Several years ago, a telephone company promoted a calling plan that allowed you to talk to your closest friends and family for free. It was a great deal, and many people took advantage of it. Why?
Not just because it’s a money saver, but also because we love talking to these people! We’re comfortable with them. We trust them and we love them. We get to be ourselves with them.
Who do we not like to talk to? Strangers. When you were young, I’m sure your mother told you, “Don’t talk to strangers!” Good advice for a child, but not for a presenter. Many of your presentations will be given to people you don’t know very well, but you don’t have to feel that they are “strange” to you. In fact, if you feel like your audience is made up of strangers, it puts you at a huge disadvantage. It’s hard to be yourself when you’re uncomfortable with your audience.
So what can you do to give yourself an advantage? You can get on the “friends and family plan” with every audience, even (and especially) with the audiences that appear anything but friendly!
Consider this interesting study. Researchers showed two groups of men pictures of two different women. The first group saw a picture of someone who could easily have been a supermodel, while the second group saw a picture of someone who would be considered somewhat physically unattractive. Each man was instructed to call the lady he’d seen in the picture for a ten-minute phone conversation. The men in the first group were very excited to call this stunning woman they had seen. They looked forward to it, and they savored every minute of anticipation.
The conversations were recorded, and the researchers could hear the excitement in the men’s voices. They could also hear excitement in the lady’s voice. As much as the men were enjoying the conversation, she was enjoying it just as much. The second group of men wasn’t so enthusiastic, though, as they imagined talking with a woman many would have considered physically unattractive. These men considered their upcoming phone callto be just a job they had to do. Their conversations were also recorded, and you could hear that they weren’t into the call at all. You could hear that it was a struggle for the lady, too. Nobody was having a good time.
In both groups, the men’s excitement level transmitted to the person they called, and it was reflected back to them. When the men were eager to talk, so was she. When the men were uninterested, so was she. But here’s the twist: both groups of men were calling the exact same woman! You see, neither photograph the men had seen was accurate. The images had caused them to form a mental picture of her and how excited they should be to talk to her. This happens with all presenters, too. We create mental pictures of our audiences. We see them as either attractive and friendly, or unattractive and foreboding. Whichever picture you choose has a major impact on your performance.
Two of the biggest fears human beings have are being rejected and being deemed unworthy. As presenters, we are constantly asking ourselves, Will they like me? Am I good enough? When you think you have an audience of strangers that is going to judge you, it’s hard to be at your best. You’ll worry too much about it, and your performance will suffer.
But with friends and family, we don’t have these worries. We know our friends and families like us, and we know we’re good enough with them. So I suggest you play the mental game of thinking of everyone in your audience as a friend or family member. It doesn’t mean you have to invite them over to your house for the holidays; you just have to treat them and feel about them the same way you would a great friend. This may take a leap of faith to do, but trust me, it’s one of the most powerful techniques you can use. This technique changed my life as a presenter, and I know it will change yours, too!