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!


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