Let’s move from the realm of what you do and say in front of your business presentation audience to the realm of how you appear to your audience.
Likewise, let’s immediately dismiss the notion that “it doesn’t matter what I look like – it’s the message that counts.”
In a word . . . no.
Forfeit Personal Competitive Advantage
This is so wrong-headed and juvenile that you can turn this to immediate advantage by adopting the exact opposite perspective right now.
I’d wager that most folks your age won’t, particularly those stuck in liberal arts, for better or worse.
Much more dramatic to strike a pose and deliver a mythic blow for “individuality” than to conform to society’s diktats, eh?
Well, let those folks strike their blows while you spiff yourself up for your presentations, both in public and in private job interviews, and gain a superior personal competitive advantage.
Here is the bottom line.
Your appearance matters a great deal, like it or not, and it is up to us to dress and groom appropriate to the occasion and appropriate to our personal brand and the message we want to send.
“Slob cool” may fly in college – and I stress may – but it garners only contempt outside the friendly confines of the local student activities center and fraternity house.
Is that “fair?”
Sure, it’s fair . . . Slob Fails
It certainly is fair!
You may simply not like it.
It may clang upon your youthful sensibilities.
You’re on display in front of a group of buyers. They want to know if your message is credible.
Your appearance conveys important cues to your audience. It conveys one of two chief messages, with very little room to maneuver between them.
First, your appearance telegraphs to your audience that you are: Sharp, focused, detailed, careful, bold, competent, prudent, innovative, loyal, energetic . . .
or . . .
Your appearance telegraphs to your audience that you are: Slow, sloppy, careless, inefficient, incompetent, weak, mercenary, stupid.
Moreover, you may never know when you are actually auditioning for your next job. That presentation you decided to “wing” with half-baked preparation and delivered in a wrinkled suit might have held in the audience a human resource professional recommended to you by a friend.
But you blew the deal.
Without even knowing it.
Think. How many powerful people mentally cross you off their list because of your haphazard, careless appearance?
How many opportunities pass you by? How many great connections do you forfeit?
Granted, it’s up to your discretion to dress in the first wrinkled shirt you pull from the laundry basket, but recognize that you may be paying a price without even knowing it.
Your appearance on the stage contributes or detracts from your message.
So, as a general rule, you should dress one half-step above the audience to convey a seriousness of purpose.
For instance, if the audience is dressed in business casual (sports coat and tie), you dress in a suit. Simple.
Personal appearance overlaps into the area of personal branding, which is beyond the scope of this space, but two books I recommend to aid you in your quest for appearance enhancement are You, Inc. and The Brand Called You.
Both of these books are worth the purchase price and are filled with the right kind of advice to propel you into delivering Powerful Presentations enhanced by a superb professional appearance.
Let me preface by assuring you that I do not expect you to stay rooted in one spot throughout your talk. But the risk of sounding clichéd, let us state forthrightly that it is impossible to build any lasting structure on a soft foundation.
This foundation grows out of the notion of what we can call “power posing.”
Let’s build your foundation now and learn more about the principle of power posing.
How do you stand when you converse in a group at a party or a reception?
What is your “bearing?” How do you stand before a crowd when you speak
Have you ever consciously thought about it?
How you stand, how you carry yourself, communicates to others.
It transmits a great deal about us with respect to our inner thoughts, self-image, and self-awareness.
Whether we like this is not the point.
The point is that we are constantly signaling others nonverbally.
You send a message – you send a message to those around you, and those around us take their cues based on universal perception of the messages received.
What is Your Message?
What is true in small groups is also true as you lecture or present in front of groups of four or 400. Whether you actually speak or not, your body language is always transmitting.
If so, just what is the message you unconsciously send people?
Have you even thought about it? Have you thought about the silent and constant messages your posture radiates?
Seize control of your communication this instant.
You have no reason not to.
And there are many quite good reasons why you should.
Recognize that much of the audience impression of you is forming as you approach the lectern.
They form this impression immediately, before you shuffle your papers or clear your throat or squint into the bright lights.
They form their impression from your walk, from your posture, from your clothing, from your grooming, from the slightest inflections of your face, and from your eye movement.
This has always been true; speaking Master Grenville Kleiser said in 1912 that, “The body, the hand, the face, the eye, the mouth, all should respond to the speaker’s inner thought and feeling.”
Do you stand with shoulders rounded in a defeatist posture?
Do you transmit defeat, boredom, ennui?
Do you shift from side-to-side or do you unconsciously sway back-and-forth?
Do you cross and uncross your legs without knowing, balancing precariously upon one foot, your free leg wrapped in front of the other, projecting an odd, wobbly, and about-to-tumble-down image?
Your posture affects those who watch you and it affects you as well. Those effects can be positive or negative.
Posture, of course, is part of nonverbal communication, and it serves this role well.
The audience takes silent cues from you, and your posture is one of those subtle cues that affect an audience’s mood and receptivity.
But posture and bearing are not simply superficial nonverbal communication to your audience.
There is another effect, and it can be insidious and can undermine your goals . . . or it can be an incredibly powerful ally to your mission.
It is this: Your body language transmits your depression, guilty, fear, lack of confidence to the audience. It also enhances and reinforces those feelings within you. Most often, if we fear the act of public speaking, the internal flow of energy from our emotional state to our physical state is negative.
Negative energy courses freely into our limbs and infuses us with stiffness, dread, immobility and a destructive self-consciousness. We shift involuntarily into damage-limitation mode.
It cripples us.
Your emotions affect your body language. They influence the way you stand, the way you appear to your audience. They influence what you say and how you say it.
Reverse the Process
But . . .
You can reverse the process.
You can use your gestures, movement, posture, and expression to influence your emotions.
You can turn it around quite handily and seize control of the dynamic. Instead of your body language and posture reflecting your emotions, reverse the flow.
Let your emotions reflect your body language and your posture. Consciously strike a bearing that reflects the confident and powerful speaker you want to be.
A venerable psychological theory contends this very thing, that our emotions evolve from our physiology. It’s called James-Lange Theory, developed by William James and the Danish physiologist Carl G. Lange.
Speaking Master James Albert Winans noted the phenomenon in 1915:
Count ten before venting your anger, and its occasion seems ridiculous. Whistling to keep up courage is no mere figure of speech. On the other hand, sit all day in a moping posture, sigh, and reply to everything with a dismal voice, and your melancholy lingers. . . . [I]f we wish to conquer undesirable emotional tendencies in ourselves, we must assiduously, and in the first instance cold-bloodedly, go through the outward movements of those contrary dispositions which we prefer to cultivate.
Much more recently, a Harvard study substantiated James-Lange Theory and found that power posing substantially increases confidence in people who assume them while interacting with others.
In short, the way you stand or sit either increases or decreases your confidence.
The study’s conclusion is unambiguous. It speaks directly to us.
Harvard researchers Dana R. Carney, Amy J.C. Cuddy and Andy J. Yap say in the September 2010 issue of Psychological Science that:
[P]osing in high-power displays (as opposed to low-power displays) causes physiological, psychological, and behavioral changes consistent with the literature on the effects of power on power holders — elevation of the dominance hormone testosterone, reduction of the stress hormone cortisol, and increases in behaviorally demonstrated risk tolerance and feelings of power.
In other words, stand powerfully and you increase your power and presence. You actually feel more powerful. This finding holds tremendous significance for you if you want to imbue your presentations with power.
In our 21st Century vernacular, this means you should stand the way you want to feel.
Assume the posture of confidence.
Consciously affect a positive, confident bearing. Square your shoulders. Affix a determined look on your face. Speak loudly and distinctly.
In short, let your actions influence your emotions.
Seize control of the emotional energy flow and make it work for you.
So what is a confident posture? Let’s begin with a firm foundation.
This is Your Foundation
For any structure to endure, we must build on strength.
And I mean this both in the metaphorical and in the literal sense with regard to business presentations.
You must not only project strength and stability, you must feel strength and stability. The two are inseparable, and a moment’s thought reveals to you why.
To appear unstable and fearful before an audience, a confident man must take a conscious effort to strike such a pose. Likewise, it would take a conscious effort for a man, who has planted himself firmly in the prescribed confident posture, to feel nervous, uncertain, or unsure of himself.
That is, if he affected the confident pose and maintained it relentlessly against all of the body’s involuntary urges to crumple and shift, to equivocate and sway.
Think as well of the confident woman.
How does the confident woman’s demeanor different from that of the confident man?
Virtually not at all.
The point and the goal is to establish a foundation that exudes strength, competence, and confidence.
Essential to this goal is that you know the difference between open body language and closed body language. It’s the difference between power posing and powerless posing.
This strong personal foundation is your ready position, your standard posture for your presentation.
It serves as the foundation for everything else to follow.
After I delivered an incredibly inspiring lecture in one of my classes last semester,* a student approached me and shared this snippet about presentation body movement.
“I stand in one spot during my presentations,” he said. “But another professor told me to move around when I talk.”
“Move around when you talk.”
“Did he tell you how?” I asked.
“Tell me what?”
“Did he tell you how to ‘move around?’ Did he tell you what it would accomplish?”
“No, he just said to ‘move around’ when you talk.”
“Just ‘move around?’”
Never just “move around when you talk”
Ponder that piece of advice a moment. Ponder it and then reject it utterly, completely. Forget you ever read it.
What rotten advice.
Never just “move around” the stage. Everything you do should contribute to your message. Presentation body movement on-stage is an important component to your message. It’s an especially powerful weapon in your arsenal of communication.
Movements can and should contribute force and emphasis to your show.
But some people move too much. Like the professor urged, they just “move around” because they don’t know better.
And why should they know better, when some professor urged them to start prowling the stage for the sake of it.
Just as there are those who are rooted to one spot and cannot move while they speak, some folks can’t stop moving. They stalk about the stage like a jungle cat, constantly moving, as if dodging imaginary bullets, afraid to cease pacing lest their feet put down roots.
Such movement is awful.
Aimless pacing around the stage is worse than no movement at all. Aimless movement usually indicates indecision, the sign of a disorganized mind.
It’s usually accompanied by aimless thoughts and thoughtless words.
“Move around when you talk.”
It’s not the worst piece of advice a professor has ever given a student, but it’s incredibly naive.
At first, the advice seems innocent enough. Even sage. Aren’t we supposed to “move around” when we talk? Don’t we see powerful presenters “move around” when they talk? Doesn’t Steve Jobs “move around” when he presents?
Yes, we see them “move around” quite well.
But do you know why they “move” and to what end? Do you understand how they orchestrate their words and gestures to achieve maximum effect? Do you recognize their skilled use of the stage as they appeal to first one segment of the audience, and then another?
Do you think that Bill Clinton or Barack Obama Just “move around” when they talk?
If I tell you to “move around when you talk,” just what will you actually do? Think about it for a moment, how you might actually follow-through with that sort of vague advice.
Will you flap your arms? Do Michael Jackson isolations with your shoulders? Shake your fist at the crowd?
What Kind of Presentation Body Movement?
How? Where? When? Why? How much?
We will never know how much damage such well-meaning naiveté has done to our presentation discourse. Like much of what is said, it carries a kernel of truth, but it is really worse than no advice at all. Centuries of practice and delivery advise us on this question. Edwin Shurter said in 1903 . . .
Every movement that a speaker makes means – or should mean – something. Hence avoid indulging in movements which are purely habit and which mean nothing. Do not constantly be moving; it makes the audience also restless. Do not walk back and forth along the edge of the platform like a caged lion. Do not shrug your shoulders, or twist your mouth, or make faces.
You are well on your to mastering your voice and to speaking like a powerful motivator. Now it’s time to incorporate essential movement.
What must you actually do during your talk? Where to do it? How to do it? Why should you do it . . . and when?
In coming posts, I’ll answer those questions and show you how to incorporate meaningful presentation body movement into your show – exactly the types of movement that add power, not confusion.
After reading about the symptoms and hearing so much about handwringing over presentation stage fright, if you weren’t fearful of business speaking before, you certainly are now.
When we speak of presentation stage fright, we are really talking about the battle within ourselves as we prepare to deliver our presentation.
It’s self-confidence versus self-doubt.
Confidence is one of those elusive qualities.
It’s almost paradoxical. When we have it, it’s invisible. When we don’t have it, it’s all too apparent to us.
Confidence in public speaking is hard to come by.
Or so we think. Let’s back into this thing called confidence.
Take the Trip Test
Have you ever stumbled on the sidewalk, your toe catching an impossibly small defect in the concrete, enough to trip you up? You stumble and stagger a bit. And then . . .
. . . and then do you glance quickly around to see who might be looking? Do you feel shame of some sort? If not shame, then . . . something that gives you to mildly fear the judgment of others? Even strangers.
Or do you stride purposely forward, oblivious to others’ reactions, because they truly don’t matter to you?
Recognize this “trip test” as a measure of your self-confidence, your conception of yourself.
Recognize that you don’t need the validation of others in what you do.
This doesn’t mean to act in ways immature and self-indulgent. It means charting your own course with your internal moral and professional compass and having the strength of mind and purpose not to yield to kibitzers, naysayers, and kneejerk critics.
Now, bring that strength of mind and purpose to the realm of business presentations.
Presentation Stage Fright Begone!
For many, the audience is your bogeyman. For some reason you fear your audience. But understand that they are not gathered there to harm you . . . they are gathered to hear what you have to say.
And 99.9 percent of them mean you well.
They want you to succeed, so that they can benefit in some way.
Yes, even your fellow students want you to succeed. They want to be entertained. Please entertain us, they think.
They are open to whatever new insight you can provide. And they know, for a fact, that they will be in your same place many times during their careers. They are fellow-travelers in the business presentation journey.
And so confidence is yours for the taking.
Seize Confidence for Yourself
Confidence is not a thing.
It cannot be grasped or packaged or bought. It’s a state of mind, isn’t it? It’s a feeling. When we get right down to it, it really is just the mental context within which we perform.
What does it really mean to be confident? Can you answer that direct question? Think about it a moment.
See? We can’t even think of confidence outside of doing something, of performing an action. Our confidence – or lack of confidence – provides us the context of our activities.
Is it certitude?
Is it knowledge?
Is it bravery?
Is it surety?
Think of the times when you are confident. You might be confident at playing a certain sport or playing a musical instrument. It could be an activity.
Why are you confident?
Confidence is largely the absence of uncertainty. For it’s uncertainty that makes us fearful. That, and the dread of some consequence – embarrassment or ridicule.
It should be recognized that many people do fear speaking before an audience. It is so universal and it is so pervasive that we must come to grips with it.
This presentation stage fright has made its way down through the ages. It has paralyzed thousands of speakers and presenters who have come before you. And generations of speakers have tackled this fear.
George Rowland Collins is an old master who recognized the phenomenon in 1923 and its awful effect on the would-be presenter . . .
The very first problem that faces the average man in speech-making is the problem of nervousness. To stand up before an audience without a scrap of paper or a note of any kind, to feel the eyes of dozens and even hundreds of people upon you, to sense the awful silence that awaits your own words, to know that you must depend upon yourself and yourself alone to hold the audience’s attention is as trying a task as it is possible to undertake. Most men find the task too great and shun it religiously. Those who do attempt it, voluntarily, or involuntarily, testify to the severity of the physical and mental suffering it involves.
The solution to presentation stage fright? How have centuries of speakers successfully tackled this bete noire?
Reduce your uncertainty.
Reduce your uncertainty by applying the Three Ps: Principles, Preparation, Practice. Through these, you achieve a wealth of self-confidence, and we’ll talk about the Three Ps in days and weeks to come.
They are so utterly essential to Power Presenting that they bear repetition and constant reinforcement. They are the cornerstone upon which you build your style, your confidence, your performance pizzazz.
Principles, Preparation, Practice
The 7 principles of presenting offered here at Business School Presenting™ – the “secrets” of the masters – are grouped under Stance, Voice, Gesture, Movement, Expression, Appearance and Passion. Each of these deserves its own chapter and, indeed, has its own chapter in my book The Official College Guide to Business School Presenting.
Prepare your talk, then practice your talk at least 4 times, exactly as you will deliver it – without stopping.
When you apply the Three Ps, you reduce uncertainty. You are possess the facts. You are prepared. You know what to expect because you have been there before, and because you practice. You rehearse.
There is, of course, an element of uncertainty. There is uncertainty because you cannot control everything or everybody, and this causes a tinge of anxiety, but that’s fuel for your creative engine.
By controlling the 90 percent that you can, you are more than ready to handle the 10 percent of uncertainty that awaits you.
So the key for you is to control what you can and to dismiss your fear of the rest. Recognize that this fear is what makes you human, and it is this humanity that gives us commonality with all the public speakers and presenters who have come before us.
And it is their advice that we heed to our improvement.
For instance, master J. Berg Esenwein from 109 years ago:
Even when you are quaking in your boots with the ague of fear, and your teeth fain would beat “retreat,” you must assume a boldness you do not feel. For doing this there is nothing like deep stately breathing, a firm look at the dreaded audience . . . . But do not fear them. They want you to succeed, and always honor an exhibition of pluck. They are fair and know you are only one man against a thousand. . . . Look at your audience squarely, earnestly, expressively.
And banish stage fright forever.
Interested in more on how to eliminate presentation stage fright? Click here.