Jerry Seinfeld once joked about how the number one fear of the average American is public speaking and that death is number two. This means that the average American would rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy. Sure it’s funny, but it’s not too terribly far from the truth. Part of the reason for this is that when you’re speaking in public, audiences are influenced by the way your body appears as much as the words you’re saying. Different forms of communicating are received by the human brain, and there are numerous studies about which ones are the most important. One of the most famous of these is a study by Albert Mehrabian, a current professor at UCLA, who developed the 7%-38%-55% Rule. The percentages reflect what your brain reacts to and by how much; whether it be words (7%), tone of voice (38%), or body language (55%).
Taking away one of these aspects ups the ante on your brain’s reaction to another. If you’re on a teleconference, suddenly the words become that much more important. On a video conference, you’re suddenly at the mercy of all these things -what you are saying, how are you saying it, and what you look like when you’re saying it. Nerves can be read very easily while in front of a crowd and being able to move can sometimes hide these little shakes and quivers until you gain your footing and feel a little more confident. Most of the time on a video conference you’re glued to one place so it’s difficult to ‘walk off’ these nervous feelings and find ways to make those public speaking fears a little less apparent. What can be done to prepare for the inevitable webinar where you’ll be the center of attention?
The most important thing to remember is that not all webinars include a type of video conferencing, but pretty much all include some sort of voice or speaking. So your first goal should be to make sure your voice is clear and concise. Sure, it’s only 7% of the rule, but if participants can’t see you, then what you’re saying becomes so much more important. Improving the words becomes simply a product of research. In many ways, the business world is like college all over again, where you could probably skip a few nights in the library and be able to get yourself a passing grade, but no professor is going to nominate your presentation for an award. Now had you spent a few extra hours in the library, your presentation could have probably turned some heads. It’s the same in the business world. You should treat every presentation like it’s the audience’s first time hearing the information. Give the basics, offer a place where they can get more information, and then dig into the meat of the topic. Not only does it make your audience feel a little more at home, it gives you a jumping off point where you feel more comfortable before getting into less familiar territory.
When it comes to a video conference, being aware of your body language and posture is important. On a video conference you’re usually sitting down. Sit up straight and look directly into the camera. Since eye contact is most important for getting a connection with your audience and since they are not right in front of you, imagine that staring into the camera is the same as looking at your participants. Leaning forward when listening to another’s comments or being asked a question not only indicates a readiness to act but also an interest in what the other person is saying. Tilting your head also expresses interest in the things that are being said and done around you. Nodding while another person is speaking indicates an understanding of what is being asked or said. Above all, you need to remember that people can see your face. So if you roll your eyes or make uncomfortable facial expressions, it will be apparent that you are questioning the information being presented.
In the end, being comfortable with the information you’re giving will be the greatest influence over audience perception. When you know what you’re talking about, the information will come easily and any nerves your may have will soon dissipate. Confidence is the key. Do your research, know your subject, know your audience, and things will be much easier.
PS: It’s not just about what you look like, what you say and how you say it is also key to a good presentation. Having an attack plan is going to benefit yourself and your audience. Develop the presentation, design the slides, and display your incredible skills.