I recently had the opportunity to work with a high-level financial manager who oversees billions of investment dollars for large corporations. I was called in to help prepare the leader for major presentations to internal and external audiences. This man is worth millions, but he felt worthless as a speaker. You see, he had experienced a few presentations in which he wasn't prepared, nor did he understand the fundamentals of connecting with his audiences. As a result, the talks fell flat, and he lost confidence. Part of building up his confidence involved helping him to believe in himself once again.
What Your "Self-Talk" Says About You
How you think about your role as a spokesperson for your service, product, company, or cause will have an enormous impact on your success. You may believe deeply in your message, but you also have to believe in your ability to deliver it.
I once worked with a woman who knew more about a particular government program than anyone on the staff. This program helped thousands of people improve their living conditions, but there were many who didn't know about it. Her superiors called me in to help her develop a more effective presentation style.
The woman was absolutely terrified of speaking in public. In fact, she didn't want a video camera to be in the room, nor did she ever want photographs taken of herself presenting. The woman had a lifelong fear of speaking after her parents and teachers verbally demeaned her, beginning at a young age.
Her transformation had to start in her own head, with the way she talked to herself. I began by getting this particular client to tell me about the program she administers.
"Sounds like you know a lot about the program," I said.
"Yes, I do," she said bashfully.
"Does anyone in the office know as much you as do?"
"No, they don't."
"Does anyone in the district, county, or state know as much you do?"
"So, you're the expert!" I exclaimed.
"Yes, I guess you can say I am," she responded.
"So why are you keeping this material to yourself? Shouldn't you share this information with others? You said yourself most people don't know these programs exist."
"I guess so. I never really thought of myself as someone people would want to listen to," she acknowledged.
And so we began. No video, no slides, no formal presentation. We started by changing the words this woman used to describe herself, her self-talk. What do you say to yourself when you're presenting? Do you tell yourself that you have an exciting message that will change the lives of the people in your audience, or do you knock yourself down by saying nobody's interested in your subject and in you as a speaker? If you hope to win over your audience, you need to win yourself over first.
Few terrific speakers were born that way. Many great leaders who are considered incredible communicators had big challenges to overcome (both Cisco's John Chambers and Virgin's Richard Branson are dyslexic, and yet they're among the most persuasive communicators in the world). Others learned English as a second language and simply weren't exposed to the education, tools, or resources we associate with great speakers. Some, like the financial manager I mentioned at the top of the column, had lost confidence in themselves.
But nothing would stop any of these people from fulfilling their destinies. That's the point. They knew their ability to powerfully communicate their visions would catapult them to the top of their chosen professions. As for that financial manager, we restored his confidence in no time and he went on to wow his audiences.
Most important, he was genuinely excited to share his message again, and he looked forward to speaking appearances instead of dreading them. Once you change the way you see yourself as a speaker, the speaker your audience sees will change!
It's Your Turn
Thank you for all the great feedback on this column. In 2006, I would like to hear directly from you. Please feel free to send me examples of men and women you admire as great business communicators. I can profile some of your suggestions in future columns.
In addition, if you have faced professional communications challenges, I would like to hear from you -- we can tackle the subjects from time to time. Send an e-mail to me at email@example.com. Have a happy and prosperous 2006!