Spare a thought for Kiwi presenters. Most treat the spotlight as a refined form of torture rather than the pleasure it could be. Sure, blame our culture, or the Kiwi tall poppy syndrome, or the we're-all-supposed-to-be-equal pressures of the egalitarian society. But here's the real shame of it: Guess who cuts down the tall poppy before it gains stature?
We do. The presenters, when actually our own audiences want us to grow tall. How's that for irony?
It's particularly bad in large organisations. In fact the classic torture chambers are the local bodies. Too often I've seen otherwise competent council staff crippled by self-doubt and unable to convey important ideas with clarity. Add to that the special terrors of speaking to the full council, or to community groups with hostile attitudes.
Here are some of the Kiwi speaker symptoms:
- Abysmal preparation. (Yes, it's reverse psychology. Many cope by saying "I'll just wing it", forgetting that it just looks unprofessional.)
- Extreme self-consciousness. The prime message conveyed is no longer the topic, it's I don't want to be here speaking to you.
- Poor engagement. Poor connection with audience concerns, objections and questions.
- Lack of presence and personal authority.
And worst of all (especially in front of challenging audiences):
- Defensiveness and hiding behind PowerPoint.
I hold no particular torch for American values, but one thing they get very right is encouraging young people to enjoy the spotlight from the earliest age.
Wait! Do I hear you saying "I don't want to be a show pony!"? Then think about this...
In workshops, I often ask a couple of people to step out into the corridor. Then I ask the current speaker to talk to the group in front of them, projecting so that they can be heard clearly out in the corridor. The speaker is then - usually - astonished that the group in front of them do not think he or she was shouting at them. Instead, they typically say, "You seemed so confident. You had more authority. You were more believable somehow."
That's one of many ways to overcome what I call Kiwi minimal presence. Minimal presence is an ajustment to the early influences our culture. It's so understandable.
And so bad for us. It's a cultural disease. Let's be rid of it.