Connecting with the audience

Do you try too hard?

I had a really interesting challenge the other day,  to speak to  30 or so 14-16 year old girls about ‘personal impact’.  I had 30 minutes to make an impression and help them make the most of the event they were at. The event was a ‘bring your daughter to work’ day,  arranged by the fabulous people in Diversity & Inclusion Team at RBS, Global Banking & Markets in London.

Bring your daughter to work? It’s a great idea isn’t it? Break down the misconceptions that girls have about investment banking, as soon as you’re able to get them interested, then keep in touch with them over their later school and university years, and then have them really understand that there are hundreds of interesting opportunities for young, bright women, in a world that otherwise might have seemed male-dominated and girl-unfriendly.

My challenge was obvious.  How to ‘connect’ with girls who terrified me when I was 14, and mystify me today.  I’m 47, male and have three boys, and had no real idea of who they were and what might be relevant.  So in those circumstances, what does a guy do?  Research of course.

I spoke to Jessica Chu and Emily Bryant at RBS.  They gave me some great insight into what they wanted, and their view on what it’s like to be 14 and female (hideous, I’m led to believe).  And I talked to a few of my friends’ kids of that age and just asked them what would be interesting to them, and how and old geezer could build a rapport with them about the issue.  Very interesting.

 ‘Treat us like adults’, ‘don’t patronise’, ‘give us some ‘sick’ (sic) tricks…’

OK.  I’ll give it a go.  Then I talked to my 9-year old son, William.  I said, ‘just give me a bit of advice…’ and he said a brilliant thing.

 ‘Don’t try to be cool…’

And I got it.  There’s nothing worse for an audience, any audience, than a speaker trying to be something they’re not.  And you see even really experienced speakers trying too hard to do all kinds of things.  Trying to be-

  • Funny
  • Likeable
  • Intelligent
  • Clever
  • Tough
And a million other things, and the problem with the verb ‘to try’, is that it suggests failure.  So don’t try to be something you’re not; be something that you are, and you’ll be 80% more convincing than otherwise.
So I was 47, kind and slightly challenging of my female audience.  I wasn’t cool at all.  And I didn’t try to be. It was good.
This is a part of my Fit, Focus & Flair model. To be great, a presentation must be a perfect FIT for the situation; the content must have complete FOCUS on it’s purpose and message; and it must have enough FLAIR to stand out on the day, and in our memories. Learn more about developing your Fit, Focus and Flair.
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