Igniting Workplace Enthusiasm
 
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Rockin It Women Presenters In Japan

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The presentations world is still a male bastion in Nippon.  I attend lots of events in Tokyo and probably the vast majority of even the internationally oriented business audiences that I see here, have a 70/30 male-female ratio.  The number of women presenters though is about 5%-10%.  In the case of very domestic, Japanese language based events, the female ratio of attendance is maybe 1%-2% and the speaker ratio usually a zero ahead of two or three decimal places.  
 
For any presenter, understanding your audience is a key part of the preparation and delivery.  Women are still walking three paces behind the men here in Japan but amongst those rarities who are female and who do get asked to speak to businessmen, I have noticed a few commonalities amongst the most successful. Here are some tips and what I have seen work well for businesswomen when speaking in public in Japan.
 
Confidence is the overwhelming positive first impression.  This is communicated in a number of ways.  The voice is strong and clear.  Even relatively soft female voices can become powerful enough, through using the microphone technology available today, so there is no excuse for letting a weak voice derail the presentation.  
 
Funnily enough, many macho male businessmen seem clueless about how to use microphones.  You see them actually wave off the offer of the microphone, because they have a fear or distaste of it.  Now if your voice is strong and the venue not so cavernous, then that may be completely fine.  If not or if you have any concerns, spend some time with the microphone to understand how to use it properly, before the audience arrives.  
 
Thumping the microphone at the start of your presentation and asking your audience if they can hear you at the back is the mark of the rank amateur.  Also, consider a lapel microphone or a hand microphone, as good options for mobility during your presentation.  If you are using a hand microphone and you discover your hands are shaking furiously through nervousness, then simply hold it to your chest, so it can’t fly around.
 
Eye contact is another powerful tool of the skilled female speakers. Looking at our audience allows us to connect with them.  This might sound obvious, but sometimes looking at the many faces in the crowd peering wistfully back at us may suddenly trigger nervousness and self-doubt.  The successful women I have seen in action pick out individual members of the audience, look straight at them and speak directly to them. They are constantly doing this throughout their entire talk.  If the distance is far, then the twenty people sitting around that single person all think the speaker is making direct eye contact with them.  Importantly, they are only holding the gaze for about 6 seconds, so it is neither too short nor too intrusive.  
 
Japan has a cultural preference for very limited eye contact, so many people misunderstand the difference between our role in a normal conversation and our role as the speaker.  They mix the occasions up and worry about making eye contact with their audience.  Instead, they look at everyone and no one at the same time.   This is ineffective and the speaker has an obligation to get their audience behind what they are saying.  Woman or man, eye contact gives tremendous connectivity because we feel the speaker is addressing us directly. Good eye contact allows the speech to improve from being a one to many, to a one to one experience.  It is so powerful because when the speaker looks directly at us, we feel they are personally connecting with us.  
 
Looking at our laptop screens , the big screens behind us or our notes, takes our eyes off the audience.  We don’t want that.  We need to see the audience to ascertain whether they are buying what we are selling or not.  Studying their body language, their faces helps us to read how we are doing with our audience.  Are they following us, are they bored, are they in rabid disagreement?  We need to know so we can adjust our delivery accordingly.  Absolutely do not let some helpful venue staffer turn off the lights, so the room becomes darker.  
 
This happens all the time.  In my own case, recently I  was presenting to a visiting delegation of lubricant distributors from Vietnam and sure enough the Hotel staff member turned off all the lights to make the screen easier to read.  No, no, no!  We want the audience to see us and we want to see them. The projector technology today is very good, so we can leave the lights on and everyone can still read the screen. When someone suddenly turns the lights off, I have seen the skilled women speakers stop presenting and politely request they turn them back on again.  They know the power of eye contact.
 
The successful presenters want to use all of their body language to assist their communication so they are not trapped behind the podium.  Podiums can sometimes be a challenge for shorter ladies.  Trust me, having seen this a number of times, your carefully arranged coiffure bobbing just above the waterline of the top of the podium is not the best look.  
 
If the podium is too high, ask for small platform to stand on, to give yourself some air space.  This is another reason why we always need to get to the venue early and check all the mechanics and physical layout arrangements.  Don’t apply a vice like grip to the podium, this looks nervous and negates our ability to use gestures to emphasis key points we want to make.  
 
Standing apart from the podium, to the side or in front of it also works very well.  You can easily turn the podium itself around ninety degrees, so that you can see the laptop screen and push any buttons, without having to stand behind it.  In this way, you can see what you need to and your audience can see you.
 
Freeing ourselves from the podium is good and powerful female presenters don’t then pace across the stage, left and right, showing possible stress and anxiety.  They usually stand to the left side of the screen, so that the audience will look at their face, listen to their voice and then read the screen left to right.  They are communicating a subtle command - "look at me, now look at my information on this screen". In this way they dominate the screen, rather than the other way around. 
 
What they put up on the screen follows the "less is more principle".  Think Zen garden here rather than Times Square neon heaven.  They see the value in having more images than text.  They have one graph per screen not four and they don’t go crazy with more than two colours.  
 
They make themselves the centerpiece of the presentation, not what is put up on the screen.  By contrast, Japanese male CEO screen presentations are usually totally horrible.  Crowded, obtuse, ugly, impenetrable, gaudy – they may be Japanese samurai businessmen, but clearly no Zen happening here.
 
Persuasive women demonstrate their confidence by NEVER EVER apologizing for their state of health, degree of nervousness, lack of preparation, jet lag or any other excuses.  I doubt very many men care about the speaker’s health status or any other excuses from any presenter. The successful women have worked this out and they keep their health issues, etc., to themselves and want to be seen as true professionals.  
 
They don’t seek sympathy by telling us: "I am sorry, I have a cold today" or "I didn’t have enough time to put this together".  In my experience, men don’t care all that much for that type of detail and there is no particular empathy for these types of excuses.  
 
If these successful women presenters are ever feeling anxious, they make sure not to show it.  Consequently, they are taken at face value by the men in the audience and get full credit for being a business expert in their area of expertise.   
 
I was at a presentation recently by a visiting speaker and everything was going fine until about 5 minutes into the presentation.  She started to lose it. Super surprisingly, she announced to us she was losing it and that she needed a deep breath. After a couple of repeats of this "poor me" routine, she finally pulled herself together.  
 
She had done quite well at the start, telling us about her rise to success and how she did it, but at the meltdown point, as she got into her key topic, her entire credibility flew straight out the window.  She damaged her personal brand beyond repair and forever.  
 
The interesting thing is, unless she had told us, we probably would never have known she was so nervous.  So no matter what, carry on as if it is all part of the plan. Generally we men are not that smart or sensitive, so we will never know unless you tell us.
 
There are plenty of professional, competent female speakers in Japan, so ladies, please take note of what is working for them and join their ranks.
 
Action Steps
 
1. Know who will be your audience and prepare accordingly
2. Master the microphone technology before the audience arrives
3. Speak to your audience while looking at them, make eye contact
4. Free yourself from the podium trap by standing apart from it
5. Dominate the screen, don’t let it dominate you
6. Apply "less is more" to the on-screen content
7. Never make excuses for your presentation 
8. Never show us you are nervous
 
 
 
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