1. Gratitude is always the best place to begin.
Any and every gig is an honour. Thank the host, and thank the audience for the possible mountains they moved to show up and listen to you.
2. Being prepared is an act of love. And intelligence.
Even if you can improve with the best of them, do a complete run through in advance, and a written key points list of your talk. I like to do a verbal run through in the tub the day before (the tub is my second office, really,) and I do a key points list the morning of the event.
3. Lead with your best stuff.
Make an entrance. Put forth your Big Point right away. Start with your best story, your funniest joke, your guiding theory. Don’t make them wait to see you shine. Grab ‘em from the get-go.
4. Know who you’re talking to.
A co-presenter and I gave a talk to a group of underprivileged single moms. My co-presenter talked about shopping at Tiffany’s and Saks. They turned on us. It was ugly. Along this same line…
5. Research your audience.
Guy Kawasaki is great at this. At a presentation in Vancouver last year, he sported a Vancouver Canucks jersey, made some good jokes about the event organizers, and told some personal stories that related to the organization’s mission.
6. Actively respect your audience.
A playwright friend of mine commented on an actor’s performance: “You could tell she didn’t like the character that she was playing. And you’ve always got to find something to love about who you’re playing to make it real.” Same goes for your audience. You won’t always be presenting or pitching to your tribe, to people you “like”—find the common ground and put your love there.
7. Never, ever admit to fatigue.
I heard a very popular author open his talk, to a packed theatre, with “I’m quite tired, I’ve been on the road for a few days.” Instant downer. It made us feel guilty for keeping him up past his bedtime, or ticked that we spent $50 to hear a jet-lagged psychologist. I’ve done gigs on two hours of sleep, in the middle of a professional tragedy, stoned on Sinutab. You get up there and you SMILE, no matter what. You can collapse when you get off stage.
8. Stay in the lead as long as you’re on stage.
A few weeks ago I was speaking to a ballroom of university business students at The Four Seasons Hotel. As I was leaving the stage, a woman at the back of the room raised her hand. I’d just handed back my mic, but I gestured to take her question. She proceeded to tell me that I was dressed like a slob and not setting a good example to the students about personal branding. Not kidding. (And I looked HOT, BTW.) You could have heard a pin drop. Heckled! First time for everything.
“And how have you come to be here tonight?” I asked her. I figured she sneaked in. She mumbled something about being a mentor, and then she made a dash for the door, carrying her various tattered shopping bags. “Well,” I said to the stunned audience. “Now you have an example of what elegant is and what elegant isn’t. And that’s branding.” I didn’t exhale until I got in my car.
9. Plan your finish.
Wrapping up can be the hardest part of a talk because you’ve either used up all of your good stuff, you’ve gone over time, or you have space to fill. Hold on to your closing gold nugget so you can leave on a high note either way.
10. Believe that people are rooting for you.
It’s vastly true that every single person watching and listening to you wants you to be amazing. They want a great experience. No one likes to see someone bomb. They really do want you to win.
11. Go easy on the apologies.
This is a tricky one, because elegance is the numero uno concerno. But things like, “Sorry to keep you waiting,” “My apologies for the technical snafu,” can create more snags in your fabric. Sometimes, most of the time, it’s better to just keep going. An ice skater doesn’t apologize for slipping. She keeps skating, distracting you with the next great move.
12. Dress up.
When you’re on stage being well dressed says, “I cared about you enough to polish it up.” Sunday best.
13. Affirm, pray, focus, ommm.
Whether it’s a staff meeting you’re leading or a concerto performance, a short pre-show ritual pulls your energy into your center. Before I take the stage I say this quickie prayer, “Help us shine.” That’s it. That covers me, the audience, and the world in one fell swoop.
14. Ask questions.
Frame your stories into questions and you’ve created a conversation.
15. Know how you want to feel when you’re done your presentation.
Ultimately, you can’t really control what the audience does and if try to, you’re likely to fumble. I’ve had what I thought were hilarious stories that didn’t get so much as a giggle. And I’ve had low-engagement audiences that swarmed me after I got off stage. You just don’t know.
What you can aim for is how you want to feel. And when you anchor into that feeling, your energy gathers a momentum and you get into the magical flow.
When I leave the auditorium, I want to feel like I connected, like I was divinely feminine, and innovative–on my personal edge. And if I did my best to be those things, then I can sleep well, even if I forgot to say thank you, or I tripped over a speaker, or got heckled by a bag lady.
P.S. All-important style tips:
: Wear a good bra. You know, 80% of women are wearing the wrong fit of bra, right? Well, when that happens on stage, it’s tragic. While we’re on the topic…
: Tits up. You heard me. Lift your girls up and your entire posture changes.
: False eyelashes. Don’t be afraid of them. When you’re being photographed, the small touch of glam can give you just the right amount of voom voom.
: Always have a back up outfit.
: High heels are a must. Because, it’s not how you feel, it’s how you tower.
: Shave. A 5 o’clock shadow looks great when you roll over in the morning, but in the spotlight or on camera, you do not look suave, you look like a bum. Or like George Michael in 1991.
: The pants. It’s all about excellent fitting pants. Get a tailor.