Think of it as a conversation

Over the course of the last several months, I’ve made an important decision about how I present my work and where I focus my attention.

For more than 10 years I’ve been a Public Speaking Presence Coach through my company, formerly named RiverWays Enterprises.  I love working with individual clients in private coaching sessions because our sessions flow naturally from simple conversation.  I also love the small group coaching programs that I ran.  These includes the one- or two-day intensives as well as my 12 week course, because there are never more than six people and, once again, our time was filled with conversations that flow easily as we exchange ideas, challenges, and discover how much we share with each other while at the same time celebrate and learn from our differences.

Much of the work I do with these clients has to do with helping them recognize the value of thinking of each encounter as a conversation rather than a presentation.  Even if they are speaking to a large audience, if they allow themselves to speak conversationally to one person at a time it eliminates the pressure to be perfect, polished, and the expert, and shifts the tone to a much more intimate, collaborative experience.

Occasionally I am asked to do a one or two hour presentation to large groups of people where I’m brought in as the expert and asked to talk about some topic related to my work.  Despite the claims of marketing/networking gurus that this is a good way to attract new business, I’ve come to realize that these events simply don’t give my audiences real opportunities for change.

Because there’s typically so little time in these situations and the audiences are usually large, I’ve found myself giving informational talks on the topic of The Seven Crown Jewels of Presence in Speaking, Leading and Life!   As a distillation of all that I’ve experienced in my work as a Public Speaking Presence Coach, this material is actually really good, and in my work with clients I refer to them all in the natural course of conversation.

While I know that the ability to speak conversationally to one person at a time significantly reduces my own anxiety, what’s missing for me, and lately becoming more and more of a disconnect, is that these “presentations” are relatively one-sided, with me, as the expert, presenting to “you,” as the passive audience.  My audiences often leave stimulated and interested in the topic, but I wonder if anything really significant has changed for them.  Instead, I think that, for the most part, people think, “well, that was a nice talk and an unusual perspective,” and then promptly forget what we talked about and go on with “business as usual”.

My decision this month, greatly influenced by my ongoing work with Art of Hosting practices, is that I no longer want to be brought in as the “expert”.  Instead, I’m most drawn to entering in as a coach or a “host” and to design interactive and engaged conversations amongst all the people in the room that can lead to real change, both for the individual and the organization or community.

I will happily continue with working with small groups and individuals on helping them developing their confidence and presence as public speakers, but when asked if I will do a presentation to large groups, I will instead offer to explore ways to make it an interactive conversation, whether it be asking volunteers to be coached in front of the room or designing experiences where everyone in the room gets a chance to speak and be heard.

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