Most people focus on the “doing’ of presentations: content, slides, scripts, how to introduce yourself and all that jazz. However, that’s not the part that can unlock brilliance. Nor is it the part that will stop you having presentation nerves, keep you from getting tripped up along the way and losing your train of thought, or help you stay strong in the face of tricky questions or awkward attendees.
While the Doing stuff is of course important, there’s another side to presentation brilliance: the Being.
When our Being isn’t in the right place, we stutter, falter, get nervous and later get annoyed that we didn’t make the most of a situation. In the right place – that great place that athletes call ‘flow’ – we can always be our best and get the best from every interaction.
So what is this thing called ‘Flow’?
All too often in life, when asked “How are you?” the knee-jerk reaction is “I’m fine”. It’s an involuntary shield we use to protect our daily selves from the depths of what’s really going on for us – and it’s the socially acceptable way to move a conversation on, and to avoid difficult personal topics in a social or business context.
And that is, well, fine. But… when getting in to the positive state we need to communicate effectively, we need to go a bit deeper. We need a way to diagnose how we REALLY are, that enables us to do something about it. In other words, we need some words to help us get beneath the ‘fine’ and into the state of our Flow in any given moment.
There are 5 elements that make up Flow.
1. Physical: What’s going on in and around your body
Are you sitting comfortably? Are you tired? Hungry or well fed? Wearing clothes that aren’t distracting you? Too hot, too cold or just right?
In business, we often ignore our physical selves. We live up in our heads, and even when our bodies are screaming at us to eat, go to the loo or stand up and stretch, we plough on with the business at hand.
The thing is, when your physical self is not comfortable, the distraction sucks energy and prevents you from concentrating on anything else. So even if you think you are managing to successfully strategise whilst your tummy rumbles, it’s taking a large proportion of brain power just to resist heading straight for the canteen or the nearest sandwich shop.
There are lots of things you can do to help your poor body to stay comfy during business interactions – but unfortunately most people are so busy tweaking their slides at the last minute that they forget. To help you in presentation situations, start to tune in to your physical needs and take action to prevent them becoming urgent or distracting, and your brain will thank you for it.
2. Intellectual: The processing going on in your head
We’re clever, us humans. We process every reaction we are conscious of. This is an amazing feat, but it can mean that our brains are working nonstop while we are awake – understanding, evaluating, extrapolating, deducing, disaster-planning, creating, ideating, analysing, worrying… it gets pretty busy in there!
In order to get yourself in a zen-like intellectual space, you may need to clear away some stuff that triggers the intellectual heebie jeebies, in advance of a presentation or workshop.
Basically, we’re saying, if you want a clear head, take the time upfront to clear it! Speak to stakeholders to find out their views, go for a walk and let go of the previous meeting’s discussion, make yourself a cheat sheet that you can review just before the meeting, to make sure you have all the key info top of mind, get into the room a bit early so you can make sure you have all the equipment you’re going to need to hand – and check that your video works on the meeting room laptop.
3. Emotional: The feelings you’re experiencing
No matter how hard we try to control them, our feelings seem to occur independent of need or appropriateness. The truth is, emotions are chemical, and act at a cellular, microscopic level in our bodies, and therefore controlling them in the moment is a difficult brief.
Often we confuse emotional and intellectual activity, so let’s get clear. Emotion is not rational or logical. Emotion rarely speaks to us in conversational tones inside our head – it drives the intellect to tell us things instead. When we say emotions we’re referring to feelings you experience, that can be labelled with words like happy, sad, frustrated, elated, frightened, angry, nervous, confident.
So what can you do to ensure you are emotionally positive, which will enable you to be in Flow when you need to? Well, that’s going to be very personal – but we’d suggest it involves reminding yourself of previous experiences which have been positive, and situations in which you have felt great, or confident, or excited (whatever feeling you need to have in the upcoming situation) before.
4. Relational: The connection you have to other people
No person is an island. We all exist at the heart of a complex web of relationships that travel through the world with us and make us who we are.
Our relationships, with family, friends, acquaintances and coworkers have a deep and profound influence on our ability to achieve Flow state.
A lack of ability to achieve Flow may be due to a relational issue within the room – a disturbance in the force between the people gathered together. It may equally be due to an issue in a relationship you have with someone outside the room.
If there’s an issue within a group of colleagues, perhaps you need to get them together in advance of a big workshop or meeting, and have them discuss the problem before getting into your update on the half-year sales forecast. If, however, it’s a personal relationship issue, you may need to ask your brain to let it go for a short while to allow you to be fully present in whatever is happening right now. You can also take advantage of positive relationships to help boost your Flow.
5. Spiritual: Your sense of purpose around the situation
We’re not talking religion here (but if that’s what floats your boat, tap into it!) – rather we’re talking about your general sense of purpose and belief.
Getting a positive spiritual vibe going usually involves being a little more personal than we are used to in a business setting. It means spending some time thinking about the “why” of a particular situation, and working out why now, why you, why the rest of the people involved, and examining your expectations and beliefs around those things.
Leaving this sense of purpose to chance is not an option. If you leave a lack of spiritual Flow hanging, it disrupts everything else. It undermines your feelings, gets you niggling and worrying, interferes with relationships and can even make you feel physically unwell. So don’t ignore this essential element. Take time to find your spiritual ‘buy in’ to any given situation, and bring it to mind before starting, so your North Star is well and truly in place when it’s most important.
Let’s be very clear. Being in Flow is not about pretending other things are not going on, and ignoring problems that are relevant in life right now. It is about recognising that those things exist, and taking a decision to deal with them outside of the presentation or meeting you’re in, if they aren’t directly related. It’s leaving your baggage at the door to enable you to be fully present, in Flow, for this interaction that’s happening right now.
We coach people to facilitate better interactions, so that businesses have the right energy to get further, faster. We do this through:
• Presentation skills training
• Facilitator coaching
• Meeting design and mentoring
We could never have predicted, as an introvert and a performer with stage fright, that our career paths would take us towards becoming professional communicators. It would come as an enormous surprise to our younger selves, that we now have over 40 years of speaking and facilitation experience between us, and a list of satisfied clients who ask us back again and again to work with their teams.
We have run meetings and workshops and given speeches for thousands of groups, across audiences of all sizes, nationalities and industries, We’re practitioners, not professors, who’ve learned by doing. Our principles are based in neuroscience, and our structure-in-disguise approach makes working with us fun and experiential, so the learning lasts.
This stuff is our craft and our passion and we’re sharing the tricks of our trade to help others succeed, with companies like Unilever, Emmi UK, Orkla AS and Mills AS in Norway, Heidrick and Struggles and Duke Corporate Education.