Guest post by Chad O”Connor, Adjunct Professor Emerson College
One thing I truly enjoy about coaching people on how to be better communicators is that every so often I am reminded about how much simple psychology is involved in the whole process.
I was recently contacted by a former student of mine for some professional advice. Some of you reading this might feel a lot like her on a daily basis – she was nervous about a presentation; in her opinion there was a lot at stake, more than in other situations. She has been hoping to parlay some project work she has been doing for an organization into a full time job (not uncommon in a down economy) and now was getting a chance to talk to a small cadre of the organization”s top brass about her research on a big project. All these executives, people who could make or break her career with the organization, were going to be there to hear what she had to say. She wanted advice.
Our conversation went something like this –
me: That”s great! Congrats, you”ll do fine. You always have.
her: I usually don”t mind public speaking, but this is a lot scarier.
me: Of course it feels that way, but once you start speaking it should feel like the other times you”ve done it.
her: But I”ve never talked to all these people like this, and I know they”re going to be judging me
me: Do you think people aren”t judging you the rest of the time you show up at work?
her: Okay, I see your point there.
me: And who asked you to give this presentation?
her: The boss.
me: So you are worried about these other guys being there? Why?
her: Because they could want to hire me if I do well.
me: I”d say you”re already in – think of it this way, their boss liked you enough to ask you to come talk to them to give them information, so he already trusts you enough to know that his reputation isn”t going to be damaged by having you speak to them. He”s not going to want to put any poor performers up in front of the room to make other people in the company question his eye for talent and wonder why he wastes their time with stuff like that.
her: Good point. Are you just trying to trick me into feeling good about this?
me: No, I am just trying to point out to you that if you change your thinking you can see this issue a lot differently. Don”t always assume you have a hostile audience! People want to be there to feel good about things, to feel productive, to feel like they”ve gained new information or insight, or have had their thoughts confirmed and reassured. As long as your presentation keeps that goal in mind you”ll do fine. And remember that your real target audience there is the big boss. His opinion of you will have a trickle down effect; do well in his eyes and you”ll be seen as someone with his favor. I”m not saying to patronize him, but it doesn”t hurt to tailor your approach to how he”d like to have it presented to him.
her: Thanks. That definitely helped calm me down.
me: And one last thing….stop doubting yourself. The better you feel about yourself and your product then the better it will all come across to them.
her: You”re right. I know. Thanks for reminding me.
So hopefully if you”ve read this and some of my previous blog posts here for NPTB you now get to see a small real world example of how it all comes down to the fundamentals. They don”t always end perfectly (especially once we gladly realize that perfection is an unrealistic goal that can hold us back), but there”s no better feeling I can have than to get a short text message from her after the meeting that simply says “Nailed it!”
Chad O”Connor teaches communication at Emerson College in Boston, serves as a connector for Boston World Partnerships, and works with various individuals, companies and nonprofits as a communication consultant on issues such as public speaking, message strategy, copy refining, etc. Chad can be contacted at his gmail account, chad.a.oconnor ,and found on Twitter @chadoconnor
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