While an airplane is passing by me, I’m listening to some chill music as I am sitting in Paris’s Charles de Gaulle on a Wednesday late afternoon (local time around 6pm).
You could still see and distinguish things and buildings outside but soon it’ll be dark. And strange, but true is the fact that it is quite relaxing to be all alone in a big airport and just look at planes taking off – I once read this on the internet and my thoughts were “yeah, right!”. Well, what do ya see it actually is. Back then I did not think I’ll be used to flying, but now, even though I am not a frequent flyer I am taking off regularly.
Back to the subject of this post – aahhh, Paris!
I’ve spend here four nights, as to properly start 2017. So, last Sunday morning I went straight to the airport to catch a flight from Bucharest to Paris. The reason? Participating in a short training session. Specifically, the fundamentals of public speaking. So although this trip was work related, the training in itself is not necessarily applicable to my day to day work like. I mean, I do not conduct speeches or official gatherings, but the ability to address any public is of interest to anyone, if you ask me.
Through the snowy streets of Bucharest I made my way to the airport and landed in Paris in the afternoon, when all I did was to get a cab and be gone to the hotel. From a minus 10 or so Celsius degrees to a positive temperature, winter did not seem that bad anymore.
Winter isn’t bad, but if you think about it – why wasn’t there snow during Christmas or the winter holidays and now, now that we have to wake up early in the morning and go to work, now it somehow decided to snow! Bhahaha. Oh well, it seemed I managed to enjoy a decent temperature abroad compared to what’s back home (and what awaits me!). The reason I got to start writing this article was the .. you might have guessed, the weather back home. It’s snowing so bad that my plane got delayed!
So let’s come back to being in Paris for three nights, to participate in a class and to enjoy the city a bit.
From my previous experience, I have a love affair with Japanese food when in Paris. So, the first meal was a delicious menu at a local Chinese diner which also had a little (very little) Japanese menu and bar. I don’t remember it’s name, but it’s not downtown since I was accommodated in Sureness, a suburb of Paris. So, very quiet and very local, this small diner was my choice for two out of the three nights spent here. I only had cold sushi – salmon, tuna, avocado in sweet soy sauce and along with some salad and warm soup. For the price (13 eur), it was a pretty good meal. Prices in this local diner were decent, an Est European person (with an average Est European salary) can eat here without a doubt.
Now to the practical stuff – the course started in the morning, around 9 am and ended in the afternoon around 5.30 pm. So what did I find out?
The focus of the course was not on the theoretical aspects of the fundamentals of speaking in public but on the practice. Imagine a group of seven people from different countries and positions within the company, being part of the same workshop. Not to mention the age difference. None of these points interrupted the course in any way and everyone was engaged – best aspect. I am always willing to respond and get involved in all exercises when I participate in a course, but it’s damn hard when others are making it difficult for the coach and the rest of us. It’s not like you are gonna be skipped when doing the exercises, so you might as well not prolong the torture. Ha. Ha. Ha. :))
The two days training was summarized in a small and insightful booklet, with key aspects, theory and advice. At the end of the booklet each participant had two blank pages where one could write anything valuable from one’s perspective. I did not fill those pages but wrote a couple of things – mostly advice and practical examples from the my colleagues’ experiences.
The aspect most emphasized by our trainer was that before any presentations we want to do, it’s better to relax. Really?! (You might say and I get you.) Relaxation though meditation – through respiration. Correct respiration is the one in which we use our belly. You know how kids breath when they’re small? That’s right, with their bellies; their entire body moves. So, out with the old (air) is expiration and in with the new (air) is inspiration. Breathing in means you inflate your belly and breathing out means contracting your tummy, until it is flat. Most people ditch this correct way of breathing somewhere along their lives and do it the other way around, having inverse respiration. Practicing correct respiration ensures blood flows properly through your body and makes you alleviate stress and tightness. Each morning and after lunch we started with some relaxation sessions before proceeding with theory and practice. It’s amazing what these minutes can do for your mental health.
Overcoming stage fright is something most people have to deal with, be it a professional presenter or a regular person. When this topic came up I thought to myself, do I have this? Although I was tempted to say not necessarily, I have to be honest with myself (and you) and remember those times when I had to give work related speeches and I felt blood pumping through every vein and my cheeks burning. Thus, I have some stage fright. And this is good, it means one is engaged and involved in what’s about to happen. To have no emotion might be counterproductive, emotions must be there but mustn’t paralyze us. Stage fright can be kept within limits by prepping up before in every way possible.
There are a few key points of a good presentation:
The first is to know your audience. Imagine giving a lecture on the environment and sustainable measures to diminish pollution to an activist, who is going to be highly interested and the same lecture to an oil company.Who do ya think is going to be more interested? Well, both if you argue it correctly – maybe for the activist in showing him means to promote sustainability and to the company means to deduct expenses when recycling for example. Knowing what is important for your audience, what sparks their interest is the one thing that can’t be replace by other info. Being relevant to your public is the challenge.
Secondly, prepping beforehand and rehearsing go hand in hand. If you’ve prepared but haven’t rehearsed is like you have not done anything. Your public will not care about the hours you’ve spend gathering info and documenting the facts if you don’t deliver the message properly. You should focus on speaking simply and using appropriate language level for the audience. Use sentences not phrases and use well known words in English or any other language if the audience is not native or proficient. As one of Einstein’s most famous quotes states ‘If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough’. Make it as clear as possible. Then, summarize your thoughts using statements that stay with your audience. Say those words that have an impact.
To keep the structured feel of the presentation, remember to go though a few key points like presenting yourself, stating the subject of discussion, emphasizing how the topic affects each and every one in the audience, mentioning the duration of the lecture and stating your expectation as a presenter from your public. Withing these boundaries the topic will progressively unfold.
By the time you conclude your presentation and give your final thoughts, you should have a clear idea on what you want people to remember afterwards. This will give the presenter the goal, the objective of the discussion. Oftentimes when I think about the things I’m passionate about and that I want to share with my peers of family and friends I forget to think about the purpose. I forget to have a goal. And what happens is that I talk and talk and talk .. (this could go on) and I go so many ways that people get either bored or confused. If it’s useful for you, start prepping your presentation from the end – start with the conclusion to set your goal. There’s no perfect recipe. The ideal would be to basically tick off all the check-boxes with all these recommendations. And you could make it literal – write all these on a piece of paper and mark as done once you did it.
One of the practical exercises we had to do in groups in this training session was to present one of our colleagues and vice-versa. I was paired randomly with a female colleague and as I ‘interviewed’ her I tried to write as many things as I could. It was a bit strange to keep on asking her things – because work related questions can get you so far. My approach when presenting her was to grab people’s attention with a funny line. Thus I began with a ‘Ladies and gents, I give you the Queen!’. As you might guess, I did not present a literal queen, but my colleague’s name was in fact Regina; and in Romanian Regina translates to queen. Everyone got the pun, as it was intended and as this can be spelled almost the same in other languages (eg. Reina, the Spanish word for queen). I saw some smiles on their faces, thus target achieved. All eyes were on me and focused on what I had to say. I wanted to separate myself from the ones before me. My approach when presenting her was not to tell an enumeration of points and facts about the person but how I related to her. I emphasized all the things we had in common, I appreciated her loyalty within the company and her commitment on the various position held as time passed by and expressed interest in being courageous like her career wise. I was quite happy on how this 5 minute presentation went and had great feedback.
The thing I did in the beginning is called a hook. And it’s not the only way you can catch your viewer’s attention. Actually you can provoke the audience (express a profound thought); you can state numbers (%, words like million/billion); you can surprise them (tell the story of ..) or you can emphasize a fact. At this moment you make the connection with your public. You become connected as they focus their thoughts on you. I found some funny hooks in a 5 second search on google.
As the training progressed we read and reread some stories, one by one, making ourselves aware of the intonation we had (pauses when commas existed), of the modulation our voices had (playing on different registers, high, medium or low – these inflexions that give body to what we say) and the force of what we expressed (not too loud nor too quiet).
And as we speak we use not only our mouths to verbalize our thoughts, but our eyes, our hands, our entire body. This part was the most awkward for me. Especially the hands part. From the neck down I know I am a bit paralyzed. For others it was the opposite. They moved so much, that after a 5 minute speech I was tired. So, the movement of our body should be stable, also known as a baobab rule- you anchor tour feet on the ground, imagining yourself being a tall tree, with large roots, that go deep down in the soil and keep you there, no matter the winds or storms.
Actually, we practiced this baobab rule and it was quite funny when, in pairs of two, we had to slightly push our partners in a direction or another. The goal is to go with the flow; not to resist the push, but move along with it.
As the non verbal is as important as the verbal, establishing eye contact just before the presentation, a quick scan of the crowd is desirable. As the presentation progresses a good way of looking to your audience would be to divide the room in four quadrants, establish the central part in each and then go trough every of those four. It’s basically impossible to look everyone in the eye, and those in the back are surely out of reach.
Hands mustn’t be crossed and generally should be moved in line with what we speak. If we make a pause, or show a progression our hands should move slow, deliberate and in up and down, right and left motions.
A topic of interest to every participant in a public speaking course is handling those difficult situations or people, or both. If you’ve worked in a company, be it multinational or not, you surely were part of meetings where people either misconducted themselves by being on the phone either loud or interrupting the session in any non urgent way. Or maybe when a projector stopped working, or the presenter was left without connection to some software. In fact, these things happen all the time, starting with school. When students interrupt by talking loudly between themselves or the teacher being disturbed by his or the others’ phones.
Since we can’t control people or situations what we can do is to keep in mind that you cannot satisfy everyone. And if it’s only people talking between themselves is the main problem, then it’s an easy fix. Walk next to them, see how they act then. Silence for a few seconds. That did not work either? Then, try describing to the audience what you see. Literally I mean. ‘I see you using your phone. Is it anything urgent and can I help you or give you a few moments to resolve anything you’re needed for?’ Or if this isn’t working, then describe how people’s conduct is affecting you, as a presenter. ‘This makes me feel disturbed / like I am not getting through to you. I will be done in x minutes.’
The great ordeal is in fact when people come into a meeting having a misconception or feeling in a certain way. When new procedures or policies get changed then prepare for the worst. People will complain, shout and maybe call your the problem in these changes. Informing from the beginning about you being the facilitator and not the decision maker and repeating this fact as the presentation goes on can be a possibility. Better yet, when changes like these happen, a smarter way to approach the situation before any form of oral presentation occurs, would be to inform the audience in writing so they aren’t caught off guard.
Remember that sometimes not talking is power.
Remember to breath deeply and quietly to oxygenate the brain and calm those tremors.
Remember to not judge yourself; get rid off the imaginary camera that focuses on you.
And remember to trust your audience. It is expecting you to be at ease.
There is no better way than being genuine. Showing you have flaws is .. normal. As Bridge of spies Donovan asks Albel “Aren’t you worried?”, the latter responds “Would it help?”. Faced with difficult circumstances a cool demeanor can help you keep a clear image of what you are there to do and even make you more likable for the audience.
If you are still here and read this post, thank you! I am well in my apartment, got home from Paris and sipping some coffee while the stove rang for lunch.
Here are some Paris takeouts and I’ll see you next time! A snowboarding post is on its way!
Ps. If you need some training materials just write to me! I am also curious on your take and your insights into this public speaking topic. Just write in the comment section below so that others see too.