For some reason, most of us draw a clear line between conversations and presentations. It’s like crossing the border from a comfortable and familiar territory into a dangerous land–I’ve known incredibly charismatic and articulate individuals who totally lose their personalities or morph into stuttering fools when the number of listeners leaves single-digit territory.
When these individuals learn how to approach presentations more as conversations, they tend to relax a bit more. They begin to talk with, not at, the audience, they dial back on the formality, and they engage the individual audiences on a more personal level. Both sides benefit from the change.
However, based on some recent coaching experiences I have had, I’ve come to realize that sometimes the equation should also work in reverse: some people might be helped by seeing their individual conversations more as presentations.
Why? When you cross into presentation territory, you know people are judging you, so your guard goes up and you increase your preparation, focus and situational awareness. A well-crafted presentation has a clear purpose and structure, the speaker is more careful in his word choice, and generally has a heightened awareness of his demeanor, delivery, and impact on the minds of the listener.
These characteristics raise your game and make for successful presentations, so why do speakers forego those advantages when they let their guard down in daily conversations? In letting their guard down, what they gain in relaxation they may pay for in terms of reduced conversational effectiveness. They may be unfocused or rambling, they get sloppy in how they express their thoughts, and pay less attention to how the listener is receiving their message.
Even a conversation between two peers who work closely with each other on a daily basis—certainly when a subordinate is speaking to a superior, there is some judging going on, even if neither party is conscious of it. At one of my clients, it’s commonly accepted that “you’re always interviewing for your next job.”
Just like TV news anchors occasionally get into trouble by saying something inappropriate because they think they’re off the air, you should treat every business conversation as if your mike is on. Even in a “normal” conversation, why wouldn’t you have a clear purpose and focus for the conversation, why wouldn’t you choose your words carefully, why wouldn’t you pay attention to your demeanor and delivery?