Ever had that feeling that your point is just not being heard?
Once a week Mr.C, the kids and I go for “Family Breakfast”. This week my son needed to do his maths homework while we were waiting for food to arrive. His head was in maths when my husband said: “Mate, we have got to sort out your handwriting”.
(For context – his teachers over the last year or so have said this is something he could do with working on)
The 11-year-old immediately went on the defensive and the usual bickering then ensued.
The outcome? Our son won’t be changing his handwriting any time soon. My husband is frustrated that yet again he’s not been heard. And in a few weeks time, the same thing will happen again. In short – no one benefits and nothing changes.
Getting someone to buy into your point is something we have to do every day, whether you are on air, on screen, on stage, in a meeting, or just trying to get the other half to empty the bins.
And this one technique never fails: start by acknowledging your audience’s reality.
You know yourself that no one is going to change your mind about anything if they start talking to you while your head is in something else. And if you’re anything like me, my head is constantly in something.
Acknowledging the reality of the person you’re talking to allows their brain to come to you before you start getting into what it is you want to ask of them.
So if my husband had taken this tack:
“Is that your maths homework? How are you getting on with it?”
He would have engaged our son immediately. And after listening he may have been able to weave the conversation to something like:
“You know your teachers were talking about you improving your handwriting? Have you been working on it at all?”
“It’s just I can’t help but notice that you’re still struggling to get it neat – is there anything we can do to help it get better?”
Yes, it takes a little longer, but it has great results.
I had a builder that wasn’t answering my calls once, we had discovered a leak as a result of some work he had done, and I needed it fixing. He wasn’t returning my calls, and then I left this message:
“Hi. I know you’re likely to be super busy and the last thing you want is this old work to come back to haunt you, so if you could give me a call we can get it off your plate and out your hair as soon as possible”
He called me before the end of the day.
On stage you often see comedians start their sets by commenting on the location, whether that be the room itself or whether that be the town.
You can do the same in your presentation with something called a “Yes Set”. This is a simple technique that encourages the audience to agree with you too.
“I know you want to get home on time today”
Audience brain: “yes”
“And that you have seen a lot of people today”
Audience brain: “yes”
“So let me get straight to the point…”
Audience brain “yes”
The challenge is that you can’t see what your audience is doing, so really you are guessing as to their reality at the moment they are listening!
Sometimes it’s safe to assume. Often acknowledging your listeners’ reality is in capturing the time of day and the sense of the day. Saying hello and letting them know where they are, also acknowledges that that is their reality (eg “this is station FM / the pod podcast”).
Taking the time to introduce a topic with the listener experience is a clear way to ensure you are acknowledging their reality.
Rather than saying “There is a survey this morning that says meat is bad for you, so we have an expert here to talk about the challenge of getting people to stop eating it”
You might say “Imagine you are happily tucking into your favorite food, for someone to tell you that it’s significantly worse for you – would that stop you from eating it?”
“I am not good enough at this,” is what usually goes through your mind at a certain point of any creative project.
Usually right before the deadline.
When I am recording my Everyday Positivity links and I think “ugh why on earth is anyone going to like these?!”, or when I am halfway through a painting commission and I think “gah this isn’t how I wanted it to look! Why can’t I do it like Picasso?”, or most likely when I get to rehearsing my presentation so many times and I think “this just does not feel new enough – no one is going to like it!”
Inevitably on all counts, I make the piece, I show it to the audience and the feedback is great. I had nothing to worry about.
The problem: You get too close, and you get too saturated in it
In her book “Running Like A Girl” Alex Hemingsly recounts a dinner where her friends are asking her about the running she is doing for the book (for which the deadline is looming) and she loses it, having a massive strop about how she never wants to run again.
She got too close. She got too saturated.
Countless podcaster friends and event organiser friends and writer friends and broadcaster friends all tell of the moment where they think “I never ever want to do this again”!
They get too close. They get too saturated.
Inevitably they push through the feeling, and they create something wonderful with a huge adrenaline surge that makes them want to do it again (rather like giving birth where you forget the pain so you do it again – big THANKS hormones!)
An artist friend of mine once gave me some great advice about this feeling. She told me whenever I created a piece of art that I shouldn’t look at it for 6 weeks. “Art gets better in the drawers,” she said. Funnily enough writer Stephen King says something similar about the art of writing, in his book ‘On Writing’
If what you are doing feels like it’s rubbish, then it’s time to put some space and time between it. I record my Everyday Positivity a little in advance so when I hear it go out it could be a week since I recorded it. I am always pleasantly surprised by it – that it is much better than I thought it would be. Mostly because I have forgotten what I’ve said during the recording!
Space and time allow you to give yourself some useful feedback. Use it to get confident in your ability, to get self-aware, and improve your self-belief. Nine times out of ten a speaking client will watch themselves back and say “oh that’s not as bad as I thought it was going to be”. Space and time provide objectivity, it helps you to forget the nerves you felt in the cock-up, and look at how you could have dealt with it better.
So, if it’s not got better in the drawers, then you know you can work on the craft some more. If it has, you can stop berating yourself in the process.
At some point in history, someone told you that you were erm-ing too much. Someone did. Or maybe something happened to convince you that it was a bad thing. Or do we just know instinctively, because ERM is the word most people are afraid of?
Let’s get one thing clear: To “erm” is human. To “erm” repeatedly when you are trying to make a point, can become distracting.
As with all vocal or physical gestures, once you start repeating them THAT’s when they become annoying.
One word has the power to undermine your authority.
The presenter on the radio is telling a story about how he came out of his house to find someone had sprayed hummus over his car. “Hummus?” He said “That’s a very Waitrose style vandalisation! I have arrived” He let it hang… then said the one word that makes me scream at the radio…
I screamed at the radio.
As a presenter, you are an authority.
When you say “Anywaaayy” you are undermining yourself.
It’s one thing to be self-deprecating, or to lose track, but when you are telling your story the word “Anywayyy” gets right in the way.
The solution: just pause and move on to the next thing. Use something else to get you out – some audio, some music, or if you are presenting on stage a new slide.
It often transpires that the presenter hasn’t fully thought the story through, or they didn’t quite believe the story or what they are saying. Have confidence in your content. Make sure you do the prep. And remember just cos you can’t hear them laughing doesn’t mean they aren’t (and that goes for if you can see your audience or not).
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.