I was working with some brilliant Grads at a global investment bank last week. Paolo was as handsome, charismatic and imposing a 22 year old as you’re ever likely to meet. He was a technically skilled speaker-
He had a point, he wrote clear text for speech, his articulation in English was excellent, he looked confident, but what was wrong? He didn’t really connect with the people in the room. The audience gave him some tough feedback saying that it was as if he was speaking to an invisible audience, not to them, performing, speaking a little too loudly for the room we were in. He was crushed because, in his head, he’s a really good presenter. In that room, on that day, he wasn’t. There are thousands of technically good presenters out there with the same problem. They think that they are great ’cause they don’t trip over the furniture, their audiences are indifferent to their skills, and remain unconvinced.
If you want to be a good speaker, that’s OK. If you want to be a brilliant speaker, make a difference, change the world in small ways every time you stand up to speak, then you have to really ‘connect’ with your audience and Paolo didn’t. If you don’t connect, people will feel like they watched a good presentation, but they won’t feel like it was for them or about them. That’s what happened.
What to do?
Forget all the stuff about passion and belief for a moment, and let’s just boil it down to one thing. Eye contact. If you force yourself to look the crowd in the eyes, you can’t pretend to be someone you’re not. It’s a really good exercise to try. And I asked Paolo to try it there. I asked him to connect with the real people in the room. I asked him to do what he’d just done, with a subtle twist. I asked him to ‘give’ each line of the text to someone, an individual in the audience, as if it was created for them. Look them in the eyes, smile at them, nod, as if you would when you’re talking to someone you know. That eye contact changed everything about Paolo for them, and about them for Paolo.
When you try it you’ll tend to speak more softly and be more convincing; they will feel like you’re talking to them and listen with more attention and belief. They’ll show that you are connected to them, have engaged, built rapport, however you want to frame it; in their returning of your eye contact, their facial expression, their nodding You’ll just know…
Paolo was amazed at the difference he felt, and the audience was amazed that even his language changed, he became less formal, less polished, more… Human.
How do we connect? We look people in the eye when we’re talking to them.
Good luck with your own next speech, and here’s a link to download our amazingly beautiful (and completely free) collection of other hints and tips to help even the best speakers make the most of this game of ‘snakes and ladders’ we all play. And for more on the same subject, here’s a really good post from the fabulous Penelope Trunk.