Monday, December 20, 2010

So You Think You Can't Speak?

"What? Speak? I can't speak! I'm not you, Rich!"

I hear this a lot, primarily from average people looking to expand their businesses, but who balk at the thought of speaking in public about what they do. It's a shame, really, that people eschew this form of marketing, not out of fear it doesn't work, but fear that THEY can't make it work.

Have you met anyone like this? Are YOU someone like this? If so, at least you've taken a step forward by reading this blog. Now consider taking a few more:

STEP 1: Stop telling yourself you can't. This is an easy step that most people make the hardest. Our self-talk is the most dangerous tool our mind has to stop us from reaching ANY goal, from losing weight to starting a business to public speaking.

How do you stop? First, you must be willing. Second, you must be aware. Third, you must take action, whether that be correcting yourself each time you say you can't, snapping a rubber band on your wrist when you say you can't, or paying me 50 bucks every time you doubt yourself. I prefer the latter, obviously.

STEP 2: Start speaking. Join Toastmasters, and sign up to speak. Join a networking group that makes you stand up and give a 30 second introduction. Book yourself at an association or service club, and hire me to get you through it. All are good, but again, I prefer the latter.

STEP 3: Do STEP 2 even if you don't do STEP 1! Nothing gets rid of the can'ts faster than the do's.

The most common cause for the 'can'ts' is the fear of appearing the fool - of messing up, being boring, or just plain being rejected by the audience. This fear can be easily mitigated by practicing in front of supportive audiences. When the people you are speaking in front of are either in the same boat you are, or at the very least being paid to help you improve, your level of fear should go down. 

Doing it the first time is always the worst, of course, and everyone will understand that. But did you let that stop you from going to the first day of school? Riding a bike? Learning to drive? What's the worst that can happen, really? There are no police waiting to arrest you or trap doors waiting to eject you into the sewer system for boring your audience. Only the opportunity to learn from your mistakes. 

You do not have to speak like me. In fact, I'd prefer you didn't. You don't have to be Tony Robbins, Jeanne Robertson, Les Brown, Patricia Fripp, Darren LaCroix, Joel Osteen, President Obama, Sarah Palin, or even former President George W. Bush.

Do you have a story worth telling? Tell it.

All you need to do is speak like YOU. When using speaking to sell your business or your cause, people want to hear YOU. Your voice, your stories, and yes, your imperfections as a speaker. It makes you real. It makes you accessible. And it will make you viable as a business person in the real world.

So, quit it already. Move past your fears and into your future. Now is YOUR time to Speak, & Deliver.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Do You Speak with Glee?

I'm a year and a half late on the bandwagon. 

I haven't seen a single Season 2 episode. But I'm a fan - a big fan of Glee - yes, even a Gleek. Kristi and I watched Season 1 in Oct/Nov by way of Netflix. Now we're stuck waiting for the current episodes to show up on DVD - because heaven forbid we mess with the Glee timeline.

Frankly, I enjoy it much more than I thought I would, and more than I even wanted to, after being dragged in front of the TV screen kicking and screaming by my darling wife.

We often speak to audiences that go in to our presentations thinking the same thing I thought as I heard the Glee them ring out from my TV's speakers - "I don't want to be here, and I certainly am not going to get anything out of it!"

Within my Glee conversion lies secrets which every speaker needs to know.

A. Commit to your Message

Will Schuster (Glee Director) and Sue Sylvester (Cheerleading Coach) play roles that are clearly defined, polarizing to such an extreme degree its comical. Will is committed to the Glee Club and his Students, Sue is committed to Sue, to winning, and to destroying the Glee Club in anyway possible.

Are you willing to be committed to your message with such passion and vigor that your audience has no other choice but to jump up and take notice? So committed that people leave with an opinion of your topic whether they wanted to have one or not?

Don't be wishy washy - be willing to be the villain, if need be. At least you'll be remembered.

B. Build a Unifying Theme

A lot of today's TV shows attempt to pick a topic (Truth, Honesty, Relationships, Fear) and illustrate it many ways through their cast of characters. By the end, it all gets tied up neatly, with each mini-drama funneling back into the overall theme. Everybody has their answers.

No matter how many stories you tell, or points you might want to get across in a given presentation, you should still have a Unifying Theme. Everything should dovetail into your overall point, even if you are using vastly different subpoints within the theme. If you're having trouble figuring out how to work a point into your speech, you may not need that point, or you may need a new speech.

Make sure everybody leaves with their answers!

C. Emotional Notes

Part of Glee's appeal is the use of familiar music sung by the castmembers throughout each episode. The music captures our imagination, touches on our own memories and feelings, and melodically carries us into an emotional high that remains during the plot-driven parts of the show.

While you can certainly incorporate song into your speaking, it's not what most of us will do, much less do well. I'll address that in a different post. Where we as speakers can capture emotion is in our storytelling. Are your stories hitting a strong enough chord with your audience? Are you pitching Beach Boy stories to an Aerosmith crowd? They need to feel the pain of the problem, the excitement of the solution, and the joy of their end result.

Get them in touch with their emotions, and your connection with them will carry your message into their hearts. 

D. Twist on the Familiar

Glee is the ultimate high school archetype ensemble. The sensitive football jock. The idiot football jock. The primadonna. The spoiled but willing to learn cheerleader. The vacuous cheerleader twins. And many, many more.

These work because we know what to expect from them, they are easy for us to identify with as characters, even as the writers set us up for an unexpected character twist. Your speaking can benefit from this approach as well. Use story types and character stereotypes people are used to as a connection shortcut. When you throw in an unexpected end, and give those characters the heroic, a-ha moments, you'll give your points greater power and memorability in the minds of your listeners.

Give your audience something familiar to latch onto quickly, then drive your point home with a twist. 

Your audience has a preconceived notion of both you and what they expect to get from you before you ever begin. It's your job to turn them around, and get them excited about your message, if not you. When you Commit to Your Message, Build a Unifying Theme, use Emotional Notes, and put a Twist on the Familiar, you'll be speaking with -- and they'll be listening with -- GLEE!

Below is their cover of Defying Gravity - my favorite, so far, from the show.

After hearing that, it's impossible for me to not want to go out and wow the crowd - to Speak...& Deliver!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Toastmasters Friday: Getting Back on Track

2010 saw me jump the tracks a bit, when it comes to Toastmasters.

I started off as a Division Governor, and promptly took a job that kept me out of town the remainder of my term. I can admit I was a DivGov in name only, and my Area Governors did everything while I was away. I wouldn't even count the office towards a TM award, at this point.

I did get a chance to visit various clubs in Wisconsin, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Minnesota, which was nice, and went to a club in London on the last day of my business trip to Europe. I met a lot of cool people, and was reminded how well the TM model works for the average person just looking to overcome their fear of public speaking.

I visited several clubs here in Colorado, and even managed to attend a contest in which an eventual 2010 World Championship of Public Speaking Finalist appeared.

I'm currently a member of Arvada Speakeasy, but have only been attending 1 of 4 meetings - a terrible record, I know. I did attend this week though, and look forward to at least one more meeting in December.

In January, I wrote about Not Letting Toastmasters Hurt You In 2010 - days before I knew I had the job that would totally change my involvement with the organization. Heading into 2011, I'll get a better chance to put those ideas back into practice.

My most important goals in Toastmasters this year are, first, sharpening my current stories and keynotes, and second, providing support and evaluation to other Toastmasters, regardless of their point of entry in the program.

I also mentioned competition in the post as a great way to improve your skills. I haven't competed since Spring of 2009, after having competed every year since Fall of 2000, my first evaluation contest. The jury is still out on 2011, though I admit I'm leaning towards it. The challenge of a new District, particularly one who has sent 4 contestants to the WCPS in the last 11 years (Bryon Embry, Ian Humphrey, Rory Vaden (who took second the next year, representing a different District), and 2000 Champ Ed Tate), is enticing. We'll see what tomorrow brings.

If you're a TM now - what are you hoping to accomplish in 2011? If you're not a member, consider the benefits of being a member. You'll get out of Toastmasters not just what you put in, but much more, if you keep your eyes, ears, and options open. If nothing else, it's a great way to find a free audience to watch you Speak & Deliver!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Speaking of Coaching - Speaking Pro Central

I ran across Speaking PRO Central a couple of months ago, before life got REALLY busy.

There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of speaker coaches in the world. I link to a few of my favorites on my sidebar, including Lisa Braithwaite, Andrew Dlugan of Six Minutes, Olivia Mitchell, and John Zimmer, among others.

I subscribe to at least 50 speaking blogs, and regularly check in on speakers and coaches from around the world. Why? Because I don't know everything. And neither do they. There is no one coach I feel I can glean the most information from. Patricia Fripp provides amazing insights, and has decades of experience to back her up - but she doesn't know everything, and certainly not everything about ME, and what will work in MY situation as a speaker.

I've said before that we much be careful with coaching, and how we handle evaluation. One of the best ways we can ready ourselves to improve in any endeavor is too keep ourselves immersed in information about our focus. The more I know, the more I gather from other people's experiences, the better I have the potential to become. There's an old saying that 'you don't know what you don't know'. Expanding our sources of information dramatically shrinks what we don't know.

New ideas, and new perspectives on old ideas can keep your mind continually working on your improvement, preventing, as Zig Ziglar called it, Hardening of the Attitudes in your speaking life.

Speaking Pro Central offers a great way to keep up with a variety of speaking blogs, articles, and features. More than a directory, such as Alltop, it creates a daily newspaper of speaking clippings you want to track. It is adding new content and providers daily, and can provide you with a great alternative to the various feeders that exist today.

I'm happy that they are adding Speak & Deliver to their providers. I know I'll never be the only speaking blog you read, and I fully support it! Draw in your information from all sources, and go well-armed into your next speaking moment. Remember, the only person on that stage is you! Now GO - Speak, & Deliver!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Information Needs Inspiration... much as Inspiration needs Information.

In most cases, speakers know their information - that's why they are speaking about it. They may have 25 years experience with it, they may have 25 days, but they know it. They may or may not have passion, and if they do, it doesn't automatically come out in their speaking.

I recently heard a speaker tell me all about her process of becoming an author. All of her experiences, from her formative education to her online critique group to her specific writing processes. Great information - useful and specific. I didn't leave inspired to go do it on my own though - I just felt confident she was doing the right things. She spent so much time telling me how it's done, she forgot to tell me how great it is to do it!

Passion finds many places to hide in public speaking. In our desire to put forth the best information. In our training, in places from school to the corporate world, to muffle our passion and excitement for our topic, in favor of professionalism and objectivity. Passion also hides in our fear of speaking - our fear of forgetting what we're saying in our emotion, or being seen as over-emotional, or forgetting we have emotions at all as the audience stares back at us, so we don't just turn around and walk out of the room.

The reverse is also true. Many speakers use emotion as a weapon of mass destruction - and they know exactly what they want us to do - and they use every tactic in the book to do it, short of actually providing adequate evidence to support the action. Those speakers paint with emotions, and little else. They're usually selling something that will change your life, be it spiritual salvation, a cure for Sciatica, or the next great Internet Marketing Money Machine.

While some of these speakers don't have actual information to back up their plans for us, most do. They either don't think they have enough, or get so caught up emotionally they forget that the importance of information.

These speakers also have the benefit/crutch of emotion being a more effective tactic for short-term decision making than information. Why should they change when they are often getting the results they want?

Is it going to far to say that most speakers fall into one camp or another? I'll let you be the judge of that. The more pressing question you should ask yourself is, "Is that me?" followed by "How am I failing my audience by not balancing Information and Inspiration?"

The second question is crucial, because it doesn't focus on YOU, it focuses on your audience. Are you providing enough information that your audience will feel good about their decision to buy or not buy what you are selling after they make that initial, emotion-driven decision? Or do they return home either burdened with buyer's remorse or with nothing at all, despite the fact your solution was perfect for them, because you failed to provide enough evidence to convince them?

Conversely, did you focus so much on information that your audience was too overwhelmed, or perhaps too bored, to act? Were you so devoid of passion and emotion your audience was only going to act because they were more determined and passionate about your topic than you displayed on stage?

The best speakers use both Inspiration and Information to move their audiences. They aren't afraid to show emotion, to paint a picture of success and victory, and they are just as eager to provide concrete examples and evidence to back up their claims. Brief case studies, historical anecdotes, and especially personal stories give you prime opportunities to give the information on your process needed to support your case.

Your Inspiration component lies in your results. How has this changed your life - more importantly how will your information change your audience's life?

Effective (and responsible) speakers provide both Inspiration AND Information. They give you what and why, the results and the process, the emotion and the evidence.

Don't shortchange your audience, or your effectiveness by failing to show emotion OR by failing to provide enough information. Both are crucial elements that allow you to Speak...& Deliver.

Monday, December 6, 2010

If a Tree Falls in the Forest...

copyright David Paul Bayles

...and no one is there to hear it, did it make any noise?

If a blogger has lots of ideas, but never blogs, will anyone ever read them?

If a speaker has a story to tell, but never speaks, will anyone ever hear them?

If you can make a difference, but never do, will anyone care?

Hard questions, but ones we should all consider every once in a while. Particularly those of us who have effectively gone two months without a blog post that wasn't advertising a Halloween Sale!

Not that I've been silent, completely. I did finish designing and editing my wife's book, Thriving with Neurofibromatosis, and spent a lot of time marketing it, and getting it up on Amazon. And I spent a week in Orlando with my wife and kids riding the Tower of Tower, Splash Mountain, and the Manta Ride (at SeaWorld). And celebrated Thanksgiving. And won four consecutive weeks in my Fantasy football league (five, if Dustin Keller catches a TD tonight for the Jets.).

I was not this Happy on this upside down coaster ride.

But, for all the roller coasters, roasted turkeys, and falling tree trunks that the last 4-8 weeks have seen, I can't say I've done it in front of you, my loyal audience. Shame on ME.

How 'bout you? When was the last time you spoke in front of an audience with the intent of making a difference in your life or theirs? When was your last blog post of note? Are you letting the holidays get in your way, or a list of a million other reasons/excuses?

Speak & Deliver - the words themselves are actions, not ideas. We must Speak to Deliver (or blog, or write, or whatever we do), or we have nother to Deliver. We must Deliver to make our Speaking (or blogging, or writing, or whatever we do) matter, versus just blowing air loudly.

NOW - as much as I am thankful to you for being here sharing this moment on my blog, quit reading, and go Do Something - and Deliver!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Speaking with Humor - HALLOWEEN SPECIAL!

If there is only one thing you do to improve your speaking, choose humor.

What does humor do for you?


Felicia Slattery and I talked about the book last year:

Felicia Slattery, Communication Consultant, Pro Speaker & Coach,
Mom, lover of good food and really happy person.

Speakers spend years looking for techniques to help 
their audience to listen, learn, and take action...
Go Ahead and Laugh will teach you to be funny, engaging,
and get you invited back to speak again time after time!

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Climax - The Make or Break Moment in Speaking

I was in the mood to laugh this weekend - so I went to a Toastmaster's Contest. Six speakers came up and entertained us with stories about antique dealers, mouse-hunting, stealing motorcycles, rhyming jags about the fear of public speaking, and dogs that are smarter than humans. The winner, however, got the audience roaring with her talk "I Feel Bad About My Neck".

For those of you going "Hey, that's a Nora Ephron book!", yes, she referenced it and Nora, both for attribution and repetitive humorous effect. She built up her speech by following the outline of the book, telling us what Nora Ephron wrote, and then finding the truth in it, to her horror, in her own life and the lives of her friends. Each tidbit was followed by an epitath - "I'm just like Nora!"

For those of you who don't know, speeches in Toastmaster contests tend to be 5-7 minutes long - comparable to a unit within a longer keynote. These speeches, when approached correctly, can be used to build a longer speech, and each need to contain a beginning, middle, climax, and conclusion. The only real changes going into a longer format are the additions of transitions from unit to unit.

Finding the climax of a speech can a challenge, particularly when the goal is humor. What YOU think will get the audience going may not be what actually works, and what you don't think will work may get them laughing harder than you imagined. And each audience is unique, so your humor may not work from performance to performance. Seems like you're stuck in a no-win, right? Yes, and No.

Three Keys to Identifying Your Climax

1. Build with the Climax in Mind - you know what you want the audience to do, how you want them to react. Build your speech with that purpose in mind. Put all your stories/points on the table and move them around. Do you have to tell them in a certain order? How does your impact shift if you tell your last story first? Which piece leads them closest to your end result? Are all of your pieces even necessary? Do you have better stories you can draw from?

2. Test, Test, Test - a good idea for most any aspect of your speaking. Toastmasters is a great place to do this - low risk, supportive audience. If you are going to throw out a clunker, better here than someplace it can hurt your professional reputation.

3. Be Ready To Take the Forks in the Road - by putting them there ahead of time. Did you just get a major laugh? Did the audience just respond to you in a way you didn't expect? Be ready to adjust. Perhaps the time to conclude is now. Perhaps, instead of tossing in that extra line, its time to transition to the next point. While there can be some great toppers, and your next story may bring them even closer to the state of mind you're aiming for, use that all important pause while the audience is reacting to decide which direction to go. If you put the forks there ahead of time, you'll always be ready for them.

What I noticed in the winner's speech was that after several points, and some strong titters and giggles, she had a line that induced all out laughter. Goal accomplished, and she was in the lead at that point, contest-wise (with four speakers to go, I couldn't give her the prize quite yet (and no, Toastmasters, I was not a judge that day)). She had already won the crowd over with her timing, tone, and facial expressions, but this line was a clear climax. This was confirmed when, instead of going straight into her conclusion, she went for one more point, one more laugh, and it flopped. The ever-dangerous anti-climax. She then finished up, and left the door open for the next few speakers to win the contest.

In the real world, mis-identifying your climax can result in slowing your momentum, losing your audience, and causing them to forget the point you just made. In the worst cases, it can cost you credibility, and even send your audience in a totally different direction than you intended.

For our Nora Ephron twin, it didn't end up costing her anything that afternoon. It might at the next level though. So if you know her, send her by this post. For you, it could cost a lot more, so take note of where, why, and how your speech will climax. The go out and Speak....& Deliver.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Re-Learning for the Very First Time: A Review of 'resonate', by Nancy Duarte

I hate PowerPoint, I don't use it in my presentations as a general rule, and, as a result, have never read slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations (amazon affiliate link) by Nancy Duarte. That said, I was pleasantly surprised, and feeling just a little bit guilty, to be offered the opportunity to receive a review copy of her latest book, resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences.

At first glance, its a bit intimidating. Beautifully designed in an over-sized, glossy, full-color format, it doesn't fit in my bookshelf, much less my preconceived notions of a guide to public speaking. While it runs a thick 248 pages, the content itself, if surgically removed and re-purposed into a traditional book format, might run only 100. I say that not as a criticism, but as an encouragement to the reader - open this book, read the first two pages of chapter one, and you'll be hooked for the next few hours as you get sucked into Nancy Duarte's energetic, creatively clinical, and graphically stimulating compilation of public speaking wisdom.

resonate is as practical as it is artful. In a sense, it's the Gray's Anatomy* of speaking. Each aspect of speech writing and speech giving is given fair time, illustrated by examples ranging from creative diagrams of storytelling, to careful analysis of online speeches we're able to see for ourselves, to the most intensive graphic dissection of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech I've ever seen. Duarte's 'Sparkline' method of speech analysis provides a unique visual approach to speech structure, as in the illustration below:

Click to Enlarge
Case studies are plentiful, and include such diverse presentations as President Reagan's address to the nation after the Challenger explosion, Interpretive Dancer Martha Graham, and Michael Pollan's dramatization from 2009's Pop!Tech. Each is carefully chosen to highlight specific points in Duarte's methods, proving their flexibility across a wide variety of speaking opportunities.

Techniques such as Making the Audience the Hero, explanations of Syd Field's Paradigm, illustrations of The Hero's Journey, are but three early examples of Duarte's analytical approach to speaking. Yet, far from being an advocate of cold and clinical speech creation, concepts later in the book include Create Emotional Contrast, More Than Just Facts, and Don't Be So Cerebral. Fusing fact with emotion and reality with possibility, are dominant themes throughout.

What stands out most to me in Duarte's latest book is that while there is very little, if any, new information in the book, it presents it's wisdom in such a way as to make even the most jaded student of speaking feel like they are discovering their speaking secrets for the very first time. This is the secret secret of the book, in my eyes. As speakers, we are rarely, if ever, covering ground our audience has not traversed in the past - but it is our job to bring them through familiar territory with a fresh perspective, a new outlook. By making us look at our speechcraft through innovative lenses, we can't help but consider renovating our current speeches, tearing them to shreds as a necessary sacrifice to rebuilding a higher form of presentation, transforming ourselves as we work to transform our audiences.

Whether you're a new or seasoned speaker, resonate offers a challenging look at the way we present today, and offers a myriad of systems, strategies, and solutions, whether your next speech is in front of your Toastmasters group, your stockholders, or 2000 presentation-weary conventioneers.

After reading it through, I'll be focusing on it chapter by chapter, looking for ways to directly apply Nancy Duarte's expertise to my own - I recommend you do the same. It can only help you as you endeavor to Speak....and Deliver.

Find out more about Nancy Duarte at or at her blog.

*Yes, just in case, an Amazon affiliate link...

Friday, October 8, 2010

Speaking with Authentic Authenticity

How do you show YOUR Authenticity?

Earlier this week, I spoke about Audiences with X-Ray Eyes & Ears, and the dangers of speaking on a topic you don't believe in. One the pitfalls is coming across with a complete lack of Authenticity.

But what if you DO believe in what you are saying, and still come off as staged, slick, and salesy? Authenticity isn't always easy to achieve from the stage. Audiences often start from a mindset of 'prove it to me' or 'I'm not going to let them sell me', which may put you at a disadvantage before you utter your first words. While achieving Authenticity could be a book unto itself, here are a few key spots in your speeches to target for maximum impact:

1. Introduction - always write your own introduction, and keep it real, use humor, and avoid the laundry list of credentials. What can you say about yourself that will make you appear more accessible to the audience, and therefore more authentic? Be sure to give your introduction to your introducer a day or two early, and bring a printed copy in a large font for them to read from on the day of your presentation.

2. Apparel - what are you wearing? Are you decked out in a three piece suit in front of a group wearing jeans and tennis shoes? If you look like a salesman, you'll sound like a salesman. In the old days, suits and dresses were the norm, but today, business casual is often more effective. Dress in something that balances these two concepts: what do you feel comfortable speaking in, and what does the audience expect of you? Some speakers, such as Scott the Nametag Guy, make their clothing a part of their brand. Similarly, I doubt you'd ever see Brian Tracy speak in anything BUT a designer suit (just seconds after I typed that, I found Mr. Tracy in this video wearing a polo)!
Scott the Nametag Guy

3. Opening - when beginning a speech, its easy to not look at the audience as we 'rev up' into our content. Instead, start by making eye contact. Control your tone of voice at the beginning as well - while you want to grab their attention, being overly dramatic for more than a few seconds will put your audience on guard. Using humor in the first 15 to 30 seconds, either using self-deprecation or audience related material, will give your audience a reason to laugh and pop that bubble of tension at the beginning of your talk.

4. Stories - are your stories believable? Assuming all your stories are true (if they aren't, you've got an entirely different problem), are you telling them in such a way that makes them 'too perfect'? Or using the story in an obvious play to manipulate emotions, such as talking about death, cancer, or disability with too much schmaltz or onstage emotion? You can tell stories about all these subjects, but the key to authenticity is to tell them in a way to lead your audience to their emotional response, instead of telling them directly how they should feel, or creating a mood where they feel forced to show an emotional response to you, as opposed to feeling it within.

5. Selling - any time you're speaking, you're selling. How you do it will have a dramatic effect on how authentic you are to your audience. There are plenty of sales tricks speakers use, from seeding their presentation with references to mid-speech product giveaways to the famous "for this audience, today only, I'm cutting XX% off my regular price". I'm not going to suggest you shy away from any of them, simply that you use the ones you are comfortable with, and don't hit your audience out of the blue with your pitch. If you're giving a highly emotional talk, consider giving your introducer an 'Outroduction', which gives them an opportunity to offer your products to the audience, instead of you switching gears at the end of your speech.

6. Tone - your tone of voice is the single most powerful advantage or disadvantage you can have as a speaker. Do you sound condescending? Fake? Overly Dramatic? Monotone? Hyper? Mechanical? Unsure?
Your tone of voice can be the difference between simply a well-crafted speech and a well-received speech. How the audience hears you will color their opinion of your content. Film your practices (and watch them), get feedback from Toastmasters groups, and plant people in your audiences that you trust. When you watch yourself, what is your gut reaction? Are your test audiences satisfied with your veracity on stage?

Think you have them all mastered? Don't stop there. Keep looking for new stories, to keep your presentation fresh. Look for places you can link current circumstances for the audience with what you're saying. Test different approaches to selling, alternate openings and closings, and introductions. Learn more about your next audience than you know about your last one.

Your authenticity, combined with your passion for your topic, and desire to give something of value to the audience will lead both your and your listeners to the results you're looking for as you continue to Speak...and Deliver!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Grabbing the Audience's Attention: Myth or Method?

Photo by BG³Photo

Today, I was checking out one of my favorite public speaking coach's blog, and was intrigued as Olivia Mitchell shared her thoughts on these three speaking myths. It's a wonderful post, and on the first two 'myths', she and I completely agree.

Her final myth, "You must grab the audience's attention at the start", got me thinking a bit, however. Her primary arguments are that audiences are already ready and waiting for the performance, that leading with a dramatic statement or shocking statistic puts your presentation into performance mode, and that risks putting the best material up front, resulting in an anticlimactic speech body. Her conclusion is that we must spend the first few moments building rapport, instead.

Here's what got me thinking - what if you could do both, without falling into the traps mentioned above?

Consider these ideas:

1. Build Rapport in Your Introduction - In most, but not all, speaking situations, you will be introduced. By providing your own introduction to your introducer, you create an opportunity to build rapport and borrowed rapport (rapport the audience may have with the introducer) with the audience before you ever get on stage, allowing you to start in more dramatic fashion.

2. Dramatic Openings and Shocking Statistics Create Thought - the right statements made to the audience can put them in a particular state of mind, either by jolting them out of the one they are in, or by challenging their belief system. If your introduction has gained their attention and built rapport, this opening can be more effective as a thought builder than an attention getter.

3. Performance Mode is Useful, Powerful, and Controllable - when used as a tool, instead of a crutch, Performance mode can build momentum, create humor, and add power to statements designed to move the audience to a new state. As a tool, it can also be turned off by the self-aware speaker. Moving from one mode to another can build a rhythm that keeps audience attention throughout, and allow the speaker to both interact and impact at strategic moments in the presentation.

4. If Your Attention Getter is Your Best Material - Write Better Material! - opening with your main point is one of the most debated methods in speaking. Some believe you can lead with your main point and spend the rest of the speech supporting it, others think you should circuitously lead your audience to the conclusion for themselves, and others recommend endless variations in-between. But if your opening statement is the best part of your speech, its time to take a second look at the rest of your material. The longer the speech, the more ebb and flow will exist, and in longer speeches, you may need several 'openings' to keep folks involved from point to point. As strong as your opening is, your conclusion must be as strong or stronger, or your audience leaves without clear direction to use whatever valuable information you've given them.

5. Your Audience Dictates - depending on what your audience is expecting, the audience size, and your familiarity with the audience, you may or may not need to grab attention or build much rapport. It's tough to create a blanket strategy for speaking when the venues, audiences, and purposes of speaking vary so sharply. Get a strong handle on who you are speaking to before you determine exactly how you will begin. The evidence Olivia provides in this article comes from a college classroom environment - how well that translates to your situation is something for you to decide.

6. Combining Dramatic Statements and Shocking Statistics with Humor Kills Two Birds with One Anvil - grab their attention and then get them laughing. You can find several examples of this in Go Ahead and Laugh. By throwing in humor, it helps your audience to both remember the statement and feel good about you as a speaker, and, more importantly, as a human being.

In fairness to Olivia, she doesn't say NOT to do these things directly, as much as she says they are not necessarily necessary. I do believe these methods, when used with deliberation and careful thought, are still very useful to speakers.

Be sure to pick up Olivia's free guide about How to make an effective PowerPoint Presentation - it offers excellent ideas for speakers dealing with the challenges PowerPoint presents.

A final thought - there are a ton of speaking coaches out there, and not only are there two sides to every opinion, there are hundreds of shades of gray within each. Find the truth for yourself as a speaker, whether the advice comes from a free blogpost, or a $3000 coaching session. Once you're on stage, it's up to YOU to Speak....and Deliver.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Audiences have X-Ray Eyes & Ears

photo by erix!

Yes, it's true - your audience can see right through you. 

No matter how strong a speaker you are, how well-crafted your words, precise your gestures, or perfect your props, nothing will conceal a lack of authenticity by a speaker, even if you are aware of it and actively working to override it.

At the climax of my training in August, I gave a final presentation of our sales script. During the evaluation, the VP, my boss' boss, suggested it didn't sound like I believed in the product. It was all I could do not to glibly fire back "I don't!" 

This overall lack of belief played a major role in my decision to leave that particular situation, in combination with the time away from my family.

Even as I was giving my all on stage, inside my head the words "yeah, right" and "if you only knew" echoed during various parts of the presentation. Even though people still bought, they didn't buy at a level that they would have if my authenticity had been higher; if I'd believed for myself what I was saying to them.

How X-Ray Eyes & Ears Work

A. Tone of voice - forced sincerity, even well-practiced, is a tone of voice that we're trained to pick up on subconsciously, if not consciously. We may choose to ignore it, but we hear it.

B. Energy level - the longer the presentation, the harder it is to maintain energy throughout. If it's a short speech, too much energy may be evident as over-compensation.

C. Eye-contact - it can be tough to look at folks in the eye in general - it just gets tougher when you think you're selling them a bad deal.

D. Lack of focus - with so many things to keep track of as a speaker, if focus is splintered by inner contradictions, plenty of things will go wrong that might have been caught otherwise. The speech itself, from delivery technique to transitions to humor will often suffer as well.

E. Sarcasm substituting for humor - it can be easy to let sarcasm slip through and excuse it as an effort to be funny, and connect with the audience. It does connect, but it connects them with the reality of our feelings.

F. Vamping - working to get a laugh or a reaction from the audience in an effort to validate the performance. After all, if they laugh or react as asked, we must be doing something right. 

Often we fool ourselves, believing that we're successful actors if people are buying what we're selling. What we fail to realize is that often people aren't buying what we're selling as much as they are buying what they came to get. If they were already convinced, or if the basic benefits match their expectations, they'll often buy despite the presentation. So we'll assume we're doing fine, and just need to pump up the enthusiasm or tweak the verbiage, instead of looking in the mirror and accepting the age-old truth that 'the first sale is to ourselves'

As long as we're only acting, we'll never truly inspire or persuade anyone. We might get great comments on our skills and content, but the long-term results will not be as strong as they would be if driven by strong belief and conviction. 

Three Quick Asides:

1. Belief and conviction does not have to equal truth - plenty of us wholeheartedly believe things that may or may not be true, and can successfully persuade listeners to agree, as long as we believe it to be true ourselves, first.

2. Our belief doesn't have to be anyone else's. The product I was selling has been successful for many years, and others wholeheartedly believe in it. The fact that I did not does not invalidate the product, nor does its success invalidate my feeling about it. I'm not a Mountain Dew fan either, but plenty of people I know are wildly passionate about it.

3. Many of the above delivery issues will be seen in beginning speakers. They may believe in what they are saying, without believing in their own ability to deliver the message - a much easier issue to fix.

What are YOU saying? Are you speaking for yourself and your beliefs, or someone else's? Are you speaking for money, or speaking your truth and creating money as a result? If you don't truly believe in your messages, you're not fooling anybody, except yourself. And I'm willing to bet you aren't even fooling yourself. 

If you do believe your own messages (and most of you do), how can you make it even MORE authentic? I'll take a closer look at that challenge later this week.

Today, take a moment and look at your own insides. Tell yourself the truth - YOUR truth - not your companies, your coach's, your family's, and be prepared to take action, regardless of your findings. Your belief is the difference between being someone who Speaks, and someone who Speaks & Delivers.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Speaking Season - 37 of 37?

Six Great Reasons to End Speaking Season

What happened to 107? Well, I happened - in fact I happened to resign the day after Labor Day. Too much time away from the family combined with not enough belief in my product put me in a position to make a choice many might not understand in today's economy, where many would kill to just have a job, regardless.

But, as a speaker I bill myself as The Champion of Choice - encouraging the world to take responsibility for their  decisions and outcomes, and to make choices that work for them, as opposed to the rest of the world. What kind of Champion would I be to stay in a job that created two highly negative situations: little time with the family I'm supporting, and encouraging families to invest in a program that, while good, didn't resonate with me as much as I'd hoped it would when I accepted the position.

So back to speaking, consulting, coaching, writing, and marketing. If ever there was a time to back up my words as The Champion of Choice, create my Self-Defined Life, and ultimately Speak & Deliver, its now.
Meeting #37 was unique. I had arranged to speak for People to People through Oct. 6, effectively giving a month's notice. This would have put me speaking throughout Colorado, but avoiding a 44-day stretch away from home through WY, MT, ND, SD, and WI. About an hour before the meeting, I ended up on a call with my boss - corporate had made the decision to send a replacement speaker for the rest of the schedule, making my last meeting that night, my last day the next day, to transfer equipment.

I was surprised, since they had previously agreed to the Colorado meetings, but not disappointed. I had given notice with full expectation of any of three scenarios - immediate dismissal, two weeks, or the month I offered for them to find a replacement.

Telling me an hour before the meeting though - that put me in an odd state of mind. A combination of short-timers and anticipation for working the plan I had in place for October a few weeks early. Focus was not easy to get. As I did the meeting in front of a packed house of 400, I found myself second guessing what I was saying, speaking in generalities, and pretty much just going through the motions. My intent was to give a dynamic meeting - go out with a bang, so to speak. But reality is my mind simply left my body on its own to go on stage and rely on muscle memory to get through. I had nothing at stake - so while I was entertaining, I was not effective (by my own judgment).

So, a final learning experience for me - and a teaching point - never tell someone its their last presentation til they've given it!
So now what? In terms of Speak & Deliver, expect posts to go back to speaking advice vs. the travelogue it has been recently. I'll keep updating my speaking career here as well, though much of my day to day experiences will be chronicled on my Champion of Choice blog. I am thrilled (and so are my wife and kids) that I am home again - and more ready than ever to Speak....and Deliver!

Speaking Season - 32 to 36 of 107

Photo by [F]oxymoron

Last weekend was an easier weekend than most - only 5 presentations - 3 in Minneapolis followed by 2 in Mankato. For the most part, they went well, though both the first and last offered unexpected challenges.

Saturday's first meeting in front of High School students saw a power problem hit. My laptop, on which I run two videos, died right before the first video. It was plugged in, and for a few minutes, troubleshooting it was getting frustrating. Luckily, I had a school district theatre tech there - unluckily, he wasn't familiar enough with the school to realize the outlet we had used was dead! In fairness, I also could have headed off this problem, by looking at the bottom right hand corner of my desktop and noticing the power settings were off.

My solution at that time was to move to a later part of my presentation without resorting to "if you'd seen the video...." - simply touching on other points. The crowd was understanding, even letting out a sympathetic laugh when I initially restarted the computer and on the bigscreen all could see the 'dead battery' message! Overall, I don't believe it affected anyone's decisions about sending their kids on the program, though I will never know for sure.

Sunday's final meeting in Mankato saw only three families show up. We were in a giant auditorium, having just had a full house the hour before with High School and Middle School families. But Sunday afternoon, grade school families, and a Vikings game seemed to play havoc with attendance that late in the day. Eschewing the microphone, I got the families all together down front, and gave the presentation at a lower notch, and worked in more back and forth participation. Despite my best efforts, it was clear to the audience that most people chose not to attend, which lowered their overall interest. Had I been more prepared for a small showing, I may have been able to tailor the program better, and created a setting of exclusivity rather than lack of interest.

I was happy to be done, and head back to Minneapolis for the night, in preparation for heading back to Denver. Saturday had been two of my daughter's birthdays - and I hated missing them. Couldn't wait to be home.,

Friday, September 17, 2010

Speaking Season - 29 thru 32 of 107

Ah finally Friday night - and the Joe Senser's across the way is calling my name for dinner.

Long week - four more nights of giving presentations in Minneapolis and Rochester.

First two nights were at Hennepin Technical College, which offered some interesting obstacles. Monday night, the wings in the back of the auditorium were actually filled with classes during my presentation in the lower auditorium. Unbelievably bad form - but we persevered. In addition, the sound tech was, well, less than helpful at the outset. He acted like he had no idea what had to be done, despite the title on his business card saying, basically, Head of AV. I was able to give him some guidance about how we could get the sound to work better, and the night went off OK.

The second evening was interesting as well. The back rooms were opened up for our audience to overflow into. Instead of being simply more rows of seats, however, they were set back a good 25 feet, and combined with large desks all the way up. A bizarre set up which created a bizarre dynamic with students so far separated from the rest of the action.

Rochester proved more successful, but offered obstacles of its own. I spoke two nights at the Rochester International Events Center. Located off the highway, a bit isolated, but still well located between downtown and the neighborhoods of the higher paid residents. The facility was great, the tech helpful, but the microphone - yikes. Despite battery changes and a request for a new mike between Wednesday and Thursday, the mike continually cut out between words, resulting in a rough road for myself, the teachers, and the alumni to maneuver.

I was able to deal with it humorously, and the student alumni managed to as well. For much of Wednesday, I spoke without a mike, just filling the room up with my voice alone. Worked well enough, I'd say.

Today is a day off - a quick trip from Rochester back to Minneapolis for a day, a stop off at FEDEX, and a day in front of the computer catching up with everything.

As I read through these Speaking Season blogposts, I realize there are some repetitive themes - and that's the reality of being a professional speaker, particularly a seminar speaker, where you are expected to give roughly the same message night after night after night, and it may not necessarily include any of the material you got into the speaking business to deliver.

If you're an aspiring speaker looking at the seminar business, keep my experiences in mind. While I'm having a lot of fun and changing a lot of lives through the programs I'm offering, it is not necessarily the experience I, or many people getting into the business from this end, expect.

I will continue to look for new angles within the repetitive process I am experiencing to share along the way, as I continue to be dedicated to helping you Speak...& Deliver! But now - its time to eat....!


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