Putting Your Best Face Forward

By Judy Carter

Whenever you have to give a presentation, whether it’s a job interview, a sales presentation, or a toast at your daughter’s wedding, someone always tells you to “just be yourself.”  When people tell you to “be yourself” - they’re picturing you as you are when you’re among close friends: relaxed, comfortable, maybe even funny and charming. And in that setting, feeling relaxed and comfortable, among friends, it’s only natural that you “have fun”.

The problem is that few people can summon up that version of themselves in such a very different setting. Staring at an audience of a hundred people at a wedding toast, or at a stone-faced group of executives in a boardroom is a lot different than sitting down at a dinner table with a group of close friends.

It takes a lot of energy to put on a mask of what we think we should be like when we’re in front of others. But how do we get to that place of authenticity when we’re in a place where we can’t help but feel that others are judging us? The secret is get to a place where you don’t have to pretend, where you really do feel confident and comfortable in what you’re doing.

That isn’t something you can do with tips someone will give you right before you step onto a stage or into a boardroom - it’s a process of learning and applying techniques to steadily improve your performance. Here are some proven techniques (and tips) to get you started:

Get a coach: Even the coaches need a coach. Nobody does it by himself or herself, and there’s no reason they should. If you’re going on job interviews, find a professional to give you some coaching. You might be losing jobs because of something you are doing that you are not even aware of. Or, if you have to do an important presentation, get feedback beforehand from someone you trust who can give you specific advice. Possibly it will be to take that nose ring out of your nostrils.

When things go wrong - admit it!: Standup comics use this technique all the time. They “call” the situation. If you say something really dumb, you can salvage the situation by saying, “Lets see, what other stupid things can I say.”

Jon Stewart uses this technique all the time on Comedy Central’s Daily Show. When things don’t get a laugh, he looks right at the camera and says, “Awkward!” Nobody is perfect, and trying to be can read as arrogance. “Calling” what is going on can save the day.

Even when you are giving a speech, it’s a dialogue: So many speakers give their speech as if nobody is in the room with them. They are “Robo-speakers” running on automatic pilot. Whether you are giving a speech or reciting a memorized list of your accomplishments at a job interview - you have to leave room for people to react. And when others react (or don’t react) you need to respond. A way to get a reaction is to ask questions. Good speakers will ask rhetorical questions, “How are you all doing?”

If you are in front of a large group, it’s not a good idea to ask any questions that require anything other then a “yes” or a “no.”  “Did you all see the football game last night?”  That’s better than, “Which game did you watch last night?”  You need to be in charge, and the last thing you want is someone yakking more than you.

Don’t “wow” your audience: When speakers first start, they often feel the need to be “great.”  That usually means being something bigger and better than just them. Some even gesture wildly, speak overly loud and pace furiously. In show business there is a saying, “less is more,” which means that sometimes, just simply standing in one place, no movement, and focusing on your message will create a more powerful presentation than trying to create phony energy.

Discover annoying habits and eliminate them: Some people say the work “like” in every sentence, or some laugh a fake laugh after each of their jokes. Videotape yourself and see what annoying habits you have. While you may not notice these things, the audience is going to notice and is going to get annoyed.  To cure yourself, do it repeatedly before your interview or speech. This will create awareness of it.

If you follow these suggestions, you’ll find it much easier to “be yourself” and “have fun” - since your presentations will be running more smoothly and you’ll feel the resulting confidence that will let you relax without the need to put on any artificial persona.

Read other articles and learn more about Judy Carter.

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