Avoid Frustration: Set Clear Expectations for the Next Presentation

This article, by Blythe Coons, is a continuation of our series on the (negative) emotions that typically trigger calls to us, and small tips to mitigate these challenges. They may feel familiar. That’s because they’re happening in board rooms and offices around the world on a regular basis. 


Noun: being upset due to an inability to change or achieve something.

If disappointed expectations set the stage for a call from a client, frustration often follows. When a speaker isn’t prepared (to certain expectations) and the listener can’t do anything more to help them be prepared, it can be tempting to just give up.

We get called in to teach Executive Presentation Style and Delivery classes for two reasons.

  1. A university/company is looking to level up their leaders, because they don’t trust that they can command a room of donors, stakeholders, peers, etc. Or…
  2. They just can’t keep listening to the “ums,” the “uhs,” the fast talking, the monotone voices. Everyone has their limits.

The people who are exhibiting these behaviors don’t even recognize the issue–they are typically incredibly capable humans who are really good at their jobs, and are probably fantastic in one on one conversations and meetings. But when they get in front of a room of strangers, or sometimes even worse, colleagues, they have stress responses that show themselves in myriad ways. 

In order to show these individuals the issue, we have them record their voices. Then we record their physical behavior on video. Shocker–it can be wildly uncomfortable for some. In a recent NYT article, Veronique Greenwood wrote, “It is the rare person who likes hearing their own voice on a recording. It sounds fake, somehow–like it belongs to someone else.” But it must be done,  no matter how uncomfortable they are, because you have to see or hear yourself doing the thing in order to acknowledge an issue. Sometimes even more challenging, is that the people then need to have or show a willingness to change the behavior. 

Recently I worked with a GM of a company, we’ll call him Bill, who walked into the S&D class well-dressed, confident, cracking jokes (a stress response). When it came time for him to record his voice on his phone, just casually introducing himself as he would at a networking event or conference, I noticed right away that he wasn’t breathing. Even when he got to the end of a sentence, he would continue making sound, or somehow connect the next thought. He never paused between sentences to bring enough oxygen into his lungs. 

I gave Bill a short piece of text and asked him to insert a full breath at every period, and a short pause for every comma. It was a challenge for Bill, I could see. I had him do it twice, so he could start to accustom himself to breathing at the end of a sentence or thought. Once he began breathing regularly, other habits started to correct themselves. There were fewer “ums,” and his voice lost some of its monotony. 

I’m not suggesting this is an easy fix. It’s definitely not. Bill left our class having made very few visible changes. But he was thinking about a lot as he walked out the door, and I could tell he was eager to do something about his new awareness. Once a person has an awareness of how their body or voice is naturally behaving under stress, or even in their every day, it’s up to them to start the work. They have to be willing to put in the practice to make it stick. We provide a tool kit for them, and hope they draw from it.

Want to read more? Find our post on Doubt here.

Need to Improve Your Team’s Presentation Skills? We Can Help.

Frustration happens. No one wants their direct reports or peers to look bad in front of board members, clients, or an executive leadership team. If you’re frustrated because you don’t know how to help the people on your team, but you know they need help, give us a call. Contact us and let us know how we can support you.