You have to give a sales presentation next week or report last quarter’s earnings to a committee for strategic planning purposes. You’ve been there before and you’ll be there again, but it doesn’t make it any less stressful. Sure, you try to be as persuasive as possible given the context, or you try to make the information as interesting as possible, but how interesting can numbers be?
Here’s the where you need to reframe how you think of the information or the intent: Lives are at stake, and what you have to say can save them.
You have to take into your topic the thought that what you have to say is of the utmost importance. If you don’t think it’s important, then why will the audience? If it’s not important, then why bother listening?
These are fair questions and you must spend time addressing them (yes, even in the speech or presentation).
Is It Really Important?
Once you think of what you have to do or say as important, even life-saving, the next step is to show us how. Don’t just say it’s really, really important. Say it like you mean it. Look like you mean. Act like you mean it. Actually mean it! Then, prove it.
Give us some evidence that the topic will have some benefit in our lives. Give us numbers, scenarios, sources, testimony. Show us that you care not only in your actions and in your words, but with the sheer amount of preparation put into what you have to say. Once we see the connection to us (that is how the information impacts us and that you are here for our benefit), we are more apt to listen and listen more intently.
So, back to the sales scenario mentioned earlier: do you believe the product you sell is a benefit to the potential customers? Why do you believe this? What evidence do you have to support this belief? Why should I believe you?
For the strategic planning committee: what are these numbers showing us in terms of how the company performed? Is this part of a larger issue? What can be said about what the future holds based on the relevant data? How does this affect the company?
By the way, you can often ask these questions as part of your presentation. Some answers or suggestions can come from you, and some can come from them.
Reframing to Overcome Nerves
Incidentally, seeing the importance of your topic (i.e. reframing) is a great way to overcome nervousness. Think about that for a minute. Imagine having to give a speech and thinking, No one here really cares about me or what I have to say, so I shouldn’t even bother. You probably have thought that very thing. What you had to say just didn’t seem all that important, even if it was.
Now imagine you see someone choking. You immediately recognize that her life is in danger. Do you think, I wonder if she even cares about me or that I know the Heimlich maneuver? Should I even bother?
Clearly this is a silly scenario. If you see someone choking, you immediately move to save them. You identify that you can help and then you help them. And, trust me, if someone’s choking, they are very interested in your help at that point.
It’s the same concept in giving a speech or presentation. The audience is dying for your help, only they aren’t aware of it. You have to show them that they are choking, and that you have the life-saving techniques, and then offer to be of assistance.
It’s a lot of work, and it requires that you forget about your personal issues (i.e. your fear of addressing audiences), but it’s that important. You can save lives (or make them better), but only if you see that way. When you accept that your message is life-saving, you’ll find that your speeches will be much more passionate and your attitude much more compassionate—two elements of a great speaker. Speak to an audience. Speak for an audience. They will always be willing then to listen.