I’ve never been to a toastmaster’s meeting, never had media training, never studied speaking and, as a lawyer, I used to get so anxious before speaking, I’d often shake violently and toss my cookies.
But, over the last few years, things seem to gotten better…
I still get nervous, but I’ve become more at peace with my ability to engage an audience. And, the thing is much of this change has been the result not of formalized public speaking, but of teaching yoga.
When you step into a room full of people to teach a yoga class, there is a complex dynamic, especially when you teach in New York City, where time is the most precious asset. Your students have carved 90 minutes out of their day to be with you and, though yoga is not supposed to be about judgment or expectations…there IS an expectation that this time will be WORTH it.
From the teaching side, that expectation manifests itself in the form of a sense of responsibility to give your students what they’ve come looking for.
And, it’s not just information, it’s something far more visceral…
It’s community, it’s peace, it’s energy, it’s movement and breath, it’s attention and compassion, it’s precision and safety, it’s the ability to have someone enter your room in one physical, emotional and spiritual state…and leave in another.
And, that’s a huge challenge. But, teaching something so physical and personal taught me so much about public speaking, on any topic and in any setting.
One of the biggest lessons was the important of observing and adapting on the fly…
There were times when I’d teach and it felt like the room was a symphony, packed with vibrant, bodies, minds and spirits moving as one. Those moments were magical. And, they happened fairly often. But, other times, I’d show up with a game plan and, minutes into the experience, it became clear what I was looking to share was not jiving with what my audience wanted receive. And, 10 minutes into a 90 minute class, you can’t just stop and start over with a different theme.
When that happens, you have two choices:
- Stick to your script, deliver what you prepared and have everyone leave unsatisfied, or
- Go off script, get real, spend more of your energy trying to suss out what people want and need…then go commando, create on the fly, improvise and give it to them
The ability to do this is often the difference between trainwreck and triumph…
But, it’s not easy to pull of. Two things need to be in place.
Observe – Pay attention to your audience. You need to speak not “to” them, but “with” them. You need to watch how their faces and bodies respond to what you are saying. Sometimes it’s easy. Other times, it takes a lot more work. Over time, with practice, it becomes habit.
Point is, the more you can make the jump from presentation to conversation, the better you can suss out responsiveness, the better armed you’ll be to you’ll be to give the room what it needs. So, get out of your own head and focus outward on your audience.
Start with a single person. Watch their body language and facial expressions. Observe how they respond to your critical points, humor, movement style. Then move onto to another, then another. And, the more you practice reading people, the better you get at it and the better armed you become to respond when things aren’t going right and keep going when they are.
Some people are naturally good at this. If you’re not, it can be learned. A great resource is a book called, What Every Body Is Saying by former FBI people speed reader, Joe Navarro.
Go Commando – So, what if your observation tells you you’re missing the mark? Here’s something to explore…Abandon the script.
Just the sound of that phrase terrifies most people. Off script?! Away from the planned, standard, tested, vetted bullet points, answers and slides I’ve prepared? No way! If the script is working and people are vibing with it, go ahead and roll with it.
But, if you’re bombing sticking to the script, why not at least give yourself the chance to recover, get back on track and give your audience what they need, rather than what you planned to deliver?
Sure, you still may bomb going off script, freestyling, improvising, but you also just might create magic. Because going of script forces you to be more real, more authentic, to expose yourself and your humanity. And, that’s something that people respond to on a level that often far surpasses whatever words and images tumble out of your mouth. But, there’s a big caveat.
If you decide to go off script, know what you’re talking about…
If you’ve just memorized a bunch of lines and don’t have a genuinely deep knowledge and passion for what you’re sharing, then you likely won’t have the knowledge base or authentic energy and desire to pull of going off script.
But, if you do have the internal database, passion and desire, give it a try, switch to a related topic, try another option, make it more interactive, bail on your slides, turn up the lights and walk out into the audience.
Turn it into a dynamic, living, breathing conversation…then see what unfolds.
So, what do you think? How else have you handled this?
What other tips, strategies and tactics can you share?
What’d I miss?
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