Monday, August 24, 2009

More Tips on Presentation: Don't Rely on Your Content

I promised to unpack the post from last week a bit -- the one that talks about how to give a better presentation.

Here's a start.

When Last We Saw Our Hero(e) . . .

I was recently with a very accomplished fellow who interviewed me for a project at a cafe in Mayfair. He asked me the usual questions -- what qualifies you to do performance coaching? (20 years of doing it), how did you get to London? (brought here to establish and run a charity), what's formal credentials do you have (PhD in drama and five years of teaching from Brown University), and so on.

Then he surprised me by asking me to review his performance.

I thought this a very canny move. Most people don't think of conversation as performance. However, in business as in life, all interactions are an opportunity te sell yourself.

Information Can't Sell Itself

The conversational mode is a little intimate for this level of direct talk on first acquaintance. So the question demonstrated an unusually high level of self-confidence in the face of possible criticism.

Just that piece made me want to work for him.

What I Said, and What Might Be Useful to You

I told client that he relies on his content to sell itself rather than using eye contact to get his point across. His charm, too -- which is considerable -- was interrupted and the effect eradicated when his eyes wandered away.

This is true regardless of the fact that the content my client offered would have been tremendously engaging if I hadn't been so distracted by what seemed like careless or lazy delivery. I followed his line of thought because he's a client -- but if he hadn't been, my mind would have wandered several times.

The Lesson?

Even if you've been to the moon, don't expect the story to stand on its own. You need to sell it, although a tale of space travel probably requires a lighter touch than, say, doing your laundry.

And Now, Back to Our Story

The client agreed. He told me that it's difficult for him to hold someone's gaze -- that it's uncomfortable. He mentioned that perhaps it's because he's British and culturally determined.

Everyone faces internal obstacles in some process or other. These can be either overturned by new habits or, if deep-seated, they can merely be adjusted for. Ultimately, it depends on how much time you want to put into the process.

The Easiest Route

If you find yourself with the same challenge, try the suggestion I made to this client.

At the point of feeling uncomfortable, look away in a deliberate manner rather than allowing your eyes to wander off. The latter looks rude and undisciplined. The former makes the speaker seem as though he were thinking -- or, at least, seems to connect the intermittent periods of eye contact. This connection gives the listener an impression that he or she is being attended to in a focused way, regardless of the moments of disconnected eye contact.

And So . . .

It seemed to work for the client. If any of you try this, please report back on the results of how you feel -- and how it works.


Matt Mower said...

Holding someone's gaze, yes, I've found that can be very uncomfortable too.

Can you explain a little better what you mean by "look away in a deliberate manner"? I'm not really clear how to communicate deliberateness in such a gesture since it's, as much as anything else, the interpretation of the receiver.


Annette Kramer, PhD said...

Hi Matt,

"Looking away in a deliberate manner", in this case, means taking your gaze from someone else's eyes placing it -- with focus -- elsewhere.

The key is focus. In conversation, you focus on the gaze of the person to whom you speak. When you can't hold it anymore, you focus with equal force on something else. Looking down works well -- or looking up.

Focus your gaze in the away-position until you're comfortable to hold the other person's gaze again.

Repeat as necessary.

The effect is this: rather than allowing your eyes to wander away from someone else's -- giving the impression of backing down, being bored, or even looking embarrassed -- there's a sense that you've made the move to think, remember, or process information.

Why? Your gaze is pulled toward something. It's not pulled away.

It takes practice so that you can learn to find something on which to focus when not looking at the other person. So practice.

The behavior will not only give your conversation partner a sense of being heard, it will also give you a feeling of control. And that will allow you to be more present in the conversation as it happens.