In the early days of “Saturday Night Live,” Gilda Radner’s character Roseanne Rosanna Danna smacked her gum, rolled her eyes, squirmed in her chair and flaunted her big hair. She got our attention but she didn’t gain your respect because she didn’t look, sound or gesture as a command performer.
If you’re a speaker, you need to know what your audience is going to see when they see you. And you must be sure that what they see is projecting the image you want to convey.
Seeing is believing
The most difficult issue for most people making a presentation or giving a speech is identifying and correcting personal habits and idiosyncrasies that send inappropriate messages to the audience. Often, people do not have any idea what others are seeing. Just as often, if the speaker is a team leader, manager or CEO, their subordinates who are aware of the problems fear the consequences of pointing out such distracting or – too often – irritating mannerisms Not only do they fear repercussions or rebuking, they might not know how to help their superior change behavior successfully.
If you are the presenter and the boss, you need to take a critical look at your performance well before a big speech or seminar. There are two opportunities you can take to help you determine if you are living up to the image you have of yourself.
Practice, practice, practice
An old joke has a lost tourist in New York asking a street vendor, “How do I get to Carnegies Hall?” The vendor smiles knowingly and replies: “Practice, my son, practice.”
The same advice holds true when you are scheduled to give a speech or make a presentation.
After reading your material a few times to yourself, hold a full-blown dress rehearsal. How? Deliver your address in front of a full-length mirror. This can be done in the privacy of your home. Check yourself for annoying habits, including rattling change in your pockets, licking your lips, lilting your head from side to side, or wigging and pacing about. All these gestures detract seriously from your message. They crease opportunities for the audience to pay more attention to what you will do next than what you will say next.
If you play with items in your pockets, empty them out. Put keys, change, security care or other items in an envelope and leave it with someone. If you lick your lips, put a glass of water on the podium and take a sip instead. You can also put something on your lips that instantly will remind you to correct this behavior; I find that caster oil works wonders, or anything bitter such as alum and water.
The Bob And Weave
Correcting in appropriate head movement can be a daunting challenge. If you are one of those people whose head movements like one of the bobbing figures in the rear window of a car, try putting an inch or two of masking tape at the base of your neck. Provide a bit of slack. If you move your head in any motion other than vertical, the tape will provide an instant reminder. You will put the tiny hairs on the back of your neck, and stop.
Wiggling while sitting in a chair or standing can be avoided by placing both hands on the desk of podium and holding onto it. This also will prevent you from fidgeting and will keep your hands out of your pockets altogether.
Speakers often move about the stage, thinking that their motion pushes their message forward and gives life to the address. Frankly, it reminds mot people of a rat searching for a treadmill. Poetry in motion should be left to dancers, whose movements are choreographed. If you are going to move, your actions should be just as calculated and precise. They also should serve to emphasize or illuminate a point, not to help you burn calories in place of an aerobics program.
When you have eliminated the behaviors that are distracting in the mirror you are ready for the next step.
Pictures Worth A Million Words
Your home camcorder can be used for more than taping birthday parties. Use it as part of your preparing by taping yourself as you deliver your talk.
One client describes seeing herself deliver an address on videotape as much like a facial exfoliation followed by potent astringent. It is uncomfortable. But just as successful facial improves the skin, a videotape rehearsal makes your performance much better for the audience. It is far better to fell and fix these reactions to yourself before sharing them with someone else.
Taping your address can be accomplished with the family camcorder. It should include a wide short from the back of the room, as well as a medium shot from the waist up and a close shot of your face.
The wide shot allows you to analyze your performance, as it will be received from the back of the room. This becomes particularly important if the space is large enough to accommodate several hundred people. This big picture lets you gauge your gestures for emphasis. There might be a point in the speech that requires emphasis, and it might require a significant hand-and-arm movement to indicate its importance. But, it also will allow you to edit your motion if your hands, arms and shoulders are flapping like a Canadian goose in flight to northern climes.
The medium shot lest you see what most of your audience will see if they are in the middle rows of the room. This is like the most significant portion of the audience and thus requires special attention to making sure your body language is effective at this range.
The close shot is your insurance. If you are wincing, blinking, twitching or otherwise exhibiting distracting facial expressions, their presence clearly will be evident on the recording of this shot.
Remember to move your head vertically, keeping body movement to a minimum unless it is needed for emphasis. Your facial expressions should look comfortable when viewed at close range. Make sure your audience sees what you want them to see and what you want to hear when they listen to you.
In oral communication, what can distract will. What does not distract leaves your message the center of attention.