Speaker as Leader -- Or Not

Every speech, whether 5 minutes or 15, shows people what kind of leader you are. And that cuts both ways.

Some speakers ramble on, stumbling through the material. They haven’t thought about their headline message or what they hope to accomplish. Compare that to speakers who have done their homework. They know their purpose from the get-go: inspire the team to meet sales targets, get buy in on the new strategic plan, or explain changes to the company’s Paid Time Off policy. These speakers have data on hand and a compelling story to share. They’ve built a cogent argument to convince even the greatest skeptics in the audience.

And they’ve practiced what they plan to say. 

Winging it is, frankly, a bad idea. [Photo credit: Designecologist]

Winging it is, frankly, a bad idea. [Photo credit: Designecologist]

If you want people to follow you or put your plan into motion, you need to read your remarks aloud before the event. That’s where you’ll learn if your sentences are way too long for a single breath. Or if you’ve strung together so many s-s-s-sibilating sounds you can’t get out. Or if the tone sounds too formal for the company picnic.

As a speechwriter and speech coach, I hear a lot of executives say they want to ‘wing it.’ Practicing in advance, they explain, will make them sound stilted or rehearsed. After 10-plus years in this business, I can tell you that’s not the case. Practicing makes them better. Much better. They come off as more relaxed, natural, and sometimes even playful because they are familiar with the material.

They practice in advance because they know they’re being evaluated as a leader. They don’t want to let their people down or risk seeming ill-prepared. And real leaders know that they don’t have the luxury of wasting other people’s time.

Click here to learn four tips for rehearsing that’ll make you a better speaker and leader.

Four Tips to Rehearse More Effectively

In the end, the stakes are just too high not to practice. [Photo credit: Charles Deluvio]

In the end, the stakes are just too high not to practice. [Photo credit: Charles Deluvio]

Your last talk to employees didn’t go well. You were nervous standing in front of them. You paced as thoughts of self-doubt crept into your voice. You kept looking down at your notes but couldn’t find your place. After a few minutes, you lost track of what you were hoping to accomplish. More than anything, you just wanted to sit down and be done.

Now that’s a bad day at the office. The only good outcome from this kind of dreadful experience is the determination I hear in a client’s voice afterwards. They resolve never to ‘wing it’ again. Never to stand in front of their people without preparing. Never to show up as a boss who can’t motivate, can’t communicate, can’t lead.

How exactly should you practice before your next talk? There are any number of approaches, but I’ve found these four steps to be particularly effective.

Rehearsing Effectively

 1. In private, practice what you’ll say from beginning to end. Re-start wherever you need to. If you stumble on a section repeatedly, change the wording.

2. Once you can deliver the entire speech without stumbling, time it. Trim it, if too long.

3. Ask two or three trusted colleagues to listen to you as you practice. Get their feedback on what was unclear and on any distracting tics you may have such as pacing or jittery hands. (An alternative is to videotape yourself on your cell phone. This is a simple way to check your posture, eye contact, and hand gestures.)

4. If possible, practice in the venue where you’ll deliver the speech. (This is essential for big speeches.) Find out if you’ll have a podium and mic. If so, what kind? (For example, a hand-held mic, podium mic, or lavalier mic?)  Ask who’s presenting before and after you, if you’ll have a bottle of water on stage, and whether they will be filming you. In short, now’s the time to get the scoop so you can be your best as a speaker and as a leader.

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Want to learn a few more practical tips for rehearsing your next presentation?  Let’s talk.  – Rose (rose@rosespeechwriter.com)

Own It & Get Over It

Over the years, I’ve shared several techniques on how to manage your nerves before a speech. (See this blog and this blog.) Today I’d like to share another one. The scientific name is ‘affect labeling’ but I use another term: ‘naming it.’

Affect labeling basically means identifying an emotion as you’re experiencing it. When I was growing up, my Dad accidentally backed our Plymouth Valiant out of the garage with a backseat door open. The screech of crunching medal filled the garage. Dad stopped the car, hopped out, and stared at the crease in the door. He was fuming. Clearly, someone hadn’t shut the door behind them. His anger was, of course, understandable, and he was probably more upset with himself than any of us. But I remember him being pretty darn mad. Now, in retrospect, I know that affect labeling would have quieted the storm.

Identifying our emotions (Dad saying, “I’m royally pissed off right now”) has the power to calm them. That was the finding of psychologist Matthew Lieberman who coined the term ‘affect labeling’ in 2007. You can read the whole study here. The short version is that naming your emotions disrupts the amygdala, the part of our brain responsible for fear, anger, and other emotions.

Affect labeling can help quiet the fear of public speaking. [Photo Credits: Wynand Uys]

Affect labeling can help quiet the fear of public speaking. [Photo Credits: Wynand Uys]

There’s now a large body of work on affect labeling. One more study worth mentioning involved spiders and people who feared them. Michelle Craske and her research team divided participants into four groups and asked them to walk toward spiders. As they did so, one group was told to label their feelings (ex: “I’m scared, anxious”). Another was asked to think of the spider as less threatening (ex: “You can’t hurt me.”). Still another group was directed to distract themselves (ex: “This is an experiment. I’ll be fine.”) and the last group was a control group (given no instructions.)

The study found that the first group – people who acknowledged their fears – had the lowest emotional reaction to the spiders than any other group. Psychology Today summed up the study, “These findings suggest that having greater emotional clarity about one's fear can help reduce the physiological manifestation of this emotion.” One more key finding of the study is that verbalizing emotions (not just thinking them) is what made the difference.

Affect labeling is a useful technique to manage those overwhelming feelings you have before speaking in public. I often ask speakers, while they are rehearsing or before they step onto the stage, to stop and reflect. What are they feeling right now? Their answer – just naming it – puts the emotion under a microscope and turns it into an object they can observe. As a result, fear and anxiety no longer grip them, no longer control them. The result? They’re able to relax and deliver a much more natural, compelling talk.

Has affect labeling worked for you? Let’s talk about managing your fear of public speaking. – Rose (rose@rosespeechwriter.com)

Speaking to a Disparate Audience

I’m often asked how best to handle an audience that includes many different types of people. In other words, how can you be effective as a speaker if you’re talking to group that’s a third government employees, a third nonprofit leaders, and a third business executives?  Should you try to address them all equally in the time you have?

Good question.

How do I reach an audience that includes many different kinds of people? Read on. [Photo credit: Denise Johnson]

How do I reach an audience that includes many different kinds of people? Read on. [Photo credit: Denise Johnson]

My answer is no. Don’t deliver three little mini-speeches. Instead, consider a typical commencement speech. Three groups of people attend graduation ceremonies:

1.     faculty and staff;

2.     parents and family members; and

3.     graduates.

Speakers at these events must mention all three of these groups of course. But in general, they spend the bulk of their time talking to their primary audience, the students.

I recommend a similar approach. First, direct some portion of your remarks to all of the major constituents in the room. (Going back to our analogy: at a commencement, it’d be a grave oversight not to acknowledge faculty/staff as well as parents/families, right?)  Second, focus your attention on your primary audience, the main group of people you want to influence. That’s who you really care about reaching. That’s who can move your agenda forward. That’s who can move the needle and make a real difference.

Now, there’s one catch. The primary audience doesn’t always equate to the greatest number of people. Yes, a graduating student body is almost always the largest of the three sub-groups listed above. But in some cases, your primary audience may be one of the smaller sub-groups present. 

Take the classic board of directors meeting. You may be speaking to 15 people in the room, but there’s really two key individuals you need to reach. Perhaps it’s the Board Chair or the Treasurer? If you can convince both of them, the other attendees will fall behind you and your project will sail forward.

Let’s go back to my opening scenario. If I were speaking to an audience that’s equal parts government, nonprofit, and business, I’d focus on the decision makers in each group. They would be my primary audience. Maybe I’d urge them to work together more effectively? Maybe I’d include examples from different cities? Maybe I’d highlight success stories and failures? Whichever route I take, it wouldn’t involve cobbling together 3 mini-speeches. The organizational structure would be cumbersome and the key message too diluted to be effective.

In the big picture, you should always put your audience first. Figure out what they are interested in hearing from you. When you speak to a disparate group of people, address all of them briefly but focus in on your primary listeners. Whether you want to inspire or challenge, inform or provoke, make sure they walk away with the message you intend to deliver.

Looking for a speech coach or speechwriter? I'd love to hear from you. Please email me at rose@rosespeechwriter.com.  

Be Clear Upfront: A Speech Isn't a Mystery Novel

Here’s a 15-second challenge for you. What process is described in the paragraph below? 

Begin by sorting items into piles by color. At the same time, set aside individual pieces that require specialized care. Leave these items until later. Load one pile at a time into the machine, add cleanser, and hit “start.” Now begins the waiting game.

The answer is doing laundry. If you’re like most people, you probably didn’t ‘get it’ until near the end of the paragraph.  

Now, what if I add a new sentence at the beginning?

Doing laundry is easy. Begin by sorting items into piles by color. At the same time, set aside individual pieces that require specialized care. Leave these items until later. Load one pile at a time into the machine, add cleanser, and hit “start.” Now begins the waiting game.

Notice how much easier it is to understand. Not only do you ‘get it’ right away, you know what’ll come after this topic sentence: details to reinforce it.

I came across a paragraph similar to this one when I was a young Captain teaching at the Air Force Academy. And today I still love how it underscores the importance of leading with your main idea. This holds true in both written and spoken communication. (By the way, some folks in the military summarize this idea with “BLUF” or bottom line up front.)

This paragraph also shows us what can happen if, as a speaker, you’re unclear in your intro.  Imagine the audience seated before you. If you fail to mention ‘doing laundry’ upfront, they are probably sitting there trying to figure out what you’re talking about. If you’re lucky, some of them may lean forward and strain to understand you. In most cases, however, folks will simply check out. Their social media feeds and Words with Friends are simply too tempting.

As humans, we need to know the main idea first, the details second. It’s how we’re wired. Just ask John Medina, a bioengineer from the University of Washington. In Brain Rules, he writes, “If you want to get the particulars correct, don’t start with the details. Start with the key ideas and, in hierarchical fashion, form the details around these larger notions.”

This explains why, in part, newspaper articles traditionally begin with a lede that includes key info: who, what, when, where, why. Details follow the opening paragraph in order of their importance. Small nuances that the journalist found fascinating but didn’t really fit into her article? They go at the end. The big, critical details of the story? They go at the beginning so the reader isn’t wondering what the story is about. (This is also why headline writers play a critical role. They’re trying to grab our attention and sell papers.)

Be clear upfront: a speech isn't a mystery novel. [Photo Credit: Chrisin Hume]

Be clear upfront: a speech isn't a mystery novel. [Photo Credit: Chrisin Hume]

In sum, don’t string us along. Don’t make us guess the topic. And don’t think of a speech as a Dan Brown novel.  Avoid this kind of confusion at all costs. It’s a senseless waste of your audience’s energy and tells them you haven’t prepared well enough. Instead tell us in the intro that you’ll be talking about ‘doing laundry’ (or whatever the topic), then enthrall the audience in your remarks that follow.

There are many other tricks like this one to writing a successful intro. Let's chat. Email me at rose@rosespeechwriter.com. 

 

 

The Telephone Test

In “Bad Writing Costs Businesses Billions,” Josh Bernoff talks about how much time we waste slogging through terrible writing at the office. He notes, “Poor writing creates a drag on everything you do. It functions like a tax, sapping your profits, and I can quantify it. American workers spend 22 percent of their work time reading; higher compensated workers read more.” Bernoff estimates this problem costs American businesses an astonishing $400 billion annually.

Unfortunately, bad writing often seeps into presentations as well. Consider how this speaker summarized her remarks:

“I have attempted here to socialize the personnel and financial resources needed to solve this pressing problem. I now respectfully ask for your endorsement of the proposed course of action so that we can operationalize it in coming weeks.” (Word count: 41)

If I were listening, I wouldn’t know what was being asked of me. Words like “socialize” and “operationalize” sound like committee-speak. That's a form of communication in which people are more interested in impressing co-workers than expressing an idea.

What if this speaker said this instead?

“I’ll close this afternoon by asking for your approval on this project.  We have the resources lined up and the right people in place. We need the green light from you to move ahead.” (Word count: 34)

This ending is not only more concise, it’s easier to understand. And it is written in plain language defined as “communication your audience can understand the first time they read or hear it.” This definition, by the way, comes from Public Law 111, The Plain Writing Act of 2010, which urges government officials to write in ways that people can understand. (It’s amazing to me that the problem is so bad that we actually had to pass a law.)

How can we avoid jargon-filled, verbose writing? By using the Telephone Test, a simple tool I learned years ago from my smart colleagues at the US Air Force Academy. The Telephone Test means imagining how you’d say something on the phone.

How many times do you call your spouse and say, “After work, I’ll proceed to the aforementioned market for the items requested. Please inform me if additional items are needed.” I’m guessing never. Instead, you probably say, “I’ll pick up milk on the way home from work. Need anything else?”

The Telephone Test is an easy tool to help you communicate more clearly & concisely. [Photo Credit: rawpixel]

The Telephone Test is an easy tool to help you communicate more clearly & concisely. [Photo Credit: rawpixel]

The Telephone Test helps ensure you’re using direct words, more pronouns, and simple sentence structure. I use it when I find myself writing an overloaded sentence (20+ words) or a long bullet point.  

Another tool is plainlanguage.gov. Unlike some government websites, this one is easy to use and offers ample resources including examples, guidelines, and training. 

Before you draft that next email or speak up at a meeting, review what you’ve prepared. Can you say it in a way that’s easier to understand? More crisp? More logical?

Bernoff found that we all waste a great deal of time at the office due to bad writing. By investing more time upfront, you’ll stand out and, even better, your co-workers will actually understand what you’re trying to say.

 

What tools do you use to communicate more clearly & concisely? I’d love to hear them. Email me at rose@rosespeechwriter.com.

 

Large or Small: Audience Size Matters

My father-in-law knows I’m a speechwriter and often asks about my work. Last week, I told him I was drafting remarks for a CEO who’ll be speaking to about 2,000 people. We talked about the difference between speaking to a large audience verses a smaller one, and he asked me which I preferred.  

Audience size: Your message may not change, but how you deliver it should. [Photo credit: Toni Cuenca]

Audience size: Your message may not change, but how you deliver it should. [Photo credit: Toni Cuenca]

When people are part of an audience of 50 or more, they have the luxury of being passive. They can melt into a sea of humanity and remain anonymous. As a result, they often sit back and relax. They want to see a show on stage and expect a more polished, formal, and entertaining presentation. Audience interaction, if it happens at all, generally takes place during a designated Q&A session.

When people are part of a small group, they have more opportunities to interact directly with the speaker. Their time together feels more like a conversation than a presentation, so they may interrupt the speaker throughout the session. This is especially true when audience members know one another. (Think board meeting.)

Speaking to a large crowd isn’t necessarily preferable to a smaller one. What’s important is matching the message to the means of conveying it. Announcing layoffs to a crowd of 1,000 isn’t ideal. That’s why companies often do so department by department, so folks can ask questions (and get answers). On the other hand, announcing the 2018 Top Sales and Marketing Award might call for a splashy event with the biggest crowd you can muster. 

The number one rule of speechwriting and public speaking is to know your audience. Before you hit the stage, find out their average age, the sectors they represent, their political affiliation, and other information that’s relevant to the material you are presenting. If you know the audience size as well, you’ll have a better sense of what people are expecting of the speaker: a more informal, conversational event or a more formal, elevated presentation. That’ll give you a much better chance of connecting with them.

Looking for a speech coach or speechwriter? I'd love to hear from you. Please email me at rose@rosespeechwriter.com.  

 

 

Attention Audience

Grab your audience's attention from the get-go & don't let go! [Photo credit: rawpixel]

Grab your audience's attention from the get-go & don't let go! [Photo credit: rawpixel]

Every speech or presentation should start by grabbing the audience’s attention. If you don’t, then you’re speaking to an empty room. You’ve lost your listeners right out of the gate. Here are a few of my favorite ways to get (and keep) their attention:

  • A compelling story. Start with an anecdote or story that will underscore your key message. It might be about a trip to Africa or that chess match you lost in 9th grade. Well-told stories are memorable and create an emotional connection with people. (They also trigger mirror neurons, as I explained in my previous blog.) 
  • A moving image. A picture is, in fact, worth a thousand words. Find an image that will draw your listener into your talk. Maybe it’s a family picture of grandma’s garden or a yearbook photo (showing off your 1970s hair style). Or you can download high-resolution photos from sites that offer copyright free images. (I often use Unsplash.) 
  • A killer stat. Share a single fact that will shock your audience. For example, you might tell them that 1 in 6 children in America is food insecure, according to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. That’s hard to believe in a nation as prosperous as ours, right? That's an outrage ... and now your audience is with you.

Other ways to grab the audience’s attention? Ask an actual or rhetorical question. Use a prop like Bill Gates. When he talks about the Gates Foundation’s work on malaria, he opens a jar of mosquitos. (That definitely wakes people up!)

In the end, find a technique that feels right for you and makes sense given the subject matter. Grab your listener’s attention the moment you start speaking and don’t let go until you’re done.

 Have a big speech coming up & need a compelling intro? Email me at rose@rosespeechwriter.com.  

The Science Behind the Story

Why tell a story or anecdote during a presentation? They humanize the speaker and are far more memorable than a list of facts. They also help create an emotional connection with the audience.

There’s another reason story telling is so important. Neuroscience.

In the 1990s, Giacomo Rizzolatti and his colleagues at the University of Parma, Italy were studying the motor cortex of macaque monkeys. They learned that neurons in monkey’s brains “fired both when the monkeys grabbed an object and also when the monkeys watched another primate grab the same object.”

Did you know that our brains don't distringuish between hearing about an action and actually doing it? [Photo credit: shreekar]

Did you know that our brains don't distringuish between hearing about an action and actually doing it? [Photo credit: shreekar]

They had discovered mirror neurons and the fact that our brains don’t distinguish between hearing about an action and physically doing an action. That’s why, when you see someone stub their toe, you wince. Or why a guy watching the NHL playoffs jumps off the couch when a goal is scored. The fan’s mirror neurons fire, convincing him that he shot that howitzer into the back of the net.

Telling a story, or even a short anecdote, activates the brains of your audience members. A list of facts or a cumbersome slide deck taps the language processing part of the brain, but stories let people live an experience as you’re sharing it.

If you’ve told your story in a compelling way, they’re more apt to follow the call to action that you’ve issued.

 I love talking about neuroscience & storytelling. Let's chat. Email rose@rosespeechwriter.com.  

Public Speaking & Your Career

[Photo credit: Brandan Church]

[Photo credit: Brandan Church]

About a month ago, an article in the Wall Street Journal caught my eye. It was called, “The Secret to Midcareer Success” by Michael Malone, a professor at Santa Clara University. It reminded me of something I often saw when I worked at the Pentagon as a speechwriter.

When individuals hit the rank of one- or two-star general, they had to learn a new set of skills to be successful. For example, they could no longer dive deeply into the weeds or be involved in every programmatic decision. The scope of their new responsibilities was simply too great. Instead, they had to delegate more (and of course, surround themselves with good, capable people).

Every day, thousands of people in America’s workforce make the mightiest of transitions: from doing the work themselves to managing other human beings (in some cases, thousands of them).

That transition requires what Malone calls ‘secondary skills.’ Among the most important is public speaking. “You must develop your ability to bring people together, to inspire them, to mentor them, and to lead them into the direction of your vision,” he writes. If you can’t articulate your vision and the roadmap to make it happen … if you can’t rally people to your cause, how will you ever reach your department’s targets?

Here’s the catch. Doubling down on the skills that helped you become successful in the first place will no longer serve you. In fact, they’ll be counterproductive. I saw it in DoD and in the civilian world: folks worked harder and longer but, over time, only became less effective.

To make the big leap to the next rung of responsibility, you’ll need to become a clear, compelling speaker in front of all kinds of audiences. My advice? Don’t wait for that promotion (or that next star on your shoulder). Start working on those skills now.

What are you doing to improve your public speaking? If the answer is ‘not much,’ let’s talk. (And if you can't access Malone's article, email me at Rose@rosespeechwriter.com & I'll send it along.)

The Gettysburg Principle

President Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address in 1863. Before he spoke, Edward Everett took the stage and pontificated for 2 hours. Does anyone remember what he said? Nope. In contrast, Lincoln’s 2-minute speech has gone down in history as one of the most memorable of all times.

abe lincoln.jpg

That brings me to what speechwriter’s commonly call the Gettysburg Principle: keep it simple. Lincoln’s address is ten sentences long and includes just over 270 words. Of them, 90 percent are one or two syllables. He also used a very simple organizational structure: past, present, and future.

The next time you’re preparing to speak, replace long, complicated words with short, punchy ones. Take a minute to cut phrases that pad the speech unnecessarily. For example, instead of saying, “A large number of,” just say, “many.” Your goal should be to ‘express’ rather than ‘impress.’

What else can we learn from the Gettysburg Principle? Pick an easy-to-follow structure like chronological order, problem/solution, or cause/effect, so your audience can follow your logic easily. And finally, be respectful of other people’s time. However big or small the occasion, speak only as long as you need to get your message across clearly.

Tell me about your last speech. Did the Gettysburg Principle work for you? 

Don't Lose to the Snooze

[Photo Credit: Lance Anderson]

[Photo Credit: Lance Anderson]

How can you prevent your audience from checking out?  The answer: an emphasis cue. But first, let’s talk about why people sometimes space out while you’re speaking.

Could be that you haven’t put enough time into your presentation and it’s simply not engaging. (But let’s hope this isn’t the case!) Or maybe you didn’t do enough audience analysis and you’re talking ‘past’ them. Or then again, it just might be our crafty brains doing, well, what they naturally do.

John Medina, a molecular biologist, has studied the human brain for decades. I love his book (a NY Times bestseller no less), "Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School.” In it, Medina distills the latest findings in neuroscience into practical concepts that folks like us can understand. Turns out that much of what he says can make us much better speakers.

Take Medina’s Ten Minute Rule. It states that, in short, our brains need some form of stimulus about every ten minutes. When that doesn’t happen, our brains snooze, basically falling into hibernation mode. The result is deadly: people daydream, check Instagram, or the like.

You can prevent this from happening by using an emphasis cue or a single phrase that essentially says, “this is important. Listen up.” Think of the high school teacher who suddenly says, ‘This will be on the final exam.’ Yup, I’m awake now!

Examples of emphasis cues include:

  • My point is ...
  • I’ll sum up by saying …
  • What I learned at that moment was …
  • If you take one thing from my talk, let it be …

You’ll want to tailor these to your speaking style of course. Advanced speakers might also pair these with a delivery cue such as a long pause or a descriptive hand gesture. Stepping away from the podium will also jog the audience awake and put their attention back where it belongs: on your message.

Interested in more practical speaking hacks? Please click here to subscribe, email Rose@rosespeechwriter.com, or follow me on Twitter at RKing_Portland. -- Rose

Make It About Them, Not You

A wonderful way to change the focal point of your remarks – and put the emphasis where it should be – is to replace the word “I” with “you.” Here’s a classic example from Steve Jobs and the team at Apple:

“Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently…You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them.” 

Jobs could have said “I can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing I can't do is ignore them.” By turning the tables, he invites us into the conversation.

A similar trick is to replace “I” with “we.” Check out this example from Boris Johnson, the former Mayor of London. In this 2016 speech, he was advocating for BREXIT (i.e., that the United Kingdom should leave the European Union).

“Thanks to the referendum given to this country by David Cameron, we find that a door has magically opened. We can see the sunlit meadows beyond. I believe we would be mad not to take this once in a lifetime chance to walk through that door because the truth is, it is not we who have changed. It is the EU that has changed …”

[Photo Credit: Karla Alexander]

[Photo Credit: Karla Alexander]

What I like about this excerpt is how Johnson uses “we” to create allies. A “magical door” has somehow opened. If we walk through it together, he seems to say, we’ll all get to the “sunlit meadows beyond.”

Notice too that Johnson is not saying follow me. He’s asking folks to move ahead in step with him.  Whatever your thoughts on BREXIT, using “we” in this passage makes his argument more persuasive. (And, well, the vote for BREXIT passed as we all know.)

Next time you’re preparing a presentation, do that one final and supremely important edit. Search for “I” and replace it with “you” or “we.”  It may take you all of two minutes (tops!), but it’ll leave a lasting impression with your audience.

 

Try this easy trick in your next speech. For more speaking hacks, click here to subscribe, email Rose@rosespeechwriter.com, or follow me @RKing_Portland. -- Rose

Work Out, Speak Out

When I hear the term ‘working out,’ I’m more apt to think of my New Year’s resolution than public speaking. But there’s an important connection between the two. A light work out before you present will discharge that excess nervous energy that will otherwise destroy excellent remarks.

Last year I was working with an executive in the field of health care. I’ll call him “Ed.” Ed had come to me because, a year earlier, he’d frozen up on stage. He said that suddenly, as he glanced at the audience, a steam roller hit him. He couldn’t breathe. A black circle filled his vision. The room telescoped in on itself, growing darker by the second.

Ever since the panic attack, Ed hadn’t been able to present without taking medication to calm his nerves beforehand. He and I worked together for a few weeks. We tested out various coping mechanisms and he made mild progress … but nothing major. That is, until the topic of running popped up in our conversation.  

Ed sat back in his chair, exhaled, and talked at length about running cross country in college. About how much he loved jogging through the woods. About how being an athlete was fundamental to his identity. And about how he’d let the demands of his job – including 40% travel – stop him in his tracks.

[Photo credit: Jenny Hill]

[Photo credit: Jenny Hill]

In the end, what helped Ed to not just face the podium, but excel as a speaker was returning to what he loved. He got back to running trails (and back on the treadmill when traveling). The result? Ed said goodbye to his anti-anxiety meds for good.

Now, to be clear: working out is, by no means, a cure all for glossophobia, the fear of public speaking. But discharging excess energy before you speak will help you manage it. You don’t have to run a marathon, but you could walk briskly around the block or do jumping jacks in your hotel room. Don’t try to exhaust yourself. Just do enough to shake off the jitters and channel that energy into your best performance yet.

I love this tip. Has it worked for you? Email me at Rose@rosespeechwriter.com or reach out on Twitter at @RKing_Portland. -- Rose

Comfort Zone & Vocal Range

One easy way to become a better speaker is to consider your vocal range: how softly and loudly you speak. If you’re like most people, you probably tend to stay in a fairly safe range of what seems acceptable. What’s wrong with that, you ask? Well, frankly, it can be a killer. It can put your audience to sleep. (And you don’t want to be “that” speaker who rambles in a monotone voice.)

[Photo Credit: Ricardo Gomez Angel]

[Photo Credit: Ricardo Gomez Angel]

So, what can you do? First, experiment on yourself. Most smartphones have a microphone app. When you’re practicing your remarks, record your voice for 2 minutes and then check out your volume waveforms. I just did this with a client who had a “flat line” -- zero variation in the volume of her voice. When she saw this visual, she realized she had to make a change.

Second, find at least one place in the speech where you really want to connect emotionally with the audience. Maybe it’s a story about Apollo 13 or a moving quote by JFK. Maybe it’s the call to action where you'll rally your sales force for a big end-of-year push.

Once you find that spot, consider how you can deliver your message with the greatest effect. For example, you may want to lower your voice at the story’s end and walk closer to the audience. Or maybe speak louder when you cite the end-of-year sales goals. You decide. The point is to move out of your comfort zone by extending the range of your voice.

Finally, do a quick sound check before the event. Test the mic to see how softly you can speak and still be heard in the back of the room. This seems so simple, but you’d be surprised at how many people begin by asking, “Can you hear me in back?” (And nothing says amateur hour more loudly.)

In sum, increasing your vocal range isn’t hard but it will require you to get out of your comfort zone. But it’s worth it. Turning the volume up or down at key moments won’t just avoid sounding monotone. It’ll get your audience involved in an emotional, dramatic way. Remember, your role as a presenter is to take the audience on a journey. Show them what happened. Give them a glimpse of where they’re going. Use your voice to bring them along and you'll experience the highs and lows together.

Interested in more speech hacks that work? Please click here to subscribe or follow me on Twitter at @RKing_Portland. Thanks. -- Rose

Backwards Planning

Let’s say that an email landed in your inbox asking you to speak at a local conference. Or maybe a colleague left you a voice mail, inviting you to be part of a panel next month.

What’s the first step you should take after saying “yes” to a speaking invitation?

The answer is so basic that you might overlook it – at your peril. I recommend working backwards. In other words, put the event on your calendar of course, but also add two other critical dates.

As soon as you accept a speaking invitation, get it on your calendar -- along with a few other critical dates. [Photo credit: Eric Rothermel]

As soon as you accept a speaking invitation, get it on your calendar -- along with a few other critical dates. [Photo credit: Eric Rothermel]

#1 – Move from What You’re Saying to How You’ll Say It

The first date to add is the day that you’ll stop generating content and start rehearsing the material.  In other words, this is the date when you’ll start figuring out how to share your ideas in a compelling way. It’s usually about 3 to 5 days before the event, but may vary depending on the length of your remarks. 

At that time, start asking yourself questions about delivery. For example, what slides are needed to underscore the main message?  What prop will help your audience “get it?”  How will you tell the story or use the space on the stage? You will likely fine-tune content after this date, but having it on your calendar will give you a clear target: HERE, on this exact day, you’ll make that mighty transition from what you’re going to say to how you’ll say it.

#2 – Set Aside Time to Practice

In addition to this date, I recommend blocking off chunks of time to prep and rehearse. Some folks like to set aside 2 hours at a time; others prefer shorter 30-minute blocks of time. It’s up to you and will depend on how long your presentation is. The important thing is to give yourself enough time so that you feel calm and confident on the day of the big event.

Give yourself the benefit of time by planning backwards from the get go. This will help ensure all the effort you put into crafting the content won’t be wasted. Instead, you’ll have figured out how to share it in a way that’s clear, entertaining, and persuasive.

Interested in more speaking tips? Email me at Rose@rosespeechwriter.com or follow me on Twitter at @RKing_Portland. Thanks. -- Rose

To Move or Not to Move

I was recently working with a client on a speech and he asked me about moving around the stage: should I walk around up there? How much? And where do I go exactly?

In general, speakers should begin and end their remarks in the center of the stage without any movement. This is especially important during the intro. That’s the precise moment when you’ll be sharing some of the most critical parts of your presentation: the headline of your speech and an overview of what’s to come.  In addition, that’s when the audience is forming their first impression of you. If you move too much (or pace back and forth), the audience will find your movement distracting.

During the rest of the presentation, speakers should be deliberate about walking around on stage. Specifically, I recommend doing so for the following 3 reasons*:

[Photo Credit: Antoine Schibler]

[Photo Credit: Antoine Schibler]

  • To Tell a Story – “When I was 8 years old ….”  A great time to move closer to the audience is when you’re telling a story. If you lower your voice and slow down your rate of speaking, trust me, you’ll have them in the palm of your hand.
  • To Make a Transition – “Fast forward 9 months …” A great time to walk across the stage is when you’re transitioning between major ideas or themes. By doing so, your body language reinforces what you’re saying.
  • To Illustrate an Action – “I stepped up to the plate and heard Dad yell ….”  Finally, showing an action can make your speech more memorable. In this case, you might step forward and tap home plate with an imaginary bat. Don’t overdo it. You’re a speaker, not an actor. Just a few key gestures will go a long way.

Should you do all three of these techniques? Probably not. Instead pick the one that’s most appropriate for what you’ll be saying and, above all, that’s natural for you. Said differently, there’s no set formula. You don’t want to look like a robot on stage, moving 3 feet to the left then 5 feet to the right. Instead, your goal should be to come across as personable: just one human being trying to connect with another. Movement that’s both intentional and natural can help you do just that. 

*Note: techniques adapted/modified from Washington Post article Nov 2015.

The Spot Light Effect

I use a number of techniques to help people who are nervous about speaking in public. Taking a few deep breaths before stepping behind the podium helps some. Other people rehearse ten, maybe twelve times, becoming so familiar with the material that their jitters fall away. Still others benefit from hearing about the spot light effect, the notion that the audience is probably paying less attention to you than you might think! 

[Photo Credit: Paul Green]

[Photo Credit: Paul Green]

I first read about this idea in Amy Cuddy’s book, Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges. She talked about a major league baseball player who felt self-conscious when he stepped up to the plate. Seeing his face (and batting average!) plastered across the two-story scoreboard made him anxious. Some of my clients have expressed similar feelings when they’re asked to speak in public.

Here’s where the spot light effect comes in. Dozens of experiments show that we generally overestimate how much attention we think other people are paying to us. One of my favorite involves a study in which college students were asked to wear t-shirts sporting a picture of Barry Manilow. Researchers asked them to estimate what percentage of their peers they thought had noticed the embarrassing t-shirts. They said about half. In reality, only about a quarter of their peers noticed the Manilow t-shirts. In some studies, the number was as low as 10 percent.

You can read about these studies here but, in terms of public speaking, two takeaways are worth noting. The first is relax. Chances are the audience isn’t eying you as closely as you think. The second is to remember that you’re competing for their attention. They may be thinking about their daughter at school or daydreaming about their recent trip to Hawaii.  On top of that, they’re probably texting and tweeting. That’s all the more reason for you to prep great material, practice your delivery, and demand their attention with engaging and compelling remarks.

To learn more speaking tips, click here to subscribe, email Rose@rosespeechwriter.com, or follow me on Twitter at @RKing_Portland. -- Rose

Eye Contact & Audience Anchors

[Photo Credit: Mark Solarski]

[Photo Credit: Mark Solarski]

Last Saturday, I attended a meeting with local community leaders. The fact that it ran long – over 3 hours – was painful. But what made it particularly difficult was this: most of the speakers didn't talk to me. Or, frankly, anyone else either. Here’s what happened …

I was sitting around a long conference table with about 20 other adults. Plunked in the middle of the table was a box of Starbuck’s coffee. The room was hot. Someone floated copies of the agenda and the first presenter stood up.

He was slim with graying hair. He cleared his throat and began to speak so softly that I leaned forward in my chair. He kept his eyes glued to the paper in his hands. He was so intent on covering what was written there that we, the audience, were superfluous. I sat back, realizing he could have emailed the info out to us with equal effect.

He finished and the second presenter, a woman in a red cardigan, stood up. She was less intent on reading her notes but she glanced up for just one reason: to make eye contact with the person seated across from her. She seemed to genuinely care about the topic, speaking at length and with passion. But her delivery was directed to a single recipient. I glanced around the table. Folks tapped at their phones. Like me, they had checked out.   

Then the third presenter, a 50s-something man with glasses, pushed back from his chair. He began to speak, making eye contact with all of us. He drew us into the material with conviction. The cell phones went away, folks leaned in to the words, and soon enough we were behind his cause.

Eye contact is one of many simple tools you can use to rally an audience. I recommend picking 3 anchor people in the audience located to your far right, far left, and center. (Don't pick someone who's Tweeting or already disengaged.) Instead find someone who is smiling at you or nodding as you speak. Take turns looking at each anchor person while you speak. The other folks (seated between them) will catch your eye automatically. 

Will eye contact alone win converts to your side? Of course not. But failing to see – and therefore connect with – people in the room will lose them every single time. 

Have a question about your next speech? Email me at Rose@rosespeechwriter.com. -- Rose

Priming


During the holidays, I heard lots of "mini speeches." Last week my father-in-law offered a toast at the dinner table. Yesterday a friend talked about appreciating our time together. Both were beautiful little tributes: kind and heartfelt. The next time you want to say a few words but are holding back, consider a technique called “priming.”

Joe Maggie, a professor at NY University, uses priming to help people under stress. Before doing a nerve-racking activity (like public speaking!), he encourages people to remember a moment when they felt powerful & confident. And to that I'd add this: reflect on a time when you felt good about yourself. Perhaps it was after you volunteered at a food pantry or made chicken soup for a sick neighbor. Maybe it was how you felt after a long run or doing yoga.

By reflecting on a moment when you were your best self, you'll reduce your anxiety about speaking in public. It’s not a magic bullet. It won't quell all your nerves or shake free the stress of everyday life. But it will help you feel more relaxed and confident. Adding a few deep breaths is important as well. Give it a try. When you’re moved by the spirit, “prime the pump” first then share your thoughts aloud. My guess is that your friends and family will appreciate what you have to say.

 

Have a question about your next speech? Email me at Rose@rosespeechwriter.com. If you'd like to learn more speaking tips, please click here to subscribe. Thanks! -- Rose

[Photo credit: Deniz Altindas]

[Photo credit: Deniz Altindas]