Proximity, Proximity, Proximity

Podium.jpg

As a coach/director for a number of successful speakers/actors/presenters, I have always railed against the almost innate tendency to view one particular element of a speech as the savior, the touchstone, the “woobie” that serves to calm fears and act as armor to the anxious performer. I’m talking about…

THE PODIUM.

In almost Titanic­-like tenacity, speakers cling to this piece of wood, as if it is the life raft that will float them to a safe and moisture­-free conclusion. Actors do the same thing, gravitating towards furniture like some smaller space debris near Jupiter, unable to resist the magnetic pull, comforted by a momentary lean or re­stabilizing touch.

Get out from behind the podium, put yourself in the middle of the space…closer to your audience, if possible…so that you can truly connect. I’ve worked with a number of truly gifted presenters and one of the first things they do, and that I have them do, is move away from the podium. Get out from behind that barrier separating you from your audience. Eliminate that aura of being aloof or afraid or preachy. What we as audience members want is a conversation, communicating whatever is vital, but a conversation…we don’t want to be talked AT, we want to converse. Or to feel that the speaker is accessible, on our level, not disconnected.

Now, I’m not only talking about the physical barrier, as that is often-times a necessity; holding your notes, a bottle of water, the mic. But I’m also talking about your emotional proximity to your audience, the way that you connect with them. Zig Ziglar was amazing at making a stadium full of people believe he was talking just to them. Sometimes he did this by physically kneeling at the front of the stage in an auditorium and singling out one individual to speak to. But how else can we accomplish that closeness, that proximity that allows us to communicate our message more effectively?

Make it personal. Don’t speak solely in abstractions. Communicate a part of yourself, through an anecdote, a personal experience, a success, a failure, that allows your audience to view you not as a talking head, an armor-­clad voice from on high. Show them the human behind the curtain and let them feel close to you, either physically or through what you share. Make eye contact with individuals as you speak (more on that in a later post). Why? Because we are more inclined to follow/believe/support those with whom we feel a connection.

So let go of the life raft, reach across the real estate separating you from your audience and connect. They want you to succeed and will be there with their appreciation to nudge you back to dry land, but you have to let them experience that proximity.

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