A conversation with Natira McDermott
A conversation with Natira McDermott Part 2
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.