"Me... speak?" That's the usual response when we are asked to say a few words. We become self-conscious, concerned that, somehow, we won't be able to translate all that we have to say on the subject into something meaningful for our audience. With so many fitness professionals stepping into the spotlight to give lectures, educate their team or even appear on television, how can we put our best foot forward?
    From Page to Stage
    The process of preparation to performance is driven by vision and intention. If either is lacking, the result we create will be lacking, too. The process is simple - we just have to ask ourselves the right questions. According to countless audience members I have asked over the years, people associate a great presentation with the audience's experience being positive - did they
    connect with the subject and the speaker?

    Being a knowledgeable presenter with a lot of content does not guarantee that people will be interested. Great content needs to be packaged and delivered as a relevant and engaging experience that is appropriate for the audience. Here are three questions to ask and answer first:
    1. What is my role as speaker? The expert? Yes, maybe. But more than anything, the moment we step into the spotlight, our role is to guide the experience of everyone in the room. We are the host. The guide. Our time in front of an audience is not about showing everyone how smart we are or how much we deserve to be front-and-center, teaching others. We are in a position of influence. We have prepared an experience for them and we are there to lead them through it. That is actually good news because it means that our speaking is not really about us, it is about our audience. We are there to serve through leadership. This role and mission give us many more important (and interesting) things to focus on other than "do I look stupid?" If our unconscious intention is to justify our being the speaker or to lower the expectations of the room so people will be less critical, it will come through in what we do.
    2. What is the purpose and context of my presentation? Are we speaking to educate? Motivate? Encourage new thought? Persuade action to change behavior patterns or lifestyle choices? Our role and mission go to work for us, putting the audience first. It's easy to forget that public speaking is still two-way communication because the audience may not talk much. But they are still a vital part of the conversation; our presentation is not just about what we are bringing to them. Talking at the audience leaves them out; it is like dancing without a partner. The audience must participate, and connecting with them is essential. Without our audience, we are sharing our message with four walls!
    3. How do I stay out of my own way and do my best? (a.k.a. "How do I look like a seasoned pro?") One crucial element is the willingness to risk looking silly or ineffective. That's right; in order to shine, we need to let go of the intention to look good. When we take the focus off ourselves, there's room for the intention to be centered on the type of exchange we want to have with our audience and everything we think and do can move toward that outcome.
    Next, we want to discover personal areas of resistance that come up when facing the opportunity to speak. Do we sabotage our preparation by not planning ahead? Fill ourselves with negative self-talk? Obsess that we do not know enough or are not as good a speaker as someone else? What are the perceptions, beliefs and habits that are get in our way? Ask these questions in the heat of the moment. They help us identify how our focus drifts away from our intention as we defined it just a few paragraphs ago: the optimal experience of the audience.
    Using the Breakdown to Build up
    Instead of starting with the PowerPoint design, go right to the heart of every presentation. That means knowing our role, the purpose and context of our presentation and taking all that into consideration when we are brainstorming, researching, creating, editing and practicing for our next speaking engagement. For example:
    Role: Host/guide.

    Mission: Increase comfort level and openness to perception changes so that by end of presentation, participants understand that healthy eating can be easy and affordable.

    Intention: Create a friendly atmosphere, where the audience feels welcome to ask questions and considers signing up for consultations and buying more organic produce.

    Length of the event: One hour.

    Size of group: 20-50 (walk-ins are welcome, and attendance is voluntary).

    Group characteristics: Deconditioned senior citizens in otherwise moderately good health. Many have grandchildren. Most of what they have heard on this subject is from morning television shows. They are used to lecture format with a Q&A at the end.

    Venue: A small, windowless room in a mid-sized town in the Northeast US, with some access to organic food and public transportation.
    Knowing the above, what choices would you make about this presentation? Let's use the vital statistics above to create a very special outcome.
    Take It and Run... for Fun
    Material preparation can be fun! First, take all the content we are gathering and organize the journey:
    1. A beginning to get them on board
    2. A body (the middle) full of information/learning experiences
    3. A closing for them to put the information into context and
       take action
    Use this as a blueprint for how the hour will unfold, and map the transition of one section to the next. This process guides us on all of our choices, from researching for information and resources to choosing a "look" or theme for the event. How much information will be comfortable for this audience to explore in one hour? What visual aids, wardrobe and seating arrangements suit the theme? Is this starting to sound like throwing a party? Good - because that's what we are doing. It can be any kind of party we choose. The sights, sounds, etc. are up to us, and we choose for success!
    As we progress, what we need to gather becomes clear - it could be statistics, a good story to illustrate a certain point, a slideshow designer, etc. We are led by our own vision. For our example group of seniors, we can pique interest right at the opening by going around and polling the audience on what they like to eat. Next, we can relay the bulk of our information, giving hypothetical examples about increasing their chances of staying off medications they are afraid they will someday need or anecdotes about snacks and grandchildren. Later, we can make reviewing the highlights fun by using the information in a game that mimics one of the game show formats they recognize, such as To Tell the Truth or What's My Line.
    Quick Tips for a High-powered Performance
    • Build "risk muscles" (improv classes are great for this).
    • Set the tone for success by envisioning who we are and what we are about to create.
    • Carry that vision out with a strong intention.
    • Choose themes that empower you and what will resonate with your audience.
    • Assume that you will adjust as you go - both in the preparation and the performance.
    • Focus on the mission, and bring yourself back when you stray - it happens to everyone!
    • Commit to and enjoy the ride: Prepare your material and yourself with gusto.
    What about Me?
    As for preparing our instrument, we need to give ourselves time to prepare, learn how to ground ourselves and warm up our instrument so that we can draw upon the expressive capabilities of our voice, breath and body language. We can plant reminders in our presentation to help cue us so we stay on subject and on time. And of course, we need to risk feeling foolish and commit to the adventure in front of us, whatever comes!
    Ilene Bergelson is the founder Lifemoves Health (www.lifemoveshealth.com), a company specializing in fitness training and professional development programming. She has performed on Broadway, film and television and has lectured for IDEA World, ECA and Club Industry. Ilene coaches presenters privately and is a communications mentor for the C.H.E.K Institute's PPS Success Mastery Program.


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