I'm working on being bold, whether it's in a one-on-one conversation or in a presentation. In the past, I've often watered down what I've said in order to avoid upsetting anyone. And I'm not alone.
Many of the people that I coach are concerned about being too bold. As a result, they dilute their message so much that they have zero impact on their audience.
Cultivate an attitude of boldness
Being bold is not something that you can pull out of a hat when you're giving a presentation or speech. You need to develop an attitude of speaking out in your day-to-day life. Otherwise you won't develop the courage to be bold in your presentations. Practice saying what's on your mind when you're with just one other person or in a small group.
I've found blogging to be extremely useful in helping me be bold. Some posts I've written have taken me some time to publish because of my fear, but having done so, I'm bolder. Here are some thoughts to help you develop an attitude of boldness in everyday life.
1. Stop being nice.
What stops me from being bold is that I want to be liked, I want to be nice. I don't want to have to deal with anyone's being upset or offended by what I've said. It's worked for me in many ways, but it holds me back, too.
I keep this quote on a Post-it above my desk:
2. Saying what you think enhances your career.
Do you hold back from saying what you think because you want to make sure that everything you say makes perfect sense and is supported by evidence? Me, too. But research shows that people who speak up more are seen as leaders.
Now that makes sense, but here's the topsy-turvy kicker: What they said didn't have to be particularly brilliant or clever or original. So, don't worry about being perfect; just speak up.
3. When you don't say what you think, it annoys people.
I've sometimes held back on saying what I think, fearing that it will upset people. Then the situation deteriorates, and I end up saying what I've been thinking all along, only to be told, "Why you didn't tell me that earlier?"
4. Your ideas can help other people.
Do you think your ideas are not worth sharing, that they're obvious? Then watch this gorgeous, short video (H/T Rich Hopkins):
5. What's the worst that can happen?
Sometimes when I want to say something bold, I stay silent because I just imagine a nameless disaster. But if I think it through and ask myself, "What's the worst thing that could happen?" then I realize that the worst that will happen is that the person I'm speaking to might be upset for a day.
Can I handle that? Yes, I can. Often, they don't get upset for even five minutes. They just thank me for being straightforward. Often the consequences that we fear don't materialize.
How to be bold in your presentations
Here are some tips for developing boldness in your presentations:
1. Ask your audience to take action.
Just giving your audience information is the safe option, but what does it accomplish? Instead, answer this question: "What do you want your audience to do with the information you're giving them?"
Then use your presentation to persuade people to take that action.
For example, in my presentation on Kiva (see my guide called "How to make an Effective PowerPoint Presentation"), I could say to the audience: "Lending money to poor people is an effective way of helping them."
It would be interesting information, but I won't have accomplished anything. Instead I say:
"Lend $25 to a poor person so they can start a business."
2. Be provocative.
In my research on learning styles, I came across Frank Coffield, an academic challenging the prevailing mythology of learning styles in education. He said he was inspired by Karl Popper, who wrote in his autobiography:
My custom, whenever I am invited to speak in some place, of trying to develop some consequences of my views which I expect to be unacceptable to the particular audience. For I believe that there is only one excuse for a lecture: to challenge. It is the only way in which speech can be better than print. (Unended Quest Open Court Publishing, 1976, p. 124)
A friend said to me, "If you don't miss at least one plane a year, you're arriving at the airport too early." Now, I'm not going to change my habit of arriving at the airport in plenty of time, but I can see his point. Similarly, "If you're not provoking at least one person in your audience, you're being too nice."
3. Imagine the friendliest audience.
Imagine what you would dare to say if you knew that the audience comprised the friendliest, most supportive bunch of people—that they're already on your side. Now say that.
4. Express the main point of your presentation in one succinct sentence.
Crafting your point into a Key Message will have you thinking through what you really want to say. If you allow yourself several sentences to express your point, you're likely to have woven in all sorts of qualifications and caveats. So, don't. Say it in one clear and succinct sentence.
5. Get rid of weasel words.
Do you pepper your phrases with weasel words and phrases such as, "I'd just like to," "sort of," or "kind of"? They reduce the power and boldness of your ideas. You may not know you're using them. So, either record yourself and listen back, or ask a friend to give you feedback.
Stop holding back; be bold. You'll get your message across, spread your ideas, and enhance your career.
Olivia Mitchell is a senior trainer for Effective Speaking, and is based in Wellington, New Zealand. She blogs at Speaking about Presenting, where this article originally ran.