I do a lot of public speaking. When I am presenting to a large audience there isn’t a presentation where I don’t spot a person who has actually fallen asleep. Now you might think I am crazy admitting it here, but I know it has nothing to do with me. In fact, I’ve had people fall asleep and after the talk others come up and tell me it was the best presentation they’ve ever seen. Every experienced public speaker also knows this to be an inevitable reality when they hit the stage – even during the performance of a life time. The weird thing is that anyone speaking always spots the sleeper – we must have some kind of genetic disposition to finding closed eyes, even in a sea of people.
So, what to do about it when someone does fall asleep during your presentation?
Rule Number 1: Remember it has nothing to do with your talk.
We need to remember the the reason people fall asleep when sitting, standing and not lying down is because they are exhausted, not bored. Some things to remember on this point: They have probably had young kids screaming late at night and didn’t get any sleep. They might have had to catch an early flight to get there for the day. They might have been up socialising at the conference to the wee hours of the morning. They probably haven’t had any fresh air all day being stuck in hotel conference rooms. They have a stomach full of heavy food. The venture capitalist has probably sat through 24 other pitches back to back that day. And they probably had some other factor which made them exhausted. Boredom leads to imagination, distraction and people talking among themselves, not sleep. The evidence will most often be the 99% of people loving your talk, while at the same time this person sleeps. I can remember 2 times I fell alseep while listening to two of my favourite public speakers; Steven Wright the comedian who I absolutely love and Will Ferrell during his broadway show on George W Bush – You’re Welcome America. Which both were absolutely hilarious. But both times I happened to have jet lag, and the jet lag won.
Rule Number 2: Don’t obsess over them – ignore it.
No it won’t go away if you ignore it. But your performance will go away if you don’t ignore it. Remember it is not their fault, or yours, it just is. The presentation is for the person nodding their head, looking you in the eye, the person on the edge of their seat. They deserve your full attention and continued focus on the job at hand.
In the end, what we need to focus on is what we can control, and rarely is this issue something in our control. Sure, if an entire room disengages, go back and work on your speaking craft, get better. But the most important thing we can realise when dealing with people and audiences is this: we are not the only force impacting peoples reactions to immediate world around them.
Guys – this link was made private by the Arts council while they get other stuff ready – they promise me it will be available shortly and I will advise.
Here’s a talk I did for the Arts Australia Council Marketing Conference. It’s kinda long – around 30 minutes, but it might have a few useful ideas for my readers in the entrepreneurial and marketing space.
(I apologise for making up the word ‘decomplexify’ during the talk. My mouth was moving faster than my brain at that stage)
I’ve recently come to the conclusion that the most important thing I have ever not done, is my homework at school. Most of grade school and high school, I basically didn’t do my homework. I knew it was due the next day. I worried a little, but not enough to actually do it.
While other kids were doing their homework after school, I was out playing with the other kids, getting up to mischief. Riding my BMX, playing games (footy, cricket, building tree houses etc). I can home late, often. Mum would yell at me and I had to think of an excuse as to why I was late. I would have to provide at least some kind of creative response. Then after dinner I’d be too tired to do my homework. So I’d promise myself I’d get up early and do it in the morning. When morning arrived I’d be too tired to do it then either… In short the homework would rarely get done. Almost never. When I got to school, the same charade would occur. That is, me thinking of creative reasons why my homework was not getting done. Firstly to the teachers to try and avoid an after school detention. Again later, explaining to my mother why I ‘had’ an after school detention. In hindsight it was all a little stressful. Thinking on my feet for answer. Answers I didn’t have at such a young age, with little fast thinking experience.
Turns out this was a pretty good career move, or even ‘life skill’.
In the end, years of being naughty, taught me how to do something far more valuable than having high grades in senior school. It taught me how to think on my feet and how to present to an audience that wants answers. But it also did a lot more than that. Eventually it showed me how to read the play on different peoples reactions to bad news, that rules could be broken if you could sell an alternative.
It even goes a little deeper when I think it through….
I wasn’t just watching TV when I wasn’t doing said homework. I was out in the street playing. Building things with other kids. Under taking projects, playing games and interacting. Doing real things with real people. Operating in ‘live’ human environments, where the results, in this case the ‘fun’, was based on my ability to motivate other kids and organize them. All this, rather than spending my after school day light hours memorizing a bunch I’ve crap that someone had deemed it important for me to regurgitate in some test.
And now as the years have passed I’m reasonably certain that the key to any success I’ve had in life has been due to my ability to influence people. I’m also pretty sure that not doing my homework was where it all started.
Some one said these words to me the other day:
“It’s easy for you. You are confident being in front of people and speaking in public…”
I thought for a second and then told him the truth about confidence. Which isn’t verbatim, but it went something like this.
Confidence isn’t something people are born with. In fact, it doesn’t really exist. Confident people are those who are prepared to make themselves ‘uncomfortable’. People who are prepared to risk pain and or embarrassment to get something done. They embrace the risk of failure and get so used to failure, that people believe it comes easily for them. They assume it is ‘confidence’. But it’s just that these people accept the tension of being uncomfortable, as well as the potential for failure. And this is the truth about being confident.
There is more good than bad in these hilarious Ali G pitches to Venture Capitalists.
What to look for:
- His tone of voice and pausing when speaking.
- His reliance on talking. There is no powerpoint.
- Taking them on a journey. Story telling.
- Simple visuals. Having samples / props.
- Supreme confidence
I’d seriously recommend this video on how to pitch versus most other examples we see on the web so long as we understand the context.