Aug 08 2016

What to do after you screw up that first impression

Published by under Executive Presence

dreamstime_s_52454650From the first moment you open your mouth to speak, people are judging you. They are deciding who you are based on what they hear– geographic origin, your gender, your education, your emotional state, etc.– which influences whether or not they can relate to what you say, even if you’re not a politician.  Those first 30 seconds are your chance to make a good impression. Conversely, you always run the risk of a first impression that creates a situation where you have to prove yourself over and over again in order to gain respect and attention.  Stuff happens.

The mic fails, technology doesn’t work, the lighting is bad, you open your mouth and nothing comes out, you can’t see your notes– all of these are real possibilities. So what do you do if something like that happens to you? You can just walk off stage after a technology problem, as did action film director Michael Bay at CES in Las Vegas, creating a more embarrassing situation.  Or you can stay up there and carry on.  Even though “you never have a second chance to make a first impression,” how you handle that moment makes or breaks your credibility and your ability to influence.

You can find some answers for dealing with the various manifestations of voice malfunctions in my series, “Who Let the Frogs Out?”  Otherwise, here are three ways to handle an opening crisis and turn it into a positive:

Surprise people. Be transparent about the situation. Make a joke about the technology. Stop and fix the slides or go on without them. One of my clients reminded the audience of how Peter Pan brought Tinkerbell back from the brink of death and had the audience clap while the lighting crew got the lights back on. Adapted from “4 Ways to Overcome a Bad First Impression,” by Dorie Clark

Get personal. If nerves caused a problem, say so. The famous jazz singer, Ella Fitzgerald, was immensely insecure. Years ago, I heard her in concert and she started her set by saying “I’m a little bit nervous tonight.” Those words put both her and the audience more at ease.

Have Faith. You are the expert, which is why you are up there talking. You don’t have to know what you don’t; you can have faith in your ability to speak to what you DO know. If something goes wrong technically, let the experts handle it and you focus on your part. If you see your boss in the audience and feel insecure and stumble, recover by remembering that you don’t have to know what your boss knows; your job is to be of service to those listening by sharing what YOU know.

Finally, preparation is the key to success in performance and public speaking. The better you prepare, the more capable you are of handling the issues that may arise when all the eyes are on you. As Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail.”


For more on this topic,

Please see my series on this blog, Who Let The Frogs Out?

Guest post by Gary Genard,  Want to find your voice as a speaker? You may need some tough love.

5 Ways to Unlearn Stage Fright

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May 12 2016

Your (Executive) Presence is Required

Published by under Executive Presence,Presence

dreamstime_m_5767445How to demonstrate Executive Presence through your voice

In 2012, the Center for Talent Innovation published a now-famous study about executive presence. The study, based on interviews with thousands of people, concludes that executive presence depends on getting three things right: appearance, communication, and gravitas (itself a set of behaviors). “How you look, how you speak, and how you act turn out to be critical to your success,” the report concludes, “at every step in your career journey.”

Now, in her latest book, Presence,  Amy Cuddy takes this a step further and shows us how our bodies lead and our emotions and minds follow. Remember that leadership pose she showed us in her first TED talk? Do that and you immediately feel more gravitas, and your audience does, too! The same is true for sitting up straight and leaning in at the table in a meeting, or on the phone when no one can even see you.

The Center for Talent Innovation was clear that gravitas is partly natural and partly developed.  Yes, some people are born with an inclination to communicate more effectively, with a prettier face, and a knack for speaking up at just the right time in the right way, but much of this is studied and learned. This is true for how you use your voice–if you want more gravitas, you will have to work at it.  The muscles we use to speak now were designed  to help us swallow and breathe rather than to communicate. As natural as it seems to you to use yours to speak, it took you two years or more to learn to do that. If it doesn’t do what you need it to do for you, you can create a better, more supportive voice.  A review of vocal habits led me to create the following list of skills to develop for more EP.  Warning! Most require practice, and all require awareness.

  1. Speaking with presence means aligning your words and delivery with a sense of purpose/intention. A clear sense of intention will help you better align your delivery with your message and avoid aimless chatter.
  2. Speaking with presence means using more “mask resonance.”  Clearly, if you want others to hear you, much of your vocal presence depends on the resonance and registration of your sound. Developing the best resonance involves exercising as does developing a fit body. People with EP usually know this and work at it.
  3. Speaking with presence means breathing deeply and using your breath to project your words. Again, vocal fitness follows overall fitness. Learning to breathe involves developing and using your core more effectively, too.
  4. Speaking with presence means pausing more. Yes, I know that you want to speak up more, but gravitas can be found in the silence as well. Give people space to take in what you say. Add pauses to punctuate your ideas, too.
  5. Speaking with presence means eliminating words that diminish your gravitas such as “kind of,” “sort of,” “hopefully,” “um,” and “you know.” If you’re on gmail, there’s a plug-in called (love this!) “Just Not Sorry” that will help you sort out the chaff from the gravitas. Doing this with your mail is a good way to practice doing the same in your conversations.


For more on this topic, please see my post, Would it help if I sounded like a man? 5 Techniques for Quiet Talkers.

© Dmitriy Shironosov | – Speaking through megaphone


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