Monday 23 July 2018

Bravely speak from the heart as well as the head in public

Gina London
Gina London

Gina London

Recently, when I was flying to New York to facilitate an event at the United Nations, I looked out the window. It was early morning and we were cruising at about 30,000 feet surrounded by fluffy clouds tinged golden-pink from the sun.

It was such a joyous sight that I spontaneously became filled with a sense of exhilaration. The day was only beginning and from that high altitude, close to the heavens, I felt positive that anything and everything was possible.

I couldn't wait to see what was in store.

It's the same feeling I had Monday night as I walked along Dublin's Grafton Street. At just after five in the evening, we shoppers were illuminated by the glow of Christmas lights strung overhead. From Brown Thomas to Claire's Accessories, the store windows displayed such good tidings, I felt great joy.

I'm convinced these emotional highs aren't only triggered by golden suns or sparkly lights. When we dare to deliver heart-felt enthusiasm to what might be an otherwise hum-drum business presentation, we can awaken similar emotions in ourselves and others.

So, as we enter the holiday season, I want to encourage you to bravely reach for your inner sparkle and share it.

Here's how:

1 Tell a relatable funny story

The final speaker at the conference I chaired last Tuesday was a business ethics lecturer at a local university. She was an older woman with short-cropped hair whom you might think would have made for a boring presenter. You would be wrong.

No, she didn't run around the stage or jump up and down. She stayed put behind the lectern. She also didn't raise her volume to fever pitch. She kept her voice smooth and level. Her slides were mostly white backgrounds with loads of full sentences written on them. Nothing sensational there either. But she knew how to captivate an audience because what she did do was punctuate her points with humorous zingers.

The contrast between her conservative appearance and delivery to that of the unexpected punch-lines drawn from her life as a mom with a teenaged-son prompted full-throated laughter from the audience.

She connected. You can too. People are unconsciously searching for ways to engage with every speaker.

That ridiculous moment between you and your child when they decide they Will. Not. Put. On. Their. Shoes can also become a very funny moment for any audience.

You don't have to be dramatic, but you do have to be relatable.

2 Go off script

Another speaker had his speech typed in a large font, double spaced on several pages. He kept his head lowered over the podium with his hands at his sides as he read word for word into the microphone.

The audience was quiet in their response. Then, something clearly moved within him and he turned away from his papers.

"I'm going to go off script," he announced. You could tell that what he was about to say really meant something to him.

He was about to jump without a net. Into ad-libbing.

And when he next spoke from his heart, the audience reacted the same way. They applauded with abandon.

I always urge my clients to rehearse and internalise their speeches, so they don't have to depend on note cards or full sheets of paper. But if you're just starting out, that may be too difficult of a task for you.

Instead, try to speak from the heart about one issue you feel particularly passionate about. If you look up, so will your audience.

3 Be brave

These two examples are calling for you to be brave. If you have never told a personal story or talked from the heart about something in a business setting, the first time you do it, may feel like a big deal. Because, for you, it will be. And that's okay.

Before the start of that conference last week, another speaker asked if I, as the emcee, was feeling nervous.

"No," was my honest answer. But it wasn't always that way.

Remember, I wasn't raised in a family of Broadway performers in New York. Long before I anchored with CNN, I grew up in a tiny farming town in Indiana.

We all start from somewhere. If you don't take the first step, you cannot take the second and the third and so on.

I'm a committed life-long learner, so I'm still happily taking steps.

What about you? Think for a moment. How can you stretch just a bit out of your current communications comfort zone?

You can continue delivering the same way you have been and hope for a different result. Or you can take a chance and try something different.

Like one of my favourite clients who has been successfully deploying some of my presentations suggestions and who just emailed me to say, "you have brought me such confidence".

Being brave will give you confidence too. Go ahead. This holiday season, give yourself, and your audience, a present. I can't wait to hear what's in store.

What do you want for your Career Christmas? Write to Gina in care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie

Gina London is a former CNN anchor and international campaign strategist who is now a director with Fuzion Communications. She serves as media commentator, emcee and corporate consultant. @TheGinaLondon

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