Recently a client invited me to train their leaders to conduct effective meetings. The seminar culminated with each person conducting a meeting with their classmates using their real world content. In addition to creating a clear agenda, they had to facilitate discussions using questioning techniques they learned. During the meeting one of their colleagues would choose to behave in a way that required the leader to address the behavior.
While the first presenter was conducting the meeting, I noticed that one of her colleagues was looking at her phone. The presenter continued running the meeting using all of the techniques, but she wasn’t handling the disengaged participant on the phone. At that point, without interrupting the flow, I approached the presenter and pointed to the person on her cell phone across from her and sat down. Within minutes she handled the phone problem.
We had a good laugh as we debriefed the meeting. The presenter admitted that she was so accustomed to people checking their phones at meetings that the rude behavior didn’t even register! She wasn’t present to her audience and what was really happening.
How often are we so focused on our agenda, remembering our points, choreographing our movements that we lose the most important part of communication and public speaking? PRESENCE. Your presence is the present you give to others. If you’re going through the motions and you don’t look into a person’s eyes, you won’t have a connection. When you’re present you can anticipate issues because you’ll see them coming. You build trust when you’re truly present. To be present, consider these four actions:
Slow Down. Speaking fast will cause people to disengage because they can’t follow the message. Slowing your speech will give you time to be in the moment instead of rushing ahead to some arbitrary finish line.
Focus on Your Breath. The best way to be in the moment is to breathe. Some speakers have “out of body” experiences. They finish their presentation and don’t remember what they said. Begin with a few deep breaths to bring you back into your body. Breathing will ground your energy so that you can be present for the audience.
Make an eye connection. Don’t scan the group. It takes more than quick eye contact to be present. Look at individuals long enough to finish a thought. When you make an eye connection with an individual in a group, they’ll feel like they’re the only person in the room.
Listen. You can’t listen if you’re not present. Listening is one of the most difficult skills. It requires attention, understanding, evaluating. Listening is part of stage presence. A keynote speaker may think that listening doesn’t apply when the presenter is giving a speech. But listening on stage involves watching body language, feeling changes in energy, and hearing sounds of engagement or boredom.