We had the opportunity to work recently with a group of international leaders. The accents were a bit challenging, but the perspectives from around the world were fascinating.
One woman in the class was very tall. Noticeably tall. When she stood up in front of the rest of the group for a coaching session, we noticed that her movements were restricted and made her appear very nervous. She seemed uncomfortable making gestures that might call attention to her height. It was almost as if she stepped into a very narrow box and put most of her energy into the task of keeping her body within that box.
From time to time, we notice that people are less than comfortable with their physical presence in front of a group. Perhaps they’re short, perhaps tall, perhaps heavy, some with noticeable deformities, accents, pimples or bad hair.
In the case of our client, the challenge wasn’t her height. Instead, her own perception of her height became a distraction that kept her from feeling comfortable enough to effectively communicate her message. Her discomfort was noticeable and made it harder to focus on her important information.
News flash: we all feel a little a bit like a fish out of water when we get up in front of an audience. What should we do with our hands? How should we stand? What if we start laughing and snort? What if everyone notices how nervous we are?
Part of our job, as coaches, is to make suggestions that help people become more like their true selves—to lose that “deer in headlights” expression and to relax a bit. Sometimes that means helping them decide what to do with their hands, or how to position their feet. In the case of this particular client, we helped her step out of her narrow box. When she started making broader gestures, taking purposeful steps around the room and then planting her feet, she began to appear more relaxed and more confident. As a result, the people in the audience listened more carefully to what she was saying.
She was still tall but seemed much more approachable. As she became more comfortable with her height, we became more comfortable as well. She was more effective, and we focused more on her message.
If you have a hard time believing that someone with a physical issue can be a great presenter, take a minute to watch a speech by Nick Vujicic, a motivational speaker who presents to students, athletes, religious groups and even prisoners. Nick was born with no arms and no legs yet moves around because he has part of a foot that enables him to scoot and pivot from side to side.
Watch Nick’s video by clicking here. See how comfortable he is and how his “differences” seem to disappear after he’s been talking for a few minutes. You’ll notice that he is an amazing presenter, and that you, too, can overcome your own perceived challenges to reach your next audience.