Teleseminars, Stage Fright and More

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    Webinars are often used in the business training environment, but it is a newer version of that webinar idea with a host that is taking over when it comes to online/teleconferencing training: the teleseminar, which can be used to provide information, training, or promote or sell products to group of people interested in a particular topic. Teleseminars are similar to traditional seminars, in content and purpose, but they are given over a teleconference or bridge-line rather than at a specific location. The audience members can be a few or a thousand; it is a way to reach a lot of people at the same time, thereby saving training dollars in terms of travel and logistics.

    Because it strives to be the personal approach reaching many people, the teleseminar must also provide the best direct contact with human beings--so, the better the technology, the better the "contact."

    The teleseminar can have a facilitator instead of a host, but may have both. The big difference between the two is the perception that the teleseminar is more personal–the next best thing to being there. At least, it’s being touted as such by its promoters. While I’m not so sure I agree that the concept is the best form of training, I would grant that in some cases it is the best we can do in this current economic environment. It will have to do–at least for awhile.

    Because it strives to be the personal approach reaching many people, the teleseminar must also provide the best direct contact with human beings–so, the better the technology, the better the “contact.” So we have a concern now with presenters who use this training platform are expected to be more dynamic and more personable than the typical webinar leader–especially since the topic is of great interest to the audience or they wouldn’t have signed on.

    Now, we have to train those who train online how to do it effectively. That’s not surprising since I and others teach acting to those who choose to act in front of a camera for a film or commercial; it is a different kind of acting from stage acting–or public speaking, or presenting.

    One aspect remains the same across the board in acting, speaking, and training in that it all begins with the fear most of us have of speaking in front of others. If there are no “others” in front of us as may be the case in of a teleseminar, we’ll find those faces behind the camera thousands of miles away.

    Kim Clausen, Founder and President at Confident Teleseminar Leader and Ready2Go Marketing Solutions, posted a question on LinkedIn–a variation of the overcoming stage fright question we have seen many times–only in this case she’s talking about overcoming stage fright doing teleseminars. She makes some very good points that I’m going to mention here.

    I agree, for the most part, but with some clarifications with this complex, personal and emotional topic. Clausen recommends four ways to overcome stage fright, or teleseminar fright…”

    1. Get comfortable with the content.
    2. Be aware of how you view your audience.
    3. My 3Ps – PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE – Practice both the content and the delivery – nothing beats practice.
    4. Become familiar with the technology – Fear of how to handle the technology or what to do if things go wrong is what scares people the most.

    My answers are almost the same, too, but as you might expect, there’s more to talk about. In fact, she’ll be saying more about the topic in her latest teleseminar.

    In my experience, trainers generally want more specifics to hand out; hence, the dialogue on LinkedIn. It never hurts to have more and get the advice of colleagues. It has been my experience and I’m sure other trainers and communicators will agree that the trainees or the audience wants less–less to remember. The audience wants it really basic, and sometimes, that isn’t enough as in this case.

    To some people knowing their subject really well gives them confidence and courage; to others it won't make a difference, but knowing their audience will.

    Anywhere colleagues can get together and share ideas is a good thing. I am most grateful to LinkedIn and this forum for having the opportunity to share ideas and express my opinion on various training and in this case, a communication topic, as well.

    If there were specific techniques that we could all certify as having worked, we wouldn’t have the jobs we do. People are individuals who react differently to different stimuli. To some people, being with others is relaxing, to others it is not. To some people knowing their subject really well gives them confidence and courage; to others it won’t make a difference, but knowing their audience will.

    Helping people relax, letting them know the audience is rooting for you, that the whole exercise won’t change the world but we might as well enjoy it–are all things that help.

    When I started acting I had stage fright like everyone else and in some cases even now I may get it after 30 years of “practice” because something is different in the mix. Maybe I’m not as prepared–maybe family or a critic is coming–maybe the boss.

    We try to control for all that. We practice and gain experience. We meditate. We find our comfort zone.

    The first time I used a microphone I was nervous–the first time I was in front of a camera I was nervous. It’s all stage fright. I may still get nervous depending on the environment but I try to channel it, accept that I may be uncomfortable and do the best I can. If I accept the environment as my own, if I accept I am the reason people are there–then I’ll be okay. But that’s just me, isn’t it?

    Are there a set of details you can hand out to make others feel less uncomfortable? Only those people who will accept your details as gospel. What if I am a feelings person and not a details person? What can you tell me about my feelings? Can you define them for me?

    We try to control for all that. We practice and gain experience. We meditate. We find our comfort zone.

    Relating to your audience is key, says Ms. Clausen. And she’s right. But let’s give allow a speaker to be nervous if that is who he or she is. A word won’t change that. It might help, but it won’t fix it. When he or she doesn’t feel nervous they won’t be. Teach them to be themselves. Teach them not how not to be nervous or fearful, but how to use that nervous energy. Never ever let them say, “I’m nervous;” that will only affirm to them how they feel. Let’s not assume we can talk anyone out of how he or she feels.

    We can give them the tools to be effective speakers. With those tools brings confidence and courage to push forward. With each win, more confidence and more courage.

    I had a speech class moan a little and say, “Oh, you want us to be like you, and that’s not fair.” I didn’t want them to be a speaker like me; I wanted them to be a speaker like them. Who they are defines the speech they give or the presentation they make. We can make the process easier and hopefully make the act less stressful in the reality.

    Ironically, if the presenter can keep focused on what the audience needs or wants to know and keeps trying to deal with that, the fears won’t have a lot of time to manifest. Feeling inadequate to deliver the goods to the audience is generally our true worst fear–unless we have a complex based on what people think of us in general.

    Owning the moment and the stage is key to alleviating public speaking and networking fears. Practice means doing it the same way each time. Practice, practice, practice does not make a person less fearful; it makes them automatons. Experience is different. Different audiences. My mantra is know your audience, know your subject and know yourself. You’ll lessen those fears and maybe one day eliminate them. Some people never get over the butterflies but use them. Find the energy, the excitement, the thrill in them. I get butterflies on a roller coaster, don’t you? If I got rid of that feeling, riding a roller coaster might not be fun anymore.

    As long as our audience believes what we are saying is a relative truth--as good as we can make it--they'll listen.

    People are complex creatures yet we like the simple answers; we like short lists. We want the black and white answers–the “fuzzy” being too “iffy.” Some people always look for the numbers and there are not concrete numbers for any topic we might cover. This one in particular is full of variations and approaches to help. You may have four points; I may have three–someone else, ten and we’re all as correct as any thinking human can be. As long as our audience believes what we are saying is a relative truth–as good as we can make it–they’ll listen. We are trying to help and to those trying to help us we are most gracious.

    The toughest part of teleseminars, Clausen says, is being comfortable with the technology. I’m assuming we aren’t talking about an old-fashioned teleconference (which we still do by the way) a speakerphone, but a teleseminar, complete with video, music and presenters–images and presentations. While some challenges reside with the viewers staying tuned in or its their loss, the pressure is on the host/presenter to keep things moving and keep the audience involved–and tuned in.

    Talking to ourselves does help. Don’t most of us practice with a mirror or use headphones to hear ourselves talk?

    Still, being comfortable with the teleseminar platform means you are prepared–even if something goes wrong with the technology–or anything for that matter. Decide ahead of time a number of what ifs and decide on Plan Bs to deal with them. Even what to say. Don’t plan to fail (never say fail either–Gremlins happen), but if you must, do it with dignity. Armed with only our dignity, we can still feel okay and go on to the next project. Actually you should never consider it failure; but rather Murphy’s law, sh** happens, etc. That’s life.

    I have to tell you I am never thrilled with teleseminars either as a participant because I have to see someone who, unless he or she is very charismatic, is not connecting to me personally. As a presenter, unless I have an audience in front of me to focus on, it’s hard to focus on my camera audience, too, but a little less so with some kind of physical audience; that helps me as a presenter to be audience-focused. In radio, my first job often left me alone at the station. To have the feeling of another presence to talk to (and many DJs do this on the night shift) I put up a mirror to see a person–even if it was only me, it seemed to help. Talking to ourselves does help. Don’t most of us practice with a mirror or use headphones to hear ourselves talk? It’s also reaffirming that we are an entitled presence to speak.

    It seems what is happening to me is not fear so much as uncertainty of the outcome. Maybe you can focus that is the real “fear” or “stage fright”–uncertainty.

    Teleseminars have an artificiality about them because of the medium. Maybe that artificiality will go away with realistic 3-D or holographic images. I don’t think we really want that. I wrote a novel about what happens when people stop talking face-to-face and it isn’t pretty. We lose touch with our humanity, depending on machines to make us more than we are. We let the machines run the show, and we don’t really want that. At any rate, teleseminars have a place and it’s up to all of us who do them to make human contact while on the other side of the machine.

    Remember, we aren’t talking to a machine but a whole person, with a set of ideas, agendas and need for our knowledge. Know that audience. Know your subject and tell them what they need and want to hear. And, know yourself so you can make it interesting and lively, and no one will want to fall asleep, look at his or her watch, check their smart phone or take notes unless you want them to, and they want to, too.

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    As always, I like to remind readers, the views expressed are mine alone, but I am not the only person with an opinion so please comment here, or on my website, where as you may have guessed, I open my mouth on other subjects like communication and theatre. Email me, if you like. Better yet offer me a job, an interview, or a smile. Give me an idea to write about. Be a guest blogger. Check the site at the top of the page. Meanwhile, I hope I’ve given you something to think about. For a look at the human side of training from my Cave Man perspective, please check out my book, The Cave Man Guide to Training and Development. Happy training.