Public Speaking: How do you prepare to truly connect?

Public Speaking.

It’s just a conversation. Even if all of the words go one way, you’re still just talking to your audience.

It’s inclusive, even collaborative.

It’s not fully pre-determined, even if all of the words are.

Tony Robbins outlines 6 key human needs:

Certainty; Variety; Significance; Connection; Growth; and Contribution.

Ponder these. An audience wants to feel involved, important, and to have developed somewhat from your presentation or speech.

If you can satisfy most of these needs then you’ll have done a pretty good job.

Which brings me onto the next point: The success of a presentation is all about how it resonates with the audience in the room. It’s not determined by how meticulously you prepare you slide-deck or agonise over your “script”- though, of course these can contribute to how well you’re able to relate to your audience. Your key message is important and must be entirely audience-orientated.

The point is that so much money, time and creativity is invested into preparing the material for a presentation whilst the delivery is too often left to the last minute.

From our experience coaching clients, there’s a tendency towards “psyching-up” before delivering. The focus being to ease nerves and get through it without any glitches.

It’s too individualistic. It’s all about you and your presentation, rather than your audience and their needs.

Let’s delve into a little physiological science- and 2 hormones in particular.

Testosterone and Oxytocin.

Bare with me. The findings might just turn how you prepare for a presentation on its head.

These are the 2 key hormonal drivers behind the “Fight or Flight” and “Tend and Befriend” responses to high levels of stress- which public speaking can often bring about.

Let’s take the more widely known response first:

Fight or Flight (The Basics)

  • Part of the brain called the amygdala triggers this physiological response to stress or a perceived threat
  • Your heart rate and blood pressure increase.
  • Your muscles tense up in preparation for quick action- In preparation to fight or flee the scene.
  • The response is driven by the release of testosterone, lowering the impact of the stress hormone, cortisol.

So, “psyching-up” exercises, like power poses, which increase testosterone levels and reduce cortisol, are great for building confidence, a sense of decisiveness and personal power in advance of a presentation.

However, too much testosterone, and that sense that you’re going into a “fight” situation, will get in the way of building a genuine connection with your audience.

It’s too aggressive and individualistic.

So, what then?

Let’s consider the lesser known “Tend and Befriend” response to stress:

Tend and Befriend (The Basics)

  • This is a physiological response to stress that is more prevalent in women- based on the research of social psychologist, Shelley Elizabeth Taylor in the mid 1990’s.
  • The “tending” is about protection of offspring
  • The “befriending” is about seeking out the social group for mutual defence.
  • These are affiliative, as opposed to aggressive, competitive or individualistic behaviours.
  • These affiliative behaviours are driven by the release of more oxytocin- the “social bonding” hormone.
  • Oxytocin also has the impact of lowering stress.

High levels of testosterone inhibit oxytocin release.

It strikes us that this natural response is to be celebrated more widely and aspired to by all of us.

In the context of public speaking, the more social bonding, connection and rapport building that goes on with your audience, stimulated by oxytocin release, the better.

So, with any audience, think less ME Vs THEM and more, “US.” We’re having a conversation, I’m not “doing” my presentation to you.

Apply this mindset shift and transform the way that you connect, build trust with and inspire your audiences. In the process, you will never have felt so comfortable, and “in flow” whilst presenting.

By Chris Wickenden, 25th June, 2019.


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