It's been my obsession for more than 20 years. What attracts the respect of your audience, regardless of their culture, language, race, religion, age or gender? What attracts their personal respect for you even when they don't like your message?
The answer is remarkably simple. (And it's nothing to do with being word-perfect, or the way you use PowerPoint.)
Just two core qualities attract all audiences: the presenter's personal strength, and the presenter's connection with them. And almost all of us are are inherently capable of both of those qualities.
But, of course, there's a catch.
Under pressure, our self-protection instinct kicks in. Just like a curtain, we pull an opaque screen around us, that stops the audience seeing those core qualities. What's the screen? Self-consciousness. How ironic that our self-protection instinct weakens us in the eyes of the audience.
So. What to do about it. How do we best flick back that damaging screen so that audiences can see us at our best? Here's the most practical, simple, useful tip to come out of training many hundreds of people. It's the tip most likely to lead to that phrase 'life-changing'.
Make it obvious that you want your audience to get the message.
No, it's not enough that you want them to get it, the magic ingredient is in showing that you want them to get it. For most of us that means deliberately getting more animated with our voice and body language. More importantly it also means getting busier with our eyes, emphatically seeking people out. At home, try this: look in a mirror and show an interest in your own face - watch your eyebrows rise, your eyes widen.
Audiences respond. They feel respect. I like that.
Here's a recent discovery delighting my more nervous trainees.
You can use your eyes to trick your own brain into feeling confident and engaging with your audience the way you should.
First, check if you're qualified to get some benefit from this. Do you recognise any of these thoughts: I'll forget my words. I'll make mistakes. They'll see through me. I'm not good enough. I'm not a show pony. I don't belong here. Yes? Stay with me. What about this thought: I don't see individuals in front of me, I see a sea of faces. Yes?
Then this trick is for you. It deals directly to that last thought about the sea of faces.
While you're speaking, while you're looking around, make yourself stop on a single individual and - for only a single heartbeat - look directly into that person's eyes. In that tiny moment, give that person a tiny nod. Then move your eyes somewhere else in the audience and do it again.
There's an immediate, double payoff. In that instant the person you looked at feels a frisson of pleasure that you engaged. But most importantly, in that instant you will forget to be nervous. Do it again with another individual and there's another instant when you're not nervous. Then another. And another... another... another... Wait a minute, what happened to the nervousness? Now you can deliver your message with the confidence it deserves.
You see what just happened? You didn't try to tell yourself to stop being nervous - which never works - instead, you shifted your focus to something way more useful.
That is some trick. I'm now introducing it in every presentation skills training workshop.
Are you going to try it? I'm keen to hear the results. Please use my full name Michael Brown when you Contact me.