Thursday, March 31, 2011

What Questions Are you Answering?

My three-year-old daughter Brooklyn brought this to me today with a simple statement: "I drew this for you."

She's not much of an independent speaker, but is more than willing to answer questions, if I ask:

me: What is this?
B: It's a house
me: Who lives there?
B: All of Us
me: What are these green things?
B: Bushes....and its raining, and our house is getting clean, which is why I made the roof purple, and those are clouds, and that's us in front of the house....

Took a couple questions, but eventually, she went off on her own to tell me a story of sorts.

When we speak at an event, we are essentially doing what Brooklyn does - offering a piece of our work to someone hoping they like it, and can use it. Once Brooklyn realizes I'm interested, she not only answers the questions I've asked, but begins to elaborate.

As speakers, we can't just expect our audience to take what we give them and go put it on their refrigerator. And unlike an attentive dad, they will be more likely to simply ignore you, not ask questions to draw you out. You have to ask your own questions - both before the presentation, and during.

Before you speak - you need to really know what they need. While you speak, you have to be their voice, asking questions for them and answering them as you go along. Sure, at some point you may have Q&A, but you need to play both roles 'questioner' and 'answerer' to effectively get your point across to an audience that may not have the same agenda as you, the CEO, or the meeting planner.

Do your research. Interview people ahead of time to find out more specific needs of your audience. Check in with them during the speech with rhetorical questions. Watch their faces and their body language - are you answering the right questions? Remind them why they need to hear your answers. Otherwise, you'll just be handing them a drawing without explanation, Speaking - but not Delivering anything beyond words on paper.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tales of Speaker Man

It can be tough to completely quantify who Speaker Man is, and he can show up within all of us, inhabiting our body on stage as we strive to give the audience the best show we know how. And yes, Speaker Woman is ready to pounce as well, ladies. While concisely defining Speaker Man may be difficult, it's likely we all recognize him when we see him, even if we don't always recognize him when he possesses our own presentation.

While Speaker Man views himself as a Presentation Hero, he is actually an insidious villain, undermining speakers around the world - unintentionally destroying credibility and connection.

Speaker Man Signs to Watch For:

1. The Costume - not everybody can rock a green suit on stage. If you're wearing clothes that aren't 'You', you won't be comfortable when you speak. This doesn't necessarily mean going up in blue jeans and cowboy boots, although that approach has worked for a few... Buy clothes that make you comfortable and confident, while being appropriate for your speaking engagement. The more well known you are, the more you can get away with, but regardless of your status, if you are wearing a suit you hate just to impress, or incredibly uncomfortable high heels just to add power to your look, you are veering into Speaker Man territory.

2. Flexing Those Muscles - Speaker Man loves to strike a pose, and use gestures that truly look other-worldly. If you are planning dramatic gestures, and worse, holding them long enough to 'impress' the audience, you are definitely setting yourself apart. Apart from your listeners. Gestures need to be a natural outgrowth of your speech. Getting out of your comfort zone by using exaggerated gestures is a good thing, but when they are there simply to show people you can do them, Speaker Man is again rearing his not-so-heroic head.

3. The Megamind Myth - Speaker Man craves approval, and wants to show the world how smart he is, and how many quotes and statistics he can throw into a speech. He doesn't realize that by the end of the speech he's channeled so many great minds, no one actually needed him on stage at all, they just needed to buy a copy of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. If only he realized great concepts and ideas can almost always be recreated within our own personal framework, and presented to audiences in fresh ways they'll remember instead of dismiss as 'oh - yeah, that Einstein quote'.

4. Super Voice - this is the most universally recognized power of Speaker Man, as once it takes over, all hope is lost. Sometimes it's an overpowering used car salesman voice. It can be an overly plaintive and emotional voice. It can be a rapid-fire monotone at high-volume. When Speaker Man grabs control of our voice, we no longer become amplified versions of ourselves giving the audience a piece of our lives - we instead become preachers, politicians, and often overly pompous in our persona. When Speaker Man comes on, the audience turns off. Speaker Man, as desperate as he is to give the audience a great show, forgets to be conversational - to sound the same onstage as off. Instead of amplifying the natural, he's driven to deadly distortion.

Don't let yourself be victimized by this wanna-be superhero. Be comfortable and appropriate. Be naturally demonstrative. Bring your own experience to the stage instead of a steady stream of statistics and expert statements. And PLEASE - just talk to us - if we wanted a performance we'd have gone to the theatre.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Toastmasters Friday: I Lost My Contest - Now What?

For the last few weeks I've been writing contest-oriented posts, as Toastmasters International's Spring Contest season begins, and with it, the International Speech Contest, which annually produces a World Champion of Public Speaking. Prior posts include: Why Contests are the Best and Worst Events in Your Speaking CareerWhy Does International Become Inspirational?Are the Contests Fair?, and The Top 8 Ways to Guarantee Victory.

We're mid-contest season now folks. A lot of you have already had Area and Division Contests, and a lot of you have no doubt won, and are looking forward to the District Stage in May. Congratulations!

But...most of you LOST. Now what?

Don't Complain. I know - you were wronged by incompetent judges. You went just one second overtime, but were clearly the winner. The trophy went to the District Governor's wife, a brand-new member that everyone is now rooting for, or the same guy that wins every year just because he's 'that guy' - and they actually quoted the Starfish story. 

As I said earlier in this series, life's not fair. But complaining won't get you anywhere, other than well-remembered next year for being such a whiner. Be gracious. Wait a few weeks. Go back to your speech script, or even better, the tape of your contest. You might be surprised to find out you weren't as good as you thought, and the winner wasn't as bad as you felt.

When I lost in 2004 at the Division Level, I felt ripped off, and let many folks know it. A few weeks later, I reviewed the tapes, and learned a lot about myself as a speaker, and finally allowed myself to accept some of the amazing things the winner did it their presentation. I apologized quickly to those I had complained to, and this loss began to pave the way for me to become a better student of speaking, and my eventual appearances on the Big Stage.

Allow Yourself to Feel Bad. It's OK. You put a lot of effort in. Your speech was all about your grandfather or son or mother, you hired a coach, and you had all the right gestures, eye contact, and humor, yet - it just didn't happen - perhaps for the first time, perhaps for the 7th consecutive year. 

Been there, done that. I cried after not placing at the 2008 World Championship. I had had an amazingly stressful summer, been given some pretty bad news over the phone the day before the contest, and after the awards, I darted back to my hotel room and broke down (away, luckily, from the cameras of the documentary crew that was following us around that week...).

You don't have to feel THAT bad, of course, and many of you won't. In hindsight, I wish I'd had the presence of mind to stick around, talk to more people, and celebrate the victory of being there. But if you don't feel it, you just don't feel it, and that's OK. Take the time you need, get a milkshake or tub of Ben & Jerry's, and be miserable for an hour or two. But, to paraphrase Darren LaCroix - don't stay down too long.

Remember Why You're Here. Why are you in Toastmasters? When you joined, was speaking in a contest even on your radar? Or did you just want to become more comfortable in front of an audience? What have you accomplished since stepping into the meeting for the first time? Don't let the contest part of Toastmasters sour you on the organization. There are too many other things you can get out of being a member to allow that to happen. There are also too many people who need your help and experience to guide them on their journey for you to give it all up.

Plan Your Next Step. When is your next speech? What more can you do with the speech you have just given? What skills can you focus on to better prepare yourself, not just for the next contest, but for public speaking in general? Replace your goal of winning the contest with something new - the next award, running for district office, mentoring new Toastmasters, or simply doing better next year. When you start looking at where you want to win next, it's easier to leave today's loss behind. 

My last contest loss was in 2009 - the last time I competed before club a few weeks ago. It was at the final Region I Conference, where I took second to the eventual 2nd runner up at the championship that year - Erick Rainey. 

I had excuses I could hang my head on, sure. I had just won the year before, and not done well at the championship. I had been vocal in my opposition to Toastmaster's plan to do away with Region Conferences and change the nomination process for International Directors - and not always in the nicest way. To top it off, the documentary crew was following me there too, to see if I could create a redemption story - even tracking me down in the bathroom as I rehearsed into a mirror - not a great way to keep a low profile in an organization that can occasionally penalize for perceived overexposure.

It was a great loss. I had given a fantastic speech, but I knew Erick had pulled it off. Afterwards, instead of the negative emotions and actions that had followed previous year's 'failures', I felt good about myself, what my next steps were, and who I was as a speaker. I wasn't happy to lose, but I was no longer at the mercy of judges and their opinions for my self-worth. I understood the process, and redefined my goal that year to be one of having fun, giving a meaningful message, and no matter the trophy, winning anyway. Some of you might remember I did, in fact, leave TM after that. But not out of anger or frustration - I believed my future lay outside the organization. It didn't take long for me (and my wife) to realize TM was a place I enjoyed too much to leave in the rearview mirror - and I've worked since then to find my success both inside and outside the organization.

If you're still alive this contest season - that is terrific, and you probably don't want to even think about losing. But all but one of you eventually will. I encourage you to be ready to Win Anyway.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Are You Walking the Green Mile?

It can be the loneliest walk of your life. The introducer has just read your name, the applause has started, and you are headed to your speaking position. You're tense, anxious, and focused on the first words you want to say. When you finally reach your spot, everything shifts - your eyes open wide and you are ready to electrify the crowd with your execution of spectacular speechifying.

You've just walked the Green Mile of Speaking - and as a result, started your speech six feet under!

We develop this habit at an early age. No one liked being called up to the blackboard to do math problems for all to see, or to read our book report - and our teachers weren't about to say "hey - look confident and engage your fellow classmates as you come up here" - but maybe they should have.

Your speech doesn't start with your first words, or even your introduction. It starts the minute you come into contact with your audience, even if you aren't speaking for hours, or until the next day. Once you're put in the spotlight, your listeners will remember how you were when they witnessed you walking down the hall, using your hands instead of tongs in the buffet line, or even flipping them the bird when they cut you off in traffic. (Even if that person on the way isn't your meeting planner or the CEO of the company you are presenting for, why put yourself into a surly mood on the drive there?)


They remember the warm handshake and eye contact...the easy laugh as you casually spoke around a table of ten strangers, or calmly let them merge ahead and wave. It's true people are less likely to remember good moments like this, but still, it beats them remembering the bad experiences described above.

The Green Mile of Speaking itself is still the most important walk of your speech. Don't use the walk to get ready - if you aren't already ready, you haven't done your job. Walking with your head down, scowling while you go over your speech, and then blossoming like a sunflower with your first words may seem like a dramatic victory, but it will be incongruent to your audience.

Intead, walk with energy, intent, even a smile (unless your talk starts seriously, then just look neutral but confident), and allow eye contact with those you walk by. Signal them that you are excited and anxious to speak to them, and you'll start transferring your energy to them before you say a word. They'll see you have a message you can't wait to deliver, and subconsciously begin to anticipate it as well.

The Green Mile of Speaking is your real first impression with most of the crowd - take advantage of it - and when you're done, do the same thing heading off the stage. Looking relieved to finally be done can send just as much of a mixed message as looking like you are heading to your doom before you begin!

Once you've mastered the Green Mile, it will quickly transform from the lonely walk of certain death to your assumptive lap of victory - as you masterfully Speak - and Deliver.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Speak Raw!

I watched a great speaker last week. Well-crafted verbiage, some perfectly designed gestures, strong eye contact and great content. She was smooooo-ooooooth. In fact, too smooth. My advice to her? Speak RAW!

Becoming 'too good' is a risk we take as serious students of speaking. Getting everything down so perfect that we lose some important features in the perfection

- Connection - When you buy phones and blue-ray players today, you often find their display screens covered with a thin plastic shield of protection. When they are only covering items we want to watch, we may opt to leave the covering on. But for iPhones and other touchscreen electronics, we can't do anything without peeling the plastic off. If your presentation is too 'perfect', you are covered in plastic. Be willing to be RAW enough that the audience can identify with you, and mentally, if not literally, interact with you and your message.

- Spontaneity - when we become so committed to perfection, we often fail to see opportunities in the moment. Each audience is different, each situation opens up new possibilities for our material, and how it can apply to the audience. I don't mean to suggest that you go off on every tangent available to you - just don't be so locked in to your presentation that you miss the RAW pathways to your audience's heart and soul.
- Emotion - this factor is easy to lose in a 'perfect' presentation. Practice after practice can dull the senses of loss, anger, joy, surprise, confusion and triumph that we are infusing into our speech. After we've successfully connected with them, the RAW intensity of our emotion transfers to the audience to put them in the right state of mind.

- Humor - if you are too 'perfect', you'll start to wonder why no one is laughing at your humor, if you've managed to remember to put any into your smoothly polished masterpiece. Audiences don't laugh at perfection. They either observe and analyze it, or they ignore it. Either is bad for both parties. When you're RAW, the audience is more than willing to laugh, and they'll even laugh when you aren't expecting it. 

- Effectiveness - face it, if you've failed to connect, shown little or no spontaneity, emotion or humor, then you aren't effective. Your message doesn't get across, and you've wasted your time, the audience's time, and the time and money of whoever has booked you.

So how do you Speak RAW? 

With all apologies to my Vegetarian Readers...

- Don't be Undercooked - as counter-intuitive as it sounds. If you've practiced to the point of perfection, you haven't practiced enough. It's not enough to be able to deliver your lines, gestures, and expressions with pinpoint precision. Aim for Direction, not Perfection - be able to present your points and stories even when everything around you is going wrong - not by ignoring it, but by speaking within it. 

-Tenderize - whenever an audience meets a speaker for the first time, they aren't quite sure what to expect. Will they drone on and on? Will they be deadly serious and deadly dull? Will they be singers, jugglers, ventriloquists, and tumblers? Let your audience in on your personality from the beginning, so they know what to expect, and can settle into a comfortable zone to listen to you. The more comfortable they get, the easier it can get for you to make them uncomfortable when you need to. The longer the balloon stays in the air, the longer the audiences guard will remain up.

- Spice to Taste - Connect to the Emotional Flavors in your Speech. Emotion used correctly shows strength, not weakness. While you don't want to become a blubbering fool, you also don't want to come across as cold and unfeeling when talking about death or other traumatic situations. While you don't want to jump on a couch a la Tom Cruise a few years back, you can still jump on stage, and even scream for joy when you make a point, as long as you have Tenderized. You can't tell people to feel emotion, you must transfer it.

As much as your audience may want and/or need to hear what you have to SAY, they first need to want and/or need YOU. Smooth perfection, while great for pudding, doesn't provide enough traction for the audience to catch on to you and your message. Know your speech well enough that you're willing to take some risks. Give the audience permission to like you. Be in the moment when you tell your tear-jerking or triumphant tale. Speak RAW....and Deliver!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Toastmasters Friday: Which Way Do Your Evaluations Swing?

In the last week, I've visited 3 clubs that were holding their club contests, as I strive to learn more about District 26 and take in the level of talent here in the Denver area. I love the competition aspect of TM this time of year, as it often brings out the best of those participating, and encourages many to focus more energy on their speech than normal.

I've been a Toastmaster for 12 years, a professional coach for 6, and I've seen hundreds, of speakers over the years, from new members giving their Icebreaker to Zig Ziglar and Tom Hopkins at their best. As I watched and judged the speakers (not officially, just in my own head), I found myself sizing each one of them up fairly quickly: not enough gestures - talks too fast -stories need more impact. The negatives piled up - and I realized how easy it can be to lose one of the biggest points of Toastmasters. 

As a coach, it's my job to find and fix the negatives in my clients speeches and performances. But it's also to reinforce the good - and that's a lesson Toastmasters is designed to teach quite well. Even to the point that TM is often criticized for 'whitewash evaluations' and not being critical at all, leaving their speakers vulnerable in the real world. 

Evaluation and coaching is a balancing act between kudos and critique. Too much praise spoils the speaker, too much criticism can close mouths for weeks and months at a time.

The winners at each club I visited were all solid and deserving speakers. But every speaker did something well, and every speaker could improve - and each deserved to hear about it at the end.

Watch the evaluations in your club. Record your own. Is your pendulum swinging too far one way or another? 

Monday, March 7, 2011

Content or Presentation - Which is More Important?

I hear this debate every day.

Coach A - "You've got to hone your presentation skills, or it will take away from your content!"
Coach B - "If you don't have great content, your presentation skills won't matter!"
Coach A - "Nah, if you can dazzle the audience, they won't even care what you say."
Coach B - "But if you have amazing content, how you present it won't matter - you can ah and um and stutter and ramble all you want - and I have TED videos to prove it!
Coach A - "No, no, NO! Bad speakers lose credibility, and their content gets lost in the poor communication!"

Content or presentation, presentation or content? The debate rages, and will likely continue 'til the end of days. But no one ever seems to ask this question: What if you have both? Quality content and quality presentation are hardly mutually exclusive.

Regardless of your perspective, can you really argue that a speaker with great presentation skills and a strong message will trump anyone who only has one or the other?

Both arguments are sound in their own way. Listening to a great speaker say nothing for an hour is a bit like going to a wonderful restaurant and eating every dessert on the menu instead of actually having a meal. Fun at the time, but you'll pay for it later. Listening to great content out of the mouth of a bad speaker is a bit like going to the gym and having your trainer double all your weights, and your workout time as well. You'll get something out of it, but you won't enjoy it.

Lest I leave you thinking I'm dodging my own question, I do believe that content trumps presentation. When I first started Toastmasters, I ran through the first manual, and won the Best Speaker Ribbon 9 out of the 10 times I spoke. After I finished my 10th speech, my mentor came up to me and said "You're a great speaker Rich. Just think how good you'd be if you actually started saying something." She was absolutely right. And she still is.

With this said, I still wonder why we don't ask this: why not improve in both areas? Isn't being a complete package better than the alternative, no matter how good one or the other part is? Either way, this doesn't mean being somebody you aren't - it means becoming a better version of who you are for the sake of your audience. 

Just like physical training, speaking training means changing your view of yourself by looking within, to find the speaker that exists inside. It doesn't mean you need to become Schwartzenegger if all you want to be able to do at the end of the day is run a 5K. It means deciding what your goals are, and determining what skill sets you need to make it happen.

When I coach people to Speak & Deliver - I cover both aspects of speaking. I believe one skill enhances the other. The more you learn to create strong content, the more you'll desire to deliver it well. The better a presenter you become, the more important it will be to provide strong content to the audiences you'll be put in front of.  

You may always be stronger in one area over another, but to give up on improving either one because you can get by the way you are? You're cheating your audience, and you are cheating yourself.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Toastmasters Friday: Top 8 Ways to Guarantee Victory in Your International Speech Contest

For the last few weeks I've been writing contest-oriented posts, as Toastmasters International's Spring Contest season begins, and with it, the International Speech Contest, which annually produces a World Champion of Public Speaking. Prior posts include: Why Contests are the Best and Worst Events in Your Speaking CareerWhy Does International Become Inspirational?, and Are the Contests Fair?

Today I want to answer the question most people who start competing really have in their mind - "How do I guarantee victory?" In fact, I have found 8 ways that will make you a virtual lock to be the next World Champion of Public Speaking


8. Join a club that has no interest in competing, and convince them to send you forward. It works, at least to get you past the first level.

7. Send an email the day before the contest with a helpful, yet incorrect, update as to the contests new time and place to your fellow contestants, after hacking into the Area/Division/District Governor's email account. Make sure you stay in time when you give your speech, of course!

6. Hire a camera crew to come in and film and interview everyone but you. Then widely complain about these other folks being cocky and trying to show you up. Judges hate cockiness.

5. File restraining orders against all fellow contestants. Can you say Punk'd?

4. Hire a transcriber to type all the other contestants speeches onto the internet during the contest, attributing them all to Martin Luther King. Then provide the evidence of plagiarism to the Chief Judge before its too late!

3. Invite your fellow contestants to dinner the night before, and poison their food. No one can be inspiring when doubled over.

2. Cut off your leg just weeks before the contest, show up in a wheelchair, and speak without your prosthetic leg on. Just don't waste this on District or Region, wait for the Big Stage. Take it from one who knows.

1. Bribe the Judges. As I've heard the champions say, you can't cheap your way to the top!

Good luck in the contests folks - and make it fun! And, as Jim Key says, if you run into a coach who is serious about guaranteeing you victory run away - FAR AWAY!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Audience Interaction is Easier Than You Think - Part III Q&A

In Part I of this series, I talked about how to get Group Response. Part II covered Inter-Audience Interaction. Today I'll cover one of the biggest challenges a speaker faces - the dreaded Q&A - Questions & Answers.

Speeches that involve Q&A are more common than you might imagine. We all expect to see Q&A at a press conference or training seminar - but Q&A is getting more and more popular at all events, even keynote speeches. People are less and less satisfied with simply being spoken TO, they expect to be spoken WITH, and given the chance to question and respond. Even if you aren't allowing Q&A, it is likely going on right in plain sight, on a Twitter backchannel or through inter-audience texting.

Q&A scares a lot of speakers. It means giving someone else the spotlight. It risks someone in the audience going off-topic, or worse, sounding smarter on a topic than you do. It can put you in the position of answering uncomfortable questions. Done incorrectly, it can completely derail your presentation. Small wonder it's so intimidating. 

There are two basic ways Q&A will occur during your presentation - sporadically throughout your talk, and the more traditional approach - bunched together at the end of your speech. Going back to our theme in Parts I & II - YOU are in control. You decide when and how questions will be asked, and answered.

Traditional Approach

A. Don't Do It! That is, don't end your speech on Q&A. It can be a recipe for disaster. Your audience knows it can check out, and some of them will. Worse yet, the last question (or, in the case of some audiences, sarcastic statement couched as a question) in your time allotment might be so far in left field, or elicit enough crowd response, the participant effectively gets the last word and the lasting impression, instead of your message. 

B. Keep the End in Mind. Time the Q&A to take place earlier in the speech, allowing you 5 minutes or so to wrap up. This effectively returns the spotlight to your points and gives the audience the chance to refocus on the importance of your message in their minds. Re-affirm your points, and end on a strong story that illustrates the main point of the presentation. Your audience, and your meeting planner, will thank you.

C. Put the Audience in Queue. If you're lucky, or unlucky depending on your point of view, many hands will pop up. Pick out the first three you see (or the three you see from people you believe will offer helpful questions, based on your time with the audience to this point), and let them know you'll answer Bob's question first, then the lady in blue, then the guy in the back corner. This restores a bit of order. Before answering the last person's question, set the queue up again, if you believe you have time.

D. Last Question. Keep watch on your clock, and let the audience know when you're taking the last question. Letting them know right before your final answer will get them settled. Even if more hands go up, let them know you'll be available afterwards (if you are), and set up your close. Move right into your brief recap and final story.

Sporadic Approach

A. Permission & Instruction. Let them know you'll take questions during your talk, and let them know the procedure. Do you want them to fill out index cards and send them forward? Would you prefer they Tweet their question on the backchannel? Can they simply raise their hand? Letting them know what to do will head off those vocal audience members who might just interrupt you mid-sentence. 

B. Control the Flow. People have questions at the most awkward moments. Don't take a question just because someone is staring you down as they raise their hand higher and higher in the air. If you can, let them know you'll answer their question in a moment. If you are mid-sentence, give them an affirming glance - both the questioner and the audience will appreciate the acknowledgement and return attention to you as you complete your thought.  When using cards or Twitter or other non-person-to-person Q&A techniques, be sure to take time out at various intervals to answer them.

C. Last Question. As with the Traditional approach, let them know you're done taking questions when you reach the climax of your presentation. Tell them you'll answer more after the session, or take questions by e-mail for the next few days specifically for their group. This should satisfy them long enough for you to close with strength, and give the audience the lasting impression they need from you.

Regardless of the approach you take, Question Management is essential. 

A. Let the Questions Be Heard. Once the audience gets bigger than 10 or 15 people, it becomes difficult to hear questions. Use roving microphones (and roving assistants) to assure questions can be heard. Even in this case, take time to restate the question for the audience, to assure everyone is clear on the question when you answer.

B. Restate and Reframe. When you restate the question, consider reframing it at the same time. If someone asks you a question that could lead the discussion off-topic, restate, then reframe by saying "what I think I'm hearing is you want to know...." and lead it back into the presentation points.

C. Let Balls Go Foul. When a question is far out in left field, both you and the audience know it. Acknowledge the question, then defer to answering it at another time. Then suggest a question type - "Does anyone have a question on XYZ?" Only do this for questions that are way, way foul, or you risk looking like you are dodging questions. Done at the right time, however, it makes you shine as your audience shakes their head in collective dismissal of the oddball question. 

D. Call Time-Out. One of the biggest fears in Q&A is the 5 minute question without a question. Sometimes it's someone who simply can't be concise, sometimes it's someone with an agenda of their own, eager to grab the spotlight. Protect yourself and your audience from these people by having the strength to call Time-Out. Interrupt them - you control your time. If you think they have a question, try to state it for them, or give them an option of two questions you anticipate them leading to. They may actually be grateful you stopped them and clarified their thoughts. As for those who simply wish to drone on, interrupt and ask for the question, or suggest you continue the discussion one-on-one afterwards.

E. Use Self-Deprecating Humor. If a question is borderline out of bounds, or emotionally-loaded with tension and negativity, don't be afraid to use self-deprecation to bail out of the question. If the question makes you tense, it makes your audience tense. Humor will lighten the mood, get the audience on your side, and give you a chance to redirect the question, or simply move on to the next. 

F. Be Prepared. For any speech, you need to do your homework and know what's happening with the company or group you will be in front of. Anticipate questions and practice various answers - even practice the out of left field questions you dread. Ask the meeting planner what questions they would anticipate their audience might have. You'll never guess them all, but the more questions you're ready to handle, the easier it'll be when the surprise questions hit.

G. I Don't Know. It happens. Sometimes you won't have an answer. Be willing to say so, and your audience will appreciate your candor. Send them somewhere they can get the answer, or promise to follow up at a later time. Then move on.

There is no reason to fear Q&A once you begin implementing these techniques. The audience as a whole is usually on your side, and most of the time you carry all the answers you need right inside your brain.

Questions and Answers done well will create a stronger connection between you and your audience. They will trust you faster, and be more willing to utilize you for answers in the future, whether its by visiting your website, signing up for a newsletter, buying your product, or even booking you in the future. 

Embrace Q&A - it's a great way to Speak & Deliver!


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