I mean really seen - as in seen through. Actually, you have little choice, you're going to be seen through anyway. An audience can't read your thoughts, but they effortlessly read your inner feeling state, your motivations, your attitudes, the way you see yourself and your life. How? By what you do with your body and voice.
The trick - the most impressive trick - is to get comfortable about being seen through. Yes, that means choosing to be comfortable about who you are.
I know. At first, that's a big ask. It takes a heap of courage.
Many presenters, without realising it, don a protective mask - bureaucratic language, minimal body movement, closed hands, monotonal voice, side-on eye contact etc etc. Not only does the audience see through the mask anyway, but it also gets this message: I am not comfortable with who I really am. I don't want you to see who I really am.
Not good for our personal authority. In front of an audience, our self-protection impulse can harm us.
In one of my workshops, a young man (I'll call him Byron) made such a good impression that other trainees said to him, "What are you doing here? You don't need this." And yet the video analysis showed that Byron made as many mistakes as anyone else. How could that be? The apparent contradiction was resolved when the group realised two things: first, Byron was not self-conscious and was comfortable to be seen through (including mistakes and flaws); second, that his open self-ease far outweighed any mistakes he made along the way.
That was a powerful lesson for everyone in the room.
So, practically speaking, what can we do about our self-protection impulse? Three points.
- Admit to yourself that a protective mask just doesn't work. Instead, say to yourself, People can see through me, warts and all, and that's okay! Decide to be happy being yourself while in the spotlight. You have more to gain than to lose.
- Practise the body and vocal languages of openness. Get your hands apart, move your arms, move your torso so that you can turn and look at individuals with your whole body. Let your voice rise and fall as much as you would if you were reading a childrens' story. I know, it's an act - and in the previous point I suggested that you be yourself. But trainees who put on that particular act tell me immediately afterwards that they feel stronger and in better control. You can see where this is going? The reality catches up with the act. The 'act' is you after all. You at your very best.
And here's the big one:
- Actively shift focus from yourself to the audience. Genuinely be there for them. Abandon thoughts like, They'll judge me and They won't like me, replacing them with this powerful thought/feeling: I really want them to get this.
Got doubts? Practise on a couple of friends or colleagues you trust to give you honest feedback.