When early career researchers present at conferences they’re in a very different environment to the one they’re used to. When they present internally to colleagues, they’re merely reporting on history – “We did this, we did that, we discovered this-and-that and our conclusion is such-and-such.” Their audience is already on board and hardened to the usual abysmal succession of slides that have too much text, exhaustive detail and minute images. “Experts often possess more data than judgement” says Colin Powell former US Joint Chiefs of Staff. He should know.
An academic conference has an expert audience with similar interests. However it’s a different animal. You must engage your audience. Yes, yes I know, an obvious point – though too many researchers neglect to do this. The tragic consequence is failure. Fail to make an impact and the head of a lab, clinician or investor is already deep in a laptop or has left the hall. Many original ideas fail to get taken up because of this failure to engage.
Looking like a leader when giving a presentation and people behave as though you are already a leader. They are likely to believe you, regard you as the expert and are more ready to be convinced by your argument.
One of the most powerful secrets to achieve the demeanour of a leader is to learn to relax. There are several reasons for this:
- You reduce stress. Relaxation forms an insulating layer to protect you against the buffeting of stressful events and people.
- You access your unconscious mind and consequently your imagination and creativity. You uncover creative solutions and imaginative left field ideas. You are able to contemplate acceptable risks and take them.
- You implant ideas and thoughts directly into your mind to programme your thinking. You’re the master of your attitude and reactions.
- It cuts down on fire fighting. You stop reacting automatically.You slow down. You have a split second to choose what to say and what to do. Plenty of time. Instead you become solution focused.
- You appear calm, confident and steady – necessary characteristics of an authority in the field.
Fear impairs your performance. However talented you are, anxiety dominates and masks what you do. You resort to familiar patterns. You lose the strategic overview and dwell on detail. You stammer, speed up or hesitate, lose impetus. You get overwhelmed by the unexpected. Others get distracted by it, get tense themselves and mistake your best efforts. Anxiety communicates itself. Your audience, your team, colleagues and especially those you want to impress get irritated. Then they become critical and resist to your message. You have failed.
The secret to good communication is to relax. Easier said than done. Not for nothing is there an excellent book by Andy Lopata “….And Death Came Third!” The title is inspired by the New York Times survey on Social Anxiety in 1984 – death came third on the list of people’s most dreaded fears AFTER walking into a roomful of strangers and public speaking!
Being tense means your fear stands in the way of your message. Being relaxed means you’ve stepped aside so the message gets through. It helps you think more clearly, move in a more fluid manner and sound much calmer. You speak more slowly so your delivery is timed better. You pause. People (who after all will take their lead from you) see you relax and consequently, so do they and listen. They absorb your message. They respond more warmly. Looking like a leader means you have a far greater chance of winning them over and getting the message to land.
“The success of your presentation will be judged not by the knowledge you send but by what the listener receives.”