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'All? You must be joking. I'm the one in the spotlight!'

Yes, all. It sounds odd, but it's the finest way I know to achieve everything you could want as a presenter. The audience focuses on the message, your personal authority rises, and you feel confident being there. (If you want more than that, I salute your ambition.) Let me spell out what I mean by all.

Make your content about your audience

First, the obvious part. Make your content relevant to the audience. Shape it to fit their knowledge, their concerns, their thoughts.

Most of us can remember rare school teachers who did exactly that. Before writing up the principles of, for example, insurance, a good teacher would look us in the eye and ask, 'What's the most precious thing you own?' And then perhaps, 'If it was run over by the school bus, how long would it take you to save up for another one?'

If your audience can't connect your content with their lives, you're asking them to drink from a dry well. Water all your content with examples, interpretations, illustrations, stories and situations that mean something to the particular audience in front of you.

Focus on your audience, not on your own survival

This is the cunning part. Focus your thoughts on the audience, not on yourself.

Your thoughts automatically send signals to your audience via your manner and style. Like it or not, humans are driven first by emotions and then by logic, and the biggest emotional downer for an audience is usually the self-consciousness of the presenter. Their underlying perception is, This person doesn't want to talk to me! This person doesn't enjoy my company! That's a huge barrier between your message and audience.

How to improve your speaking with this technique

The solution. Mentally place any two objects between you and the audience (in the workshops we often do this literally, with cups). Label one of them SELF and the other AUDIENCE. Now, as you speak to the audience, ask yourself this: Who am I concerned about right now? Is it me (the SELF cup)?

I'm uncomfortable with everyone looking at me.
I'm worried that the words will desert me.
Oh no, they might argue with me.
That expert might humiliate me.
They won't like me etc.
Me... me... me...

Yes, when we make it all about us, it emerges in our self-protective manner and style, flat expression, monotone, awkward movements, reluctant eyes. And its so obvious to the audience that we are like walking X-rays of our self-absorbtion. The awful truth is that even while the audience sympathises, they perceive us as having little personal authority.

Now, the good news for nervous presenters. Use the other cup (the AUDIENCE cup) to re-direct your pre-occupation, away from yourself and into the audience.

What's their perspective?
How do they feel about the message?
How does it affect them?
How do I let their needs light up my message?
Their... they... them...

Got the difference? Can you see how your manner and style would change when you make it about them? You sound more enthusiastic, move more naturally, make eye-contact more keenly. You show that you're interested in how it's going down for them, even though it's just you talking. They feel connected to you, even when they disagree with your message.

Let me put it crudely. Do you care more about yourself, or them? Before you answer, remember that they can see right through you.

You see the delicious irony? When you make it all about the audience - genuinely about the audience - you actually give yourself a priceless gift: the ability to speak with confidence and authority, generating respect and trust. I love that.

Have fun out there in the spotlight. Enjoy the company of the audience and they will so enjoy yours.

Michael

About Michael Brown

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Michael is a senior trainer with Skillset, based in Christchurch.

He is a leading authority on training in presentation and news media skills in New Zealand. He has special expertise in how to present emotionally charged topics to challenging audiences. Michael has trained thousands of New Zealanders and worked with people who speak on behalf of some of the country's largest organisations.

Michael is a prolific author and his books on speaking and working with the media are in their fourth editions.

Speaking Easy: how to speak to your audiences with confidence and authority

Media Easy: how to handle the news media with confidence and authority

One of Michael's books is about his family's adventures sailing in the Pacific.

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