the beauty of the 180 degree turn

One of my “bespeakisms” is “Turn your focus 180 degrees.” By this I mean to urge you, the presenter, to focus on the audience rather than on yourself. Over the years I’ve found that in addition to being beneficial to the audience, it also greatly benefits the presenter; particularly the nervous presenter.

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to help a client improve her facilitation skills. As we talked over the phone and met in person she described her excruciating preoccupation with herself, her mannerisms, her eye contact (or lack thereof) and her overwhelming feeling of being, well, overwhelmed while facilitating a workshop. This kind of confession is at once heartbreaking and heartening to me; heartbreaking because I hate to see and hear people experiencing that kind of angst, and heartening because I knew I could help.

The first thing I did was to assure her that facilitating a workshop takes practice and skill. It is not something any of us are born knowing how to do. The next thing we did was to talk about her audience, who they were and, more importantly, what they were feeling about the workshop.

As we talked, it became clear that as scared as she was, her attendees were coming to this workshop even more scared. They were about to learn the results of surveys given to their teams, their peers, and their supervisors. It would be my client’s job to create a safe, reassuring atmosphere right off the bat, so that the attendees could not only know how to interpret these results, but begin thinking of how they would use what they learned to create action plans for themselves.

Once she realized what her audience was feeling, she stopped thinking about herself. Eye contact became a necessity, something she understood the importance of and worked hard to practice. Her empathy for and care about her attendees completely overtook her thoughts of herself and in the short time we spent together she became a sincere, commanding facilitator.

Her supervisor wrote me that she’d “got her mojo back”. Interestingly, it snuck up on her when she wasn’t looking. She was too busy focusing on her audience; a focus turned 180 degrees. That focus guarantees she’ll be heard.

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