Presentations: Cosmetics of Communicating:
Let’s chat about the cosmetics of communicating. But first, an admonition…
Unless you are a professional presenter, content is king. Focus on benefiting your audience. Whether in media or presentations, it’s about them, not you. And in crises, reassure. Don’t fret over body language, tone of voice, articulation, enthusiasm, gestures, makeup, clothes, and other “superficialities.” Cosmetic concerns can sidetrack the important stuff. My last column at http://www.amme.com/article.php?intArticleID=116 tells how to develop powerful content through media training.
That said: let’s talk cosmetics. Here’s an overarching philosophy.
Dress, act, and talk to enhance your words, not diminish them.
Dress. I once wore a bow tie while anchoring TV news. My boss said don’t. He said it distracted viewers from my face and from the news. He was right. Wear clothing that complements your message and audience. Talking to MBA students at the university? Wear a suit or business casual. Addressing young people at an outdoor gathering? Go quality casual.
Also, ask yourself how you feel in your clothing. Guynn Savage is a top Duke Energy spokesperson who talks frequently to the public via the news media. Guynn said she does a better job if she feels good about the way she’s dressed.
Other ideas – 1) Dress consistent with your issue and expertise. If you’re solving serious financial problems, wear something appropriately sober. 2) Dress one notch above your audience. If they’re in casual shirts and blouses, you add a jacket.
For TV studios – Light-weight clothing for cool under hot lights. No dark glasses. Non-reflecting eyeglass lenses. Limited jewelry (that doesn’t rattle on a desk). Solid colors or conservative patterns. No bright or white clothing near the face. Light powder or pancake makeup to stop shine. Look sharp not sloppy. Again, enhance, don’t distract.
Act. First, gesturing. Fahgettaboutit! Gestures are the bane of news anchors, spokespeople, and speakers. False gesturing screams. Arms and hands don’t move believably, are oddly disconnected, artificial, and unrelated to words spoken. They’re robotic and self-conscious. When is the last time you saw Rather, Brokaw, Jennings, Lehrer, Koppel, or Couric gesture? Its rare or when it happens, it’s real and unconscious.
Don’t choreograph gestures. If you talk with your hands in life, then do it on stage or camera. If you don’t, then don’t. Columbia University psychology professor Robert M. Krauss researched gestures, said they don’t convey a lot of information, and are a waste of time except in certain cases like giving directions. In fact, he says we gesture when we talk in order to help ourselves, not our audience. It seems to activate the brain and make it easier for us to remember and recall spoken information. Furthermore, genuine gestures slightly precede the words we say, making it difficult to fake them.
In media interviews – look at the interviewer and not the camera (unless it’s a satellite interview), keep your head still, and don’t wiggle in a chair. In satellite interviews lock your eyes on the camera lens.
Important! When TV cameras tape action shots of you, be extremely careful how you move. You can look unintentionally stupid. I have seen serious people appear goofy because their actions were purposeless. When the cameras tape, be conscious of every step and motion and how the audience might interpret them.
In speeches – let go of the podium to gesture (only) if it is natural. Leave the podium and walk and talk if you are polished enough. While speaking, look at individual faces rather than scan the crowd. Isolate on a single person when giving a key comment or punch line. Ignore grim faces; embrace warm ones.
Talk. Most of us dislike the sound of our voice, but we are usually fine. Get absorbed in your content, and your voice will be natural.
Tips – Get volume from a microphone; don’t yell. Keep the throat moist with water plus sugarless lozenges. Let storytelling illustrate ideas. Show passion if you feel it. Notice how you converse with your family, and duplicate that same variety in tone, volume, pacing, pauses, and silence. There is no calculation to conversation or good speaking.