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From the desk of Steve Lowell, Master Speaker and Mentor to those who speak in public.

Just Before Show Time

:Find Someone Friendly and Speak With Them

In early 2011, ‘New York Times’ best selling author, Peggy McColl, spoke at my business education and networking group called “Your Stage.” The first thing she did when she took the stage was to ask everyone in the audience to smile. She said she doesn’t really like speaking in public, and the smiling faces help to calm her down. Of course, the entire audience gave her a nice big smile. Our official photographer, Ima Ortega, snapped some great pictures, and Peggy went on with an amazing presentation.

Was it all just a nice act? Not at all, there’s tremendous value in knowing that you have allies in the audience, especially if you’re a novice speaker. A good way to secure a few allies is to make a few new friends before you go on the stage. I do that by scoping out the room and hand-picking a few people who seem friendly. I then approach them, and make a friendly connection, have a little chat and get to know a little about them. There are two benefits to doing this.

The first benefit is that knowing someone in the audience, even a new acquaintance, gives you a feeling of comfort.  It’s a psychological anchor you can use to emotionally ground yourself if you’re feeling anxious.

The other benefit is more practical in nature. It gives you something familiar to refer to when you’re speaking. I even like to mention my new contact, especially if they’re someone prominent in the group. Let me share an example.

I was speaking at a large networking function in early 2010, and I didn’t know anyone at this function. Not a soul. During the opening segment of the meeting, there was an opportunity to mingle, so I made a few connections. I conversed with a few attendees for a while, and picked up some information that was pertinent to my talk. When the time came and I began my talk, I mentioned my new contacts by name, and referenced some pertinent parts of my conversation with them. “I was speaking with Bill Dobbs before the session this morning, and we discussed the fact that most people don’t have an agenda when they attend a networking function.” All of a sudden, anyone who knew Bill Dobbs felt a tiny bit of a connection with me as well, because I mentioned someone familiar to them in the conversation. Another benefit was the fact that Bill felt like a hero, because he’d had a personal impact on the presentation. It was a win-win situation for everyone.

So, what’s the lesson? If you don’t know anyone in the room, find a friendly face and make a new connection.

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