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.
What Does It Mean to “Be On”? Focus!
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. They focus on things like,
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.”
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?
First, turn on your attitude. Instead of thinking about impressing the other person, try deciding
I will be fully present during this encounter.”
I will help the person I’m talking to feel important.”
I will make it easy for them to communicate with me.”
You can accomplish all of these goals if you:
- 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.
- And 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 they are, lower your volume. If they’re a formal speaker, cut down the slang; if they speak casually, lose the three-dollar words.
Does that sound too hard to do?
I promise, it will come easily if you focus on the other person!
Use Your Natural, Childlike Curiosity to Focus
The baby in this picture is approaching a “strange new person” without ego, and with boundless curiosity.
Genuine interest, openness, and focus allows you 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 you can still be curious about this new person — and eager to find out 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.
The Public Speaking Benefits of Interpersonal Focus
How does adopting this approach to 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 be on by putting your focus on the other person.
Try it, and let me know what you think!
Buy 100 Top Public Speaking Tips: The Book!
In 25 years of speaker coaching, I’ve helped my individual speaker coaching clients develop their strengths and skills to become authentic and effective communicators.
Along the way, I’ve developed tips for everything from small talk to speaking up in meetings, from managing fear to making an impact.
And now, I’ve shared it all in 100 Top Public Speaking Tips: The Book. This beautifully designed PDF booklet is searchable, clickable, and categorized, so that you can find what you need, instantly.