The Call to Action

Have a speech coming up? My advice is to start at the end with a clear, compelling Call to Action. Let me explain.

I got a frantic call last week. A woman named Sarah was giving a speech in less than a week and wasn't sure what she wanted to say. She was stuck. We talked for some time about the event and the audience. She'd been asked to share 8-10 minutes of remarks about a nonprofit she had founded 7 years earlier. The setting? A nondescript conference room. No podium. No slides. No Q&A. Soon we were talking about the audience. I pressed. Who were they? What did they care about? What motivated them?

Then came the kicker. And the reason Sarah was stuck. I asked her what she wanted the audience to do. When you're done speaking, I said, they'll clap politely. You'll gather your notes and your raincoat (yup, it's Fall here in the Pacific NW.) Then you'll walk out of the room, Sarah, but what happens next? What do you want your audience to do?

She got it.  Sarah mentioned contacting our city council and we were off! Together we hashed out a clear, concise "ask." Once we'd identified her Call to Action, we fleshed out the main arguments of Sarah's speech. Hurray! Success!  

A Call to Action

A Call to Action is a clear, concise appeal to the audience asking them to take action. To do something. How do you craft a compelling one? Here are some guidelines:

Instead of “let’s solve homelessness," say, “join our coalition.” Be specific about how you want the audience to get involved. [Photo credit: Giovanni Randisi]

Instead of “let’s solve homelessness," say, “join our coalition.” Be specific about how you want the audience to get involved. [Photo credit: Giovanni Randisi]

1)  Be explicit. A Call to Action isn't a hint or suggestion. It's not a veiled request. Nor is it a wishy-washy "ask."  Stand up tall in front of the room and own it: ask for what you want. Don't say, "You might consider looking at this petition." Instead say, "I urge you to sign this petition on XYZ today." Here's another example. It's okay to say, "Homelessness is a travesty. Together we can solve this problem." But it's better to say, "We've formed a homeless coalition and we invite you to join us at our next meeting on Tuesday. Together we can get people off our streets and into safe, affordable homes."

2)  Focus on THEM.  The Call to Action shouldn't center on the speaker. It should state how it'll help the audience. Make clear how they'll benefit. Don't say, "Your donation will help us grow our nonprofit." Instead say, "Your donation will help build playgrounds for children this summer."

3)  Use active verbs. Asking people to "think about" or "reflect" on a topic is fine for a walk in the woods, but not a speech. Be assertive. Tell them to vote or volunteer. Write a check or swipe their card. Check on their elderly neighbor, launch a neighborhood carpool, or storm the castle walls. (Maybe not that last one, but you get the idea.)  

4)  Make it easy.  If you're asking folks to volunteer, pass around a sign up list. If you’re asking them to write to their Senator, give them postcards to sign & mail. We're all pressed for time, so make it convenient for people to take action. Said differently, reduce hurdles that would prevent them from heeding your Call to Action.

Next time you’re giving a speech, don’t get stuck. Figure out your Call to Action and then work backward to build a persuasive argument. Starting at the end is often the best way to begin.

Want to learn more tips and tricks of great speakers? Please click here and scroll down to subscribe. -- Rose

The Headline Test

Last week I presented at a nonprofit conference in Chicago. The point of my talk was to share time-saving tips with busy communication professionals working on a limited budget. Most were a communications "shop of one." In addition, they wore many hats, serving as the volunteer coordinator, fundraiser, or grant writer. At one point, I asked the audience if they'd heard of the "headline test." Very few had, and yet, it's such a powerful tool.

The Headline Test 

When you read a newspaper, the headline is the main message the editors you want you to remember. It's a concise summary of the article. The same notion applies to your remarks. Before you give the speech, figure out the key idea you want people to remember when you're done. So how do you use the Headline Test and why?

Say that you're giving a speech on summer hunger among children in America. At some point in the remarks, you know you must describe the problem: specifically, millions of low-income kids lack access to reliable, nutritious food in June, July, and August. You also know that you must explain why. The answer: Free and reduced-priced meals (which they receive during the school year) aren't available in the summer. You'll also be hunting down statistics and maybe an anecdote or two. 

But how will you organize your remarks? The headline test can help. It forces you to determine the main idea that you want people to remember. In this example, it might be this: "Summer Hunger Among our Children is Unacceptable." Or maybe it's "Elected Officials Must End Summer Hunger." 

Whatever it is, knowing the headline enables you to work backwards. If you know the Call to Action (i.e., what you're asking folks to do) you can organize the body of your remarks. In other words, you can build a cogent argument -- that gains steam one idea at a time -- so the audience can't help but come to any other conclusion than "We Must Do Something About This Problem Now!" (And, of course, you will spell out exactly what they must do: call their elected official, volunteer at a food bank, or donate grocery items to summer lunch sites, etc.)

It's a "test" because you need to be able to articulate the speech's main message in a clear, concise way. That brings me to the take-away.


You don't aim an arrow in the general vicinity of the target. You shoot for the bullseye. The same concept applies to drafting your remarks. Before you put fingers to the keypad, do the headline test. It'll save you time. It'll help you sharpen your message. It'll help you reach people. Figure out what you want people to remember after the applause fades. If you can't capture it in a few words, your audience won't be able to do so either.

To learn more speaking tips, click here and scroll down to subscribe. Thanks! -- Rose

3 Tips for a Killer PechaKucha

PechaKucha, the Japanese word for chit chat, is a presentation of 20 slides, each shown for 20 seconds. (Total time is 6 minutes, 40 seconds). Because the slides advance automatically, the format forces speakers to be concise ... otherwise, they fall woefully behind their slide deck.

What I love about PechaKucha is that it encourages people to get right to the point -- and then move on. We've all heard speakers ramble on stage. They wander down one rabbit hole after another. Often they haven't taken the time to key in on their main ideas before the speech. As a result, their audience struggles to weed out the "tangents" and "asides." Before long, they're tweeting or texting on their cell phone. The speaker has lost them. 

How, then, can you give a killer PechaKucha? 

Tip #1 - LESS IS MORE - Long before you take the stage, you need to know the one or two main ideas per slide that you'd like to share. This takes time and, frankly, it's tough. But if you don't "do your homework," you'll try to cram in too much info. The result? You'll speak rapid fire and you'll lose your audience. You only have 20 seconds for each slide, so you have to be selective. Ruthlessly so. In the end, I encourage you to give priority to the "headlines" you want to share on each slide and, remember, less is more.

Find vivid photos like this one of fireworks in Singapore. My favorite source of pictures is Unsplash. [Photo credit: Nitin Mathew]

Find vivid photos like this one of fireworks in Singapore. My favorite source of pictures is Unsplash. [Photo credit: Nitin Mathew]

Tip #2 - COMPELLING IMAGES - The best PechaKuchas have powerful images. You can find quality, high-resolution photos here or here. These pics are free and have no copyright restrictions. They also have searchable databases so you can find the right picture quickly.  (I love these sites so much, in fact, that I get their weekly emails.) For your presentation, it's fine for some slides to have a single word, short phase, or compelling statistic. But your slides shouldn't be cluttered with text. No bullet lists. No dense paragraphs. No special effects. Instead, I recommend following the slide guidelines used in TED Talks. Essentially, big, moving high quality images that reinforce the point you're making.

Tip #3 - PRACTICE - This format is unforgiving because the slides move ahead whether or not you're ready. In the last PechaKucha I attended, 9 of the 10 speakers fell behind in their presentations. Meanwhile the slides, on automatic advance, surged ahead. Folks on the stage kept glancing back at the screen, flailing their arms, and stumbling on their words. They weren't sure how to get back on track. The audience giggled when the first two speakers fell behind; after that, the joke wasn't as funny. Now, no two speakers are alike, but I generally recommend running through this type of presentation (with your slides) at least 5 times before you deliver it. More if possible. You need to know the main idea for each slide, how to jump forward if needed, and what you're going to do (pause) if you get ahead of your slides.

Want to learn more practical hacks of public speaking? Please click here and scroll down to subscribe. Thanks! -- Rose



Just Breathe -- Tips & Tricks of Great Speakers

JUST BREATHE: The Woman in Chair #2

[Photo Credit: Daria Nepriakhina]

[Photo Credit: Daria Nepriakhina]

I recently attended an event at the Lucky Lab, one of my favorite local bars in Portland, OR.  I was there to watch a client that I'm coaching. She was among a group of about ten engineers and architects who were doing PechaKucha (basically presentations of 20 slides @ 20 seconds each).

The first 5 speakers were seated stage right. As the first speaker began, I noticed a well-dressed woman seated in chair #2.  She was the next presenter.  As she waited for her turn to take the stage, she tore up her fingernails one by one. She squirmed in her seat. She swung her legs beneath it.

When the speaker finished, the woman in chair #2 leapt up. She took the mic and began to speak rapid-fire style. She talked so fast that no one could understand her. I didn't time her, but would guess she was covering about 175 to 200 words a minute. That's crazy fast.

I wanted to seek her out after the event to help in some way. Unfortunately she slipped out the door and headed to the bar. My advice would have been pretty simple. Breathe ... just breathe. Doing a few simple exercises before you speak will not only calm the nerves, but ensure you're ticking along at about 125 words a min (about the right pace for most speakers).

Here's what to do when you're in chair #2:

  1. Put both feet on the ground and sit up straight.

  2. Inhale to a count of 4. Exhale to a count of 4. Breathe through your nose.

  3. Repeat.

  4. If this pattern is too easy, try a count of 6 or any of the options listed here.

To be honest, it doesn't really matter which breathing exercise you use. If you know you're extra nervous before speaking, focus on breath beforehand. It will slow down your pace so you can convey your message in a more thoughtful manner. It will also help you master "the pause," a hugely underrated trick that's part of the exceptional speaker's repertoire.

I love this tip because it never fails. To learn more, click here and scroll down to subscribe. Thanks! -- Rose

Hand Gestures -- Tips & Tricks of Great Speakers

What About Hand Gestures?

I get this kind of comment from clients all the time. They say, 'Here's the thing, Rose ... when I keep my hands at my sides, just sort of dangling there, it feels awkward. What the heck should I do with my hands?' Great question. 

Don't adjust your tie or fiddle with your outfit on stage. That says amateur hour. Use the mirror in the green room to ensure you're ready to go! [Photo Credit: Ben Rosett]

Don't adjust your tie or fiddle with your outfit on stage. That says amateur hour. Use the mirror in the green room to ensure you're ready to go! [Photo Credit: Ben Rosett]

Here's what not to do:

1. Jiggle the change in your pocket. Check your pocket for the cell phone -- over and over.
"Is my iPhone there? Yes, there it is.
(10 seconds later) 
Wait, where's my iPhone? Ah, yes. It's there.

2. Stand in "fig leaf" or parade rest (hands clasped in front or behind you).

3. Brush hair out of your face or readjust your glasses repeatedly.

4. Point at the audience. (If you must point, use the politician's solution which is to point with the knuckle of your index finger.)

5. Use jazz hands to convey your enthusiasm.

Well, then, what should you do? My advice is threefold. First, keep hand gestures natural, as if you're having a conversation with a small group of friends. Second, use them purposefully. By that, I mean either list a number (hold up 2 fingers to make your 2nd point) or use them to describe a specific activity or an object (ex: skipping a stone or a watch on your wrist). Finally, use hand gestures inclusively: open your arms and keep the palms up. Project an image that's welcoming -- even when you're inviting people to disagree with you! Check out the illustrations in this Washington Post article as well as the practical tips it offers.

Want to become a more powerful speaker? Please click here and scroll down to subscribe. Thanks! -- Rose

Save the Cat!

Save the Cat!

Watch any major blockbuster movie & you'll notice a little trick used by screen writers. The protagonist will do something that's, well, just plain nice. A professor might say "thanks" to an intern. A Dad might hug his son. A teacher might compliment her student. The act is often so subtle that it doesn't register consciously, but it sure does subconsciously! This is the "save the cat" moment. It gets us, the audience, rooting for the hero. It often happens in the first few minutes of a movie. It's a pretty ingenious technique, one that I learned from the amazing book, Save the Cat, by Blake Snyder. 

Your Take-Away

Be nice when you first take the stage. Project the image of someone who's grateful to be there, respectful of the audience, and humble about your abilities (however superhero like). So ...

If the last speaker was great, start by complimenting her. One thing I often do is tell the audience to interrupt me at any time. "This is YOUR session," I assure them. "I want to make our time together as helpful as possible."  In some 10 years of public speaking, I've never once been interrupted by a question.

On the flip side, if things go wrong, don't overreact. For example, if your slides are dorked up, don't belittle the poor IT guy. (Truth be told, visual aids that don't work are your fault ... You should have checked 'em earlier.)  Keep calm, poised, and polite.

The bottom line is this. Don't pander to any audience. Ever. Instead, just remember what your Mama taught you. Play nice. If you keep it simple and subtle, you'll save the cat.

Want to learn more "tips and tricks" of great speakers? Please click here & scroll down to subscribe. Thanks! -- Rose

The Dole Stroll -- Tips & Tricks of Great Speakers

Try the Dole Stroll

At the 1996 Republican convention, Elizabeth Dole was asked to introduce her husband who was then running for President. Her job was to "humanize" him and she used a masterful (but simple) technique to do so. She left the stage, walked among the audience, and talked about her husband in a personal, thoughtful way.   (Full speech here.)  

Take a minute to watch what was ever-after called, "The Dole Stroll." (Start clip at 1 min/15 sec)

Now, what the video doesn't capture is twofold. First, the Dole Stroll was highly choreographed. She hugs a man in a wheel chair, an African American cop, and others. Each time the crowd roars its applause. It's her "Save the Cat" moment for sure. Second, Elizabeth Dole stole the show that night. All the major news anchors covering the event went wild with praise for this "new" technique.  Sometimes using the stage differently than done in the past makes all the difference in the world. 

Your Take-Away

To do the Dole Stroll, leave the stage & walk among your audience members. Best time to try it? When you're telling a personal story. [Photo Credit: Christian Fregnan]

To do the Dole Stroll, leave the stage & walk among your audience members. Best time to try it? When you're telling a personal story. [Photo Credit: Christian Fregnan]

1)  Are you using a highly personal, moving story in your presentation? Would it break down a barrier if you moved into the audience? If so, give The Dole Stroll a try. 

2) Has the audience been sitting there listening to speaker after speaker from a big stage? Again, maybe The Dole Stroll will set you apart (and wake up the audience!).


If You Use The Dole Stroll

1) Have a handheld, backup mic ready to use. Lavaliers can go dead outside a certain range. I've talked to Elizabeth Dole personally about that night. She told me she had 3 handheld mics on the floor -- and needed to use two of them!

2) Before you speak, tell the event organizers that you plan to leave the stage. They may need to bring up the house lights or, if there's a spotlight, adjust it to follow you. Your speech will go better if the production folks know in advance what you're up to.

3) Use a transition to get you on and off the stage. Check out the video again to see how Elizabeth Dole did it.

Want to learn more "tips and tricks" of great speakers? Please scroll down to subscribe. Thanks! -- Rose