Own Your Distractions as a Public Speaker, Including During Zoom Meetings

Illustration for article titled Own Your Distractions as a Public Speaker, Including During Zoom Meetings
Photo: Pra Chid (Shutterstock)

Earlier this week at the vice presidential debate, we were treated to a showcase of exasperated facial expressions from Senator Kamala, and a two-minute shot of a fly using Mike Pence’s head as a stopover between destinations. Immediately, Twitter pounced on the fly situation with memes and comments galore. After the debate was over, the insect enjoyed more time in the spotlight thanks to news coverage and post-debate analysis. In fact, the only person who seemed not to notice or at least acknowledge it was Pence himself.

This was something that Neil Gordon, a speaking coach and communication consultant, picked up on and wrote about for Entrepreneur. Specifically, answering the question: “How does someone influence their audience if they’re being upstaged by distractions that can’t be ignored?” Basically, it comes down to owning it. Here’s what you need to know.

How to own your distractions

Most of us aren’t taking the stage for a debate shown on every major TV network and livestreamed all over the world, but we have been on camera more than usual over the past six months in the form of Zoom meetings and presentations. Given that these video calls are typically happening in our homes—which in most cases, weren’t designed to be our offices—the potential for distractions are endless.

Whether it’s your kid asking you questions in the background, a dog barking, or jackhammering from a construction site outside your apartment, there’s a good chance that you’ve had something distracting happen while you were speaking to colleagues or giving some sort of presentation. And according to Gordon, the best thing you can do in a situation like that is first to acknowledge the interruption, and then incorporate it into whatever you’re talking about.

So what might this look like? Here’s an example from Gordon:

Let’s say one of your children shows up in the frame while you’re in the middle of speaking about reaching end-of-year goals. Rather than push them out of the frame, put your arm around them and take a moment to tell a super quick story of something that your child said or did that reminded you of how important it is that you see this year through to the end.

Why this works

Gordon’s point is that we should use humor to not only demonstrate that we’re aware of whatever chaotic background scene is playing out during our Zoom meeting, but also as a way to strengthen our presentation. “Incongruity attracts attention, and even laughs,” he writes. “Yet the savvy speaker can harness that power, turn it on its end, and make it work for them.”

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