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How to Connect with Audience Immediately

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As an Ambassador to The Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, I’m asked from time to time to give a 15-20 minute presentation at the new member breakfast and the membership appreciation events.  I never memorize a presentation, and my talk this morning is a perfect example of how memorization would have hurt my ability to connect.

After the new members entered and filled their coffee cups and fruit plates, I noticed a member in the back of the room who was carrying an adorable 10-week old baby.  I didn’t prepare for this, but it would quickly become my connector.  As soon as I was introduced, I began with “Before I start my presentation, I have to introduce myself to a fellow Daddy.  I have a 4-year old son and my next little boy is on the way in August.  We are always looking for play dates and I would love to get to know you further after I’m off stage.”

First of all, the little 10 pound/10-month old was the little elephant in the room.  It was out of place and unusual for an infant to be at a Manhattan Chamber of Commerce meeting, and all of the attendees knew there was a little baby in the room.  Second, it immediately made me a human; a real person with children and a family.  Most people can relate to this on some level, and before I even begin speaking about what I do, I am able to connect with everyone.  It also gives me the ability to practice what I preach.  When I’m just about to give a presentation on communication skills and my main message is “connect with your audience” there is no better way to start the presentation than to find a connection with my own audience in the first 5 seconds of my talk.

Hypnosis and Public Speaking: Audience Buy-In

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“In a moment I am going to count from 1 to 3. When I say the number “3″ you are going to open your eyes. The moment I say the number “3″ and you open your eyes you are going to dance like a chicken every time you hear the phrase ‘Oh Cluck!’…ONE, TWO, THREE!!!”

The subject opens their eyes and to the amazement of the audience, the subject dances like a chicken at every prompt. Magic? Nope…just the power of suggestion and the power of “Yes.”

Undeniable Truths and Linking

The above example is missing a very important segment of the performance. At the beginning of a stage hypnosis performance, the hypnotist is very specific in the set up. They demystify the “magic” aspects and explain that hypnosis is simply a learning process and only a moron can’t learn how to breathe and relax. They guarantee that the participants on stage will have more fun during the performance than the audience.  

Almost everyone can agree that “only a moron can’t learn to breathe and relax.” This is an undeniable truth. We can get on board immediately.  By then saying that “hypnosis is simply learning to relax” our mind believes the following to be true:  Hypnosis is simple, fun, easy and if I can’t be hypnotized, I might be a moron.  This is the first suggestion of the hypnotist, and now the audience is primed and the hypnotist can find the best subjects.

The Power of Yes

Hypnotists know something that every public speaker should know: Small “Yeses” Lead to Larger “Yeses.”  Before the hypnotist asks the subject to dance like a chicken, they ask a series of other questions or requests to get the subject into a “Yes” state of mind.  It begins with asking subjects to take the stage.  Those who say “Yes” just made their first agreement.  The hypnotist goes on to make a number of moves that are easy to agree with in any social situation.  “Please sit here.”  “What is your name?” “Take a deep breath.”  “Close your eyes.”  Once the subject has agreed to come up on a stage, receives reaffirming applause and says “yes” to each request, they are far more likely to say “yes” to the more difficult requests.

Objects in motion tend to stay in motion, and thoughts are the same. Thoughts that flow in the direction of “no” tend to continue to want to say “no.” Thoughts that flow in the direction of “yes” tend to continue to want to say “yes.” Hypnotists know this. Sales people should know this. Public speakers rarely do. You can completely shift audience perspective with the opening of a presentation by taking advantage of undeniable truths, links and the power of yes!

Stay tuned for post with more specific examples of how I use these techniques in my own presentations, and how it can work for you!

Nudity and Public Speaking – Should I Picture My Audience Naked?

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Maybe?  The simple answer is do whatever works for you.

Wait a second…naked?  I thought it was “picture my audience in their underwear?” Um, sure, but naked is more fun, no?  (Keep in mind that I’m actually someone who has appeared on stage multiple times both in my underwear and naked…COMEDY!).

I did a little research on this and guess what, there are different opinions…big surprise.

If it works for you, it probably has to do with the message that you are sending to your subconscious.  (Whoa! Deep…) You are on the stage by yourself. You are vulnerable. The audience always looks more confident than you because they have it nice and easy. So, imagine them in a more vulnerable place, like naked (or in their underwear; boring) and you start to feel more connected, or at least on the same level.

Keep in mind that this is the same logic used by bullies in High School.  Lower the self esteem of others so that yours feel higher. However, I can’t see the harm when this is played out in the imagination.

Personally, I don’t have time to think about naked people.  I’d rather focus on sharing a conversation with friends. I arrive early, meet the audience, and then just talk with them. Either way, use what works for you. Test it. Naked, underwear, or sexy bikinis…whatever works!

The Public Speaker’s Diet (not a diet)

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For starters, this isn’t a diet.  It is just some suggestions based on my experience.  It won’t make you skinny or healthy, but it might support you in different areas of presenting.  “Should I eat before giving a presentation?” is too simple a question to ask.  So, what should public speakers eat?

Foods to Avoid:

Remember that the goal here is to combat stage fright, keep a clear mind, and feel light and energized when we deliver.

Caffeine – Please don’t close the page…I love coffee too.  I’m even guilty of drinking it before speaking – (Last night, latte, 30-min before stage time).  If your stage fright and presentation style is not disturbed by a frappa-frappa red-eye, then by all means, go for it.  On the other hand, if you are prepared, seasoned, and a superb improviser who still feels knocking knees sweaty palms, maybe it’s time to experiment with water instead of 5-hour energy shots.

Sugar and Carbs – Man, I sound like the devil right now.  Stay with me.  I’m not promoting the Atkins diet, or the removal of sugar and carbs from your meals.  Just try to avoid them within 12 hours (ok, 6 hours) before you speak.  Remember, you will already have the holy grail of energy pumping through you – Adrenaline!  Carbs break down into sugar, and sugar, like caffeine is a drug.  The energy/drug cocktail of caffeine, sugar, carbs and adrenaline will make you shake faster than an epileptic Chihuahua in front of a strobe light.

Dairy, Meats, and Processed Fats – I’m not a big fan of dairy to begin with.  It causes excess mucus (yuck) and it is heavy in the belly.  Stay away from milk, cheeses, and other dairy rich products.  Meat takes forever to digest and if you eat it before you perform, you are going to take the stage with a stomach full of heavy, undigested meat.  You will be as light an airy as Bessie the Cow.   That goes triple for processed fats such as chips, cakes, fast food or any other processed garbage that is cheap and fast.

Foods to Eat:

Finally!  Let’s get to the good stuff and munch away!

Water – Stay hydrated.  This is a marathon, not a sprint, and it begins as soon as you wake up on the morning of your presentation.  Drinking water all day will help you fight anxiety, dry mouth, and it will regulate your awareness of the need to urinate, which is super important because you don’t want to have to pee during a talk.

Almonds – Really, all nuts are great, but almond are my favorite.  Nuts are like little perfect energy boosters without the baggage.  They are easy to conceal, so during a long presentation you can always find a moment when the audience is distracted to pop a few into the mouth followed by a swig of water.

Vegetables – During the day of your presentation, eat as many and as much variety as you like.  Be careful with salad dressings.  Keep it simple and be smart.  During your presentation, go with short and thin to win; baby carrots, celery sticks, cucumber sticks, and anything that you can cut into a thin little stick and shove into a sandwich bag.

Tea – While there is debate about tea, I think non-caffeinated teas such as chamomile and jasmine are great for the night before a presentation.  They help us relax and get a good night sleep, and sleep is by far the most important preparation gift we can give ourselves.

Know Your Body

Ultimately, we are all different and unique.  The above suggestions are only guidelines that work for me.  If you work fine on a belly full of pork chops, then go for it.  Maybe you need a cup of Joe for that morning burst of energy before a presentation.  I’m not a nutritionist, and I don’t think that any one diet or meal plan works for everybody.  Consult with a physician before starting a new diet.  Talk to a nutritionist.  Read, read, and read some more.  Inform yourself, and pay attention to the most important diet tool of all – your body and mind.

Why Do You Love Public Speaking?

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I just got off stage and had to call my wife.  We almost always talk after I give a presentation. My legs are shaking. I’m sweating. I feel like Superman. The adrenaline is still coursing through me and I feel like I can do anything. I need to share.

Like always, before I take the stage I feel fear.  Once again, head on, I run through it in order to positively and actively help others.

My audience is skeptical at first.  They feel confused, silly, out of their comfort zone.  I reassure them that my message is supposed to appear perplexing at first and that their experience is totally normal.

By the hour and a half break, I have them.  They are committing.  They are laughing and connecting.  They are getting it and I can see the sparkle of enlightenment begin to fill their eyes.

By the end, they are with me. The resistance has long melted away. They trust me because I kept my promise.  Everything connects.  They leave thanking me with their applause and multiple handshakes.  They are changed.  Tomorrow will be different…and they didn’t even take a single note.

That’s why I love to speak.

Tell me why you love it…

How to Meditate Away the Stage Fright

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Meditation is an incredible tool for the performer.  Your religious faith or lack thereof makes no difference.  Your location makes no difference.  You income level makes no difference.  The only thing you must be able to do, is breathe.  The following is the quickest and easiest guide to meditation ever written:

1. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position.  Uncross legs and arms and fingers and toes.

2.  Close your eyes.

3. Breathe in slowly and deeply for a count of 4.

4. Exhale even slower for a count of 8.

5. Repeat 3 or 4 times and then just breathe in and out regularly without forcing the air.

6. Stay present and focused on each breath.

7. Thoughts will come into your mind.  Recognize them and let them go.

8. If you lose your place, return to the focused breath as soon as you become aware that your mind has drifted.

9. Continue for as long or as short as you feel comfortable.

10.  Try to not adjust your physicality once you begin, but if you must, do so without being self judgmental.

Meditation is extremely valuable for many reason.  This simple structure will serve both the seasoned performer and new speaker, as well as beginning and experienced meditators.

If you want to read more, please take a look at the following:

Yoga and Public Speaking

Real Happiness, by Sharon Salzberg

Stay Focused (but on what?)

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In my last post, I made the realization that my perception of my own stage fright was elevated as a result of focusing on the topic, particularly in this blog.  So, with that in mind, let’s create a list of things we can focus on to get stage fright out of mind.  This is another list that will continue, so please feel free to add your suggestions in the comments and I will add them to the list!

1.  The Audience – They are the reason we are here.  We should treat them as such.  Arrive early, meet them, say hello, introduce yourself.  It is much easier to speak with friends in a conversation than strangers while behind a podium.  Make them your friends!

2. Your Preparation – Focus on the fact that you put in the right amount of effort, and that you know your stuff even if you lose your place or have a small brain hiccup.

3. Improv Games – There are a number of fun improv games that you can play, even by yourself, to get your thoughts out of your head and to distract you from your focus of fear.

4. Stretch – Get into your body.  Find the parts that are tight and stretch them out.  Humans are the only creatures that have to take classes to learn how to stretch.  Doesn’t that seem a little funny to you?  Just move around and where you feel tight, stretch!

5. Listen to Music – We all have smart phone, or iPods, or other MP3 playing devices.  Make a presentation day sound track.  I like to listen to Pandora while cleaning the house.

6.  Clean the House – or do some other activity that will take your mind off of your performance and put it in the present moment.

7. Meditate or do Yoga – Stretch not only your body, but your mind in a way that allows you to connect deeper with yourself and your present moment.  The easiest way to meditate if you are not a meditator – just sit down, close your eyes, and focus on your slow breathing.  If your mind wanders, just refocus on the breathing.  That’s it!

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