Master Presenting

Stop The Awkwardness—Present with Confidence

Commit to Your Bit: Deciding to Believe in Your Voice

This is a guest post from my chum Joshua Waldman, king of job-hunting and social media and author of Job Searching with Social Media for Dummies.

JoshuaWaldman_IMG68_Glossy8x12I’m not a comedian, but I know I need to be funnier in my talks. That’s why I hired a comedian last year.

I saw auGi tell a story at a show a few years back and my wife and I laughed the entire time. It was about how he broke into his own high school and got caught, and interrogated by the cops. He wasn’t crass making things funny by dropping the F-bomb. The stories he told and the way he told them were interesting, captivating, and full of comedic tension.

He gripped us from the moment he walked on stage wearing the same outfit he wore to break into his school, to the moment he delivered his final punch line getting a standing ovation.

So I got auGi’s email from a friend and asked him if he would make me funny. Maybe he likes a good challenge, so he said “yea”.

Actually, what he said was, “I may have a rather large forehead, but I think I still might be able to help you.”

The first thing he asked for was my script. I only had an outline. Nope. He wanted to see what I was saying word for word. So I wrote up my keynote speech and sent it to him via Google Docs, very unscript-like, by the way.

A week later, I get something back. It was filled with gangster voices, Japanese voices, doofus voices, pauses, hand gestures, staging, vocal variations and scene changes.

And the email had only three phrases in it.

  1. Love your audience
  2. Command the room
  3. Commit to the bit

A “bit” is a small piece in your presentation, it’s a micro story, a joke, a sequence. It’s the two minute Jon Stewart segment making fun of a political hypocrite. It’s the opening story of your talk. The fall back joke you use to warm up the room. Many new presenters don’t commit fully when presenting it. I didn’t. I still struggle with this.

And the more uncomfortable you are with your bit, the harder it seems to put yourself fully into it. You hold back a little bit. Your face has a twitch of apology.

In particular, I wasn’t comfortable making voices as part of my stories.

I talk. I’m on stage. I use my voice. MY voice. I try to make it loud and soft, fast and slow. But that was it.

If you are not committed to your message, to your voice, then your audience won’t believe you. They won’t think you’re funny. They won’t think your point is particularly important.

“What the heck, this comedian is telling me to make up some voices, and make complete fun of myself! Do I look like Donald Duck?”, I said to myself in an Italian mobster voice.

Wow. I really wasn’t prepared for that.

I mean, I can do an Italian gangster voice, sure. But you want me to do it in front of 250 college student next month! OMG

I rehearsed according to his instructions. But it really sucked. I was putting in an hour a day.

Then we started our second phase, where he watched me deliver the bits, and gave me feedback. Yep, I really needed to practice my voices.

So in the car, I made voices saying silly things and to my surprise my teenage daughter laughed. My wife laughed. So I practice more. I practiced in front of a mirror. I started talking to myself in funny voices.

I met auGi at a networking event and saw him make funny voices with strangers the whole night and people loved him.

At our next rehearsal, I tried again. “A little bit better.” he said. But then I wasn’t committing.

It was time to do a dress rehearsal in front of a live audience. So I contacted a few folks at Portland State University, and filled a room up with 50 marketing majors.

But I wasn’t committed to the voices. And I bombed.

One tip he gave me was to put up the fourth wall. It’s an old acting term (I think Shakespeare used it), that means to pretend your audience isn’t there. You do NOT make eye contact with your audience when you are an actor on stage (unless explicitly directed to do so).

But a presenter breaks the fourth wall. We make eye contact constantly.

Sometimes, however, when you have a bit to deliver, a joke, a sequence, a voice, you want to put up that fourth wall and stare out into the back of the room and pretend you are alone.

The technique worked and at my next keynote, people loved the voices.

With practice, I mean lots of it, an hour a day for two months before talks, and by playing with the fourth wall, I was finally able to commit to the bit.

If you are not committed to your message, to your voice, then your audience won’t believe you. They won’t think you’re funny. They won’t think your point is particularly important.

If you want to see someone fully committed to their bit, watch this world-championship speech contest winner Darren LaCroix (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3vifO4dI1E)

Joshua Waldman, author of JOB SEARCHING WITH SOCIAL MEDIA FOR DUMMIES, is recognized as one of the top authorities on Social Media Job Search. Read his latest article called, Why You Should Use LinkedIn Like Your Career Depends on It.

About Ryan McRae

Ryan McRae has presented all over the world from South Africa to Afghanistan. He has spoken and designed presentations for Fortune 100 companies and wants this tech-focused culture to be able to speak well and with confidence.

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