Mirrors: The Devils and Saviors of Your Business Talk

(925 words)
The Devil:

Rehearsing your business presentation in front of a mirror can jeopardize your power to persuade and your projection of a positive, professional image.

When looking in a mirror, most people become preoccupied by the way they look; this is probably human nature and unavoidable. Practicing in front of a mirror develops and reinforces a preoccupation with self:  a very unproductive habit.  Rehearsing for any business talk should be a process of training oneself to focus the mind correctly:  focusing on your purpose, goals, and objectives that are concerned with (and directed toward) listener needs.  The best speakers focus outward: they have trained their minds to do so.

Consider the slow-motion films of Olympic runners crossing the finish line, drenched in sweat, their faces distorted with effort, expending every last ounce of energy to achieve a goal. In their passion to win, they don’t have the slightest care about how they look.  They simply cannot waste their energy on such a concern.

Actors, too, know that correct focus and a lack of concern for one’s appearance while speaking are key.  Unless the character he is playing is preoccupied with how he looks, the actor cannot spare any energy thinking about his physical appearance.  In order to be convincing, he must use all his energy to pursue his acting objectives and focus on the listeners.

This is exactly what the business speaker must do:  focus on the needs, desires, and interests of the listeners – and, most importantly, on the actions that the speaker is taking towards those listeners.

A speaker’s preoccupation with self is usually detected by the listener and is often interpreted as arrogance or a lack of confidence.

It is just before before the speaking moment (during your planning, but not rehearsal) that you should consider your visual demeanor and overall physical appearance.  After you have done the correct internal preparation and rehearsed effectively, your demeanor can be an organic expression of your focus on the listener.

The Savior:

When you are actually in front of the audience, you will want to forget about how you look!  (You can be free to forget about it, because you are focusing on your objectives and your listeners).

In order to do this, you must, of course, check yourself in a mirror!  Check your physical appearance thoroughly before you get to the venue, and check it again before you speak.

Consider the physical behaviors that you will need to do in front of the listeners and any aspect of your appearance or attire that could possibly restrict your movements.

Consider your “look”, the movements you will make in front of the audience, and anything that could restrict you or cause an issue.  Prepare for success in the following ways:

  1. Don’t wear shoes or clothing that you have never worn before.
  2. Make sure that your hair will not be distracting to you or your listeners, and be sure that your eyes can be seen fully.
  3.  Check that all buttons, hooks, snaps, etc. are fastened correctly (and bring a needle and thread and safety pins).
  4. Test your shoes for the “slipping” factor on the floor surface you will be speaking from.
  5. Ladies, bring a spare pair of hosiery!  Men, bring an extra tie!
  6. Check the hems of pants and skirts.
  7. Know the temperature of the room and be sure that you can be comfortable in the garments you have chosen.
  8. Be sure that your clothing gives you maximum “elbow room”.

I learned this lesson the hard way:  in front of an audience when I was playing the lead role of Serafina in The Rose Tattoo, by Tennessee Williams.  The character was dark-haired, so I wore a black wig over my blonde hair.  At one performance, I failed to take extra precautions before I went on stage, to ensure that my wig would be secure.  My oversight caused a fiasco.

That fateful night, my hairdresser was ill, so I had to put on my wig myself.   I cut corners to save time.  Putting half of my hair in pincurls and omitting the wig cap, I left out half of the hairdresser’s routine procedures to secure the wig.  I pinned the wig directly to a few pincurls, looked into the mirror, gave the wig a few tugs, and decided that it was secure enough for performance.

Wrong!  During a pivotal and dramatic scene, I had to be very physical in a state of frenzy, shaking and pulling another actor.  The wig began to slip.  As I kept shaking and pulling the actor, the wig continued to slip back from my head, so that more and more of my blonde hair began to show.  Within a few seconds, half of my head was blonde and the other half was black.  I frantically used one hand to try to get the wig back in place, but it was too late.

The power of this dramatic scene was ruined for the audience by the comical sight of a hysterical woman whose wig was falling off.  This was no longer Tennessee Williams; it was more like a skit from the Carol Burnett Show.”

Be aware that your mirror is both a devil and a savior.  Use a mirror to check your physical appearance immediately before you greet your audience, and avoid the mirror during your rehearsals!  This strategy will increase your focus on audience needs and strengthen your credibility and persuasive power.

Copyright © 2013-2015 Maria Guida


Maria Guida  is an executive speaking coach/trainer, professional speaker, and Broadway actress.  With her experience on stage, TV and film (working with Paul Newman, James Earl Jones, and  Kevin Kline), she helps savvy executives in all industries enhance their credibility and generate business by speaking with poise, passion, and persuasive power.  Delighted clients include American Express, JPMorgan Chase, and Johnson & Johnson.  Maria travels extensively to deliver interactive and entertaining keynotes and workshops.  She can be reached at 718-884-2282 and maria@successfulspeakerinc.com; or visit www.successfulspeakerinc.com.


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