Caroline Goyder reveals how the techniques that A-list celebrities use to stay cool under pressure can be applied to fundraising
Are you able to be yourself and fully confident when pitching to major donors? Are you able to communicate with ease and charisma to persuade your audience and get your message across? Do you ever have the sneaking suspicion that you could do better in pitches and presentations?
As a voice coach by trade, I know that actors are full of tips and tricks that can help the rest of us in the theatre of life. Having persuaded Sarah Jessica Parker, Ewan McGregor, Helen Mirren and Kate Winslet to talk to me, I wanted to know how they stay calm, confident and charismatic in the spotlight. These are some of their top tips.
1. What’s my motivation?
It’s a classic in acting circles, but it’s a good question for fundraisers too. When faced with presenting an idea to a large group of volunteers, or pitching to a major donor, it’s easy to worry so much about what you’re saying that you forget who you’re saying it to.
Think about what you want the audience to gain from your presentation and what’s in it for them? Take time to see yourself as they see you and work out how to motivate them so they want to do what you’re asking of them. That will determine what you say and how.
2. Be crystal clear
At any meeting that requires you to make a case for support, you need to step away from the script. Eye contact is crucial to connecting with your audience, so it’s important that you can speak without having to look down at your notes. Use a mind-map to prepare your presentation and ensure that your ideas are clear, simple and structured.
Drill down to the essence of the message with an introduction, three key points and a summary to wrap it up at the end. You’ll find that with the ideas you want to communicate clear in your mind, you can have a relaxed conversation with your audience, rather than giving them a lecture.
3. Make ‘em laugh, make ‘em cry
When you’re making the case for support, particularly with major donors, remember Aristotle’s observation that pathos or making your audience feel something, is essential to great communication. Telling stories is a great way to make your audience empathise with the cause. By bringing your ideas alive, you will engage with what you are saying and so will your audience.
4. Choose a role
Some meetings require a suit, and for others you can show up more casually dressed. However most people don’t know how to boost the formality of their behaviour. The simplest way to do this is to decide whether you need to sound like the pilot of the plane, or the air steward. Are you talking to a harassed financier who wants you to exude credibility and focus on the task, or are you talking to a group of volunteers for whom relationship and approachability matter most? The art is to recognise what your audience needs from you, and to change gear when required.
5. Stay calm
Any actor will tell you that nerves are normal. If you’re facing a big presentation, the trick is to make the nervous energy work for you. Turn the adrenalin into excitement. The most effective way to do that is to breathe low and wide into the stomach, rather than high into the shoulders. Taking some time to relax your body and breathe is essential if you want to make a good impression.
6. Own the room
Presence is partly about what you say, but it’s also how you say it: when you walk into a meeting with a potential donor, impact matters. We make judgments within seven seconds of meeting someone for the first time. Owning the room is about exuding an energy that says you’re worth listening to. Make sure that you stand firm and plant your feet in shoes that allow you to feel strong. Send your voice from the stomach to the back of the room and commit to every word you speak.
7. Take your time
When you are anxious, the fear can cause you to speed up, if this happens to you in a donor meeting put the brakes on. Poised speakers know that the art is to speak in short sentences, with a full-stop between each one. You will lose and confuse your audience if you gabble away at high speed. Instead you should stop, pause, and breathe. Listen, pay attention to your audience and respond. Pay 80 per cent of your attention to them and only 20 per cent on you: the more interested you are, the more interesting you will be.
8. Have fun
Above all, great communicators are conversational. If you find your passion and speak from the heart, you will be truly compelling. It is that inner sparkle that makes us charismatic.
Caroline Goydor is the author of The Star Qualities - how to sparkle in every aspect of your life
This article first appeared in The Fundraiser magazine, Issue 9, September 2011