Sunday, July 12, 2009

Marketing Primer: Step Three, Public Speaking…starting small

As we all know, one of the greatest fears is speaking in front of a crowd. How does one get over that? I’d done some acting in the high school drama club and I was comfortable with small groups cutting up and clowning around, so I was not a complete wallflower, but when I got in front of a group to give a speech, I had all the symptoms. Sweaty palms, racing heart, shortness of breath, dry mouth, and a suffocating feeling of panic.

Step one was to be a different person. This is what I did when I was acting in a high school play. I stopped thinking about being me on the stage but it was “Antonio” or “Earnest” on stage, saying prepared lines and doing pre-planned things. That carried me through doing sales presentations to small groups. I was giving my prepared speech and talking to slides I’d seen a dozen times before. I was that generic 1394 marketing guy…old “whatsisname”… a character on a stage. After a few nervous presentations, I’d heard most of the questions and had ready answers. Besides, these were one-shot presentations mostly. You speak to a group of 5 – 10 engineers and marketers and never see them again.

Step two was to make the crowd a friendly crowd. Get them on your side by using the persona you’d developed to get a person to respond favorably to you quickly. It is easier to talk to a friendly crowd of strangers.

Step three was to learn to “get over it.” Learn to just shake off things. You say something stupid, just get over it. You have another presentation in two hours. Do better next time. As a marketer, you are not going to be judged for one bad presentation. A presentation is normally about as significant as turning in a homework assignment was in school. There are going to be a lot of assignments turned in and each one will only count a tiny bit towards your final grade. Get over the smarty know-it-all engineer who delights in asking you questions you do not know. He is not going to be in the next meeting. In the end, you will have more good experiences than bad ones.

That was OK when speaking to small groups of strangers. It got a bit tougher when the crowds got larger, the stakes got higher, and people who knew me were in the audience.

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