You may have heard the stories of naive candidates who are foolish enough to answer their cell phones during job interviews. But can you imagine being goofy enough to answer your cell phone while you were in the middle of a presentation? Former New York mayor and Presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani has not only done it, he's done it more than once. His most recent shenanigan was to answer his phone in the middle of a speech to the National Rifle Association on September 21.
"Let's see now. This is my wife calling…Hello dear. I'm talking, I'm talking to the members of the NRA right now…OK? OK, have a safe trip. Bye bye… Talk to you later, dear. I love you."
Political commentators have been discussing the move ever since, debating whether it's a gimmick to humanize Giuliani or to make him seem independent of public opinion, or whether it's just Giuliani being Giuliani. But most professional presenters would agree: It's not a good idea for anybody but Giuliani.
Presenters with Giuliani's fame can get away with almost anything, but gimmicks like this would make an ordinary presenter look pretty foolish. And it's easy enough to make disastrous mistakes while presenting without the tricks.
"The reasons why people make mistakes while presenting come in two basic categories: ignorance and fear," says Diane DiResta, the founder of communications consultancy DiResta Communications in New York. "People either don't know better, or they just don't know what confidence really looks like and sounds like, so they try to show it in ways that backfire."
DiResta started out as a speech pathologist in New York city schools, then moved into providing presentation skills training in the for-profit world. She says that a big part of helping clients to speak in public more successfully is convincing them to focus on being present with their audiences.
"When you're too focused on yourself, and on your fear about tripping up or making a mistake, you're really just saying the words and getting through it," DiResta says. "That's when you're going to get too stiff or authoritative or distant, and your audience is going to feel it. On the other hand, if you relax, and focus on having what seems like a conversation with your audience, they'll feel it and they'll hear your message all the better."
It helps to remember, DiResta says, that although it's easy to focus on yourself when it's time to present to an audience, you'll be the only one doing it. "Audiences don't care about you, they care about what's in this presentation for them," she says. "It will improve your changes of communicating your message and help you relax to remember that it's not about you. Nervousness is natural, but it also means that you're focusing too much on yourself. By starting your presentation with a hook or a benefit to them - for example, 'I'm going to show you what you need to know to stay safe while you operate this machine'—you'll improve both what you say and how you say it."