I’m delighted to introduce an interview with Hilari Weinstein. Since 1998, Hilari has trained more than 2,500 professionals through her business High Impact Communication. Her training specialises in helping clients:
- Gain greater confidence and be more comfortable
- Communicate with greater clarity and authenticity
- Be effective communicators in a variety of contexts
- Make their message memorable
During my chat with Hilari we discuss the secrets behind audience connection, making eye contact, how to be truly confident as a speaker, important questions to ask when preparing a presentation and more.
Take me back to the earliest days of your business ‘high impact communication’. How did it all start for you?
Interestingly enough it seems my path was carved out at a young age. I discovered that I had no fear of just walking up to people and starting to talk to them. In high school I was president of the speech and drama club. In college I took a speech communication course and fell in love with it. During this time, I did lots of speaking competitions. By the time I had graduated our college speaking team had won two national titles.
I then went onto graduate school where I studied Speech Communication and Educational Psychology. After that I did some sales for a while. But I missed coaching – the coaching I had done with the speech team after graduation. I wanted to find a way back. So I became a member of the national speaker’s association. I’d found my passion. Since then, I’ve been immersed in the world of communication skills training, presentation and interview skills, executive presence and performance.
The tagline on your website is ‘to achieve connection with your audience, and consistent authenticity and clarity’. Can you highlight some ways to enhance audience connection?
Well one of the first things is to think of audience connection as a habit of everyday communication. When I train individuals on communication skills it’s not just about improving the skills needed to make formal presentations. Rather it’s about developing and improving skills for all communication encounters that may happen during the day. In this way by the time they get to a formal presentation, a lot of those basic habits are already in place, and for me audience connection is near top of the list.
The key to enhancing audience connection in presentations is to start with discovering connection in smaller groups initially, in meetings for example. Be present. Start really tuning into people. Soon you’ll be able to move to connecting with larger groups.
Secondly one of the most important tools we have for making a connection is eye contact. A lot of people when making a presentation tend to scan the room or don’t look at people directly. I suggest, instead of thinking of it as a performance to a large group, think of it as a series of one-on-one conversations where you connect with just one person, speak to them for a little bit, then move to someone else and really connect.
Again eye contact is one of those basic communication habits that should be a part of everyday life. One of the main reasons people have difficulty making eye contact during a presentation is because they don’t like people looking at them. So start making warm eye contact with strangers on the street or in the supermarket and non verbally, with your eyes, communicate “Have a wonderful day” or “Hey, how’s it going?”. Just make eye contact and smile. If you do that on a regular basis you’re going to make yourself much more comfortable and confident when you speak.
So let’s talk about confidence a little more. Certainly a key building block of successful communication is self awareness or confidence. What advice do you offer?
Well I have been thinking lately about what is actually meant by confidence and realised that there’s just no one type of confidence, there are many.
There’s inflated confidence where someone has an inflated amount of confidence in respect of their actual ability. There is contextual confidence where people may be comfortable in certain contexts, for example, one-on-one conversations, but you put them in a large room with a group of strangers and that confidence goes away. Then there’s subject matter confidence where if you get someone talking on a specific topic they’re fine but if you switch the subject they lose that confidence completely. There is borrowed confidence. When someone has confidence in us, we borrow it to give us temporary confidence but it is not lasting.
I’m currently in the process of developing a web-based curriculum to help people develop something I call “true confidence” which is long lasting and more consistent. True confidence starts on the inside. To me it is the ability to trust yourself, it’s when you are able to bring something to the table that nobody else does. In a sense that authentic charisma, another key part of my training, can only come about after one has developed true confidence.
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In order to mask the lack of true confidence, many people, especially when they are asked to present, use techniques to make them appear confident or feel confident temporarily. But the cracks will show eventually and in times of stress or nervousness, the mask can disintegrate. Being authentic has to start with really knowing yourself rather than just relying on techniques to be effective.
You work with a lot of businesses looking to enhance their presentation skill-set. What approach do you recommend to them for preparing a presentation?
There’s no one formula that works for every presentation. Each presentation you make should be customised based on a number of factors. Work through each of these questions begin preparation
- Who is in the room? (who are the audience)
- What matters to them? (why do they care)
- What is the outcome (action) you’re hoping to achieve?
- What is the impression you want to leave?
- What are the three core concepts you need them to take away?
Then develop your presentation backwards. Create an outline identifying the outcome you want to achieve/action you want them to take. Plug in the 3 core take-aways. Relate those to what matters to your audience. Use visual, vocal, verbal and visceral elements to guide them to the impression you want to leave them with.
Something further to consider before you speak is presence. In reality most people aren’t completely present when they communicate. But the best presenters are truly present in the moment, and the audience appreciates their every word.
Catch-up with some of the other posts in the ‘Expert Interviews’ series here.