Confidence tricks: The thawed paws pause

A warming NLP recipe for presentation confidence

by Peter Watts

Hold a warm cup of tea. Or coffee. Or hot chocolate. It doesn’t matter. Hold a warm cup, and as you savor the heat radiating into your hands, a wonderful sense of calm comes with it.

Do this shortly before a presentation and you’ll get exactly the same reaction. Stress seems to mysteriously drain out of you.

There is a whole lexicon of words such as “toasty” that evoke the pleasure of warm hands and feet, and there is a physiological reason why we’ve developed them.

When we become nervous about something, presenting for example, one of the first physical symptoms is cold hands. As we enter fight or flight, our body diverts blood flow away from extremities such as the hands, and redirects it to the vital organs of the core. Because of this we develop the cold clammy hand sensation associated with presentation nerves.

This sets off a chain reaction. Our subconscious mind says to itself “Hello. I appear to have cold hands right now. I get cold hands when I’m nervous. Therefore I must be nervous, and being aware of that fact, am going to become even more nervous.”

If cold hands represent a state of nervous tension, then warm hands represent the exact opposite: relaxation. When we have warm hands, the mind associates this with a state of calm and safety, hence all the snuggle type language we have referring to the pleasantness of warm paws.

Knowing this, we can use a simple technique that I call “The Thawed Paws Pause” to trick our mental wiring into calmness pre-presentation.

Next time you are going to present, accept the offer of a hot drink. The contents of the cup are of secondary importance, but if you have a choice, then my recommendation would be something that is caffeine-free.

As you await your time to present, hold the cup and concentrate your mind on that lovely warmth entering your hands. Your mind is about to get a surprise, in that your internal dialogue is going to go something like this:

“I’m about to make a presentation. I get stressed when I make presentations, and when I get stressed I have cold hands, but hang on a moment! I have warm hands! When I get stressed I have cold hands, but right now I appear to have warm hands! Ah, I therefore can’t be stressed.”

As your subconscious plays with this concept, the body starts to stand down some of the reactions we associate with presentation nerves, and a degree of those stage-fright jitters slip away.

It’s a simple trick, and one of the earliest I was taught when I first started presenting.

Next time you feel stressed or nervous, check the temperature of your hands. Icy? Take a moment to hold a warm cup. Feel tension melt into your thawed paws pause.

For more ideas on how to control presentation nerves, try the following Presenters’s Blog posts:

Retiring the retirement speech

How do you formulate a great send-off speech?

by Peter Watts

Retirement speeches are due for retirement. A blend of good luck and bad means that retirement is becoming a thing of the past. The good luck is that we live longer, fitter lives. The bad luck is that retirement funds haven’t kept up with us.

Today we more often work a series of downsize careers before finally retiring after a period of part-time employment.

With classical retirement on the way out, the appropriate speech therefore needs rewriting. Most examples found on the internet will either insult someone who sees themselves as having working years to give, or depress someone who wishes they were heading for a classic golf-course retirement but frankly can’t afford it.

Even if those two points don’t dissuade you from a “retirement speech”, just put yourself in the place of the average recipient of one of these dreadful things. The poor old codger, off to pasture while the bright young things look on in patronizing pity. Painful.

A solution is at hand in a speech type called an Encomium. It’s a tribute speech that’s suitable for seeing people on the next stage of their life journey, and works well for any type of leaving speech. Here is a step-by-step guide to a 21st century encomium that will make your leaver wish they weren’t leaving.

An encomium presents someone’s story as a heroic journey. As with all good stories, there is a narrative structure that can be thought of as:

  • Step One: Their origin
  • Step Two: Their traits
  • Step Three: Their deeds
  • Step Four: Their legacy

The vital ingredient: A character trait

The speech hinges on a specific personality trait of the individual being praised, and demonstrating how through that trait, the person leaving has contributed to the achievements of either the team or organization. You then conclude the speech by encouraging others to emulate that trait, thereby continuing the individual’s legacy. Here are the stages for putting your encomium together:

Step One: How they joined us

Begin with a brief description of how the individual came to be in their current position. Some basic facts to include are:

  • What they did before joining your team or company
  • The position they joined in
  • The situation of the team at the time they joined

During an encomium you magnify the individual’s achievements. For this reason, the task is easier if you start low! If you include too much greatness in the early stages, then the best you achieve by the end is to show how the individual merely maintained that greatness. In other words, you show how they flat-lined!

Some examples of starting low might include how it was a tough time for the company when they joined. Their career and attributes can then be mapped onto how they helped the company/team pull through those times.

Alternately, you might focus on how the individual joined the team as a novice or apprentice, and has delivered great things throughout their growth..

Step Two: Their Traits

Here you lay out that essential personality trait.

This is important for the narrative in two ways:

  • during the next stage you will detail a major contribution that person makes to the organization and why they will be missed. The aspect of their nature you highlight here, will be the logical foundation for the achievement that is to come.
  • at the end of the speech you will exhort everyone else to fill the gap this individual leaves by emulating that trait. So, make sure its a trait you would encourage in others!

For example, if the individual is recognized as being a great salesperson, you will praise a personality aspect that supports this. It could be their persistence, their integrity, or their thirst for success.

Step Three: Their Deeds

The creators of the encomium, the ancient Greeks and Romans, believed this section should contain “the three Excellences”, and these were detailed to be the excellences of mind, body, and fortune. When we understand what would have been included under these headings, it gives an indication of the tone we’re aiming to achieve.

Under the excellence of the mind, classical speakers would share examples that demonstrated fortitude, stamina, and prudence. For the excellence of the body, they would talk about the individuals grace and style. Finally for the excellence of fortune, the speaker would talk about the position, wealth, or high connections that someone had achieved.

Try to hit some of those excellences in telling the story. Where did the leaver demonstrate stamina in achieving results? How did their unique personal style contribute to success? What fortune came to the team or organization as a result?

A classical encomium might list multiple deeds; the higher the individual, the more deeds would be detailed! For this speech however, limit yourself to just one or two.

Step Four: Their Legacy

This final stage wishes the leaver well on the next stage of their journey, and interestingly swings the speech away from the recipient, and onto the audience.

Ask those who are being left behind to reflect on the unique personality trait of the person leaving, and encourage them to emulate it. Each individual must rise up to fill the gap this departure is going to create. Encourage the audience to perpetuate that positive behavior.

Bring your attention back to the leaver. Simply and cleanly thank them for their service, and wish them well on the next stage of their journey.

This concludes your speech. As with all good speaking, draft it in advance and practice before delivery. Do everything you can to keep the speech brief, and if possible, try to deliver it from memory.

You might also want to have some tissues handy. People have been known to become a little teary-eyed at this point, but when they do, you’ll know that it’s for all the right reasons!

One year from Tahrir

by Peter Watts

One year ago this month the Arab Spring arrived in Egypt as Tahrir Square crowds toppled a regime.

Tahrir Square demonstrated that when people find their voice, nothing is impossible. 2011 saw people-power protests ranging from the Arab Spring through to Occupy Wall Street and the Internet campaigns that led banks to abandon unfair customer charges.

It might sound odd or even offensive to equate such diverse movements, especially when the heroic protests of Tahrir Square saw people lay down their lives. There is a connection though, and as with so much in life today, it’s a technology enabled one.

Individuals are proving increasingly unwilling to accept the exercise of power over them when that power is exercised without legitimacy or justice. Whereas in the past, Big Brother was unwillingly accepted, individuals now increasingly challenge back.

Here’s where the technology comes in. In the past, it was those in power who held access to the means of communication. They could control whose voice got onto the airwaves. If your voice is never going to be heard, then why bother exercising it? You might as well stand on a cliff-top and howl into the gale. Today however, we have access to the internet channels that allow our voices to be heard.

Yes, granted, the result is usually a cacophony but there are occasions when disparate voices find points of harmony and the result is change. It is said that a butterfly fluttering its wings in one location creates a hurricane somewhere else. Nowhere is this truer than in matters of speech. Every successful movement tracks back to one person finding their voice and speaking out. From those initial flutters, the hurricanes howl.

This is the connection point between the apparently disparate causes I mentioned earlier. All of them started out with an individual or individuals using their voices to bring about change.

Find your voice. It has more power than you think.

Iowa Caucuses: Battles won, Wars lost

by Peter Watts

Here come the caucuses, and I don’t mean the mountain range between Europe and Asia. This is the process by which the US Republican Party will choose the individual who faces-off against President Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election.

The past months have seen candidates spreading their message like farmers spreading silage in the Fall; generously, fragrantly, and in every direction. Wednesday January 3rd will yield the first results in the form of the Iowa caucus.

For the Presenters’ Blog, it’s too much of an opportunity to pass-up. Every so often between now and November, when the whole process crescendos to a conclusion, we’ll drop in to see what learning points the participants have laid out for presenters.

For this first visit, I’d like to focus on two particular candidates while they are still in the race: Mr. Rick Santorum and Mrs. Michele Bachmann.

Santorum and Bachmann are hard-right social conservatives. Their demongraphic, and yes I did mean to spell it that way,  is the hardcore religious-right, an audience motivated by purity to a bible-based value set. Santorum and Bachmann have therefore competed to out-do each other in condemning everything and everyone that isn’t in straight agreement with the bible. For that matter, they’ve spent most of their time simply condemning anyone who isn’t straight.

Their focus has been to pursue a niche in the market, and make it their own. From a public speaking point-of-view they win full-marks for “know thy audience”. Here’s the danger though: In seeking to appeal specifically to one audience segment, both have lost sight of the bigger picture. They have made themselves highly electable to a specific group, while making themselves unelectable to the wider population.

Furthermore it’s possible that in future primaries such as New Hampshire, electorates could respond with a backlash specifically against these two candidates. If we reach a point where even other Republicans are motivated to go to the polls simply to reject Santorum and Bachmann, then the size of the challenge facing them in the November election becomes fully apparent.

Let’s compare their approach to that taken by two other candidates, Ron Paul and Mitt Romney. Both these candidates, while having ticked the “faith” box, have avoided elevating social values as their number one topic. Instead they have sought to merely avoid offending the values voter. By this means they remain viable to the wider electorate without unnecessarily creating opponents to their right.

So, for the first Presenters’ Blog talking point of Election 2012 I’d like to propose:

Know your audience and seek its support, but don’t do so in such a way that you create passionate opponents where they needn’t have otherwise existed

New year, new clothes

Image

by Peter Watts

Guess what happens when old clothes are within easy reach.

We wear them.

Old clothes don’t look good on stage unless retro fundamentally links with our image, and then the clothes had better be retro, not merely old!

New Year pre-disposes us toward clearing stuff out. Out go the decorations. Out go those special holiday food items that yet again we bought and that yet again no one consumed. De-cluttering everything from the rooms to the refrigerator puts us into a new-broom mindset. De-cluttering invigorates. It releases space and energy for other things.

Carry the process right through to the closets and get rid of old clothes. If you haven’t worn an item for over a year then send it to the thrift store and take advantage of the new year sales to find a replacement.

When we are presenting it’s essential that we look the part. Before we have the chance to launch our opening line, the audience has already made their initial assessment based on how we look. This is where those old favorites hanging in the closet can become a danger.

Start the new year with an upgraded look and by donating those old clothes to charity.

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