When I start many of my video calls I am met with a face of fear as the mic their end isn’t working and they can’t hear me. Then there is a lot of flapping while I am mouthing the instructions at them. Then sometimes people call for the resident tech person and there is more flapping as I watch them blush their way through explaining what they need. Then they find the one button I had been trying to tell them to use and it all of a sudden works, and we are all very relieved.
I see this all the time. Like when I watch people try to present in meeting rooms. You are guaranteed that the console NEVER works when you need it to. You get your laptop out, find the lead you think it is, and you plug it in. “It worked yesterday,” you say to the team. But this time it doesn’t work. So you flap because this is the start of the meeting and you need to get on and you have NO IDEA what to do. You call the resident tech person who sorts it in 2 easy clicks of a button, and everyone is relieved.
Whatever situation you are in, when you speak in public there will be technology to deal with. But for a lot of people, this is a real barrier. Panicking when you see a sound desk in a radio studio can stop you from achieving your dream to be a broadcaster. Not knowing what to do with the PowerPoint set up can add to your nerves before your presentation. And not knowing how to set up your camera can mean that YouTube Channel is never going to happen.
Here is your 4 step guide to becoming a tech whiz;
1. Be Positive and Roll With It
Online Business Guru, Marie Forleo says that when it comes to technology it’s all about “Attitude Not Aptitude”.
Often we tell ourselves we are no good at technology because when it goes wrong we don’t know what to do. More often than not it then goes wrong. Let’s get real though: Tech is bound to go wrong, it’s probably not all your fault, but the solution isn’t coming any quicker if you panic! Just roll with it.
I remember when I was sat upstairs at BBC Radio 6 Music and a pre-recorded show misfired the news. We ran downstairs and started troubleshooting. The best thing for us to do was let the Emergency CD kick in. We all stood there calmly as the silence played for long enough for the CD to kick in. Those few seconds felt like an age! I remember feeling a surge of calm control as the music kicked in and we were able to then work out what to do next.
Before you knew it we were back on air and all was well again. The listeners barely noticed.
It taught me that staying calm and not flapping is the most productive state you can be in, in that situation.
2. Have a Plan B
So the slides stop working in your presentation, or the audio won’t play. Use it as an excuse to tell another story while it’s being sorted. Or go and grab a drink. Or have a line ready for you to get back on track. As part of your prep beforehand, have a plan B for what happens if something falters. Remember if you are comfortable, then the audience is comfortable.
Make sure you always have your presentation on a memory stick, audio on your phone, a Bluetooth speaker, spare batteries – whatever it is that means you can cover for the fact that the tech in the location isn’t working.
3. Keep Checking
If you are filming or recording a podcast with a guest, never leave without checking the audio has recorded. I have had presenters go and record the interviews of their life,
notably with Madonna and with Arctic Monkeys. They return to the station to find they pressed stop instead of record! Keep checking throughout that you are recording and at the end check it’s recorded and sounds OK before you leave the building.
4. Learn It
Take some time to get familiar with the equipment around you. We rely so much on the settings being right and hoping that the tech will just work. Get your resident engineer or tech expert to show you how to do it once and for all. Draw pictures, ask questions. Gather an understanding of inputs and outputs and you’ll find you can troubleshoot a lot of situations.
Also, know your cables. Last week I got a projector with an Ethernet cable plugged into it as if it was an input. I couldn’t get it out! It was in the wrong hole!
And knowing the difference between a phono and a jack will mean you can get the engineer to help you – because you then know some of their language!
Tech is easier than you think, and a bit of training on the fundamentals can really help you in the future.
On that note: If you are a podcaster or budding radio producer/presenter who wants to get a really good grounding in sound, AND get your audio to sound high quality then check out Tech Train 2.0 that I am putting on with Broadcast Engineer Ann Charles in December in Manchester.
It’s for women in radio/podcasting who want to feel like they know what they are doing, and it will help you become completely unflappable. Find out more and get your tickets here.
And have you ever wondered why your other half is defending themselves even before you’ve asked them the simplest question?!
The answer is in …..Your Voice
Your impact is defined by how you use your voice, in any environment. Getting it right will change your life.
So, here are some tips to “change your life”
1. Pause and Emphasise
There is a technique called the Hudson Technique where you learn to end a sentence, pause, and emphasise the beginning of the next sentence. Letting your thoughts and words run into each other is exactly how to lose your listeners. This is especially true when you are moving between topics. So to keep your listener’s attention you have to start with an energetic word or phrase to indicate “this is new”. And you can use the power of the pause to build up the emphasis.
You will well know that the one thing that gets your attention most these days is silence. Think about what it is that makes you actually look at the radio?!
2. Sing Song
Your voice has a natural melody. Except when we are under pressure (like in a talk) we can lose the melody or over use the melody entirely. In his TEDx Talk Vocal Coach Roger Love talks about the fact that staying monotonous means your audience just knows what is coming. He talks about embracing the melody in “going up the stairs” and “coming down the stairs”. How one implies happy, and one implies sad.
You can watch it here:
3. Use Your Face to be Believable
When you are doing a serious pieces: frown and it will make you sound serious. When you are doing a happy piece, or you need energy: smile – you won’t believe the difference in a smile! And then there is just plain believing in what you are saying. The reality is that you will have to talk about something you either don’t really fully understand, or don’t care about. At this point you must deploy self reflection. Engaging with either what you know to be true about what you are talking about, or engaging some empathy around what you are talking about, can help you to believe in what you are saying.
4. Self Care
Your voice is a muscle, that is part of your body, and it needs to be cared for. Some people when they get overworked and overtired – it shows in their voice. The vocal cords take a hammering. I’m not suggesting that you start getting all diva honey and lemon over your voice. I am suggesting that you can remember to rest, to stand tall, to allow your lungs the space to breathe, to breathe properly, to stay hydrated and one final tip to keep your vocal cords in check: hum. Hum around the house, and wherever you can. The vibrations are supposed to help keep the muscles strong and lubricated!
Use your voice to create impact and engage your audience, and you can sweep them off their feet.
I used to be the boss of a freelancer who was a master persuader, they regularly got what they wanted from others.
I was often on the receiving end of personal requests that usually went like this: “Please could I leave a bit early today because I have to get home to receive a delivery of some drawers” “Yeh sure” I would reply. “Please could I skip the post show meeting tomorrow because I have to get over to another meeting at 1030.” “Yeh sure” I would reply. I would let the rest of the team know and they would roll their eyes that I had said yes yet again, and I would find myself trying to convince them that going home for a delivery was important. (I can feel you rolling your eyes too). You won’t believe the trick this freelancer was using… I’m currently training to become an NLP Practitioner, and I’ve reached the module on the language of persuasion. One of the key ways to persuade is to communicate the cause and effect of what it is you are trying to achieve. The most powerful word you can use then is: BECAUSE.
Read it again: “Please could I leave a bit early today because I have to get home to receive a delivery of some drawers”
“Yeh sure” I would reply. A study looked at people trying to push in a queue for the photocopier. If you just asked to go before someone they would say no. If you asked to go ahead of someone “because, and then gave your reason” you would inevitably end up further up the queue. It’s worth noting that the reason often is irrelevant… hence of course I was saying “yeh sure”.
When talking to an audience, your boss, new clients, any one you are trying to persuade, using “Cause and Effect” can help you then get what you want from them.
Communicating the benefit to your audience will always help them along. So, if you are trying to get your audience to enter a competition: “Text me now because I have a <prize> you could win…” “Text me now so that you are in to win…” “When you text in, then you could win….” Side note: When my kids were little they were taught to sell “because” as their first “tricky word” with this mnemonic: Big Elephants Always Understand Small Elephants. It always makes me smile.
Are you finding that you aren’t having the impact you want with your audience?
It could be that you are not using your voice with impact. You will have noticed how hard it is to listen to someone who talks in one monotonous tone; loud, high or low. In fact sometimes with no intonation it sounds like the speaker does not care about their subject. This is a sure fire turn OFF for the audience.
I am sure you’ve heard that low vocal tone has more gravitas than high vocal tone. I am sure someone has said to you that you need to slow down your speech to gather impact. These are things we hear about all the time, but actioning it is difficult.
There are more factors though: I also include projection, pausing, the sing song in your voice and emphasis in your presentation to create impact.
There is one podcast I always recommend to my clients as a fine example of how to use your voice.
Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History
Dan Carlin is one of the podcasting stalwarts, one of the greats. His podcast episodes can stretch up to 5 or 6 hours, of just him speaking. He tells stories from history, using artefacts and evidence so that the voices of the past come alive. He does a great job of putting the stories of the past into your world, so they feel relevant.
But my favourite thing about his presentation style is his use of his voice.
Have a listen, and note how he pauses, his energy, his pace (he speeds up and slows down), the way he puts emphasis on certain elements. His work is a masterclass.
Here’s The Thing: Ira Glass – this specific podcast has Alec Baldwin talking to This American Life overlord Ira Glass talking about how long it took him to find his voice, and how to be authentic rather than to take on that “NPR” style. Listen to that episode here.
I hear this a lot. Often it’s something that’s said to avoid a difficult conversation, or an uncomfortable situation in the office. It’s a limiting belief that can mean inauthentic relationships are formed, and that progress on a project is halted.
A few weeks ago I used Emma Willis’ example of holding Roxanne Pallet to account as a “comfortable confrontation”. Emma used some of the techniques I talk about in this article.
For radio presenters “I don’t do confrontation” is the reason given for not holding guests or contributors to account. It’s understandable to feel that way, as you are often thankful for contributors and guests being on your show. Asking difficult questions feels unfair, out of character or ungrateful.
The reality is that difficult conversations are likely to happen every single day on air, or in the office. Here are some of the tips I give to help you through that unavoidable awkwardness, and to get the best from the guest.
1. Make sure you know what you want
Make sure you have a good understanding of what you want out of the conversation before you enter in to it. Set your intent. It might be to be kind, or to get the answers that your audience (or you) deserve. As a result, you will have to ask the question that plays devil’s advocate to get the answer you want.
When interviewing someone on the radio about a Cheese Festival the question: “So what are the reasons people like cheese?” Would get you so far. But “why are you celebrating cheese, it’s just a silly piece of dairy isn’t it?” Could get you a stronger, more interesting answer.
2. Check your language
If going at it directly like this is too uncomfortable, you can distance yourself in your language to take the emotion and the personal attack out of it.
Firstly – argue the idea, evidence or behaviour, not the person. The minute you go to personal language like “you’re an idiot for thinking what you think” you have lost the productivity of the conversation.
A therapist of mine suggested to me to use the word “I” in conflict, rather than “you”. In broadcasting I am constantly telling people to use the word “you” as a way to engage their listener. It’s the most powerful word you can use for this. But in the context of difficult conversations it can be a useful tool to use I: “What I am seeing is <example> behaviour which is implying to me…” rather than “You are a really difficult person”.
On the radio it works to use phrases like “Some people might say that this is a silly Festival for Cheese – is it?” or. “What do you say to someone who says that thinks this Festival is a silly idea?”
3. Agreeing is Partial (not Impartial)
I recently spent a day coaching new radio presenters, practicing their interview technique. Their brief was to remain impartial. Presenter after presenter interviewed their contributor consistently grateful, constantly agreeing with them and guess what – it was dull. That may be unfair, but I didn’t really learn anything from the interviews. It is a common mistake to think that impartiality sits in agreeing. It’s actually the opposite.
In the on air interview, or if you are hosting a panel, it is your job to make sure you are covering the information from all angles. Using the language above (e.g. “Some people might say…”) you can put forward an opinion that may not be yours, without having to attach yourself to it. This can make the feeling of confrontation a little easier.
My husband really enjoys a debate. One time we agreed that we would go out on a family day out at 11am. At about 10.30 he and his aunt got locked into a debate about politics of some sort. We all sat there till 1pm till they came to their conclusion.
I mean, he REALLY loves a debate.
I used to hate it. My skin would crawl. I’d feel shame and discomfort. I would want to hide. And let’s be honest, no one really wants to sit around for 2 hours while you’re waiting for a heated discussion to be finished!
But then I wondered what would happen if I leaned in to it. He loves it, I would be gutted if he dismissed one of the things I love. So I decided to try joining in, rather than shutting it down, and use it as a means of practice. For some people they like the opportunity to intellectually spar, and it’s not about winning or losing, it’s about learning.
Even so, it’s so hard not to get emotional, or take it personally! But with him, I am in a safe space. He knows me, I can get my words wrong, I can correct myself, I can practice what it is to be devil’s advocate, to call things out I don’t agree with. The outcome is I am getting better at forming my words and questions in what can be an emotional state & I am better at speaking up in other situations too. And, I think my husband and I have actually found a place to connect a little more.
So find someone to practice with.
I have had to fire people, I have had to deal with getting people to realise they are making mistakes, and I have had to deal with conversations about my own work and behaviour that have been really tough. In every situation the one piece of advice that has helped is this: it’s supposed to feel uncomfortable.
For years I thought there was “a way” to make the uncomfortable, comfortable. There are ways to make things less uncomfortable, but some conversations are always going to be difficult.
Once I embraced the discomfort, I was able to come to terms with understanding that conflict can be a route to growth, that it was something to practice and commit to getting to a more interesting place.
“Just be yourself” is the ultimate in advice when it comes to presenting.
What happens when you know you need your message to be heard, but your authentic self is to be introverted and softly spoken?
What if you are presenting on a music station, and you are a massive sports fan?
What if you are presenting to the board? Do they really want to know that you struggled to find a clean pair of pants this morning?
Being advised to be authentic can open a can of worms, but the desire from audiences for “real people” is not going away. The popularity of TV shows like Love Island and Big Brother show this. The rise of the internet broadcaster (You Tubers / Influencers) is rooted in the sort of authenticity that is lost in the linear broadcasting of Radio or TV.
There are things I regularly talk to my clients about with how to deal this…
1) Be clear on “you”
During your show/presentation prep, write down the 5-10 things you know to be true about you. These are things you love, things you hate, things you are passionate about. These are the things that make you you, and make you human, and they can inform and appear in your content. You can also ask yourself “what are the things I know to be true about the topic I am presenting about?”
Example: I am a massive learner, and I love stories, so my presentations always include something I have learned from an experience, or from someone else.
2) Be clear on who you are speaking to
Engaging an audience is as much about understanding them as it is about understanding you. I know it’s not easy to read people’s minds but you can make a few assumptions. They are of course human (refer to point one). But if it is the board you are speaking to the board, you will have to work out what it is they will be expecting and align yourself with that.
3) Don’t Shoe Horn
Being authentic means being authentic. If you are trying to be authentic for authentic’s sake you won’t get the response that you desire from the audience. Make sure your content, and your stories, fit with what you are talking about. If you are doing a formal presentation, like reading the news, or presenting to the board, there will be opportunities for some personality to come out.
There is a growing trend to admit your imperfections at the moment, it’s a really effective way to engage the audience, and “be authentic”. See the popularity of online sites like The Midult. Self-deprecation, and admissions of your flaws is a guaranteed way to connect with your audience.
But this can be confused with what it is to be authentic, and sometimes too much self deprecation sounds insincere and needy. If you are on stage, screen or on air, you still need to hold your authority.
Positive reflection, observation and aspiration are all still engaging factors. For example, if I am in my true authentic space, there are parts of me that are obsessed with podcasts, self development, CrossFit and I am a bit of a show off. If I was worried about imperfections only, I wouldn’t share some of the more positive, enthusiastic elements of myself. And nothing is more engaging than enthusiasm.
5) Don’t get Stuck In Detail
The thing about authenticity in presentations is that you often don’t have enough time to tell the full story as it happened, with the nuances that went with it. Also getting lost in detail, can lose your audience.
I would love to tell you in detail about the time that I lost a friend’s kid (I did) but I only have a few minutes to do so. So when I tell the story I pull out what I call “the story beats”. These are the most important parts of the story. The bits I remember most: the hideous call to her parents to tell them she’d vanished, the moment we found her, the moment I turned around and she wasn’t there, the fact we were in a huge park, and that the minutes felt like hours. When those beats are put in the right order, I have definitely turned a long story short, and I can add the detail where I need to.
Authentic presenting is about taking all the parts of you and working out which ones will work with the audience you are talking to and the environment you are working in. It is not about baring your soul to everyone, in depth.