Are you a low-key person? Reserved? Introverted? There’s nothing wrong with that. But if you’re unable to turn up your energy at key moments—a job interview, a networking event or a big presentation—it can be a real career killer.
Some people just exude energy naturally and others have to really work at it. If you’re in the latter camp, there are a few steps you can take to amp up the energy when you need it most.
Why is Energy Important?
If you read last month’s Act Your Way to Career Success (What Would Ryan Gosling Do?), you may recall that energy is one of the 10 key skills that can help you navigate your career and life.
And low energy is one of the 11 deadly sins that can make or break a presentation. But its importance goes well beyond public speaking to include any situation in which you’re “presenting” yourself to colleagues, customers and potential employers.
What is Energy?
I learned about energy from stage acting. In rehearsals for one of my very first shows, the director kept yelling at me: “Rob, keep your energy up!” and “Rob, more energy!” and finally just, “ENERGY!!”
I had no idea what he was talking about, but I started to piece it together, and here is what I’ve found:
- Energy is subtle and complex, encompassing both the mental and the physical spheres.
- It requires both emotional and intellectual focus.
- And it means you have to maintain self-awareness while also remaining highly conscious of what’s going on around you.
Here are six things you can do to bring the necessary energy to any situation.
1. Warm Up
If you’re feeling run down before a big meeting, presentation or other important event, there are several things you can do to get yourself into the game, mentally and physically.
Chug a Red Bull if you need to, but it’s better to get a good night’s sleep and eat right. Barring that, do some stretches, just as you would before a workout, to get your blood flowing. Take several deep breaths to center yourself.
Mentally, clear your head of the day’s distractions. Take a moment to focus on what you want to get out of the event (close the sale, get hired, win a raise) and practice what you want to say.
2. Crank the Volume
If you remember nothing else about projecting energy, remember this: volume, volume, volume. Speak up!
People shouldn’t have to strain their ears and lean forward to figure out what you’re saying. Eventually they will tire of the struggle and just give up. Plus, soft-spokenness can be interpreted as meekness or lack of conviction.
So if you’re a naturally quiet person, you have to learn to overcome that. Try an acting class or vocal lessons. Or practice around the house. Enlist a friend, family member, or colleague to keep you honest and let you know when your voice is trailing off.
Not only will a little extra volume create the appearance of an energetic performance, but the act of speaking up will actually give you an energy boost.
3. Stand Up, Sit Up
Posture counts! So walk tall and stand up straight. That helps projects confidence, and it will make you feel more confident.
If you’re seated, don’t let yourself collapse into the back of your chair. Perch yourself on the edge of the seat and lean in.
4. Bring the Passion
Speak with enthusiasm and conviction. If you’re not excited about what you’re saying, how do you expect others to get excited?
Take a lesson from Ricky Gervais. Back when he and his creative partner, Stephen Merchant, pitched the concept for “The Office” to the BBC, it was their passion that sold the show, according to one executive who was there:
In their heads it was already a hit in Britain and a hit in the U.S., and they were absolutely certain about it. And that sort of thing is infectious, and you think, Well, hooray—if they believe it, then I’ll believe it. And maybe the actors will believe it, and maybe the viewers will believe it eventually.
That’s the kind of energy you need to bring to every important interaction—a contagious enthusiasm that’s irresistible to people. A sense of conviction and purpose that will make them believe in you and your ideas.
5. Speak with Intention
It’s all too easy to go on autopilot, especially if you’re giving a presentation you’ve done a bunch of times. So it’s important to stay connected to your material and invest every word with meaning and intention.
If you’re describing a process, visualize the steps in your head. If you’re talking about a person, picture his or her face. If you’re discussing an idea, paint a mental picture. In other words, try to experience the things you’re saying as you say them.
Maintaining this level of focus isn’t easy, but it will keep you engaged and lend energy to your performance.
6. Be Present
Devote your full attention to being there in the moment. If you’re distracted or phoning it in, others will recognize it before you do.
So put your to-do list out of your mind. Stop thinking about the emails and voicemails piling up. Don’t try to solve tomorrow’s problem; focus on the one in front of you.
At the same time, keep your senses on heightened alert. Be aware of what’s going on around you. Tune in to what others are telling you—with their words and their body language.
One Caveat: Don’t Fake It
I hope it goes without saying that your energy should be a natural thing. It should stem from your genuine enthusiasm for the event and passion for your ideas.
If you try to fake it, that could backfire (unless you’re a really good actor). Or if you push the energy too hard, like you’re leading your high school pep squad, that could overwhelm people.
Instead, let it come from within. Be focused, mentally and emotionally. Be present. Commit fully. Speak from the heart.
Remember, if you’re checked out, your audience will quickly tune out.