Before I started a training company or worked in the ad biz, I was among other things, a TV host. I got this gig by pitching some development ideas to a TV production company. Watching me do my thing, the President suddenly commented; “You know, you should be on camera.” Hell YEAH I should!! And thus my accidental TV career was born. But for however slick I might have been at ‘pitching’, I was in no way prepared for the challenges to come. Being on camera, especially live TV or multi-camera shoots, is still to-date the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But boy oh boy, were my learnings ever valuable for being an Ad creative faced with regular client presentations. So here are a few critical things that I learned from those years that turbo charged my ad career – and ultimately helped to make me a far better trainer.
Compartmentalizing is key. My first shooting day ever was for my talk show pilot. It consisted of a three camera shoot, a panel of guests and an audience to interact with. With a newly fitted earpiece, my head was literally filled with never ending camera directions, a producer asking me questions and the director orchestrating it all. I thought my head was going to explode. For real. I was scared, overwhelmed and everything that went into my ear kept bypassing my brain filters and slipping out of my mouth. It took hours and hours to shoot. But over time, I learned the most vital skill any presenter can have – to compartmentalize my brain. What this meant was I was able to shut down the noise in my ear when I needed to talk and then tap back into it when I needed direction, all the while focusing on my environment when I needed to get my bearings. How did I do it? Consciousness and practice. I HAD to do it. My career depended on it. And guess what – so does yours. Here’s my tip; when you’re in front of an audience, try to consciously move in and out of your head. Check in with yourself. Ask how you’re doing. Watch your audience for feedback. Be in the moment. Actively control the discussion by making choices as opposed to being reactive. This will literally help you build your brain muscles so that you can move things around at will and will ultimately give you control over your nerves. Trust me, it works.
The room speaks. All you have to do is listen. Everything you need to know is in the face of your audience. There’s was nothing that sucked more than seeing my audience start to drift off or worse, working straight to camera and knowing in my heart that people at home were switching channels as I spoke. I learned that if you don’t feel like they’re with you, they’re probably not. If you don’t think they’re getting it, they’re probably not. If they look frustrated, disengaged, bored, or sceptical, they probably are. While learning to be a master audience reader, don’t be afraid to ask them. There’s no shame in questions like “Does this make sense?” or “Is this resonating with you?” Better yet, be self-deprecating. Own the room vibe. Try admitting, “I don’t think I’m explaining this very well” or “OK, you’re looking bored. My bad. I think its time for my Ethel Merman impression.” (That one always works for me – but I really do a badass impression.). You get the idea.
Love the people. Try telling a TV audience they should give a crap about how you’re feeling. HA. All they want is your soul. And even then, they may still not dig you. C’est la vie. The learning? Never ever go into a room with an oppositional head space, even if the client has beaten you up 12 times previously. Keep your energy optimistic and open. Tell yourself you will literally LOVE them into agreeing with what you’re presenting. Focus hard from start to finish. Remember, this presentation is not a rehearsal. It’s all you get; so give it your all. Your audience will feel you and likely be more open in return. This, I believe, is the foundation of trust building. It doesn’t mean you have to suck up or be a doormat – simply get into the emotional loop with them, see their perspective and genuinely try to get to the best place for everyone. Let your ego take a back seat and lead with your heart.
My final secret? Sometimes things truly go to hell. Don’t sweat it. As evidenced by some successful and some failed TV projects, I still have a life and gig. In fact, all of my experiences led me to a passion where I can be my authentic self and really put my skills to good use. Remember that ‘presentation skills’ are so much more than that. They’re the foundation for speaking your truth and convincing people to buy into your passion and ideas. And those are real ‘life’ skills.