Ten years ago, I decided to write a blog. Since I’d been ghostwriting for CEOs for years, I thought it would be a breeze. I had a bank of topics I couldn’t wait to write about in my own voice. All I had to do was turn on the tap and my ideas would fly onto the pages. You know where this is going…..
Rather than the anticipated sweet-flowing font of creativity, my writing was more like an unused garden hose coughing out murky, brown water. I retired the blog and turned to speaking and video.
The only thing worse than having a clunky, overly formal writing voice is having a hysterically nervous, overly formal speaking voice – on video. Years of Toastmasters and training as a facilitator curbed my nerves, but I wasn’t one of those lucky people born to be on stage or screen. My authentic voice seemed to disappear the second the camera started rolling.
Like me, most of my clients find it challenging at some level to find their authentic voice. Even professional speakers who sparkle in front of a live audience have fallen into one of these four pitfalls of expressing an authentic voice on stage or on camera. (I’ve personally done them all!)
In this mode, I was more concerned with my script and with my splashy slides rather than with how the audience actually FEELS. I would get tripped up in my wording, and I thought my audience would care about it as much as I did. But the audience doesn’t care about content. They only care about how they feel while receiving it. When I connected with my audience authentically – usually through a personal story that showed my humanity rather than a clever Powerpoint – they felt inspired, informed, entertained or motivated. Only THEN did they love my content.
I fell into this mode when I made it my job to make the audience understand or ‘get’ something. It almost always stemmed from my passion for the topic and wanting to share it. If I wanted them to embrace my point of view or the ‘moral of the story’ though, I risked coming off as a ‘know-it-all’ and creating distance, rather than connection.
When I ‘performed’ my speech rather than simply telling it to my audience, I over-dramatized, over-emphasized and lost the conversational tone that is the hallmark of a great presentation. The need to perform is often grounded in the feeling that the content isn’t ‘enough’, or simple nervousness. For me, the only way around it was to practice, practice and practice some more. Wherever I could find an audience – big or small – I would practice my stories, so whether I was talking to one person or a large group, I would feel grounded.
This mode kicked in when something was going on behind-the-scenes and rather than acknowledging it, I pretended it wasn’t happening – usually a technical glitch or something unexpected. The audience sensed something was up, even though they didn’t know what it was.
Remember George Bush being told about the attack on the World Trade Centre while he was reading to a class of schoolchildren? He returned to reading and pretended he was still with his audience, but it was clear he was far from present with them.
Whether it’s feeling nervous, a technical glitch, or even a heckler in my audience, if I don’t acknowledge the truth of what is happening in the moment (even if it’s only to myself), I’m likely to bring it into my speech. My friend Jim Sorensen, who teaches presentation skills to some of the top CEOs internationally, calls it ‘hidden agenda’. If I’m pretending to be present with my audience when I’m not, people will lose trust and disconnect from my message.
“The only thing worse than having a clunky and overly formal written voice is having a hysterically nervous and overly formal speaking voice – on video.”
I’ve mentioned some of the ways to avoid or address these pitfalls. In an upcoming post I’ll offer more ideas for expressing your authentic voice and taking your message to the next level. My top idea is to encourage you to check out the Personal Branding Bootcamp starting in September – a five week online course to help you define, declare and deliver your personal brand with AUTHENTICITY. If you want to go ‘back to school’ and get crystal clear on your brand promise in the comfort of your own home, I’d love to have you jump in with me for this interactive soul-defining class. Personal Branding Bootcamp