Whenever an athlete gets behind a microphone and prepares to speak, I tend to lower my expectations and prepare for the usual stream of ‘nothingness’.
Maybe it’s the way they’ve been media trained but it’s rare they say anything beyond, “Yes, I’m playing really well…hitting the ball solid…doing lots of work in the gym…looking forward to the next round…feeling confident…” etc.
That’s why Li Na’s prize giving speech at the Australian Open Women’s Tennis Final last weekend was such a breath of fresh air. I’d describe it as wonderfully flawed, open, personable and highly effective. With her broken English, the Chinese star fumbled her opening but went on to thank her agent for making her rich and her husband for doing multiple jobs for her and being “a good guy”. She then added that he was lucky to have met her!
She was cheeky, yet humble. Flawed but perfect. And the audience embraced her wholeheartedly.
I mention this because Li Na’s performance is far removed from what business people tend to aspire to as speakers and presenters. They come to me with a desire to be slick, polished and fault-free. I ask them why. Why would you want to be something your audience doesn’t really want?
There’s clearly a fear amongst business people that if they mess up or make any kind of mistake they’ll be judged in a negative way. It’s also difficult for them to inject some personality or humanity into their presentation as it feels vulnerable, exposed and might be seen as frivolous or lightweight.
The result is a presentation that’s factual, dry, soulless and entirely forgettable. If that’s your goal, so be it. But audiences crave something more engaging. It’s wonderful when someone breaks the mould, puts themselves out there and delivers a talk that’s bold, provocative, passionate, authentic and entertaining. It might be raw and a bit rough around the edges but it does one thing that speakers absolutely must aim for – it connects.
When you communicate in that way you do so as a human being, and you’ve got more chance of connecting with your audience than the usual bullet-fest and data dump.
Try putting yourself out there a bit. By all means make your presentation business relevant, but seek to inject some humanity into your pitch. It’s what the audience is hoping for – so give ‘em what they want!