Knowing your audience and making an impact – A conversation with Natira McDermott
Natira McDermott is a public speaking coach who helps her clients create successful businesses by dropping perfectionism and embracing their own compelling visibility. Despite winning her first high school debate, Natira spent most of her life avoiding an audience. (The irony of her being a public speaking coach is not lost on her.)
Natira shares with us key skills that people (and researchers) who speak in public should have to become visible by speaking like themselves instead of a textbook. Prior to her coaching career, Natira spent 17 years at advertising and media agencies where she led teams in over 150 pitches and coached dozens of executive teams. Natira is based in New York City and provides individual coaching, executive leadership coaching, presentation, and public speaking workshops.
Bridging Academic landscapes.
At Access 2 Perspectives, we provide novel insights into the communication and management of Research. Our goal is to equip researchers with the skills and enthusiasm they need to pursue a successful and joyful career.
This podcast brings to you insights and conversations around the topics of Scholarly Reading, Writing and Publishing, Career Development inside and outside Academia, Research Project Management, Research Integrity, and Open Science.
Learn more about our work at https://access2perspectives.org
Natira McDermott is a public speaking coach who helps her clients create successful businesses by dropping perfectionism and embracing their own compelling visibility. She shares with us key skills and public speaker should have to become visible by speaking like themselves instead of a textbook. Prior to her coaching career, Natira spent 15 years at advertising and media agencies in NYC where she led teams in over 150 pitches and coached dozens of executive teams. Natira is based in New York City and provides individual coaching, executive leadership coaching, presentation, and public speaking workshops.
“When you get up to speak about your work, you might feel that part of you really wants to make your message seen and heard and felt – but another part of you is terrified of being visible. The work I do with clients is to support both of these parts – the one that wants to shine and the one that wants to hide.” – Natira McDermott
At Access 2 Perspectives, we provide novel insights into the communication and management of Research. Our goal is to equip researchers with the skills and enthusiasm they need to pursue a successful and joyful career.
Send in a voice message: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/access2perspectives/message
“When you get up to speak about your work, you might feel that part of you really wants to make your message seen and heard and felt – but another part of you is terrified of being visible. The work I do with clients is to support both of these parts – the one that wants to shine and the one that wants to hide.”Natira McDermott
Which researcher – dead or alive – do you find inspiring? Amy Cuddy
What is your favorite animal and why? Horses – Because they are beautiful and I love to ride.
Name your (current) favorite song and interpret/group/musician/artist. Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen AND The Story by Brandi Carlile AND Glory Bound by The Wailin’ Jennys
What is your favorite dish/meal? Fresh bread and cold butter
Part 1: Authenticity and courage for public speaking
Jo: It’s great having you here. Thanks for joining.
Natira: My pleasure. I am so happy to be here with you, Jo.
Jo: Ok. So everyone, please meet Natira McDermott, a coach professionally working with female entrepreneurs to overcome stage fright and to embrace public speaking. Please share with us a little bit about what you currently do, why you’re so passionate about the work that you do, and then maybe later, if we could talk a little bit about the journey that took you there.
Natira: I coach women on being more themselves when they’re in front of an audience. So that will be dropping their perfectionism. Some of that anxiety that happens when we get in front of a group of people and feel very scrutinized. I help them be more themselves and really tap into their authenticity, because that’s what I found. That’s what’s most compelling for me. When I talk to someone, if they’re giving a talk or I’m talking one on one with them, it’s when they’re really themselves and I feel them there, that I really like them and want to listen to them.
Jo: And then authenticity. I’ve tried working on that for myself, and sometimes it’s hard to grasp what it is. How can I dig it up? How can I tell that other people can see it in me?
Natira: It’s a buzzword, for sure. Authenticity. And I think it’s worth the work of figuring out what it is for you. I know for me, I went through most of my life without having really any idea of who I am and what I wanted and what I liked and all of that kind of stuff. And authenticity is about tapping into really what makes me thick, what I’m interested in, what I love to do, who I am. So here’s an example. Actually, imagine me in front of a group of people, and I seem like a completely different person because I am taking on this role of being in front of a group of people. And then you compare me to being next with you having a cocktail in the living room. And I’m completely different. And so what I try to do is to help people be more like themselves in the living room when they’re in front of people, when they’re in that scary environment and not necessarily so informal that it’s not appropriate, but to kind of hold on to that quality that makes them them.
Jo: You basically establish a comfort zone on stage. Is that what you do?
Natira: A confidence?
Jo: A comfort zone?
Natira: A comfort zone, yeah, exactly.
Jo: Until you’re safe on stage.
Natira: Yes. You can take it off stage. You can put it into a Zoom situation. And actually the goal of just feeling like you’re in the room right here and you’re not locked up in your head trying to do something and trying to seem a certain way. And it’s a challenge. And honestly, it’s something that is, I think an ongoing challenge is to get and I think we just get better and better at it if we work. But I haven’t met anyone who is perfect.
Jo: That’s interesting to hear and important to underline, to let go of the perfectionism. Because as humans, maybe humans especially, or as humans, we tend to measure ourselves by comparing ourselves to others, not seeing that others have had years of practice and experience in what we are just about to dig into and to engage in.
Natira: I’m very familiar with perfectionism. I never used to identify as a perfectionist. I think I just didn’t like the word. But I have realized that I have a tremendous amount of focus on succeeding or failing. And I have this measure, and I realized that this is not even a fair scale. There’s the chance of success, and then the alternative is total and utter failure. The window for success is very small. There’s not a lot of room for that. But most of it is the downside. And realizing that I’m like, okay, you know what? I need to actually redefine what success is for me, because that version of success, that whole measuring thing, is not working for me anymore. I’m too old for it.
Jo: You don’t look old enough to have such a realization, but I hear you, and I think I’m coming close to the same. It’s not like perfectionism. I think I have a similar experience of not being aware. I thought, what is perfectionism? I’m not perfect myself. So how can I even call myself a perfectionist? And yet also having to strive for something, having goals, and then not believing that I can even get anything anywhere near.
Natira: I love that you said, that ‘I’m not enough.’ ‘I’m not perfect enough to be a perfectionist.’ It’s so good.
Jo: But then when it’s finally clicked, what it means to be obsessed about it has to be perfect before you even start sharing. It doesn’t make sense. It does not make sense because there’s so much to offer and to share and to talk about, like for presentation or speech, whatever. And there’s a demand. We’ve been called for giving presentations and hired. And then why not just go out there? We know where it comes from. It’s like this famous fight or flight mode in our brain.
Natira: Let me just say one thing, which is that I think it’s very convenient to be a perfectionist and to avoid putting yourself at risk. I think it’s like a very good excuse. Believe me, I’ve done it like crazy. And it’s that, you know what? I’m going to wait until I’m better at this before doing it. I’m going to wait until I ‘xyz’. I like this framework of thinking rather than making them think about the long term. Always be thinking in terms of what can I do in a week or in two weeks, like thinking of little leaps that you can make that actually get you out into your uncomfortable zone. I actually did an exercise of this. I don’t know if you saw this. I realized it was last year, and I realized that one of the things that I was completely nervous about was doing a Facebook Live. The idea was horrible to me. And I had this image of people rolling their eyes like people that I’ve worked with in the past before or whomever, because it’s Facebook, though, anyone can see it. And I thought that would be the most horrible thing. But there’s something about it that’s about my own visibility and my own bravery that I wanted to do. And so I did these different little snippets of Facebook lives just to kind of go, you know what? I’m doing something uncomfortable, and this is uncomfortable. And I have to say I was, like, supremely proud of myself for doing it.
Jo: I remember that.
Natira: Do you remember? They were just about and for me, it was the act of acting.
Jo: So is that then still authentic? I’m just pulling maybe a leg or not.
But is that a healthy approach towards authenticity to fake it until you make it? I think that’s the thing, right? Because you mentioned you acted.
Natira: Acted as in taking action.
Jo: Oh, as in taking action.Okay, sorry.
Natira: Just some backstory here. As a kid, I was always just dreaded public speaking. I dreaded it. And I would try to worm out of any situation that required it. So in high school, there was a big debate. When I was 17, I was supposed to do this debate. I was asking my mother for some kind of poison that would incapacitate me for 24 hours so I couldn’t do it. And when I worked at an ad agency, I would get asked to speak or stand up in front of different agencies and talk. And I would always try to find someone else to do it for me because I was like, I just can’t do this. And so I am very much aware of the nerves and the judgment of what it feels like to be out of your comfort zone. So I’m especially sensitive to that. And I think that in some ways, that makes me very good as a coach because I do get it. And I have studied what works for me and what has helped me do it.
Jo: Yeah. Sounds highly reasonable. And it also answers the other question, what led you to doing that kind of work today? Because you have experienced it yourself and you learned how to overcome and find your way. And now you’re sharing.
So were there other occurrences in your trajectory and your career development and the different positions you are holding. When did it click to you that, ‘I want to be a coach’. ‘I want to help others to get through this.’
Natira: So I worked at an ad agency in the City, and I worked in a new business. So I would help the executives pitch for new clients. So I would coach them there, like their strategy director, creative director, account director, and help them get themselves into shape to go and present some ideas to clients and try to win the business. And I really liked that the challenge was that I just did not care about advertising at all. And that felt like a big fraud. I felt like a fraud for that. I kind of didn’t want to acknowledge I just don’t care about this business that we’re in. But I did like the coaching. I loved that. I loved helping people be really good. And it was partly helping people be more likable in front of a client because sometimes people will come into a room and kind of be just overly confident and off putting. So actually helping them with that. There was one situation where I was in a room, I was in a leadership meeting, and a woman in the group was being asked some different questions. And I was watching her, and I watched her basically undermine herself, like, moment after moment after moment. And afterwards I went up to her and just said, I think that you can rise. The people in this room are looking to you to lead them, and I can hear it, and you can actually step up to that rather than be so deferential. And it was an interesting moment because she wasn’t my client at all. Like, she was just a woman there who I just could see was doing that thing that a lot of people will do, which is not stepping up, not waiting to be told you can run this thing.
Jo: Well, yeah. I think I’ve been in similar situations where there was somebody taking up all the energy, but also the space in the room and the speaking time, and you could see others sitting on the edge of the chair wanting to say something, but not daring to, because there was so much noise already.
Natira: Yeah. I coached one woman when I did actually go into coaching. And so I started being a coach. I got out of advertising altogether and started being a coach and working with different people. And one of my first clients was someone who just always, when she was in a meeting, would always sit back in the back corner. She would take notes, she would be very diligent about everything and was excellent, but just didn’t feel comfortable, like, actually speaking her opinion.
Natira: Yeah, I know. And it was really cool to watch her transform and suddenly through the thing of actually just breaking through that barrier of becoming much more confident so that she was able to speak. And actually, this is the interesting thing, too, because she was afraid of really speaking up, it’s almost like she didn’t have any opinions. Like the opinions were getting buried inside. She wasn’t really even aware of them. And then as her fear lessened, her opinions and points of view got much more apparent. And she found herself, like, actually really speaking up much more and with less of a worry or question about how she feels about this?
Jo: It sounds like a big breakthrough. And you witnessed that it happened, like, in one day or in that situation in the room, like, wow, okay, that’s big. And then how long after these experiences, did you take coaching lessons? Or, no. Did you take a coaching certificate or basically, in other words, when did the transition happen for you? When did you then decide, I can do this professionally?
Natira: I decided that I could do this professionally right away, and that was a decision that was based on the years of coaching executives in that corporate environment. And so I started working with clients outside of the office.
Jo: So you had the methodology already in place?
Natira: I didn’t have a methodology. I had an approach, but it was very much homegrown versus I didn’t get a certificate for it.
Jo: Well, in other words, authentic, like an authentic approach.
Natira: No, but in a sense, I have trained. One of the coaches that I trained with is actually based in San Francisco, Tara Moore. And that was a great training in terms of working with clients and actually less about how they show up and how they present themselves, but more on helping clients kind of see themselves more clearly
Jo: With the messaging
Natira: for who they are, who they are and like what you said earlier about how I find my authenticity. That kind of inquiry into yourself. Like, that’s what I learned through that coaching; how to support someone with that work.
Jo: I bet it’s not possible to just give a short answer to how that’s done, but can you share stuff? Apparently the whole process you have to go through. But are there some of the kind of construction sites that you can point towards where the work needs to be done? Like, is it mindset, is it clothing? Is it going back to the childhood experiences to overcome whatever?
Natira: There are some exercises that you can do that help you define more about what you care about and what you value. And I think that’s a really good starting point. If I asked you, what do you value? What are two or three characteristics about you that you love the most?
Jo: Yeah. And sometimes we just feel that, like, I’ve in the past, really into my 30s, I’ve felt strongly about situations and also justice, but it took some time until I could actually get hold of that as being part of me and treasuring that also and seeing it as an asset to me as a person. So that’s the kind of work where somebody else can help me in this case, where I could have reached where I am now much quicker and earlier in my lifetime.
Natira: Yeah. One thing that is interesting and this was research. I think I can’t remember who did the research, but it was that one thing that is really effective for having someone be more comfortable in a challenging situation. So that could be on a stage, it could be in giving a presentation or a talk. One of the things that is really effective is for that person to really understand who they are and what they value and be grounded in that knowledge. One of the ways to get there is that defining what is a peak experience from my life that made me the most energized, alive, filled with that kind of life, forest feeling what was a time like that and understanding what it felt like and be so aware of that that just knowing that in your bones helps you when you go out in that kind of challenging situation.
Jo: Wow. I see myself on stage in several situations in the past and try to remember how I felt suddenly nervous. And in some instances I felt more comfortable and it was easier, and in others it was more difficult.
Natira: What do you think is the difference between those?
Jo: I think groundedness in myself. I think it’s also important to understand and bring to the forefront. Like, why am I here? What do these people want from me? What can I offer? I actually do have something to offer and not to get drifted away with, ‘who am I?’.
I see now what you said about how authenticity comes into play? Well, I think it’s an orchestration of struggling with the stage fright itself, which is a fight of flights, reflex, but then also knowing who we are, who I am in this case, and that there is a spot to be filled and that people want to hear from me and all of that. And not only for the topic but also for the personality parts.
Jo: Which helps also as humans, as social animals kind of thing, the personality helps to communicate, to get the message across, whatever the message is, right?
Natira: And one thing that is, I think really important is acknowledging what the value is of speaking to other people versus giving them a paper to read or giving them an essay or an email or like a written piece document that standing up or just speaking with someone else. It’s really about connecting with them as human to human and telling a story, sharing a message. But actually that connection point and one is that there are two things that audiences judge a speaker based on, and one is their trustworthiness. So do I trust this person? Can this trusted person hurt me or seems shifty or dangerous, and then the other one is their competence. So do they know what they’re talking about? But far and away, the biggest part is trustworthiness. And in order to be a trustworthy person and to come across that way, we have to have an element of personal power, of actually believing in ourselves and feeling that kind of confidence, which sometimes yeah, you kind of have to play it up a bit in your own head to be able to be there. Because if you can get in front of an audience and be open, almost vulnerable, but open in the sense of I’m not closed down, being so bold and consumed with what I’ve got in my head and the message that I’m about to share.
Jo: In your coaching there’s no necessity to go into the topics. Are you also working with your clients sometimes on the messaging, and then it’s the client’s job to get the message string right and you coach them towards fine tuning it?
Natira: I usually coach them to express their ideas as clearly as possible and to be as human as possible while they’re doing it. That’s really what I do. And I think a lot of people in executive functions, probably in academia also, I’m not as familiar, but people can get very much locked into the subject matter and the facts of it and less in that interface that happens with an audience when you’re talking about it and how to boil it down and bring it into real words and a real connection there.
Jo: Right. Yeah, I think that’s certainly true of our researchers. And to be focused on the topic, to be super nervous about, ‘I know I have to present and is this even enough to present? What will people charge me for how little I found after five years of research?’ And then getting the personality aspects right. So through your coaching, there’s a lot of focus on appearance and authenticity, on the self, the persona of the presenter. And at what point can the focus go back to the topic? Because for the audience, it’s clear that subconsciously the audience would consume both. I mean, they’re there for the topic, but they get it through the messenger. So therefore, it’s so important. But now for the presenter with all the nervousness and stage fright, and I have to focus on how I come across not for the topic, but me as a person. And then where’s the headspace that’s remaining for the extra.
Natira: I know. You can see sometimes when someone is really nervous about something and they just speak really, really quickly to kind of get it over with.
And that’s something that’s a very simple, straightforward fix of slowing down, of slowing down and picturing what you’re saying so that you’re actually there with your audience in the discussion that you’re having and you’re taking them through the content of your study, but you’re doing it while you’re actually kind of imagining it also. So you’re experiencing it and you’re getting a connection with them in that way.
Jo: So it all melts into one thing. So there’s no worry about losing one or the other once there’s enough practice on the topic. And also in research, of course, we know that presentations have to be prepared. You want to practice, rehearse, to get the content right and straightforward and with no interruptions; or what’s the word? In German we say blackouts. I have a blackout, but yeah freez. It happened to me once. Don’t remind me. But also, life went on. I wouldn’t have thought seriously. When I was freezing on stage, it was less than a minute, a couple of seconds. I don’t know how long. I was like, oh, my God, I need to die. Like now. And then life just went on, and I was like okay, that’s weird. And then at some point it was okay. It’s really not that bad. The world is not going to end because of that.
Natira: No, it’s not. The one motto I have is lower the bar. Like the bar of performance, lowering it and then being able to leap over it if you get to that point. But yeah, not expecting perfection, but expecting showing up like preparation, but then being present when you’re doing it.
Jo: I also love what you said in the beginning, letting go of the perfectionism, daring to be imperfect in presenting in our case. And then a common recommendation for presentations and prepping for those is just to watch some Ted Talks and see how they do it. Normally they’re super polished but also not perfect. And I was just thinking, what if you tell someone, watch a Ted Talk and look for the things that are not perfect and why you would think like, oh, I wouldn’t have thought that this is possible in a Ted Talk kind of situation.
Natira: What is another challenge that some of your research scientists that you work with are facing?
Jo: Same as others, really. And I think the key is to really let go of perfectionism, see how others do it. See that others also, like senior professors, are not perfect and not meant to be perfect because perfectionism is not approachable. It comes across as not fake but artificial.
Natira: Exactly. And I think the goal, rather than kind of perfect, the goal can be the most yourself and the most feeling like yourself and the most comfortable that you can be. But the first part of this is just doing things like actually starting to show up and starting to speak up, starting to just express yourself more. And then it’s like after that, after you get that muscle working, eventually getting to the point of going, ‘how do I make this better?’. How do I actually connect more with my audience? And I think it requires curiosity on our parts like, how do I do this? Because it’s incredibly personal, right? Like what feels good for me as a presenter and as an audience is totally different than other people. But what works for me is to make myself show up and feel more myself and feel also so much more engaged with the message that I have and the topic and the audience and what works.
Jo: Exactly. Yeah. I think that’s also a perfect closing remark. And I’ve learned a lot. I actually had like five or so eureka moments in our conversation , like new views on how to interplay between focusing on the technical bits of preparing your presentation and speech versus working on your appearance, your courage and all of that.
So can we just jump into this last bit of the conversation? Because I wanted to make that point. But you can also tell me if it really wasn’t a point. And the point I wanted to make is; so when it comes to Ted talks, they are usually referred to as great presentation styles. And I think for TEDx, the one in Canada, Toronto, wherever, like the main stage. I don’t know how intense that training is, but it looks so polished and it’s a nice reference point because you can actually learn quite a bit from just watching these. But what I’m now learning from our conversation here is how about we instead focus on what’s not perfect even in Ted talks, because they still have this authentic bit. The speakers are, I think, encouraged to remain themselves and not to I mean, the dad’s way of saying things looks a little bit mainstream. Is it mainstream? Yeah. And still many speakers still come across as highly authentic.
Natira: I would say that it’s more intriguing to me to watch Ted talk and look for when I really feel that person.
Jo: Oh, yeah.
Natira: Instead of looking for the flaw. Looking for the flaw, I think it feeds into that machine of what’s wrong with the situation? What’s wrong with that?
Jo: No, I just wanted to highlight this as an opportunity, as a stepping stone towards that authenticity. But just to realize there is no imperfection anywhere. No, there is imperfection everywhere and no perfectionism anywhere, even on these big stages, even by senior, senior, double doctor people, Professors. But yeah, the way you express this, letting go of perfectionism, seeing that there’s a lot of imperfection all around us and embracing that towards life; this is what allows us to connect with each other and not to see imperfectionism as a flaw, but rather as humane and normal. And so I was obsessed and scared to have to polish everything to highly shiny objects.
Natira: Exactly. Exactly. We don’t.
Jo: Yeah. Okay. So let’s close off on that. Thank you so much for joining us today in this episode. I hope you’ll be back sometime soon. Whenever there’s plenty more to talk about when it comes to presenting for us in a research context or in academic context, but also bridging towards other sectors of society, there are plenty of opportunities where people share their thoughts, ideas, learning, knowledge, inspiration. And thank you for being such an inspiration for us today.
Natira: Thank you, Jo. It was a total pleasure.
Part 2: Letting go of imposter syndrome and stepping into your competence
Jo: Welcome back to the show Natira McDermont
Natira: How are you doing today?
Jo: I’m good, thanks. It’s great having you back to the show. After our first episode, we put the link to that one also on the show notes. So listen up. Unless you’ve already heard, everyone. Natira: Awesome. That was very fun. And I’d love Jo. I can hear. I think it’s your dog that is making sounds. At first I thought it was my stomach growling because I didn’t eat lunch yet, but I think it’s your dog, which is fine.
Jo: Yeah, people who know the show know the dog. They’re part of the family. So you got to share some of that family life.
Jo: Presentation techniques and how to prepare ourselves for being on stage, being seen, being heard. We talked a little bit about this in the previous episode where you already shared some of your wisdom and now it would be nice to hear what happened since and where we can take the conversation further and there’s a few talking points we will go through. But let’s start with what happened since we spoke last and how’s your business going. What are the key experiences you made in the past couple of months with helping our clients, which might also be useful for our researchers to hear about it.
Natira: For the last six months, I’ve really been doing a lot of workshops with different teams at ad agencies, actually. So I’ve been coaching, like, groups of ten to 20 people at a time, and we do weekly, like a weekly session over a month, and the focus for that is on confidence in public speaking or presentation skills. And that has been great. So it’s been really a chance for me to both kind of teach a more general approach to what audiences care about and what they don’t and how to be more dynamic and comfortable in front of them and then also really help the different participants with specific challenges that they have. So I’ve been doing that, and then also I do some one on one like, over zoom confidence, public speaking prep practice. Like when someone is I’ll have some clients who are going to be doing a lot of public speaking, are going to have to do some webinar and are just not looking forward to it. So help them through that.
Jo: That reminds me of a panel situation I just had at the Frankfurt Book Fair a couple of weeks ago where I was invited as an expert, which is pretty flattering. And then with the flattering comes the nervousness, oh, my God, am I going to live up to the expectation? And the other panelists were also experts. I was like, oh, my God, can I compete with what they have to say? I mean, not to compete, but can I kind of keep the threshold high? Does that make sense?
Natira: Exactly. Totally.
Jo: And then I had a friend, colleague, as well coached me into the situation, basically, just that you can do this and just believe in yourself. I was on fire on stage and I was being asked the question. I was in full focus. I was so happy afterwards.
Natira: That’s so great.
Jo: It was like the first time I felt so happy about a performance.
Natira: And do you remember, did you feel happy during it? Did you feel that kind of fire energy focus?
Jo: I think so. I was pretty energized. But I was also put in my element and I think I had the comfort of being trusted by the invitation to the panel, like, trusted with the expertise that I could deliver. I had the support of a friend and colleague who knew me personally and could talk me through my fears and oh, my God, I’m so nervous, kind of thing, and let go of that. And then on the panel, I was just an element and I was in a friendly, comforting situation of colleagues talking about what’s up? And on the topic, and each of us bringing in their spectrum of expertise, which is why we were invited to the panel. And the moderator was super nice. Also professional and very supportive. I mean, supportive as a very friendly and as you know, and supportive in a way that he made the entrance really uplifting and appreciating.
Natira: That’s great.
Jo: So helping people through their fears as they embark on a speech, public speech of some sort, be it in a webinar or an actual conference in person, a panel discussion where you expose yourself to the cameras and an audience. And I thought I was camera shy. Is that enough time you use in English, like, very much. German one to one translation. Okay. And I felt like the camera is worse of a threat to me than an actual audience. Is that common?
Natira: Yeah. In that book fair, did you have both a camera and an audience?
Jo: But I didn’t care as much because I felt so comfortable after the pep talk by my friend and then also all the other supporting factors.
Jo: So the camera I think what happened was way in the back, so it wasn’t just in my face kind of thing. It was not in the front row, but in the back row where I could ignore it easily.
Natira: Yeah. Okay. So how did it feel when you were on the panel?
Jo: Good. I totally went into all the things that I had learned over the years and also being reminded of in the pep talk, focus on the audience, find somebody in the audience who looks nice to look at, to build confidence, and then talk to that person. Find another person on the other end of the room, kind of thing. So I think that’s what helps. And having actual people in front of you instead of the camera of that in a situation.
Natira: Yeah. That brings up actually, in one workshop, I was working with some people who were a challenge for them, and I share this, is that I’m very sensitive to eye contact and people facial expressions. So when people change, you know, like, naturally change the way they’re looking as I’m speaking, I can get very like I’m just sensitive to it. One of the things that really, really helps is finding that face. If you are on Zoom or if you’re in an audience looking at an audience, yet to find that face that is happy and engaged and speaking to that and then finding another one and another one. And for any face this is particularly true on Zoom for any face that does just look totally disengaged or distracted or angry, because some people just have an angry face as they listen to Zoom and watch a Zoom exactly. And to not read anything into it. And there’s a privilege, I think, of speaking on Zoom. And you get to choose which audience members you really are speaking to and not worry about whether or not because they’re looking angry or distracted, not actually thinking that you need to do anything different to change what you’re doing, that you can continue going and just speaking to that positive person.
Jo: Yeah. What if you don’t see the audience? I had a situation where the lights were so strong, but I couldn’t like it. I knew there were, like, hundreds of people, and not hundreds, but maybe 120, and I couldn’t see any of them because the lights were so bright.
Natira: So for that, I advise using your brain to picture the most wonderful engaged audience you can imagine. People who are hanging on your words and to smile at them and assume they’ve got your back. Assume that they are the most wonderful audience ever.
Jo: How can you get yourself into that assumption just by imagining it? I’m saying just because it sounds easy, and I fear it’s not as easy as I might want.
Natira: Okay, so how would I prepare someone who has never felt how I would do it? I would ask them to close their eyes and to imagine standing on a stage and feeling themselves, feeling their feet on the floor and feeling and seeing that audience out there. And I would imagine them and then I would ask them to imagine them. What does that look, the smile I would start to help them see what those people look like and that kind of smile on their face, that look in their eyes when you’re just there with someone and you’re just listening and you’re so interested. And I would start to have them practice with visualizing that and feeling what it feels like to talk with someone when they’re just really, really intrigued by what you’re saying. And it’s important information for them. And so kind of do that homework of practicing feeling that kind of joy and connection with an audience.
Jo: Yeah, I think that can really work in building an imagination up. I think a couple of years ago I had advice in that direction where you put yourself back into a situation where you felt really comfortable with a friend, with a family member. Just remember a situation where you felt super sick.
Natira: Yeah, there’s something that I will do with clients which is around grounding or anchoring into your best, most authentic self, and that is around so for that exercise, it’s about coming and thinking about for yourself. What is a time in your life, a moment, a scene when you felt the most yourself and the most elevated, the most vibrant, the most vital. You might have been a little bit afraid, it might have been a little but like, thrilling. But that moment, a moment in time when you felt like this is like this is me. This is me. And I feel really strong about that. To go and remember that before you do a talk or you’re in some challenging environment, that the chemicals that that produces in you are so powerful. If you can bring yourself back to that state right before you go on stage or go in front of the camera, that can do so much for you, to give you confidence in yourself and just engagement with yourself. Because that’s actually really what’s so important is that sense of engagement with you, with yourself. And that helps with your connection with the audience. But first and foremost, it’s feeling connected in here.
Jo: Yeah, well, I think you mention that. I think in the previous episode we talked a little bit about authenticity and what that really means. And as you just said, what you said, I would like to go back towards what it means to know yourself, how that matters, and being able to communicate with an audience.
Natira: Yeah. So what I was just explaining before that is something that has been studied as a way for someone to be more confident and more engaging in front of an audience, that that exercise actually has a halo effect beyond. And in terms of authenticity, there is something that a lot of us do, if we go into a scary situation, we abandon who we are. Kind of there’s a sense of being so focused on other things that we’re not as connected with what matters to us. And if you can remind yourself of those things that matter most to you, like, maybe it is someone in your family and this experience that you had, it somehow keeps you feeling strong and anchored.
Jo: Well, okay, I get it now. So yeah, like reconnecting even despite the fear of exposing yourself on stage, the fight of light, things that might come up, which is to stare, to take notice of and then do that.
Natira: Exactly. It’s just there, it’s just a bonus. It’s a bonus of being human.
Jo: Yeah. And the legacy of humankind goes back to I don’t know….
Natira: Yeah. One thing I think I mentioned in the last episode that is really powerful is doing a power pose beforehand with the arms up, chin up, embodying. It’s the Amy Cuddy power pose, which is; take two minutes, embody absolute like success, victory, thrill, and openness. And what that does is it does transform the way our body feels. And it means that you can go out in front of an audience and feel good and feel available to connect with them.
Jo: Right. And the power pose, because I love the technique, I believe in it, I’ve read up on it and there are some critics who will say, oh, this is just not going to work. Even some researchers deny its functionality or its reasoning. But if we just stretch and kind of stretch our muscles, get rid of the tension that comes up due to the fear, that’s part of the process with the power pose, keeping us bigger than we actually are. And then that also helps the brain too.
I mean, everybody can feel it as we try it right now, right?
Natira: Yeah. Amy Cuddy did this research at Harvard where she was in the business school. And yeah, it was a phenomenal piece of research and a lot she’s continued to write and publish about it and there was this big backlash that happened and it became almost like a bullying campaign experience. And she’s been very outspoken about what that was like. To have to have done so much work and then to have it be vilified, that’s actually a really interesting thing to look at from an academic standpoint. But yes. So the power pose, if we just look at the parallel power pose, is standing up, shoulders back, arms up in a V shape and then, importantly, to have your chin raised. And you can smile, but the idea is you’re just like it’s like you’re crossing the finish line of a race of just joy and thrill and power. And that is something that just has a chemical effect in terms of lowering our cortisol and raising serotonin. I think those are the chemicals that we’re talking about.
Jo: I think so too. I’m not new, whoever is listening to that discipline, please, for your proof of concepts. And there’s actually research papers out there which I was trying to get hold of. And the thing with academics, there’s a certain degree of opinion making in academia and that’s part of the process. There’s nothing wrong or worse about it. And we can only unshaved so many facts as what we and the effects are also better than what we actually know today within a certain discipline. So there needs to be a degree of opinion in it and then there’s always those who always critique and are negative about other people’s findings. So that’s part of the question. So just answer or just respond to what you mention briefly. And also as part of the scientific discourse, there’s also value in questioning certain findings but what I would love for academics to rediscover as a culture is to do that in a supportive approach and not in a negative approach kind of thing.
Natira: Yeah. One thing that comes up a lot and I find myself when I am coaching someone in a in a more formal presentation for a webinar, let’s say, that there’s sometimes there’s a real propensity to stick to all the facts and just speak to all the all the details and all the facts kind of as a default. Like that’s the default. But if you’re going to be listening to that talk, you’re going to be watching that webinar, you’re still human. And as a human, we like stories and we like and also to be inspired, engaged, and have things that are interesting said to us. So one of the exercises I will do is around focusing on impact over accuracy, which is not to say being inaccurate, but more what is the most impactful thing about this that I can share right here and not thinking about covering all the bases of what that presentation is about. But think of it as this is the connection mechanism that you can have with your audience and how can you structure it so that you’re making pictures come up in their heads? You’re making pictures in your own head and you’re taking them on a story a bit.
Jo: This is brilliant. Is it going towards the why question like for a presenter knowing and distilling the reason for the presentation to that particular audience, but more so also to whom? But why am I sharing this here? What is my research about what I have found and how does it have an impact on what I’m trying to solve in the future?
Natira: Yeah, and to actually know that, I think it is to do that kind of homework before thinking, what is the most important thing that I want to get across in this presentation? What is the thing that is most exciting about this work To me, as a researcher? What do I think? You know, like, asking some of those questions, interrogating your own experience and your own thoughts about the presentation so that you can come at it in a more direct way and also in a more engaging way and more personal way. Because we’re attracted to other people. Do you know, like, we want to listen to other people and that’s and I know that’s a lot of the work that you do is, like, trying to bring, like having people own the work that they do and speak from their experience and not going to that passive place.
Jo: Yeah, exactly. And it serves authenticity. What we spoke about earlier, like, it totally allows us to be authentic, to remind ourselves and also share with a wider audience why we do the kind of work that we do. Like these little anecdotes that got me here, that’s the most engaging piece of information my presenter can share with the audience. The funniest things are, and it’s usually amongst academics that are usually the seniors that do that a lot because they’ve given so many presentations on a particular topic. And then it’s probably also relieving for them to just share an anecdote of what happened on the journey to that venue and everybody can relate. Oh, yeah, my taxi was also delayed.
Natira: Exactly. And then the artistry in that is about if it is like a hot start where you’re really starting with the crazy thing that just happened on your way to this panel or this talk or, you know, you’re telling some kind of story that does connect in it, like a fast connection to the audience. And then the artistry is really yeah. Having it really connect and grabbing the attention of people right away and then moving on and then keeping it going and going on to the presentation.
Jo: Yeah, because it also serves the first impression, right. Somebody comes on stage, and is being assessed by the audience. People are like, oh, I’m hungry. Can I listen to this talk?
Natira: Yeah. Actually, the research shows that the audience, the audience, the way they judge a speaker right away, the first thing they are judging for is their warmth and trustworthiness. The warmth and trustworthiness is the number one first qualifier characteristic that an audience cares about. And then second is their competence. Do they know what they’re talking about? And that’s fascinating to me because I’ve done most of the work that I’ve done in a professional environment, and most people really focus on competence. Do I know what I’m talking about? And they go in hard on showing and proving that they know what they’re talking about and bypass the warmth and trustworthiness. And that is the key. That’s such a key piece that some people really do need to dial up.
Jo: And it’s so important for communication, the human aspect. And I think I also reminded a friend colleague recently of her preparing for a job interview or something, I was like, you know what? They already know you are good. You don’t have to prove that anymore at this point. Same with an invitation for a keynote speech they already know you.
Jo: So just talk about it and then show your humanness alongside because that’s what people want to see.
Natira: And that warmth. And going back to what we were saying earlier, like, that warmth and trustworthiness, if that’s something that you’re going to try to make more powerful in your presentations. When you go back and you do some of that work about your peak experience in terms of what was that time when you felt the most alive, the most yourself, the most excited? What is that? If you can ground yourself in that ahead of time, that is something that really helps with the warmth and trustworthiness. The other thing is really around your eye contact, the openness of your stance and yeah, making eye contact. Sometimes, like, if you’re standing on a stage and you have multiple people in front of you or you’re in the front of the room, or making eye contact for a couple of seconds with individual people, then that’s a show of being trustworthy, because you’re not hiding. You’re not kind of just avoiding the gaze of the people in the room and just sticking to your material.
Jo: Yeah. So what I hear, and I’m only becoming aware of that as we speak, I keep having these moments in these episodes. So enlightening, basically. So whatever we said before, this is it. Like, just imagine talking to a friend when you’re on stage. Is that it? Can we bother?
Natira: That’s one thing that you can absolutely do. And that could be sometimes a prep that you do ahead of time. Like, what would it be like? All right, so I’m going to give this presentation. Let’s say you do a ten minute presentation. I’m going to do it as if I’m talking to my mother. I’m going to do it like I’m talking to my best friend. And that can actually break the ice a bit in terms of getting it to be really what are you saying, really? In some of the presentation work, like when I was coaching ad agency teams for new business pitches. So you’d be pitching a piece of business. The team would have a presentation in there answering questions for the client, and the client asks a question. And sometimes it’s like the client has asked a question. The agency comes to the client’s office and is going to respond to all those questions. And sometimes the answer to those questions is so indirect and so much through the agency’s own lens of how we do things at this agency that you’ve kind of lost what the question is and what the answer is. And so before the presentation, that’s a really good exercise to do of what is this audience or this person? What do they want to know, what do they need to know? And what in the most direct way is my answer to that. And at least have that in your mind, because that, I think, is a really good safety net whenever you’re going out and speaking.
Jo: It’s interesting that you mentioned that. I think this can also happen from quite a few researchers later, to have to talk to people from a different sector in society. It’s one thing to talk to other academics, it’s one thing in your own discipline, it’s another thing to talk to academics in another discipline. Different languages, like national languages or whatever that means. But culture, like speaking culture in different sectors and disciplines. So people like when biologists and philosophers or psychologists talk, they lose communication, I would bet, after two or three sentences, because they just don’t speak the same language.
Natira: Exactly. The connection is just lost at that point. You can be the most brilliant philosopher, but if you’re talking to someone from a completely different side of the academic sphere, you’re not necessarily going to be connecting because your words are all different.
Jo: Yeah, different acronyms, different concepts, different phrases.
Natira: If that’s the situation let’s say you’re going into, then my advice would be to really get to know that audience that you will be speaking to and so getting to know them. Are there people in your world that are from that sphere that you can talk to and so that you’re able to come to them and share the information that you have, but do it in a way that actually lands and registers with them? But that takes homework. That definitely takes homework.
Jo: Yes. It’s actually learning a different language, almost every sector. What’s your experience in preparing NGO, like third sector people, like nonprofit people, for a business event?
I’m asking because we have a similar transition to make between academics and corporate people. When academics apply for jobs outside academia and then what’s commonly known or referred to as the elevator pitch is what are your credentials? Why are you applying for this position? And then an academic would come and say, oh, just look at my references and the publication list that I have on my CV and I published here and there and in that journal. Industry leaders don’t care, or people in the industry don’t care about any of that. They want the kind of experience on certain things that academics usually learn on the job without getting certificates for that. So yeah, just to give an idea, an insight about the misalignment between the two sectors.
Jo: But I think you already said this, I don’t want to; it takes homework and awareness of what counts.
Natira: Practice speaking about yourself and what do you care about? What are the things that really interest you about the work that you’re doing? I think it’s important to try to bring it down a bit and less of a removed CV description of facts about your background, but really kind of make it more personal.
Jo: A lot to digest already as we talked. I really enjoy it. Okay.
Natira: I was going to say one other thing, Joe, which is that sometimes I was probably about 15 years ago. It was a long time ago and I was with an agency and I led the new business team. So we were going to a big client in Tokyo, and so we flew out there to do a presentation. And we get there and walk into the room, and it’s a room again, it’s like 15 years ago. The room is this long boardroom, and there are all Japanese men sitting around the table, and most of them are wearing masks. And this is before masks were what everyone wears everywhere. And so it was pretty intimidating, imposing. So the team started, so the first person got up and presented, and then it was the second person that was getting up, and he was the head of strategy. And he’s making his way up to the front of the room and he trips and he goes flying forward. He trips over one of the wheels of one of the chairs and just goes flying forward. And I am thinking oh, no. Like, oh, no, what a disaster. But the truth is, he gets up and looks at everyone around the table and everyone that was the ones that you can see are smiling. There’s just this sense of, like, broken, like you’ve broken the ice. And now we’re all here. We’re all here into this horrifying moment. And then he spoke. And I loved that.
Afterwards, I loved that experience. But in terms of when things do go wrong, because things go wrong all the time. And I read this note from Viv Grascop, who’s phenomenal. She has a podcast called How to Own the Room. And she had this great comment about when disaster strikes, to take a lesson from what standup comics do, which is to narrate what’s happened and then move on. So don’t ignore it. You could say, like, in my case, I’m speaking and let’s say I wear dentures and they all fall out, right? So all my teeth, I go, it looks like my teeth have all fallen out. Let me just put them back in and then go on. There’s something around the narration and acknowledgement and moving on that helps. It makes the audience like you more by just messing up. There’s something about it that’s just a Connective episode. We don’t want to do it, but there is some power in it. And secondly yeah, just not trying to hide it, but actually acknowledge it, but then move on with what you’re saying.
Jo: Yeah. This also reminds me of what I heard from a mentor. We are not roberts we’re human beings, and the world is real, and we can what’s the word? We can stumble and fall as a consequence and then get up again and move on in whatever situation we are in.
Natira: Exactly. And the braver you are to narrate those moments and own them. I think it does something also for us as the person who did it, and yeah. And it creates a stronger connection with everyone around us.
Jo: Okay, here’s a thing for you. I’ve been building up for that. And as we were speaking, I was like, am I going to share this or not? And now you kind of prepared the stage for this. So here’s the thing. A couple of years ago, I was invited for Ted Talk, and that was when I was engaged in all kinds of projects. You know me by now a little bit, so I like to invest myself in many things that I care about. So I thought, okay, that’s cool. Thanks for the flattering invitation and the Ted Talk. That’s cool.
Natira: Yeah, that’s serious.
Jo: Early in my career; a big stage in Canada. And I didn’t prepare, so I have many excuses I could bring to the table. I conceptualized what I was going to talk about. I prepared slides on that. But I didn’t really practice. And I know that it takes practice to talk, but then I didn’t have the headspace because my mom was sick in hospital and this and that happened. Just the constant overload of a solo entrepreneur. So I went nonetheless. I was like, yeah, show up and shine, and whatever happens, happens, and whatever happens was meant to happen, happens. So what happened was I froze on stage, and it was so long. You know how they sometimes tell you, and I also tell this to other people in my presentation technique courses, like, you freeze and then you collect your thoughts and you move on. And it probably doesn’t feel as wrong to the audience as it fits for you, so just keep going. But apparently I finished. But I didn’t see the audience. I wasn’t well prepared. There were all these factors that led to me breathing. Also, the topic wasn’t really mine worth the Ted Talk. I decided to dedicate this opportunity to a project I was participating in, but was not really mine to report on. Yeah. So I went down the toilet,
and I felt so bad afterwards, and I spoke to other speakers at that event, or like, whatever you TED X event. There’s like, ten or so other speakers. And we became friends, colleagues, and I had a few trusted people. I exchanged some debriefing thoughts around the situation, and we distilled towards that. Yeah, maybe you didn’t prepare well enough. Maybe it wasn’t really your talk to give here.
Natira: Yeah, exactly.
Jo: Okay. This is on record on my own show, people.
Natira: Exactly. See, but that’s the thing. It’s like owning it and moving on.
Jo: It’s been a couple of years, I can’t remember. It’s certainly pre-Covid. It must have been 2018 or 17 or something. And I survived and I moved on and I’m on stage again. And not only
Natira: I think the Frankfurt Book Fair, no less, I mean, the fact that you did that at the Frankfurt Book Fair, that’s probably impressive.
Jo: It didn’t take me five years to get on stage again. And now I think I’m ready for another TED talk. If anybody’s listening or the organizers.
Natira: I think that would be great. And it’s interesting while I’m watching you, because I just watched you with my own eyes, like, watch you with that story in mind. And there’s something around just when you were laughing and that totally open, funny smile glow that you had, that’s something that a lot of times we forget to bring that to a talk that we’re giving. We forget to bring that vitality and humanness and fun and engagement. And if you just bring that into what you’re doing in front of a stage, in front of an audience, that alone will really help.
Jo: I figure you just hijacked my vulnerability, getting over it momentarily for a lesson to the audience. But that’s fine.
Natira:That’s a lesson to you, though, too, my dear. Yeah, just absolutely go all in. I’m excited for your next Ted Talk.
Jo: Yeah. And even if it takes ten years before that happens, that’s okay. But then the other speakers who said, this is Ted Talk number, I don’t know, five or so, I was like, what? Okay, so it’s becoming redundant. Is it? It anyways, but talking about which, I will also share the Ammy Cody talk in the show notes to this one because we mentioned her. So there’s brilliant Ted Talks to Explore.
Jo: I just hope one day I’ll contribute one.
Natira: I think you will, Jo. I have a feeling that you will be.
Jo: Otherwise this show remains an audio and I just run my own show. That’s also cool.
Jo: Ted talk anyways. But it’s good learning. We can grow from there. Yeah. Oh, that’s the thing. Like, most speakers have that authenticity and that joy and spark in their eyes when they present, so that anyone can really learn from them.
Jo: And my recording is not a night.
Natira: I was going to ask you that and then I’m like, maybe I don’t want to ask you that.
Jo: It wasn’t fixable. Apparently I didn’t want to fix it. Like, okay, just edit it to make it work. And also I said, maybe this is not for YouTube. Maybe it is like a big fair moment on a TEDx stage for you. This is hard not to do. It prepared better. I’m not in hospital while you prepare for
it’s. Not always the right time for everything, at least. And there’s probably another opportunity, and even if not another game, there’s other games to play. But also if an opportunity rises, especially where you don’t have to jump on every bandwagon, but we can. And if we do, let’s make sure we own our story. I think that’s my definition.
Jo: Cool. Okay, cool. There’s a few talking points we haven’t touched upon, but I feel there is room for another episode in the future.
Natira: Absolutely. I would love to do that with you.
Jo: Let’s do this. Can you actually do the dog? I can hear your dog. Sorry. This is perfectly fine. Grandpa’s dog confused the rescue, so he’s not trying to make his bed and to strike in the process. We will think about editing or not. Thanks for joining. Thank you.
Natira: Thank you so much, Jo.