• August 2010

Giving Presentations May Not Be As Big A Risk As You Fear

By Hope Katz Gibbs
Editor & Publisher
Be Inkandescent Business Magazine

I recently met two vivacious communications experts — Hilary Blair and Robin Miller, owners of the communication/presentation company ARTiculate — at Nell Merlino’s Make Mine a Million $ Business conference.

The energetic women were behind the scenes, helping the two dozen entrepreneurs chosen to participate in the annual business competition to clearly voice a succinct message about what their companies do.

They had their work cut out for them, because after all, it’s tough to get up in front of a huge audience and pitch your business — especially if it isn’t something you’ve been trained to do.

“Yes, it’s intimidating to stand before a large crowd,” admits Hilary, an actor and professional voice-over artist with more than 30 years of experience teaching and coaching voice, public speaking, and voice-over skills. “But it’s mission critical. I truly believe that everyone can do it, and do it well. They sometimes just need a little coaching so they are comfortable and clear.”

At ARTiculate, that’s exactly what Hilary and Robin do for hundreds of business leaders.

“It’s not just delivering the message well — it’s having an authentic message to deliver that will gain a company more clients,” explains Robin, a motivational speaker who has a PhD from the University of North Texas in Musicology and a Master of Divinity from Iliff School of Theology. “Our goal is to help entrepreneurs find that message, and their authentic selves, because when they do, it will be so easy for them to tell the world exactly what they do.”

I recently sat down with Hilary and Robin to discuss some of the reasons so many business owners get hung up when it comes to speaking publicly — and what we can do to take the pain out of making a presentation.

Be Inkandescent Magazine: Your company coaches people to “be who they are,” and “get out of their own way,” so they can present their authentic selves when making a presentation. Tell us more about what makes a good presentation. Are there special skills, experiences, talents required? Can anyone learn to do it?

Hilary: (pictured above) Yes, we believe everyone can learn to present more effectively. The best way to do that is to have them draw on their strengths — not necessarily by fixing their weaknesses. We call it “getting real and getting clear.”

For us, the joy of working with clients is to help them access their unique qualities. Each person has their own individual presentation style, and they often need encouragement to break out of the learned patterns, listen to their internal voice, and communicate it outwardly so that the message they wish to have heard or delivered is, in fact, what is heard and delivered.

Be Inkandescent Magazine: I love that idea, and actually find it comforting. As a kid, I had no trouble getting up in front of large crowds. I was the president of my high school class and handed out the diplomas. But the older I get, I prefer talking with small groups rather than large ones.

I’m comforted, slightly, to know that I am not alone. Research indicates that most people would rather die than stand up in front of a live audience. This fear of public speaking speaking (glossophobia) not only tops necrophobia (fear of death), but also is scarier to people than spiders, darkness, and heights.

Why do you think so many people are petrified to stand up and speak in front of a crowd?

Robin: (pictured right) This is a big question about which many books have been written. As a leaping off position, we always reiterate, most of us believe the audience is judging us, and rightly so. When we stand up in front of people they do assess our appearance, our energy, our knowledge, our presentation, etc.

Often, we are focused on what people are thinking about us rather than on what we are giving to them.

At ARTiculate, we reframe the fear so that business leaders interpret it more as a feeling of excitement toward what they get to share with their respective audience and on presenting the real objective.

When a person believes in his/her message and believes that it is more important than what people think, he/she presents in a manner that is unencumbered, and people listen.

Be Inkandescent Magazine: What are the keys to making a great presentation?

Hilary: The first step is to know what you want to say before you say it. But that is not everything. In fact, studies have shown that our communication focuses roughly with this ratio: 60% is nonverbal communication, 30% is prosody (the rhythm, stress, and intonation of speech), but only 10% of what people hear in a speech are the words themselves.

So the cliché, “it is not what we say but how we say it that matters,” is very true. What really matters is how we stand, what we wear, the look on our face, and other nonverbal cues. Sure, a good speech makes a difference, but we have all seen poor speeches presented well, and expert speeches presented poorly.

Be Inkandescent Magazine: What are the three key elements to a good speech?

Hilary: The basics of making a good speech include:

1. Know your audience.
2. Fully embrace your objective.
3. Connect to your voice.

You must know your destination, the road you are taking to get there, and the vehicle you are using. These are the three key elements that we focus on with clients when empowering their presentations.

It’s important for business leaders to know that presentation skills are not limited to speeches. They are essential in phone conversations, giving a business pitch, running a meeting, being a keynote speaker, or a trainer.

Be Inkandescent Magazine: Is there a difference between making a pitch before a live crowd and recording one for YouTube or a commercial?

Robin: Yes, indeed! Acting for the stage, film and voice-over all contain their own different nuances. In a nutshell, the meaning for stage acting is conveyed with the full body; film acting concentrates on the use of the eyes, and voice-over is about expressing through the voice.

Awareness of these differences can help greatly with nailing successful phone interviews, TV appearances, and live presentations for instance.

Be Inkandescent Magazine: What is the best presentation you’ve heard / seen? What made it so magical?

Robin: Oh, there have been so many. From a famous singer to a speaker in a training session, absolute commitment and belief in the message and how one shares are vital.

The more emotionally based the presentation, the more powerful the impact.

I experienced this while sitting on the top tier, in the last row of the MET while listening to Marilyn Horne sing an art song. I could barely see her, but her voice commanded the message that she was delivering so that it carried to the last person at the back of the MET.

Singing is extended speech. The sound carries on the vowels and is mostly emotional energy. Regardless of the medium of presentation, we all crave authenticity and truth through true emotional communication whether it is a discussion of the latest scientific discovery or the impact of someone telling us about a loved one who has died.

And you can’t fake it – if you do, the audience knows immediately, and you lose them.

Be Inkandescent Magazine: Can you share with us the worst presentation you’ve heard to date — and how the presenter overcame that experience to go on to presentation glory?

Hilary: The worst presentation(s) are usually when someone comes in with her/his notes and proceeds to deliver the message from the written and/or typed page – head down, reading words not written in a way for being heard aloud, in a monotone.

Liberation occurs when he/she learns to connect with and believe in the message to the point that the pages are discarded and a real delivery unfolds.

An example of this is when a professor continues to deliver the same classroom lecture year after year from the yellowed sheets of paper. The students are bored and an opportunity for real connection and learning is missed.

Papers can create a barrier and a protective boundary to hide behind and don’t always allow for the sharing of energy and passion. If a speaker chooses to present while using notes or written scripts, he/she must commit to being fully connected to the audience while sharing.

This type of presentation can also manifest when a message is not an authentic one for the presenter. I witnessed an example of a client who froze, yes, absolutely froze, in front of a very large audience.

This was a skilled speaker with great knowledge. When we finally got to the bottom of it, it turned out that he simply no longer believed in the information he was sharing. He had not been fully aware of his own ethical dilemma, but it took its toll. One must believe in their message if it is to make an impact on others.

Be Inkandescent Magazine: In addition to your bios (which are posted below), can you tell us more about yourselves. Were you ever afraid to get up and make a presentation? Do you ever get nervous when you stand before a crowd? If so, how do you calm down?

Hilary: I get nervous all the time. The old actor adage is, when the nerves are gone, it means that you don’t care anymore — or I care enough to be nervous. I do use breathing techniques that I teach to others, and I focus on my objective that involves my audience, not me.

Robin: I am always waiting for the magical moment that the nerves will appear before a performance, a speech or a sermon. I rely on the fact that I have practiced and prepared, and on the fact that I have practiced and really know my score or my topic. Knowing that it has become a part of me, I can, then, deliver to the audience without my nerves blocking my message.

Be Inkandescent Magazine: What type of companies are you looking forward to working with in the next year, and in three years?

Hilary: Our ideal client is anyone who truly believes in change; is brave enough to look at themselves; and a hard enough worker to put it into action.

While we thoroughly enjoy working with beginners, we look forward to the success of elevating seasoned speakers.

These clients have included and continue to include: lawyers, ministers, trainers, sales people, real estate professionals, teachers, professors, actors, politicians, TV personalities, writers, keynote speakers, physicians and nurses.

Recently, we have been enjoying working with women so that they can find their authentic voices in fields that are often male dominated. These women have included breast cancer survivors that feel disconnected from their core; women for whom English is a second language and desire to explore these cultural shifts in communication so that they can relay their real message; and business women who have found themselves hitting the glass ceiling because they have tried to fit into a style of communication that does not work for them.

Be Inkandescent Magazine: Last question. If you had “fear free” wands and could share one secret to presentation success, what would you tell people so they’d be more willing to take the risk and learn to make good presentations?

Robin: ARTiculate believes that everyone is a great presenter if they present as their authentic self – get real and get clear.

For example, we trained a CFO of a large investment company that was trying to present like the CEO who happened to be very charismatic. When the CFO embraced his own quirky personal style and began presenting as himself, he broke through a wall and moved forward successfully.

Our mantra is: “We are here to guide you to ‘Get Out of Your Own Way!’”

Contact Robin and Hilary at info@articulaterc.com.


About Hilary Blair

Hilary Blair is a professional voice-over artist and actor with over 30 years experience teaching and coaching. She teaches voice, public speaking and voice-over with HB Voice/ARTiculate and is on faculty at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts and National Theatre Conservatory.

She is a highly regarded coach working extensively across the US at a variety of schools, universities, arts centers, theatres and in corporate settings with actors and teachers to lawyers and CEO’s. She holds an MFA from the National Theatre Conservatory and a BA from Yale University. She is a member of Toastmasters and VASTA – the voice and speech trainers association.

Hilary is honored to have worked with finalists and awardees of the Make Mine a Million $ Business program since its inception. Most recently, she was the MC for the TEDxDU event, helping to lead change through innovation.

What the critics are saying: “Hilary is a whirlwind of talent, creativity and energy, and extremely helpful at preparing business people for public speaking and media relations. Her knowledge is thorough and her ability to communicate that knowledge to others is impressive. She is clever, amusing and very professional.”


About Robin Miller

Robin A. Miller, PhD, MDiv is the co-founder of ARTiculate — Real Clear, a communication/presentation company that helps individuals get out of their own way. She is an energetic, motivational keynote speaker and has spent over 20 years in teaching, training and coaching others into their full potential.

She earned her PhD from the University of North Texas in Musicology and her Master of Divinity from Iliff School of Theology. Robin has taught at Baylor University, Texas Christian University, and worked as a Customer Relationship Manager in the financial industry, as well as a Hospital Development Coordinator and Chaplain in some of Denver’s leading Level 1 trauma centers.

Her background in teaching, vocal performance, spiritual direction, and public speaking enables her to work with large groups in actualizing their communication skills by connecting them to the real meaning of their message.

Robin’s goal: “We want to ensure that the message a person is delivering is the one that they want to be heard. We will help you become clearer about your person, your presentation style, and your ultimate message.”