Thursday, December 31, 2009

Take Time This New Year's To Be Quiet

We're speakers. We're expected to talk. We like to talk. Other people usually like it when we talk!

But as we celebrate New Year's around the globe (and I know some of you already are!), take time to be quiet. You don't have to be alone, just keep your mouth shut, and listen to the world around you. What are your friends and family saying? What is the world saying?

When you do take time by yourself, what are YOU saying? What are the most pressing thoughts, what are their tone and emotion?

As you head out into the next year, take time regularly to check in with the communication going on around you and within you. It may change what you say, and how you say it. And the people you spend most of the time talking to may benefit even more than you.

Enjoy a safe and happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Year, New Speech? 10 Reasons to Do Something New

As we near a new decade, are you planning on adding anything new to your speaking repertoire?

It's easy to get comfortable once you find what works, and some speakers make a good living telling the same stories with the same punchline to make the same point year after year. After all, each audience is different, and for most, it will be the first time they hear the Starfish Story even if its the thousandth time you've told it. (Just an FYI for newbie speakers - don't tell the Starfish Story. Ever. Please.)

But there are also plenty of reasons to switch things up a bit, if not change lanes altogether:

1. You're bored with what you're talking about
2. Your position in life has changed
3. The political climate has changed
4. The economy has shifted
5. Technology has advanced
6. You use examples older than your audience
7. Increased information/education on your topic
8. Staying fresh for repeat clients
9. Your client base is shrinking
10. New product creation

The biggest reason, however,  is one that takes a bit of a gut check to determine: because what we're doing now isn't working. We're lucky if we're scraping by, finding a client here or there, and failing to get a foothold. Even if your marketing is strong, if your topic isn't right for you or your audience, the best marketing in the world is just, dare I say it, putting lipstick on a pig.

I have struggled with topic selection for most of my career. Early on, I talked about living with Passion, Passion, and Perspective. Then I switched to the concept of embracing Your New Foot Smell. I moved on to helping people Leap from Acceptable to Exceptional. Last year, I distilled everything down to Choice, and set myself up as The Champion of Choice, creating the Champion of Choice Challenge last April. This doesn't even include the many talks I give each year on speaking.

In 2010, I'm going to continue focusing on Choice, encouraging people to take back the power in their life, regardless of where in life they are. I'm continuing to add to my story base, and looking for new ways to present my message to audiences of every kind.

As we launch into the new year, listen to your talk. What can you improve? What doesn't work well? What doesn't excite you anymore? And if your topic is oft-used, like choice, change, leadership, etc., how will make it so new to yourself and your clients that you continue to Speak & Deliver with energy and enthusiasm for the decade to come?

Whether you make a renewed vow to update and tweak your material, or decide to start from scratch, make 2010 your favorite year of speaking. The time say what you want to say is NOW.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What Idea Will You Have Today?

That's right - you're destined to have an idea today. Most of you more than one! An idea you can turn into a line in your next speech, or a story for your speech, or the basis of a new speech. At the very least you are going to have an idea that can be counted as treasure for the future.

Don't believe me? Here's a list of ideas I've had in the last 5 days (not all of them either). These ideas didn't come during 'special idea thinking time', simply as the day went along.

Dec. 25 - My daughter Riley got the Nintendo DSi she'd been praying for for months. The resulting screams, as she opened up the last gift of Christmas, made everything it took to make her wish come true absolutely worth it. A great story to use with Perserverence, Faith, Manifestation, Resourcefulness, Joy, Appreciation, and/or Rewards.

Dec. 26 - I went to Barnes & Noble to spend a gift card. Should I get a couple of classics, like Catcher in the Rye and Bleak House? Should I spend it on a book for the kids? They had sales on all sorts of family games. The Daily Drucker sat there taunting me, as did all those Gitomer books about sales and success. The choices were maddening. The process of guessing and second-guessing small decisions can easily be applied to making big decisions. Worth at least a quick throwaway humor line in the future. (For the record, I ended up with Brain Tracy's 2003 book, Change your Thinking, Change your Life.)

Dec. 27 - Spent the day sick, and by evening, my wife took ill as well, leaving the kids in full control of the household. The ensuing madness makes for huge humor opportunites, as well as an analogy about how much the world may or may not rely on our existence.

Dec. 28 - As I was midway through my day on my diet (the no-carb Atkins diet), my wife tempts me with stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and chocolate still lingering from Christmas dinner. Assuming she's going off the diet too, I surrender to my delicious desires, only to realize she never goes off herself. There's definitely a story there!

Dec. 29 - (Today) - well obviously, I got the idea for this post, and acted upon it, which is the best thing to do with your ideas. Usually.

These aren't the only ideas I've had in the last 5 days, and they may not even be the best of them (gotta hold back a little, right?). The key is, they happened in the regular course of living, by watching and listening, and then taking deliberate notice of how life applies to our speaking and writing.

You are going to have at least one good idea today. Are you ready for it? Think...and Deliver!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Twas the Reading Before Christmas

Each Christmas Eve, my children all settle in around me as I sit to read Clement Moore's 'Twas the Night Before Christmas'. It's a Public Speaking moment I look forward to every year.

Reading the written word aloud is a special part of the fear of Public Speaking that doesn't get a lot of attention. In fact, it may be a core aspect of the fear, dating back to the days we were asked to read sentences from the board, or religious passages in church classes, or give the dreaded oral book report.

The brain must multi-task in this situation - first comprehending the visual information for pronunciation, intent, and emotion, then simultaneously moving translating it verbally with vocal variety and the occasional gesture and confirming eye contact. I spoke about this a few weeks ago - How to Read With Style.

A couple additional tips to consider when reading aloud:

1) Posture - Sit or stand straight, and your material at an angle that doesn't create lung or larynx compression. Heavy breathing doesn't add credibility to most types of reading.

2) Room Temperature Water or Hot Tea - good for any type of speaking, really. Cola's coat your throat, and generate phlegm that interferes with clear vocals, or constant throat clearing.

3) Practice, when possible. And I admit, I read "Twas the Night Before Christmas a couple of times out loud to myself beforehand. After all, I've got a reputation to protect.

One of today's practices (my second) is below.

Remember, the most important aspect of reading to an audience is getting them to comprehend the material, and often, the emotion that the author, or you as the speaker, want to convey. It doesn't have to be perfect, just authentic.

If you're celebrating Christmas, enjoy your Christmas Eve night. Read with your kids, be it Clement C. Moore's classic, the biblical reading Linus gave in yesterday's post, or even this Dr. Suess classic.

See you tomorrow, after seeing what Santa chooses to Speak...and Deliver (under the tree).

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Greatest Thumb Sucking Orator in History

Earlier this week, I was very excited about the post I planned for Christmas Eve. It was going to be an analysis of Linus' speech from A Charlie Brown Christmas, with the accompanying YouTube video. What a cool idea. So cool, in fact, that my friend and fellow coach beat me to it by a couple of days. So, while I spend today coming up with something else cool for tomorrow, enjoy what John Zimmer has to share with you!
During Christmas, one of the things that my family and I like to do is watch the classic shows of the season: “A Christmas Carol”; “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (see previous post!); “It’s a Wonderful Life”; and more. One of our favourites is “A Charlie Brown Christmas”.
At one point in the show, Charlie Brown, exasperated at the commercialism that has kidnapped Christmas, cries out: “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?!?” It is then that Linus goes on stage and delivers a 45-second speech in which he gives Charlie Brown his answer.
As I watched the show, it occurred to me that there is a lot that we can learn from this little speech by a cartoon character. Let’s have a look.

So, what did Linus do well as a speaker? Plenty!
  • He understood that his speech had to be relevant to his audience. Charlie Brown was trying to understand the meaning of Christmas, and Linus addressed the issue. His message was also relevant for the other kids (and Snoopy) who were getting caught up in the materialistic side of the season.
  • He was not afraid to ask the technician to adjust the lights. Good speakers know that things such as lighting and sound should be adjusted to enhance their speeches and not detract from them. Now, some might say that Linus should have checked this out in advance; however, as this was an impromptu speech, I hardly think he can be faulted.
  • He told a story.
  • He was confident enough to deliver his speech without PowerPoint.
  • He used great gestures to emphasize his points. For example: 0:25 (“And lo!”); 0:28 (“And the glory of the Lord …”); 0:31 (“And they were sore afraid”); 0:38 (“… tidings of great joy …”); 0:44 (“… a Saviour …”); and more.
  • He used vivid facial expressions (well, for a cartoon at least) to convey different emotions such as fear, joy and happiness. He even imitated the infant sleeping in the manger!
  • He had good vocal variety.
  • He had great eye contact with the audience. (I realize that there was nobody in the seats and all the kids were in the wings, but you know what I mean.)
  • He used pauses to emphasize key points.  He did not rush at all.  Two examples: 0:36 (“Fear not! [pause] For behold, I bring you …”); and 0:47 (“And this shall be a sign unto you: [pause] You shall find the babe …”).
  • Finally, Linus kept his speech short and memorable. He did not drone on and on. He made his point quickly and well, and then got off the stage.
Is there anything that Linus could have done better? Well, he was stationary the whole time and might have used the stage a bit more. Also, he should have left his blanket off stage as some might have found it distracting. To his credit, however, he did throw it away at 0:35. And, to be fair, he is Linus and Linus without his blanket is like Batman without his cape.
On the whole, Linus did a great job and we can all learn a thing or two from him.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

You're Not As Good As You Think You Are

You're not as good as you think you are. The good news is you're not as bad as you think you are, either!

Last month, I attended a fairly new Toastmasters club. They were having a 'training night', and showed three speeches from the 2008 World Championship of Public Speaking - the winner, LaShunda Rundles, and two others: Jock Elliott, a five-time finalist and my own (it was my 2nd appearance in the finals).

I have only viewed that video twice, and not once in 2009. Having that much separation in time from the event, I was able to watch my speech with 'new eyes'. I am over the sting of 'losing' (as if being in the Top Ten out of 25,000 worldwide should be considered losing), and have put that summer of victories and defeats into some perspective.

Despite this supposed 'perspective', I cringed several times watching the speech. My head was spinning with all the things I could do differently with that speech. Gestures, phrases, transitions all could have been better. That moment is past, never to be retrieved, of course. Just tortuously set in digital stone for posterity.

But after the meeting, I had four separate people, none of whom had met me before, tell me how much my speech meant to them. They espoused their own interpretations of what I offered, found value in my persistence and perspective, and appreciated the raw authenticity of the speech. None of them said I should have won, but they all got my message, which is its own victory.

Back on that August morning in 2008, I remember thinking, as the awards were being called, that I had given a great speech, a championship-winning speech. Watching the DVD,I was mentally beating myself up as I watched myself in living color and stereo sound. In fact, I was actually somewhat embarrassed to have them watch the speech. No, Rich, you're not always as good as you think you are.

Despite my own criticism, however, the speech was a success. It didn't take home the prize, but if affected people significantly that night, and continues to affect those who watch it on DVD. People without a rooting interest. People who aren't 'in the moment' of the big contest. Just folks sitting in chairs in a church basement watching TV. No, Rich, you're not always as bad as you think you are.

Yes, I would love to go back and fix that speech. Yes, we can always do better. Yes, we should strive to improve our speaking and presentation skills, and be open to criticism from our audience, coaches, and selves.

Take heart in this: If your message is strong, the audience will find it, even when you are less than perfect. The audience, for the most part, is not picking you apart as you speak they way you will do to yourself. They are in it for themselves, and what they can get out of you. We must always give our best, even if our best isn't our best. As a wise coach once told me - our best speech should always be our next one.

You're never as good as you think you are, and you're never as bad as you think you are - but as long as you are striving to Speak & Deliver, to deliver your best message in the best way you are capable of at that moment in time, you'll be a Champion.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Toastmasters Friday: Ready At Any Moment!

I was the Toastmaster for my Spokane Falls club last night. As it turns out, I had to become MacGyver.

I had made the calls, and figured I'd have one speaker and one evaluator for sure, half what I like to have, but about par for the course for this small club during the Christmas season. As various people showed up, it became evident that my General Evaluator and Speaking Evaluator were not going to show. This wasn't so bad, I guess, since my speaker didn't show up either.

A sure sign of disaster, right? Especially with 2 guests walking through the door to see what Toastmasters is all about.

By the end of the meeting, however, we had two speeches, two evaluations, and two impressed guests. How? By being ready at any moment.

1) I showed up early enough to the meeting to handle changes.
2) One Toastmaster I'd spoken to earlier in the week came with a pocket speech, just in case. Not just any pocket speech, by the way. She had a visual aid and handouts! Big pockets.
3) The Toastmaster who cancelled out of speaking showed up anyway, still determined not to speak. As I spoke with him, I was able to cajole him to give an impromptu speech about all the things he'd been doing instead of working on the speech he intended to give. It provided for an interesting speech!
4. I took over the General Evaluator role, in addition to Toastmaster.
5. My Timer took on an Evaluator role, with the Table Topic Master taking over timing duties during evaluations. The Grammarian/Ah Counter added the Evaluator to his duties.
6. The Table Topics Master did show, and did a great job involving every one who attended with a question.

We had a total of 6 Toastmasters, and because all were ready at any moment, we had a strong meeting that represented Toastmasters well, and encouraged the newcomers.

In addition, it exhibited the strength of the Toastmasters program, by putting people in impromptu situations where they were able to shine. How many times do you end up in a situation where you have to speak unexpectedly? Even the best platform speakers can find themselves fumbling for words when they weren't mentally prepared to speak. Using Toastmasters as a practice field for your impromptu speaking skills is a fun and inexpensive way to stay sharp.

Whether you're a Toastmaster or not, if you're a speaker, you'll find yourself in this position often. Your reputation will precede you, and you'll be asked to fill in for a toast, a prayer, a business presentation, who knows? Being prepared to be unprepared is the burden of being a speaker, so you may as well embrace it! The behind you save may well be your own.

Carry your pen and paper clip, and be ready at any moment - to Speak & Deliver!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Speaking Pause Part II: Look for Your Silent Seconds

In yesterdays post, we discussed 5 reasons we won't stop talking...
Today, we'll examine why we must stop, and find the crucial Silent Seconds in our presentations:
1. Connection - pauses allow the audience to see the speaker as a human being, instead of a flapping mouth, perhaps with flapping arms to boot. (pause)They give your audience a chance to catch a glimpse of you in silence, see the look in your eyes, and understand the expressions on your face. Be aware that all of these must aspects of your presentation must be in line with your message. When you pause, take a hurried drink, and sift through a pile of notes, you are no longer in tune with your words, which creates a disconnect.
2. Understanding - if you're discussing new or complicated concepts (communication techniques for husbands, for example), use the pause to let your audience catch up. (pause)Watch your crowd and look for confirming or confused looks. You may need to repeat or clarify, or allow questions to be asked. If you don't pause to be sure your audience understands, the point of the talk becomes moot. 
3. Impact - when you've made your most important statements, a pause is a flag that helps the audience identify that fact. (pause)Particularly a pause followed by repeating the statement, followed by another pause. Slowing down the pace to make sure the audience is clear that THIS is what they need to take home with them is worth the effort, and separates the moment from your faster-paced stories and transitions.
4. Effective Storytelling - nothing steps on laughter, runs over a dramatic twist, or plain neuters a story like the lack of Silent Seconds. Pausing gives your audience the chance lean forward in their seats and mentally beg for more. Take advantage!
When you write your speeches, watch for your Silent Seconds - those times a pause will enhance the connection, understanding and impact of your words. (pause)You'll find them naturally in your punctuation - when your sentence ends with a period, thats a clue. 
As I regularly recommend, record yourself, and listen for places your pauses should be, and where they should possibly be longer. (pause)You may fear pausing too long, but typically, the pause in our head is twice as long as the pause the audience observes. (pause)Exercise - try to deliberately pause for 5 seconds. It'll drive you crazy, as it'll seem more like 10 as you stand in silence.
There are dangers to using pauses as well, but we'll tackle those later on. For now, take a look at how Silent Seconds will impact your speaking, and impact your audience. Now get out there and remember to Speak (pause) & Deliver!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Speaking Pause Part I: Why We Won't Stop Talking!

I love the pause...and the pause loves me.

The pause is one of the few friends a speaker can actually take on stage with them, as they face the expectations of their audience. But it is a friend often scorned and forgotten by many as they blow through their presentations like Jimmie Johnson blows through the NASCAR circuit.

Speaking shouldn't be a race, whether it be a race to fit everything in, or a race to sit down and be safely silent again. Instead, its your opportunity to express yourself, to influence, and inspire to action. If people can't keep up with you, the chances of anything good coming out of your talk diminishes.

6 Reasons We Talk Too Fast

1. We're subconsciously afraid that we will be interrupted, as if we were talking around the water cooler. If we don't stop talking, we won't lose the floor, be forced to answer questions, or, in a sales situation, hear "NO" before we're ready to handle it.

2. We're afraid to forget. We think that as long as we know what we're going to say next, we may as well go for it, so not to allow our mind to go blank.

3. As mentioned above, we have so much to say, we don't think we have enough time to say it. Check out this post on editing to diagnose and treat this particular issue.

4. We aren't emotionally connected to what we're saying. We may be reciting a report or going through a scripted talk we've given dozens of times in the past, and our lack of excitement results in non-stop, often monotonal diatribe that leaves the audiences as bored as we are.

5. That's what we've seen. We've grown up listening to commercial messages, slick salespeople, even teachers and preachers who pummel us with words at such a high rate of speed we're more tired than inspired by the time they sit down. If that's all you know, then that's what you'll do. (This concept also explains poor customer service and bad drivers.)

6. We just want it to be over, as fast as possible.

In Part II, I'll talk more about the benefits of using a pause. For now, take a look at the above reasons, and see if they apply to you, or to speakers around you. Are there other causes you can think of for speaking at top speed without time to take a breath?

Consider this blog, until tomorrow at least, on Pause.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The 4 Differences Between Stand-Up Comedy and Humorous Speaking

On Monday night, I was interviewed by fellow speaking expert Felicia Slattery on the subject of using humor in public speaking, and specifically regarding my book, Go Ahead and Laugh.

Among the many subjects we discussed were the differences between stand-up comedy and humorous speaking. I see four distinct differences that keep these two skill sets separate:

1) Intent

Stand-up comedy's goal is to create nothing but laugh after laugh. Humorous speaking still focuses on an overall message, a call to action, which is punctuated by comedy.

2) Rhythm

Effective stand-up comedians look for laughter 4-8 times per minute, whereas effective humorous speakers may have some minutes with several laughs sandwiched around several minutes with some or no laughter, depending on the topic, setting, and overall message.

3) Appropriateness

Stand-up comedy commonly steps over normal bounds of decency in both topic choice and language usage. Humorous speakers rarey have that luxury.

4) Expectations

Stand-up comics face a crowd demanding they be not just funny, but rolling on the floor funny. Audiences want to be entertained and taken as far out of their normal lives as possible. Speakers use humor to soften reality, provide a light moment, and give their audience an opportunity to relax, and allow the important points of the speech to sink in. As brilliant as Jerry Seinfeld, Bill Engvall, and Jeff Foxworthy are, they are not expected, as speakers are, to actually create a message that makes a lasting difference.

Despite the vast differences, learning stand-up comedy techniques is quite valuable to a speaker looking to use more humor in their talk. Find a local comedy club that features an open mic night, jot down a 2-3 minute routine, and take your speaking skills out for a spin on a new track. You'll quickly discover what works and what doesn't, you'll pick up comedic timing, and you'll learn how to read and react to an audience - all skills that will add to your current platform talents.

Just as valuable as putting yourself in front of others is taking notes on your 'competition', and Headliners that appear later that evening, or later in the week. Learn from their laugh lines, listen for their patterns, and take notes on their 'saver' techniques: how they save themselves from humor that doesn't work.

If nothing else, check out YouTube for comedians and get your notepad out. Bill Cosby is one of my favorites because he often walks the tightrope between humorous speaking and stand-up comedy. A masterful story-teller, it's easy to forget he is still, at heart, a comedian vs. a speaker.

While the worlds of stand-up comedy and humorous speaking are in different orbits, the more comfortable you become with telling humorous stories, using funny situations and phrasing, and finding the humor in your speaking, the better you'll be when you work to Speak...and Deliver.

Are You Friends With Your Audience?

Over the past two years I've watched Facebook and Twitter take over the world with a simple formula: let people talk to each other. This written form of communication offers valuable insight into the speaking world, as well.

Typically, we start out with a small group of people we communicate with - our friends and family. Some never move beyond that point. Others start to expand outside their immediate circle of influence, to people in their industry. Most of my friends on Facebook are fellow speakers I've never met. Beyond that, you can grow your network to thousands of people, many who may care what you say, others who just treat you as a statistic. Without becoming a tutorial on using social media, let me just say this - however you choose to use it, use it in the way it best serves your goals - and get your goals clear before you get to far.

The communication I see on these platforms usually falls into five categories:

1) Open, authentic comments about what we're doing, how we're feeling, and what we plan to do
2) Pithy Quotes and Off-the-Wall Jokes
3) Hardcore Marketing filled with links to blogs, sales pages, etc.
4) Links to news stories, blogs, or videos
5) Actual information

All distilled to 140 or so characters apiece, and the percentage of one of the five vs. the others can either serve or betray the Twitterer's purposes, just as how you speak to an audience will betray or serve your purposes.

What type of information are your giving to your audiences when you speak? Does your desire to market overwhelm your audience? Do you focus on sharing others wisdom without being authentic with your own life experiences? How does everything tie together?

Most important, when you have finished your speech, have you built new followers, new friends? Have you shared yourself and delivered your message with passion and integrity? Have you communicated with the audience, or just talked at them, throwing out one impersonal tidbit after another?

Successful Social Media users understand it takes a balance of all five types of messages to build friends and following. As speakers, we are given the luxury of more than 30 words or so, but the goal is the same - find the balance of content to build friendships, and trust, from the stage. Whether we're talking to friends and family, your circle of influence, or your entire industry, remember to talk to and with them, vs. at or for them.

Once your balance is achieved, you'll know you're able to Speak...and Deliver.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Editing Your Speech: The Power of Precision

Last month I finally finished Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rands legendary book about capitalism v. communism v. objectivism. As the story goes, her editor had asked her to cut 200 pages from the book, resulting in Ayn Rand renegotiating her royalties from the book to a smaller amount in return for her manuscript printing as she intended. 

Personally, I think she could have cut 200 pages quite easily! The speech at the end of the book alone would take, according to this Atlas Shrugged FAQ - 3 hours! I can barely sit through the 3 hour version of the Lord of the Rings, much less read or listen to a 3 hour speech.

Modern speaking tends to go no longer than 45-60 minutes at a time, but the need for editing remains. Too many speakers fall in love with their words and phrases, or insist on covering every detail of their subject, or simply don't understand how to get to the bottom line before sending their audiences retreating into the movie theatre of their own minds for escape.

Signs you should edit your speech:

1. Your speech has more than one overall point (Saving the environment AND supporting the health care program - both points could be used as supporting points in a speech about political philosophy, but then the one overall point is about the political philosophy).

2. You are presenting points as soundbytes instead of stories. When you tell me what you want without showing me why you want it, you are wasting your breath and my time.

3. You are presenting more than one point every 4-6 minutes. In a 60 minute speech, have ONE overall point (saving the environment) and no more than one supporting point for every 10 minute period. Your audience can only take in so much information at one time.

4. If you aren't allowing your audience to Go Ahead and Laugh at least every 2-3 minutes, you need to find the humor in your speech before your listeners transform into uninterested watchers, cartoon scribblers, or Blackberry escapees. When you add to, you'll always need to edit out.

5. You find yourself running out of time before you reach your conclusion - preferably in your practice sessions as opposed to live, paying audiences.

As professionals, we need to be constantly editing our work. We learn something new every time we deliver a speech, and editing our speeches accordingly keeps them fresh, and continually improving. Sharpening our editing blade gives us the ability to be flexible on the fly, when a new story or incident comes up that may bump, for a night, or forever, a story from our current speech. 

Take a speech you currently give, or are about to give, and cut 20 percent. You don't think you can, but you can. Look for unnecessary set-up phrases, dialogue cues, and passive sentence structures. Consider the strength of each story, each bit of humor. Cut out bunny trails - times when what you are saying doesn't directly correlate with the point of your talk. Cutting 20 percent will force you to be creative and concise. Once you do, you'll be amazed at the time you have carved out of your speech that can be filled with humor, pauses, even additional audience interaction.

Editing tools to make your speech swashbuckling safe and easy:

1. Word Count - in most any word processing program, you will have, under Tools, a word count option to assist you in keeping track.

2. Save As - always save your editing document separately, no use throwing words out you may need later.

3. Voice Recognition Software - don't like to write it down? Give your speech into your computers microphone, and let the VRS type it for you. I've heard good things about Dragon NaturallySpeaking - comment below with your experience or alternatives.

4. Hiring a Virtual Assistant or transcriptionist to turn your recording into a manuscript. Use your spouse or children at your own risk.

5. Hire a speech coach (I think there's one around here somewhere) and let him or her cut it down for you. I'm not married to your words like you are, and will show no mercy as I pare your speech down to the essentials so we can build it back up into a trim but powerful piece of spoken prose and poetry.

Atlas Shrugged, Lord of the Rings, and your speech may all be worth sitting through all the extra verbiage, subplots, and special effects. But unless you only speak to people willing to join your movement or wear Hobbit robes, learn to edit your speeches before your audiences put you and your message on the shelf gathering dust.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

9 Ways to Track Your Ideas - Don't Forget Where You Left Your Treasure!

Other than Captain Jack Sparrow, who always had more interest in rum and the fair Elizabeth than much else, what kind of pirate allows themselves to lose track of their treasure?

When you're a developing speaker, ideas are your treasure, and can be just as hard to come by, and to keep, as the Dead Man's Chest. When you have to speak on the spur of the moment, that's generally when all your thoughts disappear. It's when you are least ready to deal with them that your ship comes in, flooding you with more opportunity for ideas than you can handle while sleeping, working, shopping, or driving.

Ideas are crucial to speaking development. Even people who have clear cut stories of climbing Mt. Everest or surviving a plane crash must augment the framework of their talk with more than the dramatic event itself. The most successful speakers will continue be on the lookout for bigger and shinier examples to refresh their tried and true approach for new audiences. You never know when you're going to run across the Holy Grail.

When those ideas hit, where do you keep them? Do you have a map drawn up to retrieve them when the time comes? Check out these 9 ways to keep your treasure, and see which ones work best for you - or, use them all!

  1. Notebook by the bed, couch, desk, anywhere you spend a lot of time - still the most efficient, and quietest, way to jot down those 3 a.m. inpirations
  2. Post-It Notes - write it down, then put the notes up on a cork board in your work area
  3. Virtual Post-It Notes - Mac comes with its own, on the PC I use Sticker Lite - FREE
  4. Chalk/White boards - almost as old-fashioned as a notebook, but it never gets closed. (warning: they do get erased, particularly by overzealous janitors and young children.)
  5. E-mail - write the idea down and email it to yourself. Bonus points for a third party email account like g-mail, which means your ideas are accessible on any computer, and easy to find when you file the emails under 'Ideas'.
  6. Texting - in a pinch, text yourself the idea. Just not while driving.
  7. Leave yourself a voice-mail. A lively alternative to note-taking
  8. Digital recorders - another great on-the-run solution - and they are less expensive than ever.
  9. Flip-Cam - these mini cameras are all the rage, and how better to remind yourself of a great idea than to watch a quick video taken in your (parked) car of you energetically pitching yourself a brilliant idea?
Now comes the fun part - counting the bounty. It's one thing to know you've got treasure, another to know exactly what you've got. If you never open that notebook again, the idea is as lost as if you never wrote it down. Pick a day of the week or month for Tracking the Take. Schedule (yes, schedule) an hour or two and gather your ideas into a single document, separating them by theme or assigning each a 'moral of the story'. I use a Write document (similar to Word), then email it to myself to back-up against data loss, print them out, and put them up in my work area. Your brain may work differently than mine (I hope so...), so find the best Treasure Tracking solution for you.

You'll be amazed at how many ideas you come up with over a week's time as you see your treasure piled all in one place. Once they're in front of you, you can cull through the good and the great, and your brain will begin working on how they can be used within your current message. They might even stimulate a new message altogether!

Treasure your ideas, and don't let your bullion get buried! Speak...and Deliver!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Jim Rohn - In the Speak & Deliver Hall of Fame

September 17, 1930 - December 5, 2009

I remember the first time I heard Jim Rohn speak. It was an audio .mp3 I'd found somewhere on the web, and he talked about how to avoid becoming broke and stupid. I'd looked him up because Tony Robbins mentioned he was an inspiration for him in his life, and I believed it was important to drive backwards in order to go forwards. Little did I know I'd end up going backwards thousands of years as I kept finding the inspirations for the inspirers.

Listening to his voice, I heard a grandfatherly tone, authoritative, caring, with a healthy dose of sarcasm tossed in. He seemed like the ultimate ObviousMan, and yet I never felt like he was rubbing it my face.

He found power in the pause, giving us a chance to catch up with him, while at the same time leaving us anxious for the payoff.

His talks focused on his audiences needs, even when he talked about his own experiences, as every good speaker should. He always gave us something to do, to aspire toward.

Watching his videos (I never had the privilege of seeing him in person), he dressed impeccably, refused to run around the stage, jump on chairs, and always maintained a dignified stage presence. He would often stand behind a lecturn, or casually walk across the stage.

While he was a bit physically unenergetic on stage, his use of language and humor more than made up for it. He knew how to deliver a punchline as well as any comic, while maintaining complete decorum.

He gave continual praise to others in his life, including Earl Shoaff, who was to him what he was to Robbins. Like many speakers of his time, he was never afraid to reference the Bible, but never forced it upon you as a moral standard - simply a standard of common sense.

Chances are, if it was worth saying, Jim Rohn said it at one time or another during his time on stage. More than once I'd have a brilliant idea for a speech, a turn of phrase, and then, months or years later, hear him say it 30 years ago. Nothing more irritating than watching someone in a wide, loud, 70's tie steal my lines from the past. Irritating...yet inspiring to think I may actually have been on to something.

If you don't know Jim Rohn, you should. He'll not only change your life, he'll change the way you Speak & Deliver.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Elevator Speeches Part III - The Trap of Speaking Repeatedly

In Pt. I, we talked about turning the Elevator Speech into the Elevator Discussion. In Pt. II, we discussed how to create an Elevator Speech for a one-time only performance.

Today, we'll focus in on what is a common occurrence in today's world of networking: The Weekly Elevator Speech. Many of us are in clubs, organizations, chambers, or simply all-out networking groups that we attend weekly, or two to three times a month. While the one-time speech is a great 'Icebreaker' to get you noticed, it won't be as effective the next time, though if it was memorable it may lead to a running theme (you may be repeatedly referred to as The Vampire, for example).

The trap most people get caught in is giving the same information week after week, arguing that its new information to any new people attending. Unfortunately, in the typical networking group, that means boring 90-plus percent of the rest of the group, to the point that they tune you out, and minimize your value. That's no way to turn them into your advocates in the business community.

Others make the mistake of constantly pitching their product, announcing their big sale, or otherwise selling. This is a cue to many to hit that internal mute button everytime you open your mouth.

It's not as hard as you think to come up with a unique one-minute speech 40-50 times a year. Consider these five basic principles as you look to offer your audiences something new on a consistent basis:

1. It's About You

In a longer term situation, it's fine for you to talk about you. What you did last weekend. Your kids. A success story from your business. You have hundreds of stories from your life, with new ones coming up each day, if you are on the lookout for them.
This is your weekly opportunity to open the shutters of your life, to build trust, and create people who will tell other that you are a valuable person, as well as a valuable business.

If you've created a moniker that helps people remember you, like "The Vampire", "The Computer Commando", or the "Vacationeer" - use it each week. If that's all they remember that day, that's enough, because it's YOU.

2. It's Still About Them

After the story, you want to related it to them. Statements such as "Have you found yourself in that situation?", "Do you know anyone who", or "If you'd like to save yourself some trouble..." all bring your audience to a state of mind of how they relate to what you've said.

If you've told an outlandish story, like my lawyer friend who talks about his days working in the Fire Department and adopting a dog to train to find hazardous accelerants, use a parallel transition, such as "I was creative then, I'm creative now - finding solutions is what I do". Transferring skill concepts is a great way to bring the audience back around to what you have to offer them.

3. Sell with Caution

Most people don't want to be pitched at a networking meeting - its a social event, not a swap meet. If you have a new product, announce it, and offer it with a discount. Give out samples (especially if you're one of those Healthy Chocolate people, hint hint).

Don't sell in consecutive meetings, but if someone bought last week, thank them. This makes them feel good (assuming they were happy with the transaction), and adds to your credibility.

4. Use Humor

When you get the audience laughing magical things happen. They like you more, they pay more attention, both that day and in the future, and you may just get some extra time. No need to be a comedian, but telling stories that have a touch of humor will certainly endear you to the crowd.

5. Sharpen Your Skills

No matter your content, if you aren't delivering it well you'll still be subject to the mute button. Humor without timing and strong vocal variety will fall flat. Most importantly, you'll lose credibility if you don't speak with confidence. Even if you are successful in your business because you offer great service, you will always be cutting off a portion of your audience (read: potential customers) with poor presentation skills. Join a Toastmasters club, or find a coach.

Follow these guidelines, and you'll avoid the traps so common today - and you'll actually start wishing other would avoid them too. You can always send them here!


Can you think of other examples when you'd need to give an Elevator Speech? Let me know, and we'll either discuss them in the comments, or address them in a new post.

Now get out and start networking - and remember to Speak...& Deliver!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Elevator Speeches Part II - Buck the Trend

Yesterday we talked about treating an Elevator Speech as an Elevator Conversation - a great approach when in a one on one situation (like, say, in an elevator...).

Often we are tasked to give an 'Elevator Speech' in front of a group. Today I'll talk about what to do if you are speaking only once without returning to the group, tomorrow, in Part III, I'll discuss how to do these on a weekly basis to the same group, for those of you in BNI or other similar networking groups.

Today - BOOM - you're in front of a group of strangers, introduced by a leader, probably by name and/or company name only, and they expect to hear 30-60 seconds about you.


They expect to hear 30-60 seconds about why they should CARE about listening to you! The sales cliche holds true: WIIFM - What's In It For Me.

1. The Twisted Opening

This is an even better time to use your Twisted Reply from the Elevator Conversation. Jazz it up - make it funny and deliver it with confidence and energy big enough for the room. Saying "I'm Pam Smith, a manager at the Inland Northwest Blood Bank" twists into "I'm Pam Smith, professional vampire" becomes "I'm Pam Smith, Professional Vampire" delivered with an wry grin and an arm sweep (as if with a cape).

Big voice + big smile + big gesture = big attention.

2. The Catch and Not Quite Release

If you've gone the humorous/cryptic route, let the laughter subside, then 'let them off the hook' and tell them the layman's term for what you do, but still with them in mind. "I work at the Inland Northwest Blood Bank, hoping we never have to save your life, while making sure we can."

3. The Story

You have their attention, now reel them in. Instead of saying what you do every day, speak of the IMPACT you make every day. You don't organize a staff of people who take blood, you save lives. Find a success story you can use - as recent or high profile as possible where your actions or organization's actions saved a life.

4. The Command

Finish up with a call to action - do you want them to call you? Talk to you afterwards? Visit a website? Read the pamphlet you passed around? Tell them so. If you can, find a way to tie back to your opening "If you don't call me, remember this: The Vampire will be lurking!"

This formula will make you both memorable and approachable, and for those squarely in your target, actionable. With 30-60 seconds, what more can we hope for?

I understand we aren't all lucky enough to be vampires. If you'd like to develop your own 'Elevator Speech', drop me an email at, and reference the Pitch Package. Give me an hour, and together we'll have you ready to Speak & Deliver!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Elevator Speeches Part I - Buck the Trend

The other day I was asked for some advice on how to create an Elevator Speech.

Elevator Speeches have been all the rage for the last 10 years or so, with our growing focus on networking, our shrinking availability of time, and our desire to pitch who we are and what we do in a quick, effective format - as if we only had the time between a few floors on a elevator (natch) to do so.

More recently I've seen the trend for a standard "I'm John Doe, I own a hot dog stand, and I make the best dog in town for the lowest price" Elevator Speech disappear, thank goodness. These pre-packaged sound-bytes are everything that is wrong with networking today.

I prefer to buck the trend, and create an Elevator Conversation. It consists of five parts:

1. The 1st Question
After exchanging names, you're asked "What do you do?" That's your cue - you're on the spot, and the person asking probably doesn't care much beyond whether or not you are a potential target for business.

2. The Twisted Reply
No, nothing out of Stephen King, unless you're a budding horror-movie director. You put a twist on what you do, by using lesser known terminology, and stating the benefit to the listener.

Examples: "I'm a motivational speaker" could become "I send people to the future".
Instead of "I'm a plumber", you say "I keep pipes flowing". Instead of "I sell insurance", consider "I clean up after accidents". (Additional Note: These examples are general - each of you has something unique to say based on who you are and how you do what you do - find what's right for you and your personality. Thanks for inspiring the clarification Lisa B.)

3. The 2nd Question
Instead of continuing on with a commercial for yourself, ask the other person a question - one that is either related to what you can offer them: "How would knowing your future help you?", "Do you know where you keep your plunger?", or by asking the 1st question "What do you do" in order to get them talking about them.

Both ways will get the other person talking, which leads directly to #4.

4. Put on those Listening Ears
Your kindergarten teacher's advice is still spot-on. Once the other person is talking, listen intently, and tune in to cues they provide about their business/family/personal needs. In many cases, your Twisted Reply will get them asking more questions about what you do. Keep your answers short and directed at their interests, not yours.

5. Make a Date
The business world and the dating world aren't that far apart. Once your conversation has finished, or at least timed out, ask for a continuance. Either ask for a few more minutes right then (if you're truly on an elevator, and they're headed to their office), or within a day or two.

You and they will both know after the Elevator Conversation whether you want to see each other again.

You may be a great speaker, writer, or salesperson, but it doesn't mean you want to speak for a full 30-90 seconds about you. Bucking the trend will gain their attention, at the same time. It's fairly easy to spot a canned Elevator Speech, and drift off within seconds, thinking about your destination vs. who is speaking to you.

Let the Elevator Conversation begin!

Tomorrow, Pt. 2 - Elevator Speeches for an Audience.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Toastmasters Friday: 3 Steps to Being the IceBreaker

You've just joined a Toastmasters Club in your area. You've rarely, if ever, spoken in public. Now you find yourself faced with giving a speech, gently named "The Icebreaker", but more realistically thought of by first-timers as a "BackBreaker, MindBreaker, and Potential DealBreaker", all rolled into one.

Don't let fear break you - instead, try these 3 Steps, and you will "Be the Icebreaker", not the broken!

1. Fix Your Brain

You don't think anyone cares what you have say. You feel like you'll completely blow it, stutter and stammer, or even break down and cry. Worse yet, that hyper guy is scheduled as ah counter and you're gonna get nailed for ah's and uhm's ad infinitum, running your club fine account up to the size of the U.S. National Deficit.

Stop. Breathe. Pour yourself a cool beverage and relax. Fix your brain by remembering the following:

a. You have permission to speak. Everyone their cares about what you have to say, and they were all in your position once, or soon will be. What you say may not change their lives, but for those 4-6 minutes, they care.

b. You have permission to stutter, stammer, and cry. The more you fear it, the more likely it is to happen. By accepting this possibility, you allow yourself to instead focus on what you're going to say.

c. You can just spare a buck. Bring a one dollar bill, and prepare to majestically pay the bank at the end of the ah master report. Or give it to him before the meeting as a bribe to forget to count. Either way, take the pressure OFF!

2. Don't Memorize Your own Life.

Even if you love to write and memorize and feel this is the only way, for this speech, don't let yourself do it! The speech is all about YOU! When you meet people, do you open a notebook and read your bio to them?

Instead, sit down with a piece of notebook paper and write down two, or at most, three things you want them to know about you. What you do for a living. Your favorite sports team. How many kids you have. What marriage you're on. How double jeopardy laws have allowed you to be at the meeting tonight. Whatever you want them to say - it your call.

Then find a why story. Why do you have six kids, or why do you enjoy them? Did you adopt, merge families, or could you simply not afford cable? Why do you love/hate your job? Did you always dream of opening a hotdog stand, or was it left to your by your brother who just left the country with his fiance? Why do you love your sports team? Did Don Drysdale come to your house and sign a baseball for you? (Uh oh, now I'm channeling old Brady Bunch episodes....)

Open with a simple summary - I'm Bob Jones - I work with mystery meat, and the Dodgers rock, and I love being a dad. Boom - move into your dad story, then the Dodger story, then the mystery meat story. Missed a detail, said something wrong? Who cares? WE DON'T KNOW ANY BETTER! Just keep speaking! No notes means you can say whatever you choose, and still be right.

Close by hitting each story again quickly, just a word here or there: "Those are the basics of Bob - I make and market mystery meat, long for the days of Dodger domination, and since I don't have cable, I've joined Toastmasters - cause 6 kids is enough! Boom, sit down.

I know, easy for me to say - but you can do this. Give yourself a set amount of time with pen and paper, and see what you come up with. Blocked? Ask your spouse, close friend, or your facebook peeps what THEY if they have ideas. Take your notes with you, but leave them at your seat, buried so you won't be tempted to grab them mid-speech.

3. Enjoy the moment.

After taking your position in front of the group, breathe. Smile. Make eye contact. Then go for it. You know who you are. You know your stories. And you know you're not going to be perfect - maybe not even very good.

Remember - that's why you're there. You don't become a good driver until you've been a new, scared, stop and start driver. This is your classroom, your support group, your laboratory, your garage workshop, your studio, whatever image you choose to identify with a place to create, learn, destroy, and recreate, Toastmasters is it.

Many of you are far beyond your Icebreaker speech. The concepts apply anyway, far beyond the confines of Toastmasters:

Fix your brain. Don't memorize (even if your speech isn't all about you). Enjoy the moment. Find a place to practice, to create, to evaluate, to create again.

Know someone about to give their first speech? Don't let the Icebreaker break them. Send 'em here, or email them this article - and show them they can "Be the Icebreaker" instead!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Originality is Overrated

photography by Bruce F. Webster

Many a speaker has been stunted, stalled, or simply shut-down over the desire to be original, myself included.

Today is the day to GET OVER IT. There are no original ideas left. There's nothing new under the sun, to un-originally paraphrase the book of Ecclesiastes in the Holy Bible.

You want to talk about Change? Been done. Leadership? There are speakers all over this one. Self-empowerment? Choice? PowerPoint? Speaking? Social Media? Weight Loss? Healthcare? The horrors of children's television? Done, done, done, done, done, done, done, and double done!

What's really sad, is that this is one of the oldest, most unoriginal lessons in the book, and yet many speakers never learn it well enough to explode through it. Instead we stare at our walls of books by other speakers who have made millions talking about OUR topics. If only WE had been Tony Robbins, Brian Tracy, Jeanne Robertson, Patricia Fripp, or Les Brown before THEY were!

Guess what? Dale Carnegie, Napoleon Hill, Earl Nightingale, Jim Rohn, and Norman Vincent Peale WERE those people before they were! Antiphon, Demosthenes, Aristotle...great orators have been around since the beginning of time, and they have all spoken on Change, Leadership, Self-Empowerment, etc. They may not have talked specifically about PowerPoint, but you can be sure they covered the pertinent points of presentations in their generation.

Even as you become a learned expert in your field, you become keenly aware of those that have preceded you. The more you delve into your topic, the more competition you find. When you find yourself discouraged or disheartened, feeling like a tiny voice shouting out of a crowded marketplace of speakers, trainers and consultants, remember the following:

1. The Next Generation.
Everything there is to learn has to be learned for the first time. If you teach just one individual an age-old concept for the first time, you are worthy of your speaking slot.

2. Repetition.
Almost everything there is to learn needs to be learned more than once (exceptions usually involve sky-diving and bungee jumping).

3. Repetition.
Just because they've heard it, read it, or done it before, doesn't mean they remember it, are doing it correctly, or even understood it.

4. The Power of You.
As a new speaker, your audience hasn't heard this idea from you. They haven't learned it the way YOU learned it. Originality is overrated, but your personal uniqueness is not.

If you're a celebrity or seasoned speaker, your audience often wants to hear what you've always said - just as we go back to hear Journey, Bon Jovi, and even the Beach Boys time and time again, for their older songs even more than anything new they bring to the stage.

5. Cloning is illegal.
Your competition can't be everywhere. Even in an ever-burgeoning market of speakers, their are more venues, more avenues of communication, more people to be reached than ever before.

Originality is overrated. Your unique perspective and passion, however, are not. Your success will not be determined as much by the originality of what you Speak about, but by your ability to Deliver the message effectively.

Don't be discouraged, or worse, envious of those who have come before you. They have beaten down the path - and now that path is yours to charge through.

Today is the day to tell yourself, and announce to the world that YES, there's nothing new under the sun....except YOU.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Toastmaster Friday: 9 Ways to Pump Up Your Evaluations

Evaluation is the core of the amazing fruit that the Toastmasters tree can produce. When the fruit is soft, you will often find a history of rotten evaluations at the core.

Perhaps that's harsh, but I believe its accurate. I went my first year in Toastmasters winning Best Speaker, Evaluation, and Table Topic ribbons left and right before anybody finally had the guts to say "Rich, you're a great speaker, but are you ever going to SAY anything?" Thank goodness for Billie Jones, my first real speaking mentor, for getting into my face. She convinced me I could go to the World Championship, all the way back in 2001. I was a slow learner, but eventually made it to the 'Big Stage'.

Since Toastmasters is made up of people from all walks of life, all at different stages of their speaking and self-confidence, it can be tough to get, or give, a strong evaluation. Toastmasters teaches a 'What's good, what could be improved, what's good again' approach, or a 'Follow the manual objectives one by one approach'. Both offer benefits, but unless the club follows up on evaluation technique, members can fall into several rotten ruts, including:

A. The Whitewash - the evaluator either can't think of anything critical to explore, or doesn't feel good enough about their own skills to say anything, so the Oreo comes without the creme filling (as my mentor used to say: The criticism is the creamy center - the good stuff).

B. The Recap - mentioning everything the speaker mentioned, seemingly to remind us what that speaker said, in case we weren't listening.

C. The Checklist - "The manual said you should do this, and you did/did not, then the manual said do this, then...."

D. The Review - agreeing or disagreeing with what the speaker had to say - which is not the same as evaluating HOW they said it!

E. The HiJack - the evaluator tells their own story that relates to what the speaker talked about, essentially giving their OWN speech, instead of evaluating the speaker's speech.

F. The E-Bomb - this is the dark side, when the evaluator gets up and aggressively reams the speaker. The evaluator, thinking they are offering oodles of 'constructive criticism', forgets that the evaluation is not about showing off how many things they can find wrong with a speech, but a mixture of praise and suggestion. This self-centered approach is the worm in the apple. As bad as A through E are, the E-Bomb is the mother of all that can be wrong with evaluations, and evaluators.

Evaluations aren't the easiest part of Toastmasters to give, or to listen to, but they are designed to build muscles for all involved parties. To pump up your evaluations, remember the following:

1. It's not about you, it's about them. Try asking them before the meeting what THEY would like to be evaluated on. Get a feel for their experience level and emotional strength. What dosage level should you set your evaluation at? Put yourself in a state of mind that is centered on them, not you.

2. You have permission to be constructively critical. No matter your experience level, you have an opinion. Unless this is the first time you've heard someone utter something aloud, you are an experienced listener. It doesn't matter if anyone agrees with you - you have a right to your opinion. This is your time to share it, as long as it's aimed to benefit the speaker.

3. Remember to tell them WHY. Don't just tell them to work on Vocal Variety - tell them WHY it will help. Will it build excitement? Suspense? Tension? Emotion? Same with all aspects your evaluation. WHY it worked and WHY, for you, it didn't.

4. Take responsibility for your evaluation - these are your ideas, and nobody in the room may agree with you. Use precursor phrases such as "I saw", "I think", "I wonder", "I felt", and "I believe", vs. "You should", "You need to" or "We could all see".

5. Show what you mean. If you want them to use gestures, use the gesture in the evaluation. Model vocal variety by repeating what they said using your idea of vocal variety. Don't command them to accept your ideas, but say "What would happen if you" or "I'd love to see you try", etc.

6. Reinforce the positive. "I loved it when you did" and "The way you (say what they did) really worked for me". Even the poorest speeches have positive spots to reinforce. Whether it's word usage, grammar, use of logic, or the courage to get up and speak at all.

7. Offer strong written notes. Don't just leave them with 2 1/2 minutes of verbal evaluation. Write your thoughts down in their manual or on a sheet of paper. You can offer more than what you said, and give in-depth explanations, if need be.

8. Address improvement. If you asked them what they wanted to be evaluated on back in #1, be sure to talk about it. If you've seen them speak before, and notice growth, mention it. Recognition of growth leads to more growth.

9. Summarize and Encourage. The red light goes on, it's time to wrap up. Mention your main points again: aspects of improvement first, positive observations second. Then offer encouragement: "You have improved...", "You'll have a chance in your next speech to...", or, if you have to, just go with the old stand-by "I can't wait to hear your next speech!"

As an evaluator, you are serving a crucial role in both the meeting, and the growth of the Toastmaster you are evaluating. It can be a balancing act between self-esteem and ego for you, and for them. Above all else, endeavor to 'Do No Harm' as you evaluate - you don't want to hurt the speaker, or cause collateral damage by either scaring off guests with an overly harsh evaluation, or making them doubt the value of Toastmasters with a cream-puff whitewash.

Solid evaluations create solid cores, and sweeter fruit, and stronger speakers. Be mindful of your yield and remember, for 2-3 minutes, your mission is to help your fellow Toastmaster to Speak...and Deliver!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Do You Let People Like You?

Carrie Prejean was on Larry King last night. If you don't know who she is, below is a brief bio from Wikipedia:

Caroline Michelle "Carrie" Prejean (born May 13, 1987)is an American model and former beauty queen from Vista, California. She held the title of Miss California USA 2009, and placed first runner up in the Miss USA 2009 pageant. She gained nationwide attention over her answer to a question about same-sex marriage (note - the answer was that she felt marriage should be reserved to be between a man and a woman). She was eventually dethroned on June 10, 2009, with the producers of the Miss California USA pageant citing continued alleged breach of contract issues as the reason. Prejean called those claims false, and filed a libel suit alleging that she has been discriminated against due to her religious views. However, the legal battle between her the pageant officials was settled out of court on November 3, 2009 following the revelation of a "sex tape" involving Prejean.

She just released a book called Still Standing which details her life, and what she feels is the persecution she's taken for her stance on marriage.

Now, before things get out of control, this post is not about her stance on marriage, the video she made for her boyfriend, or her opinion of "The Donald".

This post is about how people present themselves. When we speak, we have a lot going for us from the get go:

1. An introduction, even if it's just "And now Barbara will tell us how sales are going"
2. Borrowed credibility from whoever gave us the right to speak in the first place
3. Anticipation - the audience is wondering what we'll say

If we're fortunate, we also have promotion of the event, a positive environment, and a charged audience.

Carrie Prejean had all of those things, and more, going in to her interview on Larry King last night. She was ready to Speak, but she doesn't have a handle yet on how to Deliver.

She gave us harsh facial expressions, an aggressive body position, a condescending tone, and no understanding of Question Deflection (a concept I will write about in the future).

Even if you AGREED with her stance on life, she makes it hard to support her. If you're a conservative, is this type of presentation what you want representing your 'brand'?

As speakers, we must be aware of how we come across to our audiences. We can waste every last piece of goodwill given to us with an inappropriate joke or story, an aggressive and condescending tone, or a defensive physical and verbal posture. We can present these conditions without even knowing it, simply by being uncomfortable with our situation - and being uncomfortable can include being angry at the world, as Ms. Prejean seems to be.

Presenting your authentic self is worthy of respect, but if you're authentically unlikable, don't expect us to give you any credibility whatsoever. Even "The Donald" understands that.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Are You Ready To Speak? 7 Tips for Last Minute Speaking.

shocked Pictures, Images and Photos
image by TracyYoungTV

You've been put on the spot. Maybe you've been called to give a report or summary at the meeting in 30 minutes, or you've been asked to give a religious testimony, or the discussion unexpectedly turns to your expertise in widget marketing, and you've been asked to contribute your great knowledge to the group.

What do you do? Are you ready to speak? Are you even WILLING to speak? Many times our first inclination is to say "I can't, I won't, or I need more time." Our speaking muscles are weak when it matters, despite the strong, logical, and enthusiastic arguments we can muster about the Pittsburgh Steelers' defensive line or the lousy customer service from the cable company.

Obviously we can't always be ready to talk instantly about anything - even if its a topic we're very familiar with. Where we can improve, however, is how quickly we GET ready to speak.

1. Say yes. The more you say yes, the stronger your speaking muscles get, and the more time you'll save in the future. A racing car pit crew doesn't get faster by sitting around doing nothing - speak, speak, speak.

2. Breathe. Monitor your breaths in the minutes leading up to your speech, and make sure you are in a calm physical state when you begin. If you have to pop up and speak immediately, breathe, summarize the question request if you need time to get into a groove, and then begin.

3. Instead of thinking about what you know, think about what the audience wants to hear. This will help you edit what you're going to say from the beginning, and save you countless seconds sifting through everything you've got to say.

4. Pause. Don't be afraid to stop speaking at the end of a sentence or point.

5. Write a three step outline. Start with the overall point you want them to get. Above, put a question, statistic, or thesis statement to open with. Below, write the last line you want to say, perhaps mirroring your opening. Armed with these three flashpoints, you will sound more prepared than most, and you'll stay on topic.

6. Don't disqualify yourself. Make no statements that refer to 'the last minute', 'wasn't expecting to speak', 'not ready'. This gives your audience permission to ignore you, not sympathize with you.

7. Just do it. As my friend and coach Tom Cantrell says: Stand Up, Speak Out, and Sit Down!

While its not Toastmasters Friday today, it only makes sense to recommend you join a club if you haven't already. The Table Topics training alone is worth the small bi-annual cost.

Don't sell yourself short by saying "I can't, I won't, or I need more time." Exercise those muscles, and allow yourself to Speak...and Deliver!

Monday, November 9, 2009

How to Read with Style

There are times when reading during your speech is appropriate and necessary:

A. Letters, memos, and reports that must be heard in there entirety
B. Quotes, short and long
C. Poetry, lyrics, short excerpts from books
D. Manuals
E. Religious readings

Reading the written word effectively can be a daunting task. We've spent our lives listening to others read out loud in school, church, and the workplace, and it is often so excruciatingly bad, we fear our own reading will be heard with the same critical ears.

On top of that, we may have a smaller vocabulary than the writer of the material, eyesight issues, or even dyslexia (15-20% of us suffer from dyslexia in one form or another), making reading a challenge before we even get to the spoken word.

The most important part of reading while speaking is to read the material ahead of time. When you do, check off everything from the list below:

1. Can you read it? You may want to retype the document, or photocopy it at a higher magnificiation.

2. Do you know all the 'big' or 'technical' words? Look them up for both meaning and pronunciation so they don't surprise you at their appearance. Looking to improve your vocabulary? Try for a new word everyday.

3. Read it out loud to yourself. How does it sound? Bonus points if you record yourself (digital recorders are very inexpensive nowadays) and actually listen to it.

4. Look for points of emphasis. What is most important? Make sure your voice reflects the emphasis the writer intends.

5. Check for dialogue. Take a different tone when reading dialogue - it will liven up the material, and give you an opportunity to add character to the speech.

6. Create pauses. Don't barrel through the reading - your audience needs to process, and you need to breathe. Picking your moments of emphasis to pause, look up, and make a human connection is an excellent way to ensure you, and your material, are being understood.

7. Edit. This goes against the 'word for word' theory - but if you can drop verbiage that sounds better read than spoken, go for it. As long as you are enhancing understanding, you are on the right track. (Caveat: if you are doing reading from a religious text, you will likely want to stay in 'word for word' mode.)

Even if you are given something to read at the last minute - or handed it a memo in the middle of speaking - be willing to take a moment to run through what you're about to read.

Whether you are reading from Shakespeare, the HR handbook, or the Sunday funnies, it is your responsibility as the speaker to ensure the message gets across, either as the original writer intended, or in the manner you wish it to be taken.

Be prepared to Read, Speak, and Deliver!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Is it You Speaking, or Your Surrogate?

Who are you when you take the stage?

Last night I took Kristi out to see a movie called Surrogates. Its a B movie at best, but put forth an interesting premise. At some time in the near future, technology creates robots that we can control - in fact we 'inhabit' these robots, living our lives through our 'surrogates'. We see through their eyes, talk through their mouths, as our human selves sit in safety, hooked up to brain sensor machines that allow us to completely experience the world through our idealized, yet mechanized, counterparts.

It's marketed as a way to keep people safe from harm. Why go out in the world and risk getting hurt? Living is just too dangerous. In the world of this movie, crime is drastically reduced, and people are content to live vicariously through their custom-made counterparts.

Of course, with Bruce Willis in the lead role, it quickly becomes an action flick, alternating between Sci-Fi philosophy and Save the World heroics.

If you could, would you rather speak through a robot in front of an audience, instead of going up there in person? Now, realistically, we can't do this yet, and if this were the movie, you would be a robot speaking to an audience of other robots.

Speakers can, however, fall into a 'surrogacy' trap. It is easier for some to create a 'speaking persona' - a style that is separate from your true self, when you are on stage. In advanced cases, a speaker literally turns into an actor once they get in front of others.

This approach may seem to make sense - after all, speaking in front of a group takes skills that are different than speaking conversationally. Or does it? I would suggest that speaking in front of a group should be more of an enhancement of your normal speaking style. When you start turning into a different person on stage, you risk losing your audience. This hurts both on stage, and when you turn back into yourself the minute you walk OFF stage.

I'm often told people can see me 'turn on' when I hop onto the contest stage. My energy level rises, my gestures get bigger, and I enjoy every moment. But I have worked over the years, by watching videos and listening to recordings of myself, to make sure I don't go too far into performance mode.

Creating a 'speaker's voice' and a 'speaking persona' may seem like a good idea. A way to protect yourself from the realities of speaking in public. But ultimately your connection will weaken, your authenticity will fade, and people will stop hearing your message as they watch your 'surrogate character' go through the motions on stage.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Speaking With Notes: 7 Best Practices

Every speaker speaks with notes - even the ones that insist notes shouldn't be used at all!

When speaking 'without notes', our brains are still referring back to what we have written in preparation for the speech, or referencing touchpoints in the room that represent tentpoles in their presentation. Even if you are speaking off the cuff, you are pulling information out of your head as fast as possible, essentially looking for notes in the broad files of your brain.

Without getting mired too far into the neuroscience of note usage, let's look at ways you can use notes effectively in your presentations.

1. 4x6 Cards
I prefer these to 3x5 as they allow for a larger font to be used, and are easier to sort through. To effectively use cards, print one point per card - one sentence only that will trigger the segment you've practiced 100 times. Triggers get you to the story, and prevent you from reading from the card. At most, have a short Transition sentence and the Trigger on each card, to help you go from one point to the next.

In addition to Triggers and Transitions, quotes that must be read correctly belong on notecards, as well as statistics, research attributions, poems - anything that must be word for word.

I find that printing my notes in 36 pt. type or more on the computer, then cutting and pasting it to each card keeps my notes legible, and allows me to hold the cards further away, so as not to obscure my face or mouth as I refer to them.

2. 8 1/2 x 11 Sheets
Loose leaf, heavier stock, 36 pt. type or more. Keep these on a lecturn or table that can serve as 'home base' between segments. Avoid notebooks, particularly spiral bound. Folding the sheets into half-sheets will make them less obtrusive, if you must carry them around with you.

In the picture above, President Bush has the right idea - big type for visibility, but it isn't all that readable, and could potentially cause readability and flow problems for him as he looks back towards them on the fly.

Content-wise, the rules for sheets mirror the rules for cards - Triggers, Transitions, and information that must be exact.

3. Symbols
An old memorization technique, that isn't memorization at all, but simply symbolic notes, is to assign your speech parts to objects, or places in the room or on the stage. Taking note of your surroundings, and assigning each plant or corner or picture in the room a part of your speech allows the room you are in to become a giant cheat sheet. Even sticking colored felt shapes around parts of the stage can serve as quick mental triggers as you move through your content.

4. PowerPoint
Sad as it is, PowerPoint is a tried and true crutch to get you from point A to point Z in your speech. I'll discuss PowerPoint later on this week - you must be cautious that points A-Z don't result in simply snore-filled Z's instead!

5. Using the Audience
If you have handouts with your points on them, you can actually create audience involvement by having them remind you of your next point. Perhaps award someone in the room the right to be your prompter. It gets the audience involved, and can provide an opportunity for both interaction and humor throughout the speech.

6. Proper Eye Contact
It's easy to anticipate your need to use a notecard as you complete a point, resulting in you ending your final sentence as you look at the card for your next statement. This weakens your voice and posture, leading to a weakened point at the end of your last segment. When using notes, always finish the last statement with your eyes out on the audience, pause to emphasize the point, then move to the next card.

7. Practice, Edit, Practice Again.
The tighter the flow of your speech, the less need you will have for notes. The more you practice, the less the crutches of notecards, loose sheets, Power Point, etc. remain necessary.

Speaking with notes is not the end of the world. Being tied to notes, distracted by notes, and hidden by notes is pretty close, however. Don't be afraid or embarrassed to use notes, but practice with them, and use best practices as you take them on stage. Notes or not, you are expected, by your audience, to go out and Speak...and Deliver!


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