Your audience wants you to do well. Really.

It's all in your headConsider this.  Fear of public speaking still ranks high on the list of our worst fears, and yet we insist on requesting, creating, delivering and/or attending presentations all the time…why? Because we are looking for a human connection. We want to be able to see the speaker, hear her voice, ask him questions, feel his emotions, and share the experience with our colleagues. We want to be fully present with the speaker so that we can make a full intellectual and emotional connection.

Have you ever been to a play or movie and noticed the simultaneous laugh or gasp coming from everyone in the audience? Have you ever looked around at the audience and wondered how all of these very different people can be made to feel the same thing at the same time? This is because our brains include mirror neurons.  Mirror neurons are a relatively new discovery, identified in the 1990’s at the University of Parma in Italy. Since then, research has consistently shown that mirror neurons fire when you perform an action OR when you see someone else perform that same action. So, when our favorite athlete scores that thrilling goal, we literally feel that success in our own bodies and our mirror neurons light up as if we scored the winning goal ourselves. When we witness a great actor despairing over a tragedy, tears roll down our faces, too…thanks to mirror neurons.

Now, consider this:  Town Hall presentations, Investment Committee updates, Board of Directors meetings…all are social shared experiences. Their purpose is to connect an expert with an audience. You are the expert and you are invited to speak because they need something from you that can’t be delivered in a simple report or pre-read deck.  They want to hear your voice, pick your brain, understand how you feel, and share the experience with colleagues.  When I coach nervous presenters I remind them that the audience has a need and the speaker brings the gift of their expertise, and therefore they are there to be of service. This switches the presenter’s focus from themselves to their audience and audiences can feel that. Once they feel that connection, positive mirroring can occur.

Next time you are preparing to present, remember:

  1. They want you to succeed. They really don’t want to see you fail because they most likely have negative feelings about failure themselves.
  2. Presentations are an opportunity to connect on three levels: Head, heart and imagination. Look for ways to present your content in order to create a stronger connection.
  3. We mirror each other, therefore what you show your audience will be reflected back to you. Show them confidence and passion, and that will shine back to you from their faces.