By Katherine Michalak
From Air Force service to radio DJ to acting to learning specialist and annual turns as a professional Santa, David Doerrier has many stories to tell — and experiences that speak volumes. However, he’d rather get others talking. It’s his priority to teach people the most effective strategy for communicating information to an audience. As a retired USAF Air Transportation Specialist, Doerrier spent a decade on active duty and almost 20 years in the reserves when he was invited to be an instructor with the USAFR Transportation Proficiency Center at Cobb County’s Dobbins ARB, thus began his career in training and development. His aptitude for teaching and instructional design led him to opportunities to work with a variety of organizations, sharing his talent for presentation along the way.
In 2018, Doerrier established Present Your Way To Success, his private consulting business, to focus on the training elements most fulfilling for him. “I started this company because I really love doing this. I really enjoy seeing people get through various communication challenges and find the best method for them,” he professes. “Public speaking is difficult. I love seeing people tackle anxiety and conquer these fears … and find resources that help them engage with people, and I enjoy the interaction myself.” He recognizes and appreciates his own strengths as a mentor in this arena. “I’m good at evaluating people. I have a knack for it, for giving feedback in a gentle manner that gets through constructively, moving past the ego and the embarrassment.”
At the outset, his first core group of clients received the bulk of their training via in-person classes or workshops. Doerrier started out using a familiar hands-on approach, refined by his years as a corporate trainer, actor and instructional designer. “Speaking, using presentation techniques, incorporating technology — they needed help with all of that,” he recalls. As an expert facilitator, Doerrier developed a comprehensive analysis to identify areas of potential growth and then produce a customized program to address specific goals. Over the last year or so, there’s been a distinctive shift as clients transition to virtual formats and adjust to new demands. “Yes, [people are] struggling with the shift, [learning] to use meeting time efficiently, to take ownership of the call. It’s teaching them engagement,” he qualifies, “engagement principles must be applied.” And, that engagement results by clearly delivering information to a receptive audience.
Now You’re Talking
People often freeze at the very notion of speaking before a group. “There’s an innate sense of vulnerability that comes with public speaking or presenting,” Doerrier confirms, “[and] because of that vulnerability, the task is often the source of fear or anxiety.” Such trepidation is to be expected and is all completely normal. In fact, as a seasoned professional, Doerrier believes firmly, “If you’re not nervous before such a task, then there’s something wrong. The trick is to turn that nervousness into excitement and anticipation, abandoning the panic.”
For many, speech training ended with a high school or college class, which may not have fully encompassed the far-reaching opportunities accorded by modern communication infrastructure. And even the best skills need tweaking for different audiences or formats. Clients regularly fret to Doerrier that they don’t even know where to start, and he acknowledges that being an expert on a topic doesn’t eliminate anxiety when planning a presentation. Often, subject matter experts (SMEs) overwhelm themselves and their audiences by attempting to convey too much information at one time. “Being a SME, does not automatically make you an expert presenter. Talking or telling ain’t training or selling,” cautions Doerrier. Hiring a coach for a few sessions, a tutorial, or a full block of programming provides insight into the benefit of enhanced engagement as well as an unbiased opinion for quality feedback.
Know Your ABCs
Doerrier designs training programs that guide clients toward the discovery of an effective communication style befitting a variety of projects and presentations. His methods help people see how they can pull together information and distill it down into key objectives so that an audience remembers a few central points. “Start with your conclusion,” he counsels. “What’s your point? Identify that and work backward from there.” To build further framework, Doerrier instructs speakers to outline using their ABC’s — Agenda, Belief, and Core Communication.
Agenda: Ultimately, giving a presentation involves reporting facts, research, data, details, or opinions to an interested audience. Doerrier endorses adopting a method from journalism to form an agenda as the Who/What/When/Where/Why/How in this context:
- Who = Audience
- What = Content
- When = Schedule
- Where = Venue
- Why = Purpose/Mission
- How = Format
Belief: Unsurprisingly, the self-confidence of the speaker plays a distinctive role in the success of the overall presentation. After years of working with various clients, Doerrier notes that inherent beliefs about our abilities tend to surface in public speaking. “To be nervous is normal,” he reiterates. “Change your mindset to positive self-talk and accept that mistakes are OK. Your contribution is valued and necessary; you always have something to offer. The audience wants you to succeed. You have unique knowledge or perspective on the subject matter at hand. But don’t try to wing it, no matter what your familiarity with the topic might be. Preparation always benefits both the speaker and the audience.”
Core Communication Skill: Here’s where active experience, core competencies, and good training influence a speaker. A presentation must be engaging to be relevant, meaning there must be a sense of connection to and attention by the audience. The successful speaker creates an emotional experience for the audience so that they absorb the value of the information presented. To facilitate strong engagement, Doerrier trains clients to focus on sensory measures:
– Scan the audience regularly just as you would in a personal conversation. Eye contact projects credibility.
– On video conferences, look directly into the camera in order to transmit a direct gaze across the screen. It’s alright to occasionally look away, as long as you are still focused on the meeting with the same level of attention shown in-person.
– A striking 93 percent of information is conveyed by non-verbal cues, so what you do with your body language matters more than what you say!
– Make sure your appearance matches the messaging you plan to convey.
– Assume a confident gait as you move in front of your audience, and strong poise when standing.
– Use contextual gesturing to accompany your speech, emphatic motions for illustrating some concepts and more casual gestures for conversational tone.
– Be mindful of the audience response through their non-verbal communication.
– During video conferences, be conscious of your background as a potential source of distraction and credibility. Do you sit near a window with a glare or view of commotion from a busy street? Are mirrors or lamps bouncing light around the room? Does a cluttered space behind you divert viewer attention away from your words?
– Work through nerves before you start; shallow breathing from the upper chest can lead to big problems.
– Stretch down into the diaphragm for deep breaths and keep your body relaxed.
– Project your voice out for all to hear and enunciate clearly.
– Practice natural vocal variety; you want to present and converse, not recite or read.
– Allow for authentic pauses to set a natural pace; employ extended pauses for emphasis.
– Ask questions out to the audience, giving them around 5-10 seconds for consideration and response.
– As part of planning, consider various scenarios to be prepared and flexible.
– Heed the audience behavior for immediate, real-time feedback.
– Respond readily to questions, including non-verbal prompts that indicate confusion.
– Read the room!
“Let’s schedule a video conference?” Once a dynamic statement showcasing the convenience of advanced technology, that phrase currently looms as a somewhat vexing harbinger of stressful time spent glued to ubiquitous screens. From kindergarten kids to mega-moguls, people now depend on that video connection as a viable resource for face-to-face meeting. Most were thrust into this conferencing mechanism without much preparation, and the learning curve impacts relationship-building with those on the other side of the monitor or phone or tablet.
Doerrier proclaims part of his overall professional mission as a mandate to alleviate the video conferencing drudgery that results from poor speaking and presentation skills. “Put me out of business,” he challenges, “by ridding the world of ‘Zoom fatigue’ and speakers that are not able to connect with their audience. Learn how to use the virtual platform; most companies offer free online training. Practice with some friends, coworkers, family, et cetera.” For the best results, approach video conferencing with the same level of preparation and attention as other types of presentations, and maximize all functions of the technology. All meetings, no matter what the format, present an opportunity for valuable communication that can only be accomplished through meaningful engagement among all parties present.