A few years ago, I was at a leadership conference and heard Juliet Funt speak. She presented her research on a concept she calls WhiteSpace, and her presentation deeply impacted me. She defines WhiteSpace as a “strategic pause taken between activities.” Her company shows how reducing just 10 minutes of mindless busyness a day can save companies millions of dollars. Her organization aims to help families and companies and all humans maintain balance. To this end, she discusses the 4 thieves of productivity. You can watch a quick overview of them here:
I didn’t realize it at the time, but in the years since hearing her speak, I’ve found that these thieves are highly applicable to public speaking. (At some point, I should probably stop being surprised at how communication relates to everything, right?) When we don’t have enough WhiteSpace in our lives, we can’t possibly perform at our best. Because as Funt says in the video above, these thieves of productivity “lure us into a pace and pressure that reduces our overall effectiveness.” Let’s examine the 4 thieves a little further in order to maintain that critical life balance that allows us to reach our highest potential as speakers. And, more generally, as humans.
According to an interview with Funt, “Drive wants to climb the next hill, add another project, and keep moving forward. When it runs amok, it becomes overdrive . . . and can create burnout.” Think you can keep your busyness in check? Research tells us that might not be the case. Harvard behavioral scientist Sendhil Mullainathan and Princeton economist Eldar Shafir say that when we move into overdrive we often fall into a behavioral pattern that’s hard to break. This leads to increased difficulties saying no even though we are extremely busy.
Most speakers are driven people. They probably wouldn’t be standing in front of an audience if they weren’t motivated on some level. However, if you fall prey to overdrive, it can affect your ability to present to your top potential. If you have a big presentation coming up, give yourself the time and space and energy you need to tackle that. Let go of the things that don’t matter. Say “no,” more often than you normally would. Do what you can to protect yourself from burnout. If you find it hard to avoid overdrive, remind yourself that maintaining balance isn’t just for you. It’s also for the sake of your message and your audience.
This is a tough one because at first glance, both excellence and perfectionism seem to be positive things, right? But there’s a difference between excellence and perfectionism. Author and professor Miriam Adderholdt says that “excellence involves enjoying what you’re doing, feeling good about what you’ve learned, and developing confidence. Perfection involves feeling bad and always finding mistakes no matter how well you’re doing.”
And the audience can tell the difference between excellence and perfection. People who are excellent draw us in. We want to be around them and learn from them. Follow them, even. But people who are perfect (or who try to convince us that they are perfect) are off-putting. We’ve said it before in our blog and we’ll say it again, perfection is an unrealistic goal because of the nature of human communication. But excellence is not. As you present, remind yourself of the difference.
Funt says that all the dashboards and spreadsheets and studies, really all information, should have boundaries. You control the information, not vice versa. How do you know when information has moved into information overload? It begins to overwhelm you. It also begins to paralyze good thinking and decision-making.
The same holds true for presentations. It’s not too hard to know when you’ve moved from information to information overload. You just watch your audience. An audience who is smiling and nodding and engaged is soaking up information. An audience with dazed expressions who is nodding off has succumb to information overload. You have crossed the threshold. Beyond just the basic call to watch audience feedback, author and CEO Of Executive Speaking, Inc., Anett Grant says to watch for cohesive feedback.
“If your audience seems to react as one singular stream, rather than a sequence of drips and drops, all distinct from one another, you’re doing a great job. On the other hand, if you’re seeing a few people shifting in their chairs, a few others more drawing on their notepads, and a handful of others watching you intently, that’s a sign that you’re not resonating.”
In order to avoid information overload in your presentations (and in your home and in your job), ask questions like “what’s most important here?” and “what do we really need to know?” and “at what point does this information stop making things clear and start making things cloudy?”
With activity, you may be busy, but you still have moments of WhiteSpace. When it turns into frenzy, “the sheer act of doing defines your days,” and you lose that critical balance. Our brains need downtime, whether it’s quiet time during our day, rests in a measure of music, or variety in presentations. Have you ever listened to a speaker whose energy is over the top? He’s talking a mile a minute, pacing across the stage, and expelling frenetic energy? He gets to the end of the presentation and you feel physically tired? That speaker has left behind the balanced world of activity where rate of speech is punctuated with pauses and meaningful movement is peppered with moments of stillness. He’s moved into frenzy. And the audience is exhausted.
Keeping life in balance is crucial. As we seek to maintain this balance in our lives, it spills over into how we lead and love and communicate. If you’d like to learn more about how to you can become an excellent, driven, balanced speaker, register for our online course now.