Skillset New Zealand Blog

Ideas to help your team develop personally and professionally.

Here's a recent discovery delighting my more nervous trainees.

You can use your eyes to trick your own brain into feeling confident and engaging with your audience the way you should.

First, check if you're qualified to get some benefit from this.  Do you recognise any of these thoughts:  I'll forget my words. I'll make mistakes. They'll see through me. I'm not good enough. I'm not a show pony. I don't belong here.  Yes?  Stay with me.  What about this thought:  I don't see individuals in front of me, I see a sea of faces. Yes? 

Then this trick is for you. It deals directly to that last thought about the sea of faces.

While you're speaking, while you're looking around, make yourself stop on a single individual and - for only a single heartbeat - look directly into that person's eyes. In that tiny moment, give that person a tiny nod.  Then move your eyes somewhere else in the audience and do it again.

There's an immediate, double payoff. In that instant the person you looked at feels a frisson of pleasure that you engaged. But most importantly, in that instant you will forget to be nervous. Do it again with another individual and there's another instant when you're not nervous. Then another. And another...  another... another...   Wait a minute, what happened to the nervousness?  Now you can deliver your message with the confidence it deserves.

You see what just happened? You didn't try to tell yourself to stop being nervous - which never works - instead, you shifted your focus to something way more useful.

That is some trick. I'm now introducing it in every presentation skills training workshop.

Are you going to try it? I'm keen to hear the results. Please use my full name Michael Brown when you Contact me.





Chances are you won't believe this tip works until you try it out on someone whose feedback you trust.  Here's what to do.

Find a children's story with a good narrative and read a couple of sentences to your feedback friend. Her job is to pretend to be a five-year-old and tell you if the story sounds sufficently exciting. She's likely to tell you your voice needs to go up and down a bit more. (Just one caution: avoid the sing-song unnatural voice some parents use when reading stories to their children. Just more up and down to add excitement.)  Once you've got the 'yes, it's exciting' tick of approval, continue with a couple more sentences listening to the cadence (lift and drop) of your own voice.

Now switch to a few sentences from one of your serious work-related topics, still with the same cadence - as if it too were a children's story. Talk it over with your friend. Would that sound credible for an adult audience?

You're likely to be pleasantly surprised by the response.

So what's going on?  How can a children's story have anything to do with adult audiences?  When we feel nervous, our subconscious - doing it's job - kicks in to protect us. It compresses the natural up and down of our voices to make our words harder to take in. Get the significance? Please don't notice me. For many, the protective instinct is so strong they speak in sleep-inducing monotones.

The tip above reverses that problem. 

You don't even have to find a children's book. You probably already know the beginning of something starting with 'Once upon a time...'

Once upon a time, there were three little pigs. The time came for them to leave home and build their own houses. The first little pig built his house out of sticks. The second little pig built his house out of wood. And the third little pig built his house out of bricks... 

That should be plenty - go find a trusty source of feedback.  Wait... please lose any idea that speaking is only about conveying facts. Decades back, philosopher Marshall McLuhan said, "The medium is the message."  So right. You're the medium. You and your personality are a vital part of conveying any message. To children or adults.





About Michael Brown

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Michael is a senior trainer with Skillset, based in Christchurch.

He is a leading authority on training in presentation and news media skills in New Zealand. He has special expertise in how to present emotionally-charged topics to challenging audiences. Michael has trained thousands of New Zealanders and worked with people who speak on behalf of some of the country's largest organisations.

Michael is a prolific author and his books on speaking and working with the media are in their fourth editions.

Speaking Easy: how to speak to your audiences with confidence and authority

Media Easy: how to handle the news media with confidence and authority

One of Michael's books is about his family's adventures sailing in the Pacific.

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