Grab the microphone and act like a trustworthy leader
Dear nerd – taken together, we – Anne Skare and Soulaima Gourani – have held about 5,000-6,000 presentations for something in the vicinity of half a million people. We have traveled all across the world – from Mongolia to Middelfart, from Greenland to New Zealand. We have (literally) spoken in front of kings and queens, state leaders and Nobel Prize winners and shared the scene with gurus, rock stars and world-famous entrepreneurs. Soulaima has been hired as a mentor for TED in USA, and Anne has had her own TV show. Not a week goes by without an offer to go on the screen, in the radio or in other media, and we are offered one really well-paid job after another.
And it’s always easy to say No to those jobs. Because, there is no better, more challenging and enriching work than what we have already. And another thing that has happened to us, which is not uncommon as you grow older – we get really excited to teach other people what we know and to see them succeed. Everyone deserves a good working life, and being able to communicate in a fun and efficient matter can be considered a key that can open a lot of doors.
And we are going to give to you some of the best keys.
You, who carry important messages, you, who have to speak in front of colleagues, or who, as a lecturer, want to impress your audience or as an entrepreneur are going to make a profile of your product. These are keys that can be used by anyone, who can’t help grabbing the microphone. You are allowed to do it. And you’re not too much. When other people think, you are too much, it is probably because they themselves are too little. So grab the microphone. And get up and shine on the soapbox.
Love your audience
When it comes to the art of communication, we know what we are talking about – and we also know that there is no stage or audience that is finer than others.
Each time you get up on the podium, you get the most beautiful gift in the world: the attention of other people. It doesn’t matter whether what is about to be delivered is the Prime Minister’s New Year’s Speech or the fun words at a happy occasion. A good speaker is never better than the audience – and therefore the task is always to take the audience to new heights. Release energy, give hope, show the way to new opportunities, and take them on a journey where they see what you want them to see.
Imagine your audience like babies. Cute creatures who have entered this world filled with hope and dreams. And then, somehow, they became lost, bullied at school and never really seen and recognized for all the work they do. Engage all people with trust and empathy, and you’ll find them opening up to you. Ask yourself: What is my audience missing? What is it that they don’t get enough of? Nurses, teachers and educators, to take an example, generally receive way too little gratitude. So just go out and say it: “There’s something I’d like to say to you. It’s a word you hear way too little and which you deserve so very much. And that word is thanks. Thank you very, very, very much – On behalf of all those people who have not said so, those who forget to say so and all those who do not say thank you to you in the future, I just want to say … thanks.” And then you can be sure that there will be tears and applause and a much larger openness towards you and the things that you say.
Be a calm gorilla
It’s quite normal to feel anxious when you’re standing up in front of others. Always remember that “fear is for the ego”. It’s only the ego that feels anxious: Anxious to lose status, to be made a fool of, to come to a halt while speaking or to say something stupid.
Face the anxiety, and do not take anything too seriously. It’s less important to be smart and to control everything and more important to create a relationship with your audience. We are basically just talking monkeys on an organic spacecraft flying through space. We long so much for meaning and cohesion.
Notice other people’s body language – turmoil manifests itself as “the dancing bear”, ie you walk back and forth when you stand on the stage, back and forth, or tilt your feet or turn on the chair when interviewed in Deadline. Don’t do that, because it’s infecting others and you appear unsure of yourself as if you don’t accept your own message. The same applies to index fingers and raised eyebrows. Sit on your hands if you cannot control yourself. On the other hand, it does not matter too much if you knock something over – people will just think you’re smart (especially if it fits your brand like a nerdy researcher).
See yourself as a big, calm silverback gorilla. You are the one, who is big and dangerous, and the others will submit to your will.
The ones who reach their goals are the ones who speak directly TO people, so it hits right at the heart. We connect with people through our feelings and subconscious We support politicians who we consider to be trustworthy and we are turned on by them when we see their passion and personality. We do not like shrill voices, condescending looks and wrinkled foreheads. We do not like uppish language, statistics and boring models that do not relate to our own realities. Our instinct tells us that it is a person we cannot trust. Charisma makes a huge difference as to who gets to sit at the head of the table, and very often, it isn’t the one who is most competent. Unfortunately.
Your energy becomes other people’s energy
It isn’t unimportant what you do right before right before you go on the stage. There have been made some quite interesting surveys of people who are about to go into a job interview: one group was sitting with their phone, sending text messages, and the other with an ipad or a huge computer monitor. The two groups had quite different appearances at the meeting and those with the big screens had a far greater success rate. If you do “small things” before you go in, you also diminish yourself. If you do “big things”, you also think bigger. It sounds absurd. But why risk it? Do not sit, all rolled together, and look down on your tiny phone display before doing something important. Stretch out, get up on your toes, and take on a winning pose. Imagine you have just won something wild or have got the best news in the world, and shout out yeah inside your head. Walk around the room and greet people. Like an alpha, doing the rounds to mark off his territory. Be nice, look people in the eyes, smile, listen and learn. Just 5 minutes presence with a small selection of the target audience changes your mood, your energy level and allows for much more resonance.
The people you talk to resonate with you. Your mood and energy are contagious. You may want to see yourself almost like a wedding band: never the center of the party, but essential in order to create a good atmosphere. Some want jazz, others pop and later on maybe some rock n roll. And it is of no relevance to them, that you have a bad day As the pro that you are, you manage to deliver. Every. Single. Time.
The great thing is that good energy will be your success criterion. You are forced to do everything that charges your batteries: practice sports, eat good, nutritious food, get some peace and quiet, sleep properly, learn new things and, of course, chill for the entire weekend a whole weekend with your comforter and some Netflix!.
Take yourself and your message seriously.
“Cough, cough, clear throat, (drink water), (set microphone), hello, does it work? That’s good, so, well… (fumbling with paper)“. Stop, stop, STOP! In the words of Master Yoda: Do or do not, there is no try. People are hoping for fireworks, and it’s evil to take the stage like a dud. When you go on stage, imagine hearing NASA counting down from 10, 9, 8, … and then let the first thing that comes out of your mouth be a worthy lift off. We have seen countless CEOs and politicians speak while clinging to their speech papers. And perhaps there was a time when that was considered good enough. But that time is over! We expect our leaders to speak from the heart. We fully understand that you can become nervous, forget what to say and that you want to do it right. But please, take a guess at what message that sends? Yes, exactly: “My boss is nervous about going on stage, he has to rely on a speech paper because he cannot remember what’s important. Which means that he’s got nothing to say, so I don’t need to either. In fact, I’m just reminded of how boring my work really is. But that doesn’t matter because in this business you can obviously become a manager anyway … Maybe I should leave soon so I do not end up like him? “.
It may sound harsh, but that is what people think. If you ask around why, in this organisation, the boss is let loose on stage without any kind of training, the answer is “You should see the others we have, they are even worse” or “they do not see it as a competence that it is important to train”. Which brings us to our next advice:
Talent is good. Training is better.
Talent is a gift that some have been lucky enough to possess since birth. Some people never discover their talents, and other people use their talents to break boundaries. In the book Mindset, Carol Dweck found that having a talent often sabotages one’s long-term success. If you get success too soon, you won’t develop that spine and discipline that is necessary in order to become really, really good at something for many years to come Instead, you quit once you face resistance, and you take your mistakes way too personally. But you can not get good at anything without going through phases where everything just stinks. The stinking phase is part of all mastering.
Being able to do talks, speak to journalists, make an amazing speech in front of your employees, or touch people’s hearts at a wedding is not magic: it’s a matter of exercise. The people we remember from world history, those voices we can hear in our heads forever are those who have trained, trained, trained to find the tone and style that allows them to get an authentic message through – from Hitler to Martin Luther King. Donald Trump has a very special communication talent with which he manages to seduce and stupidify. Do not use “talent” as an excuse for YOU not deserving to be heard just much.
Take an active decision, that this is something you WANT to be good at, and spend some time doing it, just as you would with other kinds of training: Take courses, read books, watch TED talk, notice what others are doing when they’re on stage. It’s perfectly ok to copy a style until you find your own unique form.
Consider the training in speaking in front of others your own personal development project
On the top 10 list of what people fear most in life, “to hold talks” is no. 6 and “to die” is number 3. Ie, most people would rather die than do a lecture. No. 1 is to be excluded by the community, and no. 2 is not to be loved. And the rest is something with sharks, ladders and clowns. Being afraid is human and natural. What we are afraid of, is learned behaviour.
The primary reason why people do not get up on stage is due to the fear of being excluded and exposed: Here I stand alone, naked and vulnerable. But guess what, daring to get up naked and vulnerable, that’s probably the only way to be seen, heard and loved as the person that you are. It is one of the great paradoxes of life: that we have to leave the safe framework and stand (more or less) majestic and alone in order to be able to enter into a safe framework and to be seen and loved as we are. And yes, sometimes you can drop down, like a newborn giraffe from 2 meters high, and deliver a not so pretty performance. But then we’ll do it again. And again. And again.
Speaking in front of others is a sort of therapy. Not just personally but also in relation to your audience, your organization and your environment. We have been telling stories since the dawn of time, and it has often been the same stories over and over again. It is – wise researchers will say – an important part of one’s development as a human being. And that’s why attention is so nice. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work out each time – in that case, you can just join the club, together with all the athletes, artists and other performers you admire. People who actively choose to dedicate part of their time to developing themselves into the people they want to be so that they can do the jobs they were born to do.
And then, of course, there is one additional fear factor that should be on the list: watching yourself afterwards. It is an absolute must to be recorded and to carefully assess and listen to what you see. It’s cruel and terrible, but also revealing and extremely instructive. When Anne received training as a host for her TV show, it was painful each and every day for her to assess herself: “Do you see it, Anne? You look like Queen Margrethe with that eye. It’s as if one side of your face is here and the other is on its way home.“
Endure the pain – listen to yourself and look at yourself. You will learn more from that, than from a whole year with a personal trainer.
Have fun with it
The biggest reward, funnily enough, isn’t recognition, money, experiences and everything else that comes with the life as a world class lecturer. Nor is it to sit in an airplane, get in the limousine and stay at 5 star hotels knowing that they have booked you because you are YOU, and not because you represent some kind of brand – even though that feeling can also be quite ok.
The biggest reward is inner peace. When the scene becomes the place where you are 100% free. When you are in total flow with your audience, and do not feel like you have a hangover, flu or morning sickness. Lars Ulrich from Metallica has said the same: the stage is the ultimate free space. Here, there is no one who calls, interferes or wants something – you are there, enjoying life, the mood and your own ultimate power of creation.
We have all become stress bunnies. Some human doings who often feel buried alive in our own lives and who never really have a good conscience or feel that we have reached our goals. In the pursuit of inner peace, some choose to do ultra-runs.. Others begin gardening or cooking. But we find that there is simply no greater high than to do a great talk in front of an audience who, by their own free will, chooses to go with you. It is an ambivalent feeling – that it doesn’t need to hurt to be good. That you live a life where people pay you to develop yourself and to research what’s your passion, and that they even give you a platform on which to come and tell about it so that they can go out and do something about it. It takes time to get used to, that it’s actually ok to feel inner peace. That everything gets better when you choose to be the calm in the “hurricane’s eye”.
You don’t need to be more in order to do more. You just have to be yourself. A human being. You must exude credibility, gain confidence and in many cases also appear strong, warm and competent. Research shows that people can see through it, if what you’re saying has become too “learned”. That’s what is called “from the outside and in”. You achieve the strongest effect when communicating, if you do it from the inside out. But being able to do that requires you to relax, that you rest so much in yourself that you appear natural and authentic. And the fun part is that when you find yourself having reached “goal”, people step up to you and say it! So enjoy yourself, relax and give yourself some praise for daring to be you.
Touch up the facade
And before going all zen Buddhist here, let’s also talk a bit about the exterior. There is a reason why you are constantly being touched up with powder when you are on television. There is nothing that breaks the illusion of wisdom like a sweaty forehead. Roosevelt, in the 1920s, was the king of radio. The blurred black and white photos of the time did much for the appearance of older men. It didn’t take much to appear paternal and distinguished. But then came television. It has been said that Nixon “had a face made for radio”. He was sharp, evil and skilled, but TV was the new medium, and the clean, beautiful, and cleanshaven JFK won bigtime. You can complain all that you want and think it superficial, but the exterior really does mean a lot to your message. So avoid falling in your own laces. Once a year, have some really great promotional photos taken by a skilled photographer. A lot of media outlets can no longer afford to send out their own photographers, so if you already have some beautiful photos of yourself lying around, you can get a lot more sunshine that you’re really entitled to. And we are not thinking about the put up photos from your confirmation in clothes you don’t feel comfortable in, and where you look as if you’ve just farted. If you are an engineer, get out into the field and stand in the mud with your suit on. Martin Thorborg (Danish tech guru) has some unbelievably cool pictures done where he cuts a television set in half with a chainsaw, while a disinterested, smoking couple in matching jumpsuits watches him. You need some edge! Your message should be conveyable on all your platforms – and there are a lot of them by now. Obama was the first social media president. He appeared so authentic and balanced that he could even afford to smoke on an open (social media) screen. Trump is a king of Twitter. His limited vocabulary fits perfectly with our brief attention span, he is provocative, erratic and entertaining. He is the perfect symbol of the time we live in where “being right” and “following the rules of the game” are dead. The truth is constantly under construction – so if your truth, your message is important to the world, then you must recognize that the rules of the game have changed. Radio is great for telling loooong stories, lectures are amazing for taking people on a journey, transforming their attitude towards a strategy or a vision, and the social media are incomparable when to comes to creating a following and relationships and to test things off. At the moment it is less important if you are right or not – and more important that your target audience can relate to what you say. That is why we say that “I buy your message”.
Incidentally, Obama, like the French Macron, used huge amounts of money on make-up and clothes. And you can do that too. Once again – have fun with it. Get a stylist and a wardrobe that gives you peace of mind. You must feel comfortable! A good rule of thumb is always to appear casual hot – would what I wear be OK in case James Bond?
Get your message through
You can foster credibility through the right training. And you can lose it by committing very small, almost insignificant mistakes. But you can also make it very simple for yourself and accept that credibility is something you get simply by grabbing the microphone. When you stand up on a stage, people basically believe what you say. You have got their attention. Your appearance, your body language and your personality should support this particular fact. Hocus-pocus, you are in focus.
A lot of people begin their speeches by talking about their research, their status, their many experiences etc. to establish their credibility BEFORE they get to the message. But most people (and especially the younger generations) don’t care the least about all that. A talk isn’t teaching. An interview on television is not a PhD defense. People want to hear your message, and they want to be seduced to see what it is you see.
You have 100% credibility when you’re introduced, and then you can remove it again by:
- having a tired, uneasy or annoying body language (10%
- appearing unkempt, tactless, styleless and with no personality (10%)
- being dull and boring, speaking entirely from a powerpoint slideshow (10%)
- saying something that is factually wrong (10%)
- trying to be clever about something you don’t really understand (10%)
- not knowing what you’re talking about (50%)
So: being really smart and uncharming gets you just as far as being super charming but really stupid.
Both are equally bad. So make sure to go as high as possible on all parameters.
Because after all, the parameters are only tools. Tools to get your message through. Your message is the most important thing, and it is what people should remember afterwards. What is it, that you want to say? And why is it important? Your message should never take more than 5 minutes to get across – for the rest of the time, you can use examples, data, metaphors, anecdotes, images, taboos and hypotheses. All things, that supports your message.
Your message is the most important of all. And you shouldn’t be left with it. You must get your message across before you die, even though you feel completely stuck, and you feel like falling in front of your audience as a clumsy albatross. Because, maybe, we don’t even have a choice? Either we burn through or we burn in. See how grown people fall down all around us like stressed out oak trees. It’s not just because they are too busy. It is because they’re doing the wrong things, and especially because they do not dare to grab the microphone and get into character when they face injustice, stupid pleasing mentality or overcomplicating boredom that drains all good men for their will to live.
The stage is yours. The keys are handed over and you just have to open the door. Make your decision and make it the right one. We are here to help you all the way through.
Anne Skare Nielsen, Future Navigator and Soulaima Gourani, GetCapitalAid