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Guila Muir
Trainer, Presentation Skills
Seattle, Washington
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How to Blow Your Credibility From the 'Get-Go'

When you are speaking in front of a group, do you really want to blow your relationship with the audience immediately? These two VERY common presentation behaviors will help to ensure that you do.
Written Feb 27, 2009, read 1447 times since then.
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Picture it: You’ve prepared carefully and are about to present. The first words to your audience as you take the stage? “Thank you. I’m glad to be here,” or something similar.

These words serve many purposes. Quite possibly, you are not really thanking anyone. Instead, you are using the words to ease your way into your position as presenter. You say the words mechanically, not really hearing them yourself, as you peer at the crowd (or not) and shuffle your papers.

Your attempt is to make yourself comfortable by uttering “Thank you.” Meanwhile, your audience has experienced this robotic opening so many times that:

1. They don’t really hear it.
2. “Thank you” means nothing.
3. They start to tune you out-and you haven’t even started!

You’ve already wasted an opportunity to connect with your audience, just so that YOU could take a stab at feeling more comfortable as you begin to speak. Was it worth it?

What to Remember
Your presentation actually begins two minutes before you take the stage. You should have slipped into your “presenter persona” before you are even introduced. This persona is the authentic YOU—but a little more so. You are alive with energy--pumped up, feeling powerful, and ready to go.

Within just ten seconds after your taking the stage, you should have engaged your audience’s attention and interest. Simply saying “Thank you, etc., etc., ” won’t accomplish that.

What to Do
Take the stage. Stand for 1-2 seconds in silence. Stay connected with your body. Be totally present. Feel your feet, quads, spine, and chest. Fill your body with breath and strength. Breathe, smile, and connect with your audience. Look at audience members and “make friends” with them nonverbally.

THEN open your mouth to speak. Engage your audience with an anecdote, question, mental exercise, or question. Be sure that this opening leads fluidly into the body of your presentation.

To ensure that those first precious moments enhance your presentation and credibility, practice the first few minutes of your presentation at least 4-6 times prior to “showtime.” Your practice should take place in front of a mirror. Begin with pretending that you hear yourself being introduced (or get your spouse or friend to introduce you.)

Make the motions of getting out of a chair and walking to the front of the room. Then take the stage, and follow the instructions above.

Why?
By centering yourself before speaking, you don’t need to fall back on clichés. And when you actually do thank your audience and/or hosts at the end of your presentation, your words will be much more heartfelt, authentic, and heard.

Myth #2: You should move about as you present.

“You’ve got to be kidding!” I can hear some readers saying. “Some of the best presenters I had in college walked as they talked.” Others will say, “Look, I move around when I give a presentation. It keeps the audience awake!”

What to Remember
There is conscious, or deliberate, movement—and then there is its opposite. Many speakers (especially males) demonstrate a kind of unfocused, rambling, back-and-forth movement with their feet. This distracts enormously from their message.

Focused movement has to do with centering yourself as a speaker. When your mind is jumbled and jumping from thought to thought, you are more likely to move about in a jumbled, unfocused way. When you are truly invested in what you are saying, AND connected via eye contact to your audience, your focus is clearer. You are less apt to aimlessly wander.

Remember, it’s good to gesture with your arms and hands to enhance the meaning of your words. It is not good to wander the stage as you think out loud.

What to Do
Become aware of WHY you are moving. Do you want to address another part of the audience? It’s totally acceptable to move from one side of the stage to another, but then you must STOP to make your point. Gesture dramatically with the top half of your body. Use your hands, arms, and torso. But keep your feet still as you make your important points.

The best suggestion is simply this: Be interested and invested in what you are saying, and say it directly to the audience as if they were a friend. Chances are, you won’t “wiggle around” so much with this mindset.

Why?
Aristotle paced the Lyceum when he was teaching, and Kierkegaard was a proponent of walking while he thought aloud. But today’s world, it’s all about connection with the audience. This means that you face your audience directly and securely, no “bobbling” allowed.

In Conclusion

The underlying message of both these Myth-Busters is this: Presenters, be Present! Be 100% “there” for your audience, both physically and mentally.

Remember that your presentation begins minutes before you take the stage. Get centered and focused before you start talking…and beware of your “wandering ways.”

 

Learn more about the author, Guila Muir.

Comment on this article

  • Seattle Charity Auctioneer 
Seattle, Washington 
April Brown
    Posted by April Brown, Seattle, Washington | Mar 04, 2009

    The content is a good refresher for novice or pro.

  • Therapist 
Seattle, Washington 
Merilee Lovejoy Ph.D.
    Posted by Merilee Lovejoy Ph.D., Seattle, Washington | Mar 04, 2009

    Thank you, Guila, for this helpful article.

    Merilee

  • Indexer | Technical Writer | Editor | Environmental & Town Planner 
Bellevue, Washington 
Paul Sweum
    Posted by Paul Sweum, Bellevue, Washington | Mar 04, 2009

    Having been in the position you described countless times, I felt the butterflies rearing up as I was reading your article.

    Thanks for taking some time with this subject. Simply put, public speaking is very difficult. There are so many factors involved with successful presentation; preparation being one of them, and keeping clear focus as another.

    In my experience, it seems like the everyday person in the room doesn't really understand what goes into successful public speaking...I had years of on-the-job training with it, and still consider myself far from decent. It's one of those few activities where you can't simply "wing it" unprepared and expect to get away with it, lol.

    I'm curious to hear more on this subject from you...not to get carried away, but it seems like you could make a mini-series out of the topic and cover various angles.

    Thanks again!

  • Seattle B2B Marketing Consultant 
Seattle, Washington 
Tom Scearce
    Posted by Tom Scearce, Seattle, Washington | Mar 04, 2009

    great advice! I'll confess to more than a few of these sins in my speaking career.

  • Energetic Speaking Coach for Entrepreneurs & NPOs 
Bellevue, Washington 
Pamela Ziemann
    Posted by Pamela Ziemann, Bellevue, Washington | Mar 04, 2009

    Liked your point about Aristotle. Presenting has changed so much even since the days of Zig Ziglar, the ultimate mover on stage. Now, in a world moving so fast, the ones who can be centered and secure in themselves and their message will stand out.

    Thanks for sharing your article, Guila.

    ~Pamela

  • Realtor and E-Marketing Specialist 
Kirkland, Washington 
Irene Dorang
    Posted by Irene Dorang, Kirkland, Washington | Mar 04, 2009

    Very good advice, thank you. I remember reading in one of Maya Angelou's books that she was coached to stand quietly a few moments before beginning to perform, she said it was one of the hardest things to learn, but very powerful.

  • Senior Housing Referrals and Placements 
Tumwater, Washington 
Gary Kendrick
    Posted by Gary Kendrick, Tumwater, Washington | Mar 04, 2009

    Great post. All great reminders. I think sometimes we forget the reason why we are presenting a topic. It's not about us. It's about what comes out of our mouth and how enthusiastically we present the material. Otherwise we would simple print a handout to give the audience. Public speaking is a gift that some people have. Most, however, have to practice and perfect it.

    Gary

  • Author, self-publisher, graphic designer, costumer 
Seattle, Washington 
Dina Lydia Johnson
    Posted by Dina Lydia Johnson, Seattle, Washington | Mar 04, 2009

    Hmmm. Some good tips here no doubt!

    But I guarantee that my thinking about my feet and my quads just before I speak before an audience is not going to improve my performance whatsoever. More likely the reverse!

    As for breathing, I have no problem doing that as long as no cat is nearby.

    In my experience the keys are: be prepared be prepared be prepared

    And it doesn't hurt to wear a chic outfit.

  • Personal and Business Coach 
Milford, New Jersey 
Patricia Michel
    Posted by Patricia Michel, Milford, New Jersey | Mar 05, 2009

    Excellent points. Thank you. As my workshops are about PRESENCE I am already thinking about a new and dynamic opening.

  • Entrepreneur 
Greenville, South Carolina 
Lori Moore
    Posted by Lori Moore, Greenville, South Carolina | Mar 05, 2009

    Great article, but pardon my ignorance - When I got to "Myth #2, I combed the article for Myth #1. I have either missed article number one of the Myth Busters series, or I am completely blind. ??

  • Photographer/architectual/residental/commerical, Graphic Designer/Pshop/QuarkX/InDesign, Pastel Artist 
Renton, Washington 
Thomas Willa
    Posted by Thomas Willa, Renton, Washington | Mar 05, 2009

    Dynamic, engaging, strong direction and concise if my presentations have those qualities that abound in your article they will be a great success. Thanks for the reminders Peace

  • Business Networking California Specialist 
La Jolla, California 
Rick Itzkowich
    Posted by Rick Itzkowich, La Jolla, California | Mar 05, 2009

    Guila,

    I've spoken in front of hundreds of people and still found your article very useful. Thank you for the simple and practical suggestions and reminders.

  • Entrepreneur 
Seattle, Washington 
Bennett White
    Posted by Bennett White, Seattle, Washington | Mar 05, 2009

    Great article! It's always helpful to be reminded of the here and now, being present is for sure the essence of everything, in all the ways you mention! thank you.

  • art director/graphic designer 
Tinton Falls, New Jersey 
Su Brooks
    Posted by Su Brooks, Tinton Falls, New Jersey | Mar 05, 2009

    In Toastmasters, we review many of these fine points.

  • Educator 
Kenmore, Washington 
Darla  Atwood
    Posted by Darla Atwood, Kenmore, Washington | Mar 05, 2009

    Thank you for sharing these two great points. I agree with having an attention getting opening, and that many speakers do mindlessly and nervously pace the stage creating a distraction from their words and possibly causing anxiety for the listeners.

    However, I think when appropriate, like in action related story telling, using the lower body serves to "flow" the speaker's energy and bring the listener closer to feeling the story in their own body- very important for kinesthetic learners like myself.

    Think of Anthony Robbins, the great motivational speaker. His stage presence is very physical and because he is "in his body" in a dynamic way, the learning experience is multi-sensory.

    So, could you say something about how to be successful using lower body gestures in presentations?

    I am particularly interested because I am also a physical presenter. I have been told that my full-body gestures draw people into my stories and are fun to watch. Thank you,

    Darla

  • Strategy Consultant, Coach 
Portola Valley, California 
Ken Rosen
    Posted by Ken Rosen, Portola Valley, California | Mar 05, 2009

    Yes, you can lose your audience in seconds. After working with execs on high-stakes presentations, I'll offer two recommendations I virtually guarantee help: 1) Practice your first 60 seconds ten times. Yes, exactly 10. I can tell you the breakdown of why 10...or you can just believe me and try it. It only takes, well, 10 minutes. You'll be shocked. 2) The very LAST thought before you go on stage: "I love my topic." Why? I don't believe in magic...but if you're enthusiastic, audience move that direction. If not, they won't. But you can't fool your audience. Fortunately, you CAN fool yourself. At least for a while. Even if your topic is the "Additional Detail for the Second Month Quarterly Status," convince yourself you love your topic and audiences will want to support and believe you. And hey, do it a few times and you might find you love your topics more! Ken (www.perworks.com)

  • Integrative Body&Soul Therapy & Bodywork 
Portland, Oregon 
Shantika Schnedler
    Posted by Shantika Schnedler, Portland, Oregon | Mar 05, 2009

    Nice reminder for everyone working with people, but especially facilitators and presenters. So nice when we remember ( re- Member...) our core, breath, inner truth. The audience knows how t appreciate authenticity. For myself - I need to really truly be able to hold what I am talking about. If I don't want to walk my talk 100% - I better don't try to convince anyone else.... Yet, it has also worked to tell my audience - I am not totally behind something - and engage them in thinking about what that is like in their experience, when they need to have a process of their own to find out about what is true for them. Again - Authenticity touches the human Body-Mind perception in a deeper place, and makes us pay attention , more, longer, and with greater openness.

  • Marketing Designer & Copywriter 
St Petersburg, Florida 
James Hance
    Posted by James Hance, St Petersburg, Florida | Mar 06, 2009

    Good points. I'm making two presentations in the next two weeks, and will put these ideas to work. Thanks!

  • Life, Prosperity, and Small Business Coach. Author. Speaker. Trainer. Singer/Songwriter. 
Seattle, Washington 
Kate Phillips
    Posted by Kate Phillips, Seattle, Washington | Mar 08, 2009

    Great tips, Guila! I have noticed that when I "start weak", it can take a LONG time to win the audience over, and "starting strong" is a much better option!! Both being centered myself, and drawing the audience in by asking a questions, telling a story, even a joke that relates to the topic, or saying something unexpected - all better than "Thank you, I'm glad to be here."

    Like Lori, I also realized I was confused (earlier) about your second point, because I thought it was a "tip" and not a "myth," because there is no identified "myth #1." I had to read it 3 times to "get" it, because my brain wasn't looking for myths. Just an editing thought....

    Thanks for sharing your expertise!

  • somatic educator 
Olympia, Washington 
Karen Kirsch
    Posted by Karen Kirsch, Olympia, Washington | Mar 18, 2009

    Guila, You put this in useable doable language. When I teach movement analysis I emphasis that we are all already movement analysts, we just aren't conscious of it. The non conscious message that the audience is getting is very powerful because it is under awareness, just a vague feeling or hunch.

  • Entrepreneur, Writer, Publisher, Public Speaker 
Burleson, Texas 
Dave Hayden
    Posted by Dave Hayden, Burleson, Texas | Apr 09, 2009

    Excellent Guila. The one thing I like to do as well is make eye contact with a few people in the audience during those first silent seconds.

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