely to be self-deprecating, an ‘underdog’ story, something that reveals a ‘flaw’ or an embarrassing moment in your own life that you know that others will share. Set it up from the beginning, and you’ll hold your audience’s attention.
- Always arrive early and be DELIGHTED with the room – even if you’re not really. It’s important that you influence others to be expectant and happy as they arrive.
- Your closest listener/audience member should be 1.5 X your body height away from you. Any closer and you’ll end up screaming from the room and suffer claustrophobia for years to come. Respect your personal space, and make sure that everybody else does, too. If you’re addressing anybody under the age of 8, set up a barrier of some description – cushions, chairs, snakes – otherwise, they’ll be in your lap before you can say “Where’s the bar?”
- Slap some tape over the light switch if you want to use lighting for ambience. There’s nothing worse than having some Do-Gooder decide to switch on the overhead fluorescents when you’ve planned a moody, theatrical intro.
- The person who’s ignoring you is the first one who’s going to distract you. From your vantage point, allow yourself to acknowledge him or her, and move on – fast. Don’t bother trying to engage. Focus on everyone else who’s paying attention and is ‘in the zone’.
- If you find it difficult to keep it together when you make eye contact with a member of your audience, focus on the space just between their eyebrows – above the bridge of the nose. To them, it looks like you’re looking straight into their eyes. Test this out on your nearest and dearest before the event – amazing!
- Keep a limit on your session. 45 minutes should be your optimum. People need to rest, stretch and think about what they’ve heard.
- Lay down a few basic ground rules before you start, and make sure you have colleagues or promoters stationed around the room to help you keep control. Mobile phones, chitchat, noisy cutlery, front row knitters and so on need to be exterminated immediately. Usually, distractions happen because your listeners have underestimated how visible they are to you. You’ve spent valuable time preparing this presentation: nobody will mind your asking them to respect that. In fact, it will work in your favour by building their anticipation and attention.
- Use a couple of props – but only for real effect. The best example of a foley effect I saw during my research was the use of a handheld, three-inch hurdy gurdy – the wind-up kind – used perfectly to focus everyone in the darkened room on the sound of a Victorian house that needed its windows replaced. So spooky – so silly, but OMG – so effective!
- Take a ‘Comments Book’ for feedback with you every time. Bet you, they’ll write about how much they enjoyed your efforts. Excellent fodder for your social media updates and ‘testimonials’ webpage. Even better – you’ll sleep like a lamb.
Now – reread the first section of this piece and the first point in this list. See how I opened my story – engaging you with a guaranteed frame of shared empathy. I guessed confidently that you’ve struggled before with stage fright. Show me an entrepreneur who hasn’t.
Strength to you and your next presentation. May you never suffer the ravages of stage fright again!
Jo Collie – Director of IMAGINANTICS
BOLD, PLAYFUL, INVENTIVE CREATIVE – WE SAY WHAT YOU MEAN