In part one of my interview with Janet Jordan of Keynote Communications, she shared her insights into brand communications and the power of storytelling. In part two, she discussed the necessary skills for effective consultative selling. In this final part of the interview, she shares tips for public speaking.
Q. Why do so many people lose their natural voice when communicating in a business setting?
A. Physiologically, lots of tension – or adrenaline – goes through us when we're talking in front of others. These can shut down the body.
We get nervous when we feel we're losing our voice – that what we're saying is not coming across as true to ourselves. We also worry that something will go wrong, such as blanking out. All of that is psychological noise. You need to quiet that down as much as possible to be fully present and comfortable in your body.
Other practical things you can do are breathe normally and be prepared. Be clear about what you're going to say and remember that you're there to provide value. Remind yourself that you don't have to make the "perfect pitch." In fact, it can be better if you don't come across as too polished. Give yourself room to be yourself, whether that is goofy, smart, or geeky.
All this sounds like common sense, but it's hard to do. People know they need to be prepared, breathe, and slow down while they're speaking, but that doesn't make it any easier. In fact, drawing people's attention to what they should be doing can make matters worse. For example, you could point out that someone says "um" a lot while they're speaking, but that doesn't help them solve the issue. Instead, you need to focus on what that person is trying to achieve and offer techniques to help them get there.
Q. What separates those who are adept at responding to tough questions from those who struggle to think on their feet? Can this skill truly be learned?
A. Most people can learn to answer tough questions because there's actually a method to the madness. Even those people with a knack for thinking on their feet can learn to consciously make choices about how they respond. Training can help you learn how to listen to questions and how to respond in ways that make you more likely to be quoted. There are also ways to sidestep traps, and identify leading questions or questions with hidden agendas.
Fear takes away the natural voice in those situations – people get stiff, they fidget, and their voice crackles. Once people understand how this all works and what happens to them when they're dropped into these circumstances, they can go into these situations with confidence.
Some basic tips:
- Do your homework. People don't think about the questions they're likely to be asked, or the ones that they hope they'll never be asked. Ask others what questions they might ask in such a situation. If you thoroughly explore likely questions and what the interviewer is interested in, you'll be ahead of the game.
- Listen to the question and then pause before you speak. Most of us are uncomfortable with silence. A few seconds go by fairly quickly but it can feel like a long time when you know someone is waiting for a response. Instead of formulating your answer while listening to the question, give the question your full attention and then take a few moments to compose an answer. This is a physical skill that can be learned.
Q. It's easy to think you've given a persuasive presentation when the opposite is true. When the audience seems mesmerized, asks lots of questions, and looks thoughtful, they might in fact be confused and trying to figure out what the person is saying. How can someone determine whether or not they've delivered a persuasive presentation?
A. Ask. You don't need a Q and A session at the end of your presentation to find out. Engage the audience during the presentation instead of assuming and misinterpreting cues. If you think the audience is mesmerized – just ask them if you're on track. It all comes back to dialogue and branding. You can assume you have a great message, but you'll never be sure unless you check in with your audience, whether they are your peers, customers, analysts, or the press.
If your talk is on target for the audience, you should be intuitively answering the audience's questions along the way. That's why preparation is critical – you need to have the audience in mind as your prepare. Don't be afraid to ask the audience what's important to them, and tailor your talk on the fly.
Read more Savvy B2B posts from Stephanie.