Show 'em Your Belly Button!

Note: How often do you see people trying so hard to be a good speaker or presenter, flailing, and even YOU can feel their pain? Enjoy! As always, you can find all my blog posts from 2013 to the present on my website at http://stevemarshallassociates.com/steves-blog/.

The #2 Fear for Human Beings
I once heard a psychologist say that most    human beings would rather walk a high wire between two tall buildings than get up in front of people and make a speech or presentation. 

Symptoms of this fear can include a sense of dread, dryness of the mouth, excessive perspiration, increased heartbeat, wobbly legs, and sometimes, even visible shakes.

And, even though we all admire a good - no - great public speaker, most of us discount our own ability to do the same. Here is a secret I have to share with you - I have never met  a great public speaker that was born with that inherent ability. Like most things in life, it is a skill that requires practice and repetition (a coach can help, too).

My Own Experience
I am, by nature, an introvert, and, during the early stages of my adult work life, I struggled whenever I had to get up in front of people. In the mid-80's I decided I needed to get better at this to be more successful.

I was lucky enough to come upon a book by a communications consultant named Milo Frank, titled, "How to Make Your Point in 30 Seconds or Less." I decided I wanted to meet this gentleman, and by coincidence, I was the program chair for my professional association; at that time in need of an annual meeting speaker. He agreed to present and flew in from L.A. to Seattle in 1986 for the meeting. I picked him up at the airport and we hit it off right away. We had several hours before the evening meeting, so I questioned him about my own situation and how he had helped introverted people overcome their fears of public speaking. In the middle of his hotel room, he set up a series of mock speaking events and then he coached me through all of the places where I got stuck or fumbled (there were many, largely because of the audience - he was very intimidating). I was, by no means, magically transformed into an accomplished public speaker, but he gave some solid exercises and great advice on how to become one.

What Does a Great Professional Presentation Look Like?
A great presentation:

  • Is a distillation of what you’ve learned to date from all your previous life experiences, presented through the lens of your work.
  • Isn’t simply a presentation of your business, your latest project or the people you represent.
  • Is based on a unique, personal insight or discovery about the world that you’ve come to understand, that can be made into generalized knowledge.
  • Isn’t just a platform to spout your own opinion.
  • Is humble, even vulnerable at times.
  • Isn’t boastful.
  • Is storytelling at it’s best - unexpected, concrete, relatable.
  • Isn’t just a presentation - it’s part conversation, part performance.

Only the Well Prepared Can Afford to be Spontaneous
Have you ever seen someone that is speaking in public that seems to be making it up as they go along and doing it well? It is doubtful that they are really doing that; most perceived impromptu talks have been very well rehearsed. If you read about or listen to any interviews with standup comedians, you will learn that they practice and practice and practice before they get on to the stage and do their thing. Here is a very current example; for every Saturday Night Live show, the entire cast and guest host spend the entire week leading up the Saturday show, rehearsing and rehearsing and rehearsing. That is why, while it looks so relaxed and free flowing, it has been through the wringer of a week long rehearsal schedule.

"Show 'em Your Belly Button!"
I was once asked by a hospital CEO to give her some pointers on making a public presentation at a large Rotary Club on the subject of why the community needed a new hospital, when most of the community thought the current one was just fine (it was not).

She had all of the facts and figures and thought she could just "wow" them with statistics. I gave her another path to consider. I said, simply, "show 'em your belly button." She looked shocked, initially, until I added, "Be yourself."

Even in the 90's people were beginning to grow weary of talking heads telling them the way it is and sometimes, the only way it could be. I suggested that being genuine and relating her experience as a seasoned hospital CEO and a resident of the community - making mistakes and achieving success - could frame her presentation much more effectively than just dragging her audience through another dreary PowerPoint. It worked very well; so well, in fact, they asked her to become a member of their Rotary Club!

P.S The #1 fear for human beings is death.

Next week: How Do You Overcome the Fear?