Stage Fright to Spotlight: Mastering Client Connections

Dear Doctor:

The competition for winning work keeps getting tougher. While we get to the interview stage for most of our pursuits, we seem to fall flat in interviews. I’m concerned that our team isn’t connecting with potential clients when we’re face-to-face, either in person or on Zoom. How can we improve our odds?   

–Stage Fright


Well, Stage Fright, the Doctor can certainly relate to your predicament. Did I tell you about the time when I was asked to run a slide presentation at a conference – out of the blue? It was a dark room, and I couldn’t see very well. I ended up putting all the slides in the carousel upside down and backwards. Normally, I would deny doing something like that! But, because we’re friends, I’m giving you the benefit of full transparency by opening the window into my soul. (If you don’t know what real slides look like, then you know the Doctor is much older than you! I thank my lucky stars that we have PowerPoint and Miro and Dall-e and all that stuff! So much less pain and suffering in the world as a result). 


Back to my point, though, as there is a method to the Doctor’s madness, in case you were wondering. Yes, so just like arranging slides in a tray (the right way, ahem!)—whether you’re talking to a group in person or you’re speaking to a potential client on Zoom—the Doctor urges you to first get organized. So, I know what you’re thinking: I love to do my work as an architect/engineer/construction manager/cost consultant/interior designer, but I just hate to stand up in front of people I don’t know. Yeah, take it from me, I’d love to just hide behind my little notepad and hand out ‘scripts. But the Doctor is also a practical person! She knows that, to excel in professional services, you sometimes have to learn those pesky little people skills. You can’t get to an unknown destination without a map, although you might end up in an interesting place! But interesting is not what we’re looking for. 


Be consoled, my little Stage Fright, knowing that you’re not alone! Many people hate public speaking. Why is it so yucky? It’s quite common to be afraid or have anxiety when you’re speaking in front of a large group. You might feel judged, or you might lack confidence. Or it could be that, like me, you feel unprepared because you don’t have good visuals or brand new technology. So, the Doctor urges, beseeches and begs you to have the right material. You’ll be much more at ease. Even so, and I’m not being judge-y, you may still feel uncomfortable in front of a live audience. And that is completely understandable, as most of us have been sitting at our desks in front of tiny little cameras on our computers for four years. Just like the Wizard of Oz, it can be tough to pull back that curtain on reality (if you don’t know that reference, put that movie on your list!). 

The mere man behind the curtain in the classic movie, Wizard of Oz

But I’m here to tell you that you don’t need great skills to be able a great speaker, Stage Fright! All you need to know are your ABC’s 1. Always prepare 2. Be confident and 3. Calmly present. So, first thingies first: start by relaxing. You know that buzzword, mindfulness, that everyone’s talking about? If I had a penny each time everyone used that little word, the Doctor would take the summer off! All it really means is that you need to focus on the task at hand. Start by relaxing. A good way to do this is by physically shaking out your mind and body. I know, it looks funny, but do it! Jump, wave your arms around, roll your head, etc. You’ll instantly feel much better. 


Second, make sure you know what you are talking about and who you are talking to! If you haven’t been living under a rock for the last 20 years, then you know that the internet is a great resource. Believe me, you will feel much more confident if know who’s in the room, whether it’s potential client or a journalist. Get questions in advance and practice answering them. Try to anticipate anything that might come up. The Doctor always finds that it’s helpful to jot down some notes before any presentation or interview to make sure to hit the key points. 


And last, when you speak, use eye contact and good posture—stand up tall, or short, as the case may be—and don’t forget your sense of humor. I know that last one can be tough, but the Doctor does like a tasteful joke now and again, and so will your audience! By all means, don’t just throw out ideas. Instead, use proof points and metrics. Don’t just say you do X, Y and Z, but use your track record on past projects to demonstrate future success. I promise you, Stage Fright, if you follow this advice that you will become an experienced brand ambassador in no time. I look forward to seeing your name on a big marquee!