Public Speaking, Don’t be a puppet

August 15, 2010

By Michael Carroll

A few years back I gave a keynote speech at the annual convention for the sales force of a major Financial Services Company. The night before, all the speakers were invited to test the equipment and get a feel for the arena.  The sales director was present and a little shaky. He had hired a public speaking coach who suggested that he (the sales director) practiced his presentation.  What struck me during the practice was how unnatural the Sales Director’s presentation was. Because his coach had put so much emphasis on certain gestures to accompany certain messages and tonal qualities, It was so artificial it was like the Gestapo pulling Pinocchio’s strings. The verbal style was much like an infant in a school play where each child tries desperately hard to get their words right.
I am regularly hired by all different types of people to help them become better presenters and overcome public speaking fears. In fact if the man I mentioned in the in the above paragraph had hired me, I would have approached it differently. I am not saying that the right gestures and tonal qualities are not important in public speaking, they are,  just watch Barack Obama and you will see the power of gesture and tone. What I am saying is when developing pubic speaking skills it is more important to get very comfortable with being yourself in front of an audience FIRST, and then develop the behavioural qualities that will enhance your message. This means moving in from any forms of fear or self consciousness you might have.
I am a great admirer of Jonathan Ross and Janet Street Porter. They grew up in era when BBC English prevailed in broadcasting and regional accents hadn’t even made it onto the TV or radio.  Some people who have difficulty with the pronunciation of certain sounds become self conscious in public settings. This was not the case with Ross and Street-Porter, they developed what appeared to be super confidence and made it in the cut throat world of television and used their distinct way of speaking to their advantage.
So if you want to make it as a public speaker it is important you become very comfortable with yourself and develop your style around who you are as a person. So for example, if passion and fun are important in life, build those qualities in your presentation. It is a good idea to take stock of what qualities are important to you in life. Ask yourself the question ‘what’s important to me in life?’ Write down the first six words that come to mind. For example you might say ‘fun, passion, honesty, creativity and openness’.  Ideally the words that you come up with will be important qualities in your life that give you congruency. This means that when you are presenting you are doing so from your most important personal qualities. Some people in NLP refer to such abstract nouns that define what is important to us in life as ‘values’.  For the purpose of this article we will refer to them as qualities.  There are numerous NLP processes to ensure you are in integrity with your most important qualities.
One of the well known Classic NLP processes is called the Circle of Excellence (you can pick any shape). The idea is you build a circle of excellence by loading the qualities you want in the circle one by one.  I suggest you order the qualities you have written down and load them in the circle from the lowest priority to highest.  I have adapted the steps for this article below.

1.  Create an imaginary circle in front of you (or any other shape). The circle
represents the presenting context. You can see yourself in the circle or create a metaphor.

2.  Add each quality one by one. Start with the quality that was the lower priority on your list. From outside the circle flow the quality into the circle, noticing sounds, colours and any other imagery. As you begin to feel the feelings associated with the quality step into the circle and let the feelings build. When the feelings begin to reduce step back.

3.  Repeat with the other qualities until all qualities are in the circle. Make each quality vivid with strong feelings.

4. Test your circle of excellence. From a neutral state, step into your circle. If you
naturally feel your qualities, you have a circle of excellence.

5.  Create a way to carry the circle with you. Some people create a subtle movement (finger and thumb touch) that acts a switch. When you are about to present use your switch to trigger your circle of excellence.

There are many ways you can enhance your style as a presenter. This is akin to sharpening tools. A tool can only be sharpened to the extent the quality of the materials permit. What really defines how effective the tool functions is the operator. By becoming very comfortable in your own skin and presenting in a way that fits with the integrity of who you are as person creates a solid foundation. So unlike the Sales Director in my opening paragraph you flow in your presentation because there are no strings on you.

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