Eye Contact

Will Your Q&A Session Make or Break Your Next Presentation?

Will Your Q&A Session Make or Break Your Next Presentation?

Most presentations benefit from a question-and-answer session (Q&A). Audience members appreciate this time to get clarification, share comments or ideas, and get deeper information on key concepts. However, because the Q&A feels less formal than the main presentation, many speakers neglect to prepare for this time. In reality, the Q&A requires just as much preparation as any other section of your talk.

How to Assess Your Public Speaking Comfort Level

Nervousness and public speaking go hand-in-hand. And in all my years as a presentations skills coach, I’ve found that people’s anxiety tends to fall into one of four categories. These four levels reflect a speaker’s comfort level and confidence. Which one best describes you?

  • Level 1: Pressured and Petrified: People in this category tend to display the greatest signs of nervousness—visible blushing, perspiration, quivering voice, or shaking hands. They are extremely uncomfortable and deeply afraid, often to the point of paralysis. These individuals generally have little experience speaking to groups, but because of a recent promotion or increased job responsibilities, they are now expected to speak (i.e., the technician who has been moved into the team lead position or the customer service representative who now has to manage others and represent the department). These people have little desire to speak in public, but now are required to do so. With limited confidence they have a great opportunity for personal and professional growth.
  • Level 2: Hurried and Harried: These people deal with their fear and discomfort by racing through their material for one specific purpose—to get through it! They are usually familiar with their subject matter but rarely prepare or practice. They like to wing it. Many even believe that their “practice” happens while they are giving their presentation. As a result of their lack of preparation, they “hurry” through their presentation, talking too fast, shifting their weight, avoiding eye contact, and showing other physical signs of nervousness. The good news for this group is that with a few simple changes they can quickly increase their capacity and become more comfortable and effective.
  • Level 3: Surprised and Startled: These people have situational nervousness. They are fine in their regular day-to-day presentations, but if asked to perform out of their routine, they experience anxiety and discomfort. However, they typically don’t show their nervousness. In fact, their audience barely picks up on it, but the speaker still feels anxious. These speakers take the time to practice and are generally more prepared than most, but unusual situations cause them to revisit earlier bouts of nerves and agitation. They are often the managers who comfortably lead staff or division meetings, but when asked to speak at an all-hands meeting or at a conference, they become anxious. The good news for these speakers is that they already know how to be comfortable in front of one type of audience, so it’s just a matter of increasing their capacity so that they can be as comfortable in every new situation they encounter.
  • Level 4: Eager and Enthusiastic: These are the people who love to speak and do so with ease, taking advantage of every opportunity and stepping up at a moment’s notice. They enjoy the adrenalin rush that speaking provides and ride it to peak performance. These people may be great product evangelists, expert salespeople, senior leaders, marketing and public relations professionals, motivational speakers, and corporate trainers. They have already built a substantial capacity for comfort—and there is still room to grow.

What sets these four groups apart? It usually boils down to just two things: knowledge and experience. Level 4 speakers know what they’re talking about and give presentations frequently. These confident speakers know from experience that preparation and practice are the keys to high performance. They develop powerful content. They prepare, rehearse, and get out there over and over. They have taken the time to build confidence.

Whether you need to give a presentation at a low-key staff meeting for just a few or at a high profile conference for thousands, you can increase your capacity to adapt to the demands of the speaking situation and use your skills and experience to succeed. Every speaker—even you—has the potential to get there!

A Shocking Secret from a Speech Coach

Psst…hey you…yeah, you…do you want to know a secret about someone many people consider one of our country’s greatest public speakers? Okay, here goes…even though he was very eloquent and his words changed history, he often felt pangs of nervousness and anxiety when he stood up to speak. In fact, when he first began speaking, his voice was “shrill, squeaking, piping, unpleasant.” But as he warmed up and calmed down his voice became, “harmonious, melodious-musical.” Wondering who this could be? Well, it’s none other than…Abe Lincoln.

As a speech coach, I’m not surprised by this. I’ve learned over the years that even great speakers can sometimes crumble under the pressure of public speaking. And when they do, they call on professionals like me to help them sooth their nerves and provide skills, tools, and tips to give them the strength they need to garner their personal resources and speak with power and passion.

What did Abe do? Well, watch this rare, never-before seen video to find out.

All I can say is...I’m glad that in a past life I was there to help.

Happy Birthday, Abe!

Spooky Presentations – When Botox Makes You Say “Boo!”

“Eyebrows up!” I say this to my clients every day. “Don’t be a poker face, raise your eyebrows, and smile!” When speaking to a group, displaying a flat face is like playing a zombie in one of those Halloween movies—you come across as lifeless and boring, just like the living dead. Keeping a poker face when you speak shows little interest in your topic or your audience. That’s why it’s important to raise those eyebrows!

Research tells us that there is power in your eyebrows. When used naturally and in synch with your message, raising your eyebrows shows your curiosity, enthusiasm, and awe. Raising your eyebrows creates excitement, even a sense of joy—it shows you are interested and interesting. It’s one skill that will capture attention and radiate confidence.

I take this whole eyebrow thing very seriously, so much so that the swoosh over the DeFinis logo is…you guessed it…a raised eyebrow!

So you can understand my dismay at what I’m seeing today—an entire generation of people who can’t raise their eyebrows because they’ve had Botox injections! Sure, they no longer have wicked witch style wrinkles, but now they’re left with a face that’s ghostlike, immobile, and for an audience, flat-out scary.

I know that the purpose of Botox is to make you look younger. The chemicals relax the facial muscles and reduce fine lines and wrinkles, especially the deep crevices in the forehead and above the bridge of the nose. But Botox also impedes your ability to raise your eyebrows, because the very muscles that create the wrinkles are the ones you need to move that part of your face.

And this is a huge limitation for the public speaker. Yes, you may look younger and your skin may be smooth and ageless, but you can no longer express a range of emotions, including your natural curiosity and awe. Without this ability, you lose one skill that can help you connect with others and come alive in front of a group.

Mind you, I’m making no judgment here on those who have had Botox treatments. But as a speech coach, it’s downright creepy to think that so many people can’t use a variety of facial expressions that engage audiences.

Can you still give a great presentation if you’ve had Botox? Absolutely. But you have to compensate by using other skills, such as your physical skills, your smile, your gestures, and your voice.

 

In any event, I guess I’ll have to get used to it and adapt, because I’m sure Botox is here to stay. Dr. Frankenstein would certainly approve!