Presentations not connecting? Try being more human

Presentations not connecting? Try being more human

Waiting for my slot to present a session, all I could hear were gales of laughter, followed by tumultuous applause for the previous speaker.

Did I think ‘how wonderful that the audience is having a wonderful experience’. Did I hell. More like ‘how on earth am I going to follow that?’

Imposter syndrome certainly picks its moments. This exact moment being when I was about to present on projecting confidence. If I could get blown off course by someone else’s mojo (did I mention she was also wearing a kick-ass outfit?) did I really have any right to be there?

A cup of tea and a biscuit later, I realised that my wobble was the very thing that gave me the right. That feeling of not being good enough often holds us back from even trying, particularly when we’re asked to do something as exposing as pitching and presenting. And I needed to be willing to share that vulnerability with the group. Gulp.

So I ditched my gung-ho opening and instead admitted how I’d felt back there in the waiting room.

Being willing to make myself vulnerable changed the energy in the space. It created a connection by giving everyone permission not to be perfect. It enabled a conversation about how and why people hate standing up and presenting and started us on the path to fixing it. And it got me thinking:

Are we so focused on being impressive that we forget to be human?

I often see this when coaching senior women who feel the need to project a formal, ‘professional’ image when presenting. The result can be speeches that are packed with long words but reveal little of the person beneath.

It’s understandable. Having fought their way to the top in a male-dominated field, they’ve trained themselves to eliminate any sign of weakness. But being open isn’t the same as putting yourself down or under-playing your success. Showing your authentic self is actually one of the most confident things you can do.  

Putting yourself into your presentation doesn’t have to involve a full-on confessional overshare. In fact, if you’ve had an extremely full-on life it probably shouldn’t!  But simply adding a little warmth to your expertise makes you a more compelling speaker. If this is new to you, here are some ideas to try out:

  • Open with a simple personal story. If you’re talking about careers opportunities in your industry, why not tell people about how you came to accountancy/beekeeping/professional clowning?
  • Challenge yourself to ruthlessly eliminate corporate language or public sector buzz words and speak like you would with friends down the pub. Note: after one pint, not ten.
  • Link a non-work aspect of yourself – perhaps your family or a hobby – to a work-related issue. Perhaps you learned how to stay calm in a crisis when your 80-year-old mother lost her passport in an airport? Maybe organising the league matches for your hockey team has taught you everything you need to know about scheduling?

Get comfortable talking about yourself then consider if you’re willing to share your vulnerabilities – it’s a powerful move. As marketer Scott Stratten says, “If you’re your authentic self, you have no competition.” 

I really should have told have told myself that when listening to those gales of laughter in the waiting room.