Here’s a public speaking challenge that may sound familiar to you:
I speak clearly in casual conversation, or when I’m under pressure and “on.” It’s those in between times where I tend to rush and blur my words.
There’s an answer to this dilemma that’s simple, although not always easy to apply:
If semi-pressured situations throw you — but you know how to turn “on” for the tough ones — turn “on” for the semi-tough scenarios, too.
Focus Is the Secret to “Being On”
A lot of people think that “being on” means turning up the charm, or the energy, or the volume, or the level of intensity that you bring to a communication.
All of that can be fine if it works for you (though you should be careful not to overwhelm your conversational partner). But as an introvert, I have a different definition of being “on.” It has to do with turning up my energy a little… but turning up my focus a lot.
How Do You Turn On Your Focus?
If you search for images of “focus,” you’ll find two things: athletes jumping up in victory, and steely-eyed businesspeople.
These are great metaphors for focus if they work for you — but what I’m suggesting that you focus on the person you’re talking to, not your own courage or determination
- Spend more time making eye contact
- Listen more intently, and silently repeat what you’re hearing to yourself (yes, mentally rehearse what the other person said, not what you’re about to say!)
- Try to relax your ego and let go of the pull (if you feel one) to be in charge of this interaction.
- Finally, match your conversational partner’s physical cues. If you’re speaking faster than she is, slow down. If you’re standing closer than he seems to like (you’ll know this is happening if he moves back), give him more room. If you’re speaking louder than she is, lower your volume. If he’s a formal speaker, cut down the slang; if he’s a very colloquial speaker, lose the three-dollar words.
Does that sound too hard to do? I promise that it will come easily if you’re really focused on the person you’re talking to.
As an example of what that means, look at this baby:
She’s approaching the strange new person who suddenly appeared in her world without ego, and with boundless curiosity. This allows her to copy the other person’s lead with interest — just to see what’s going to happen.
It’s true that, in a real-world conversation, the person you’re facing isn’t you, but aren’t you curious about what might happen if you match your conversational partner’s style?
The likely outcome is that some barriers will go down. You’ll both feel more aligned with the other person, and it will be easier to see what the two of you have in common.
And you can only achieve that with focus.
What Does Focus Have to Do With Being On?
IMHO, being on doesn’t mean the following things (that we often think it means):
I need to perform.”
I need to be perfect.”
Let me hit this person with my hard sell, or my passionate self-promotion, or my impeccable articulation, so that they’ll think I’m hot stuff.”
Instead, being on can mean,
Let me be fully present during this encounter.”
Let me help the person I’m talking to feel important.”
Let me make it easy for them to communicate with me.”
The Public Speaking Benefits of This Definition of “Being On”
How does adopting this definition of being on help you?
- It lowers the performance pressure on you, which will help you to relax;
- You’ll pick up more and better information about the other person, which will help you communicate more effectively with them; and
- If your conversational partner is doing more of the talking, he or she will think that you’re the most brilliant conversationalist in the world!
So, to repeat: Be on by putting your focus on the other person.
Try it, and let me know what you think!