Yesterday, I took part in a very challenging exercise designed to improve your connection with an audience.
The fact that my audience was only two women merely made it a lot more intense.
The facilitator got us take to in turns to stand up and spend thirty seconds simply looking at the ‘audience’ in total silence.
Yes, I know. It sounds a bit weird, certainly awkward and if it had gone on any longer, extremely difficult. With more people in your audience, you are asked to spend a whole minute doing this.
So what is the purpose of this I hear you ask?
Well, this was the latest stage of my Time to Think development and the idea is that as you take the time to simply look at and appreciate each other – both as presenter and audience – as I said, in total silence, a genuine connectivity takes place.
And it does. It really does. Not in any weird or awkward manner at all either.
You are very tempted to become completely self-conscious and wonder what they must be thinking about the way you are dressed, what that says about who you are and a million other questions always designed to chip away at whatever confidence you have left after placing yourself in this highly uncomfortable situation.
But if you flip that thought and begin to focus instead on the other person (I only had two to choose from but normally, there might be five or six in a training exercise, or in a real-life speaking situation, hundreds in your audience) it suddenly becomes a whole lot easier.
The thinking goes that if you deliberately shelve your instinctive thoughts about your self and how you might be coming across to the other person, and choose to think about the other person in your audience – looking intently at different individuals – you begin to imagine them as your Thinking Partner, letting their attention encourage you. You can also consider them as the Thinker, giving them generative attention as you speak.
Once I made the decision to do that, instead of worrying about how I might be being perceived, it was so much easier and truly fascinating. I was reminded of those short films or commercials where the camera focusses on a single individual staring back but with no words, and then cuts to a different individual doing the same and so on.
I was also reminded of a time recently in the supermarket when my wife and I both had the same thought…
We could see dozens of other random people, queueing at the various checkouts and we realised how each individual person or family present had their own situation they were dealing with.
There we all were, performing the most basic of functions – buying food so that we wouldn’t starve.
How many times do you take time to think about those other people? Every single one of them leaves that place of fundamental purchase and eventually returns to their home. To face what? Who knows. What we do know is that not everyone is problem-free. In fact, the vast majority of people will be going home to deal with something – screaming children, unhappy partner, broken boiler, terminal disease and anything in between.
The somewhat vulnerable exercise of standing up in front of an audience of any size is one thing. Spending the first thirty seconds to a minute appreciating everyone else in total silence is a very different matter but it is definitely worth the effort.