Tuesday, June 28, 2011

To Be a Better Speaker - Watch Other...Writers?

Of course, watching other speakers is the conventional wisdom, and its easy to do nowadays between Ted Talks and YouTube channels. It's a great way to see speaking done right, and occasionally horribly wrong.

Some will even tell you to pay attention to great movies, and follow their rhythms and methods in great storytelling.   Just be careful which movies you watch, or you might end up with a bloated and ridiculous speech where the overall point gets completely lost.

I know I'm getting old - just turned (shudder) 43 this month, so I guess I'm now officially middle-aged - but I still love books. And I find my greatest inspiration for speech-writing style in the books I've read over the years. Some are books written for adolescents, some for adults who still want to be. All are, to me, great examples of storytelling, and offer strong examples of character development, dialogue, setting, making a point with subtlety, humor devices, and even audience connection (though rarely all at once...).

A great speech - a REALLY GREAT speech - starts out in written form most of the time. I'd venture to say most means 95% in this case, or more, though that can be considered a MUFBOMNSHP (made up fact based on my not so humble opinion). So why not study the written word?

Below are some books that have strongly influenced my style of writing. For the record, I'm not trying to make any money here - all links are non-affiliate.

The Great Brain by John Fitzgerald - a wonderful kids series that takes place in the 1890's. Definitely fostered creativity, an appreciation for historical settings, as well as sarcasm and irony.

Dandelion Wine (and most anything else by Ray Bradbury) - This book featured strong characters and offered great examples of whimsical and motivational themes without beating me over the head as I read them. The Illustrated Man is a close second in my Bradbury collection.

Lake Wobegon Days by Garrison Keillor - this was assigned to me in college, and I absolutely loved it. The style, the humor, the matter-of-fact character descriptions all wrapped up in midwestern charm has influenced my speechwriting from the beginning. It was years later I realized he was a radio personality and well-received speaker, as well.

Other writers that influenced my style include Robert Heinlein, Jules Feiffer, Mark Twain, and Alan Moore. My interests have always run towards science fiction, sarcastic humor, fantasy and whimsy.

What about you? Reading is recommended by most any coach, speaking, life, business, or otherwise. It's easy to get caught up in the latest business or self-help tome, but as speakers, we may be best served by delving into fiction, or at least fictionalized history. What do you read? Who are the authors who have influenced you the most?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Speaking Honestly

Our lives are a continuous conversation - whether we're on stage, in a small conversation, or simply  talking to ourselves. What we say from the platform is a prepared encapsulation of thoughts geared towards a specific audience, and is relatively easy to control. Our conversations with ourselves are usually unstructured, no-holds barred sessions that we often have to guard against passing our lips or our keyboards.

Conversations with others - at work, at church, at social events - those can be the hardest of all. It's tough to measure the degree of honesty we should use, the level of revelation to offer each individual. People are trained to ask 'How are you?', but not to really care about the answer. Other people really do care, but we still aren't sure how much we want to tell them.

With the advent of blogging, twitter, facebook, even the old MySpace, the opportunities for written conversations to complicate our verbal conversations has increased a thousand-fold. 

We all have our problems with finances, relationships, medical issues, or just the cruddy ride to work that day. How we filter that when communicating to the world says a lot about who we are, how we view our lives, and what our trust levels are with others.

I believe Speaking Honestly is the best way to go. Trying to remember which version of which truth you put out into the world simply isn't worth it. But you can still bring in the preparation, and to some degree, encapsulation of message, to your regular conversations that you use on stage.

Have a Purpose - on your way to your next interaction with people, decide what your purpose is going in. Does anybody need to hear about your husband's drinking problem for you to accomplish your goal?

Listen More - the less you say, the less chance you'll have of talking about your annoying neighbor, his barking dog, and the insurance hassle you're having with State Farm. Conversely, the more you listen, the more you'll know about the people around you, and how you can be of value to them. Of course, if everybody did this, social situations would be very quiet - but let's face it - everybody doesn't do this!

Answer Honestly - there are people who will ask you questions about your life and how you're feeling. Answer honestly, but don't let yourself go beyond the question. They usually just want to know you're ok so that they can feel good about themselves for asking. The more specific the question, the more specific your answer can be, without crossing into territory neither of you meant to get into.

Right Time, Right Place - sometimes, questions come up from people you really want to give the whole story to in places that you don't really want to be when the story comes out. Just because you ran into your best friend at the chamber party doesn't mean that's the place for you to break down your last big fight with your wife. Arrange for another time and place for a deeper discussion, and stay true to your purpose in the moment.

By setting boundaries on your conversations, you'll find yourself more able to be comfortable in social settings even if your personal life is in turmoil. It will also signal those people you do talk to that boundaries are important to you, and you don't want your life spread throughout the social web, online or otherwise.

By Speaking Honestly within those boundaries, you'll never have to worry about being deemed shifty, inauthentic, or non-communicative - at least among reasonable people. Be yourself, but be prepared...to Speak & Deliver.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Toastmasters Friday: Is YouTube a Good Idea?

Over the last few years, more and more Toastmasters Clubs and Members have been uploading speeches to the web. Sometimes its to promote the club, sometimes the speaker. Good speeches, so-so speeches, champion-level speeches - they are all there.

I've heard rumblings that Toastmasters Int'l isn't all that thrilled about it, in part because it gives a very disjointed view of the organization and its mission. Not to mention that it doesn't conform to branding, and in the worst cases, potentially illegally puts people online that don't want to be.

On the plus side, it's still publicity, and as a mosaic, shows people at all ends of the Toastmasters spectrum. TI isn't anti-YouTube, by the way - you can actually watch the last business meeting online, if you're so inclined.

Below are some examples of Toastmasters speeches online.

What do you think? Should Toastmasters do this? Or should we leave it up to TI to create slick marketing videos? Should individuals have the right to post their Toastmasters speeches?

Part of me wonders if they realize how many views they are getting, and how they'd feel (except for my pal John Zimmer) knowing I can just grab their videos and put 'em here on my blog.

Regardless - kudos for people taking initiative, using video to critique themselves, and promoting the cause. Seeing is believing, right?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Write It Out - A Guest Post by Speaker & Blogger David Goad

“If I write out my speech, it will sound too formal and stiff. I like to just speak off-the-cuff with a basic outline.”  
For many speakers this is a valid approach and perfectly acceptable way to avoid an over-scripted delivery.  But what are you missing out on if you swing the pendulum too far toward non-scripted?

Writing is a discovery process, not an end in itself. The final draft is not as important as the thinking it forces you through along the way. I’ve heard many speakers deliver truly insightful content in a rather unorganized way, stealing away the maximum impact they could have had on the audience. Sometimes it’s just missing an underlying structure that would have helped the audience follow along and remember the message.

I try to achieve a solid structure through a process of writing, feedback and editing.  By putting down my thoughts in a word document or email and asking for feedback in advance of my speech, I always get tremendous recommendations for improvement (and a boost of confidence before I take it live in front of the group.)

You’ve surely heard about professional marketers conducting research in “focus groups.”  They gather a group of willing (and paid) participants who fit the demographic and psychographic profile of their ideal customer.  With marketing geeks watching through a one-way window, the participants answer a series of questions about a product or service in a moderated forum.  The insight that comes from this research is extremely valuable and helps you make critical adjustments before a product launch.

Speech feedback works the same way.  Write out your draft and send it to a few trusted toastmasters for their opinion.  I send mine to fellow Toastmasters, non-Toastmasters and even a few professional writers I know from my company.  It’s a fun little exercise and I distribute to different folks each time to keep it fresh and not burden anyone too much.

I really started to discover exponential benefits after I began blogging.  I started a blog called Short Stories With a Point, inspired in part by the short format of a Toastmasters contest speech.  As I began sharing stories from my life and thinking about what I learned from each one, I noticed I could tell instantly which messages were resonating by the number of pass along statistics I saw in the blog and in Facebook.  It was like a giant focus group on steroids, sometimes reaching hundreds of visitors and generating 8 to 10 insightful comments that I could use to improve each story.

So what’s my point?  Writing makes you think.  And the results of your writing will put your thoughts in front of others in a form they can respond to.   Whether you email, blog or scratch it out on a rock with a pocket knife, you’re going to get better feedback than only asking for a critique after a speech. 

Grammar doesn’t matter. Spelling doesn’t matter.  Exact word choice doesn’t matter.  What matters is that you sit down, ask yourself a question and write out the answer.  Or speak out loud, record it and transcribe it… whatever style works for you.  The real magic, and improvement, happens when you put it in front of others and test it out.  Sounds a little like stage time, doesn’t it?

David Goad is a father, husband, marketeer, web conferencing veteran, Toastmaster and blogger… roughly in that order.
http://davidgoad.wordpress.com / http://www.facebook.com/davidgoad / davidgoad04@comcast.net

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

What Should I Do With My Hands?

A while back, I talked about the pros and cons of Planned Gestures. Today, lets talk about Planned Hands. If you don't plan before you speak, no matter how experienced you are, you are likely to run into trouble. Hands have a mind of their own, it seems. Without a clear plan ahead of time, they can start moving completely on their own, leading to big trouble for your speech. Your audience may end up more concerned with where your hands go next vs. what you're saying next!

Top 12 Unconscious Hand Gestures

Purses - hand in hand, fingers usually interlaced, palms inside, about belly high. A sure sign of insecurity about your weight or the effectiveness of your belt, though you might be holding lipstick, just in case.

Fig Leafs - a lower Purse gesture, apparently used to ward off tomato tosses to the groin.

Pockets - a common ploy, sticking one or both of your hands into the pants pockets. one makes you look a bit casual, two a bit uptight, and either way we're wondering if you're going to pull a gun, a pencil, or a frog out of your pants. Taken to extremes, I've seen guys stick their hands into their front suit jacket pockets as well. Tsk, Tsk.

Professors - hands clasped behind your back. Unconsciously, we think it makes us look more thoughtful and intelligent. But many in the audience are waiting for us to pull out a wood pointer and rap their hands if their attention wanders.

Finger Fiddles - ring twisting, thumb twiddling, finger pullers and skin peelers. Your nerves are showing!

Steepling - fingertips to fingertips - another attempt to look smart, it also bring old teachers and preachers to mind, as we wait for the top of the steeple to start pointing in our direction in some accusatory manner.

Massages & Facials - I used to have a beard and mustache, and it was the hardest thing ever to not stroke the beard in 'thoughtfulness' as I spoke. Touching your hairless face is also distracting, as you prop up your glasses,  touch your nose, wipe your brow (though, with the lights, sometimes you have little choice), rub your eyes, or, in a stressful moment, grab the back of your neck.

Hair - flipping, scratching, finger-raking, sometimes an all-out, two-handed, toss-back. Get your hair under control before you go on, and leave it alone!

Pinocchios - I gave an impromptu speech last night, and got nailed for puppet-hands. That is, half-gestures where your hands sit at mid-level, seeming always ready for defensive combat. This results in impotent gestures  that you think of on the fly, unplanned and ultimately ineffective.

Deadly Weapons - pens, glasses, notes, pointers, remotes - one of these days you're going to let go at the wrong time and someone is going to get hurt.

Mixed Martial Arts - constant fists, karate chops hands, and pointing fingers. Communicate with me, don't make me worried you're going to hit me.

Anchors - the extreme opposite of the above. "I'm not going to move my hands and you can make me!" Take the chains and anchors off your wrists. Using your hands isn't a bad thing when you know what you're doing.

If you can come up with more, add them in the comments below. With so many moves we shouldn't make with our hands, exactly what should we do?

First, train yourself to comfortably leave your hands by your sides. Not straight-arrowed, but casual.

Second, practice hand gestures that have meaning, and have an idea where in your speech you will use them. Planned Hands are subtler than Planned Gestures. Still, you want to know what you look like when you try various hand placements and movements, and you want them to be used sparingly, so they are effective when used.

This doesn't mean becoming a robot. And it doesn't mean that if you occasionally (emphasis on occasionally) do a few of the unconscious hand gestures you're doomed.  It simply means becoming more aware of your movements, and learning to be intentional on stage. Because its what we do UNINTENTIONALLY that can ultimately hand our presentation a deadly blow.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

What is Your Audience's Final Destination?

For a lot of us, speaking for an hour isn't that difficult. We usually have much more to say than we can fit into our timeframe. Much like cross-country drive, its as easy to drive 100 miles as a thousand - you just take a few more stops along the way. But once you see the exit ramp, life gets more complicated. You have to refocus - why did you make the trip, and how do you get to the doorstep of your final destination?

Ask most any speaker, and the most challenging aspects of their presentations are their audience's Final Destination - and their own presentations closing lines.

It's easy to get caught up in the Attention-Getting Opening, and the Point Proving Stories, and find ourselves at a loss when its time to wrap up. I think its an inner struggle we have between not wanting to repeat ourselves and thinking 'if they don't have it yet, they never will'!

Those last few lines you leave your audience with, however, can make or break your presentation, and are the difference between being Speaking and Delivering.

What's Your Message? Sounds like basic advice, but we often need the reminder. If we aren't clear on what we want the audience to leave with, how can our audience be?

Write the End First. Once you know your message, write the last few lines of your speech. Don't worry, you'll go back later and revise it, based on the rest of the speech. By having a clear and defined close to start with, though, you're less likely to stray from the message in your revise.

The End Determines the Rest. If your opening and supporting material doesn't lead to your ending, you'll know right away when the ending is predetermined. Be willing to part with even your favorite stories in favor of more appropriate material.

Practice, Practice. Yes, the first 30 seconds is important to have down to an exact science in your presentation, but so are the last 30 seconds. Don't risk flaming out as you reach the runway. Put the same work in on your conclusion as your opening.

Bonus Thought: The Pre-Close

Easily confused with the actual close, but comes just before. It's the minute or two you spend recapping, recalling, and referring to the points you've made and how they all work together.

Your pre-close should evoke the meanings of your points without needing to make each one of them a second time. Subtly combine your points to lead to the overall result - your final message - and your closing message will be the primary take home piece for your audience. Once they hold your message in their hearts, they can go back to their notes, your website, or your products for the mechanics.

Don't short-change yourself or your audience. You wouldn't drive your family 1000 miles just to drop them off at the outskirts of town, would you? Deliver them to the doorstep of their next move!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Toastmasters Friday: Order! Order!

Ah, formalities. Our organization is full of them. Shaking hands, not leaving the lectern, clapping after almost anybody utters an intelligent sentence...and that doesn't even touch the Robert's Rules of Order that we work to adhere to throughout each and every meeting.

Tonight, a guest suggested we were TOO formal - too structured for such a small group. We had 7 attendees (strong for this rebuilding club), and the guest was in her early to mid-twenties. As she made this statements, I mentally cringed, and wanted to rush to Toastmasters defense. I controlled myself, of course. I wouldn't want to speak out of turn, right?

So did she have a point? Are Toastmasters meetings too structured, too rigid in their rules? Tonight's meeting, frankly, was pretty laid back. She may have gone running for the exits at some of the more formal clubs in the area. Has the world changed so much that the Toastmaster way is antiquated?

The only answer I can really give is - I hope not. Today I'm officially 20 years removed from my early 20's. I have no idea what is relevant to the young generation. I see manners, common courtesy, and respect flying out the window as Facebook, Twitter, and Smart Phones take over the world. But even as I type that, I begin to feel like an old fogey. These kids and their shiny new thingamajigs - the world's going to fall into anarchy, right?

Maybe we do clap too much. Maybe we are overly-concerned with keeping the lectern attended. Maybe the days of shaking hands are over. But I'd rather be part of an organization that is willing to keep the traditional rules of meeting decorum alive than one that teaches nothing but 'do whatever, anything goes'. Not because I'm an inflexible old fogey, but because I believe rules are made to be broken.

And if you don't know what the rules are, you can't break them effectively.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

5 Ways to Add Humor to Your Presentations Without Being a Comedian - A Guest Post by Avish Parashar

Laughter is the shortest distance between two people. 
-Victor Borge

Humor is a powerful tool. If you can get your audience to laugh (or at least chuckle or smile), you are golden. And while you may not have the desire to do a full on "humorous speech," there is no reason you can't add some humor to your presentations to mix things up and engage your audience.

This is not to say that every speech you deliver should be dripping with humor. However, the occasional use of humor, whether peppered lightly throughout many of your presentations or used heavily in the occasional "dedicated funny" speech, can have a few benefits:

  • Appropriate humor that is true to you let's your audience get a sense of your personality
  • People like to laugh. If your speech is funny, your audience will stay engaged
  • Good humor stands out and is memorable

Some people believe that you can't learn to be funny; either ya' got it or you don't. From my experience teaching people humor and comedy, I strongly disagree with this view. Humor is a skill that can be cultivated and developed.

Below are five things you can do to tap into your inherent humor and start adding it to your speaking:

1) Identify Things That Make You Laugh

Chances are there are some things in the world that make you laugh (if not, then please, get out more...). TV shows, movies, books, certain blogs, etc. Pay attention to the stuff that you find really funny, and then ask yourself, "What is it about these things that makes me laugh?" Do you like puns, rants, observational humor, slapstick, double entendres, etc.? Whatever it is, make a note of it. The style of humor that makes you laugh is a good style for you start weaving into your speaking.

Also, add more of those things that make you laugh into your life. This will help you in two ways:

It's easier to write funny presentations when you feel funny. Consistently watching, reading, and listening to things that make you laugh will help you feel funny.

You can learn from the things you laugh at. Structure, style, construction, and pacing - all can be learned from observation. I usually listen to stand up comedians because they make me laugh, but sometimes I will pay careful attention not to what the comedian is saying, but rather to all the nuances of how he (or she) is saying it. 

This helps my understanding of some tools I can use to make my presentations funnier.

2) Identify the Things You Already Do That Make Others Laugh

I firmly believe that everyone has some area in their life where they make others laugh. It may happen rarely, but I bet there is some environment or certain people that bring out your "inner comedian." Think back to what you do in those situations and ask yourself, "How can I weave that into my speaking?"

This technique led to an evolution in my own speaking business. I realized that the times I made my friends laugh the most were when I would go on extended rants making fun of things that annoyed me. However, at the time, I wasn't doing any of that in my writing or speaking!

Once I realized this, I launched my "Motivational Smart Ass" brand and starting weaving that ranting style into my presentations. The result is that my audience response has improved and, more importantly to me, my referral rates have gone up.

Start paying attention to what you are already doing to make others laugh and then weave that into your own speaking and you should see your audience response and referral rates go up too.

3) Learn the Basics Of Humor

Some people are fortunate enough to be able to automatically "be funny." If you are not one of these lucky people, then you should learn some of the fundamentals of humor and joke construction.

There are many ways to weave words into humor. Once you understand some of the techniques comedians and funny speakers use to create humor, you can easily edit your material to add in humor of your own.

Here are a few techniques to consider:

  • Exaggeration - "Then I talked to a woman who's voice was so high only the dog could hear it."
  • Puns - "Did you hear about the guy whose whole left side was cut off? He's all right now."
  • Self-Deprecation - "And then, even though I knew it was too hot to eat, I bit into the pizza anyway. Because, clearly, I am an idiot."
  • Wordplay - "She brought me a plate of French Fries instead. At least I thought they were French because they had an attitude and wore berets."

These are but a few; there are many more. I would highly suggest picking up a book on humor just to familiarize yourself with the different tools at your disposal.

4) Understand That Humor Comes In the Rewrite

Sometimes you get lucky and your first draft is very funny. Usually, however, the first draft is "content" focused; it may have some funny ideas that need to be heavily developed, but it’s not going to be funny as is.

The blank page can be daunting, and adding in the pressure of having to "write funny" in a first draft can make it doubly so. The best way to write a first draft is to write quickly without editing or worrying about the quality. As you practice writing funny, your first drafts will get funnier, but at first, they may not be so guffaw inducing.

Once your first draft is done you can review it and find places to add lines, reword things in funny ways, figure out where to use humorous delivery, apply many of the humor techniques from the previous point, and even remove things that you thought were funny at first but now realize aren't. For most people it is much easier to "punch up" a written piece using the humor tools above than to think of something funny to write.

Here's a simple humor draft writing plan you can use:

Draft 1: Get it written, funny or not
Draft 2: Go back and add as much humor as you can
Draft 3: Remove anything that is not funny, doesn't support your point, or breaks the flow of the piece

5) Keep Working at It

Like anything else, humor takes time to develop. If you expect to come out of the gate and immediately start creating hilarious material quickly and effortlessly, you will be disappointed. If you are committed to gradual and steady improvement, then you will find over time that your presentations get funnier and the work gets easier.

When I started speaking, I put very little straight humor in my presentations. I performed improv comedy from the stage, but other than that I delivered “straight” content. The first time I decided to add in funny stories and jokes, it took me weeks and weeks to get it done! There was a lot of uncertainty, fear, procrastination, and writer's block. Over time it has gotten much easier (and I'd like to think the quality has gotten better too) and I can add in new humorous bits to my speeches relatively quickly.

Give yourself time to find your voice and develop your humor. It may not be easy, but it's well worth it.

Adding a little humor to your presentations is not that difficult. Like most things, it takes 1) an understanding of how to do it, 2) a commitment to try, and 3) a little time and practice.

The techniques above can give you the understanding of how to do it - the other two are up to you!


Avish Parashar is the co-owner and operator of SpeakingExpert.com, a blog designed to show speakers and content experts of any level how to speak better, make more money, and have more fun! Visit the site to download you’re the report, "Six Figure Speaker Secrets: Learn the 7 Steps to Getting Paid Speaking Gigs in 90 Days or Less!" now.
For examples of Avish’s humorous writing and speaking, visit http://www.MotivationalSmartAss.com.
(Editor's Note: Thanks Avish, for stepping in for me today as I spend some time with my family!)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Speakers - Where's Your Book?

Yesterday I finished reading "Fumes and a Prayer" by Speaker Dennis Bauer.

It's a good book, with some life-changing advice, if one chooses to apply it. Dennis has filled the book with personal anecdotes of his multi-faceted life. One day he runs a film production company, the next he rivets airplanes together, the next he's flying passengers and cargo in a small Lear Jet. He also brings in stories of his heroes, most notably Chuck Yeager, to add weight to his musings. Not just what we all have heard about Yeager, either - kindly, he goes deeper than the average speaker turned author.

The book is wrapped in a larger story about a flight Dennis piloted which resulted in, well, his title - him flying on Fumes and a Prayer. I won't ruin it by saying he survived - oops. The key, of course, is HOW he survived - and how you can use what he's learned to keep yourselves airborne.

If you're tired of the same retread motivational books by the old standard speakers, this will be a breath of fresh air. This book is particularly useful if you're more technically/analytically minded, or have interest in aviation - but I believe anyone who takes the time to read Dennis' insights will be the better for it.

Which brings me to a larger point: Where's YOUR book?

If you're a speaker without a book out there, you're ripping yourself, and your audiences off. The benefit is two-fold - you can make money by selling your book, and your audience will be the better for taking your information home with them so it can continue to make an impact beyond your speech.

Without getting too deep, writing and publishing a book is simply not that difficult anymore.

1. Value Your Work - Accept that your message is worth writing down in a longer form, and that you have more to say than you can ever impart in a 45 minute speech.

2. Write the book - my wife and I spent a year writing her book Thriving with Neurofibromatosis - but if we'd focused, it would have been done in 6 months. You can write it, or hire someone else to write it. Get help editing - I'm still finding errors in my books, but I have yet for anyone to demand a refund. It's the message people want.

3. Publish it - CreateSpace, Smashwords, Kindle - their are many services now available that allow you to self-publish without you filling your garage with books. You can design it in Microsoft Word all by your lonesome, or hire someone on elance.com to help you out.

4. Speak & Sell - With a book, you should be able to double or triple the speaking engagements you have, and never leave without have made some money, even at a rubber-chicken volunteer engagement.

Congratulations - YOU are now an author - you are credible - because you took the time and effort to create the book in the first place. Even in today's world of on-demand publishing, the percentage of speakers who actually write and print a book is slim.

Is it really this easy? Yes and no. The process - the actual doing - is pretty easy. It's the mental hurdles that make it tough. Which makes me wonder - where in blazes is MY book? Yeah, I've put out great speech-writing information in Win, Place & Show, and Go Ahead and Laugh - but where is MY book - the one with my story?

Thanks for the reminder, Dennis. And congratulations for being a Speaker who doesn't stop there, but Writes & Delivers as well!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Eye Contact - From Credible to Creepy

You know you should make eye contact. You've read the articles, gotten the coaching, and even tried it out a few times. It's scary though. Especially with people you don't know. How much is too much? How much is not enough? How do you find balance between being a flitting butterfly which never lands on anyone and being the creepy guy who won't look away?


Eye contact is best when making a statement that brings your point into focus. You can tell stories without making much direct eye contact, because you are painting a picture, perhaps running dialogue, and acting out the scene. But when its time for the payoff line - deliver to one person. It will draw everyone else into the moment.


People you know. People who are smiling as you speak. People who fit the profile of what you're talking about at the moment (business person, young or elderly guest, corporate manager, etc.). Don't go to the same well too often, however - in fact, more than once every 10 minutes, or 3 times in an hour may give that person, and the audience, a genuine case of the willies. Be sensitive if people look away, and move your gaze quickly, perhaps to the person next to them.

Caveat - be careful about looking at family members. This can throw you off your game, particularly in emotional parts of your presentation. 


All over the room. Spread out your individual eye contact to quadrants of the audience - forward, right/left, back. Even if you can't see someone, pick a spot where you assume they are, and speak to them. Making eye contact in one place vs. another too often may give your audience reason to wonder if you care more about, say, the execs at the head table more than the room as a whole.

If you have an obscenely large audience, you'll want to quadrant it out. If you feel like you are looking at a specific person in the upper deck, all 100 of them in the section you're looking at will believe it's them you're keying on.

How Long?

Two to three seconds. Less becomes 'flitting' and more becomes 'creepy'. Long enough to say a sentence, generally. If you have a longer point to make, you can give the first part to the right, and finish to the left with two different people. If you have silence after the point, don't burn your eyes into your victim - after you stop speaking, just shift your head to the opposite side of the room as you 'vamp' for the pause.

Creepiness occurs quicker when a male speaker spends too long making eye contact with women in the audience, or even makes eye contact ONLY with women in the audience. The reverse does not appear to be true, though if a female speaker spends too much time looking at a male audience member, it can create an odd dynamic with other women in the room. Men looking at other men they do not know can create a level of tension, simply because it can instinctively feel like a challenge of sorts, whereas I've heard/witnessed little to no issues with women making eye contact with other women.


Connection and Trust. An audience will often tune out a speaker who is just pontificating on stage. Lack of eye contact makes the speaker appear as if they are more interested in giving the presentation than the audience they are giving it too. As young people, we are often directed to look at someone when we talked with them. This was a sign of respect and attention, but as we grew older, also took on a sense of caring and trust. In the United States, at least, lack of eye contact goes hand in hand with lies and deceit at worst, immaturity or spaciness at best.


You should always understand the culture you are speaking when out of the country, or even when dealing with diverse audiences. Direct eye contact can be considered rude, aggressive, or lascivious to various cultures, including Japanese, East Asian, Muslim, and Nigerian, among others. (source: Wikipedia)

What Not To Do

Do not look over the heads of your audience. Don't pick a spot in the room to rest your eyes, such as a plant or door. Do not stare at the clock. Do not watch the floor beneath you. Do not bury your eyes in your notes. Don't stare at your power point. And, no matter what, don't stare into the projector glare - you'll go blind!

Eye contact is one of the easiest ways to connect with your audience, and gauge audience reception. Done poorly, and you'll either become the addle-brained 'Dory' (of Finding Nemo fame), or the 'Must Look Away Medusa' of Public Speaking.

Done correctly, it will enhance your credibility and message retention, and you will be on your way to being the presenter who Speaks...& Delivers!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Speak & Deliver - James T. Kirk Style

There are tons of great movie speeches out there that get talked about all the time. From Charlie Chaplin's speech in The Great Dictator to Michael Douglas' Greed is Good monologue in Wall Street to Mel Gibson's Freedom speech in Braveheart. Along with YouTube, these speeches, and often their transcripts, can be found on AmericanRhetoric.com.

My exposure to inspirational speaking, however, came in front of a much smaller screen. A 13 inch, B&W TV, in fact, in the early '70's. My favorite show, then and now? Star Trek. The original, in all its blue-screen, plastic models flying through space, Styrofoam-boulder-filled planets, glory. As a five, six, and seven year old, it showed the future just as I'd imagined it would be. I'm a bit disappointed as an adult, but I have confidence the 23rd Century will see it all come to pass.

For better or worse, the first major public speaking I encountered came via Captain James T. Kirk, as he would monologue his way through space, preaching to alien race after alien race, when he wasn't busy finding a young lady to woo.

The speech that has stood out the most over the years? His recital of the preamble of the U.S. Constitution in The Omega Glory, which first aired 3 months before I was born. A good synopsis of the show is here. Cutting to the chase: after bringing two warring sides into the same room, and barely surviving yet another fistfight rumble, Kirk pulls out the planet's 'holy document' and begins to read....

Wow. Dramatic overacting combined with bombastically piped in music at its glorious best! Plenty of people like to criticize William Shatner (who played Kirk, for any of you non-trekkies) for his intense, often stunted delivery of his lines. Few recognize that he was a Shakespearean-trained actor thrust into icon-like status in the sixties but maintained his relevance in show business long enough to pull off T.J. Hooker, and later Boston Legal. Even last year he was showing his comedic chops, at least what's left of them, on $#*! My Dad Says.

Now I'd never be one to claim he's as good an actor as Marlon Brando, Dustin Hoffman, or Tom Hanks. But  he (or Kirk, or the writers...) still did some great things in this clip.

A. Controversial Opening - This was not meant for Chiefs! He got their attention quickly by challenging their belief system. Yeah, he risked being pummeled by oversize pseudo-Native Americans, but he was able to settle them down long enough to continue. You probably won't have to speak to a crowd holding large spears, but you will want to knock your audience off center enough to get their ears, pointed or not, to perk up.

B. Identifies With Audience - By saying his people has similar words, that they are indeed great words, he gives both a piece of himself while affirming the importance of the holy words to his audience, even in light of his Controversial Opening. At no time does he say "Gee, you ripped these off from my ancestors", even though he surely must have had that going through his mind. What are you saying to your audiences to help them realize you are 'on their side'?

C. Perspective Switch - Kirk shows he understands the words and resets their meaning in the minds of his listeners. He displays a deeper understanding of "We the People" that ultimately resonates with his audience. How are you taking well-known words, statements and morals and re-framing them for your listeners?

D. Passion - There is no doubt he believes what he is saying with a passion unequaled in the room. If you are in a room without a soundtrack, mimicking his delivery may send your audience into hysterical laughter. But that doesn't mean you can't show emotion - joy, sincerity, and assertiveness - when you speak.

E. Recap and Call for Understanding - Who hasn't had an audience that they haven't wanted to poke in the chest and demand to know if they understand? Kirk brings it down a notch to repeat his moral - the document is for everyone, and then measures his audience reception before beaming back up and wreaking havoc on his next adventure. Do you make sure your audience 'gets it'? Do you take questions? Do you ASK questions? Affirmation, even in a small way, from your audience will increase the retention of your message.

I have been accused, at times, of being a bit over-dramatic. I blame Kirk. And the preacher's I heard growing up, but that's a different post. Still, we can learn from both the good and the bad speaking we see in entertainment - and did you really want to hear another analysis of the Patton Speech?

Live Long and Prosper - and Speak & Deliver!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Toastmasters Friday: Writing a World Championship Speech - Speechstorming

For those of you not watching my every move, I'll recap a bit. Last month, I was fortunate enough to win the District 26 International Speech contest, earning a spot with 80 other speakers from around the world to compete in the Semi-finals on August 18. There are nine Semis, and the nine winners will compete for the World Championship of Public Speaking about 36 hours later, on the morning of August 20th, at Bally's in Las Vegas, NV.

In years past, we would be required to write a new speech for the Semis, which used to be held at Regional Conferences in June (except for contestants outside of North America - but I'll get into that in a later post). Suffice to say, with the change in format, we can, if we choose, use the same speech at the Semis that we used at the District Level. Assuming (as all 81 of us MUST) that I win, I will need an all new speech for the World Championship.

So how does one write a World Championship speech?

Darned if I know. In two attempts, the best I've done is write a 'third-place in the world speech'. I've gotten lots of advice over the years though (all paraphrased):

'You've got to make 'em laugh, make 'em cry, and make 'em love you - in 7 minutes and 29 seconds' - from my various mentors at the club level when I started competing in this contest in 2001. 

'Write a message you would want to tell your children if it were the last message you could give them' - 2001 Champion Darren LaCroix

'Find a reason to write the speech other than winning - a cause greater than the contest' - 2003 Champion Jim Key

'If you want to write a winning speech, don't try to write a winning speech' - 2009 2nd place winner Robert MacKenzie

At the moment, I have NO speech. While I could adapt an old speech from bygone years, I feel the need to do something new - something from my life NOW. I'm just not completely sure what. Maybe you're one of the other 80 contestants. Maybe you just want to be one someday in the future. While I don't have the definitive answer here (and, so far, none of the champs have offered one either), I do know what has worked for me so far....

Phase I: Speechstorming 

A. Write. You know - on paper, using an actual writing instrument - pencil, pen, chalk, crayon, charcoal, I don't care. Take a half hour and write down every possible message that I might want to deliver, judgment free. Writing fast and furiously, whether the idea centers on world peace or remembering to put down the toilet seat (could those concepts be related?) - no idea is bad at this stage.

B. Edit & Link. Pick three to five of the best ideas, and write down as many stories as you can think of that would support your basic message. Dig into your childhood, your workplace, your family.

C. Outline. Just like your old research papers in high school. What will your open be? Your close? Which, of all the stories you found, will you tell?

D. Write Some More. Write the speech out, word for word. With such a short time frame, you don't want to risk meandering - and at the highest level, every word counts.  Write the best two speeches of those you've picked in Step B - just pump 'em out, no matter how bad they may be.

E.  Test Drive. Get 'em out in the world as fast as you can. Practice at your home club. Film yourself. Get feedback. Enjoy the mistakes and backfiring and engine stalls. But get the words out of your mouth and into the world as fast as possible

F. Rebuild. Now that your prized speeches are battered and bruised, head back into the workshop, and hammer out the dents. Add more octane to each section. If the damage is severe, go back to Step A.

That's a good start. You're not ready for the big race yet, but you're on your way. Next week, Phase II. In the meantime - get cracking - you've got a speech to write (and so do I)!

PS: The above method can be used for ANY speech in Toastmasters, or in Life. You can make EVERY speech a World Championship Speech - regardless of the trophy.

For the last few months I've been writing contest-oriented posts, as Toastmasters International's Spring Contest season began, 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?The Top 8 Ways to Guarantee Victory, I Lost My Contest: Now What?, and I Won My Contest: Now What? 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

7 Questions to Ask When Hiring a Speaking Coach

So you're looking for a speaking coach. The fact that you realize you need one is a good start. But now what? What do you need to consider before hiring a coach? Below are seven questions you should ask yourself and your potential coach before you begin the next great adventure of your life - learning to Speak & Deliver!

1. What's at Stake?
Do you have a speech you have to give in the next few days or weeks? Has your boss 'suggested' your speaking skills are less than desirable? Are you planning to use speaking to promote your business thru seminars, cds, or videos? Perhaps you simply have an interest in self-improvement, and becoming a strong speaker is on your 'Bucket List'! Knowing what's at stake at the beginning of the process will help you narrow down your choice of coaches as you go along.

2. Real World Experience
What has your potential coach spent their time doing in the real world beyond speaking? Does it parallel your potential application of speaking? Just because you are in semiconductor sales doesn't mean you need to find a coach whose sold semi-conductors, but you might want to find someone with a successful sales background.

3. Speaking Experience
When was the last time your coach spoke in front of an audience? Are they more teacher than speaker? Teaching theory has its place, but working with someone who understands the demands of today's audiences, and has been battle-tested, carries obvious advantages.

4. Location, Location, Location!
Can your coach meet with you at the corner Starbucks, or do they live half-way across the country, or in this Skype-enhanced world, half-way around the globe? Would you PREFER they live half-way across the globe?

Using a local coach can add flexibility, enhance the speed of the coach/coachee relationship, help you with the local speaking landscape. Never hurts to support your local business community, and there's likely a strong coach within 10 miles of you.

There are advantages to working with a coach out of your area, however. Working long distance can create a more directed environment. Instead of putting something together at the last second because your coach will be over in 10 minutes is quite different from preparing a written speech or uploading a video you will be critiqued on during your next phone call. And if you use SKYPE or even video messaging available on most any standard chat program, you can bring your coach to your couch from anywhere in the world.

Don't assume there isn't someone in your hometown that could help you, but don't be afraid of working with someone 10 time zones away, either. The world is getting smaller everday!

5. What Do Others Say?
Who else has worked with your future coach? Give them a call - ask them how it went. Is the testimonial on the webpage an accurate portrayal, or just the best line the coach could find? Don't call just one, though - its not a broad enough sampling. Try to get ahold of at least three. If they don't have three recommends, perhaps they'll lower their fee in return for one!

6. What are You Willing To Spend?The better the coach, the bigger the cost - Sometimes. How much a coach charges is determined by several factors - demand, their perceived level of self-worth (experience, awards, degrees), amount of time and effort required, and even their own desire to coach! High and low fees are in the eye of the beholder, and depends what prize the beholder has in their eyes. If your job or financial future is at stake, you are likely willing to spend more than the person who wants to feel comfortable reading to kids down at Barnes & Noble.

Ask yourself these questions before hiring or not hiring a coach because of their fees:

A. How much is coaching worth to your desired outcome?
B. How important is it that you work with a specific coach?
C. How much time/value/material is being offered for the fee?
D. What are my other coaching options both up and down the fee ladder?

While 'You get what you pay for' may be the rule, don't close your mind to finding the exception, on either side of the equation.

7. How Do You Want to be Coached?
For me, I like to be hit over the head - Jillian Michaels, if you're out there, come yell at me. Other people need a softer touch. Coaches in any arena have their own personal styles - and do what works for them most of the time. Do you want a disciplinarian or a nurturer? Do you want a coach who shapes their style to your learning preferences, or do you want to be taken out of your comfort zone?

You may choose one style, and quickly find you wanted the other! Prepare yourself by spending time with the coach before you hire. Most coaches offer a free consultation - don't waste it getting their qualifications, which should be be found on their website. Find out about them as human beings - would you be friends with them? You might not want a coach you'd be too friendly with, by the way. Your coaching sessions may break down into chit-chat, creating a $500 an hour coffee buddy.

You may notice a common thread through these seven factors: YOU. What do YOU want? What do YOU need? And does your coach agree? How invested are THEY in YOUR success?

Don't stop at the first coach you see, even if it's me. Look around, shop a bit. Don't settle for an uncomfortable fit, and, at the same time, be willing to let yourself be challenged.

Now get to it - find your coach. It's time for you to Speak...& Deliver!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Speaking When You Aren't In The Mood

Public Speaking is hard enough when you are excited to get up in front of a group and deliver your message - how hard is it when you just aren't feeling it? When you've had a lousy day? When you've just a fight with your spouse, boss, or cell phone provider? When you're tired, sick, or even in physical pain?

If you speak on any kind of regular basis, you're going to have times you simply don't want to go up in front of anyone and talk, much less connect, entertain, and inspire to action.

Sizzle or Soothe. While many coaches will tell you pop is the last thing you want to drink before a speech, drastic times call for drastic measures. If you need a pick me up, go for it. Grab a 4-hour energy or a Mountain Dew. Don't want the sugar? Get some strong coffee. If it's stress you're dealing with, drink some soothing tea, or get some comfort food. Sometimes a candy bar, while not incredibly healthy, can change your mood just in time.

Move. Not away - you still have to speak. Get your body moving. Stretch. Do some push-ups against the wall, or walk briskly down the hallway. You'll get your blood flowing, take out your tension on the physical exertion, and gain some focus time.

Escape. Even if you can only grab 5 minutes in a janitor's closet, get away from everyone and everything. Refocus on the purpose your speech, and the benefit it has to the audience.

Yawp. In Dead Poet's Society, Mr. Keating preached about the effectiveness of letting out a barbaric yawp. Be careful where you yawp (your room, your car, or the venue roof will work in a pinch), and don't strain your voice, but this can be a great pressure release.

Visualize. Imagine yourself in a position of strength and energy for the duration of your presentation, culminating in a successful result for your audience.

Straighten and Shake. A shift in posture - back straight, shoulders back, followed by a calm shaking out of your arms, legs, and neck can do a lot towards re-setting your physical state and easing your mental tension at the same time.

Smile. Amazing what a smile, even a forced smile, can do for your attitude. Even an exaggerated smile in the bathroom mirror (try your best Jack Nicholson impression) can uplift your mood by way of absurdity.

The above are great for weariness and bad-attitude days. But what if you're facing real physical challenges?

Medicate. Time your medications to take effect just prior to your speech, so you get optimum results. Don't take too much, or medication that will leave you tired or out-of-touch. Don't mix your medications with alcohol! Plan ahead for headaches, backaches, etc., or you'll find yourself paying 500% markups in the hotel gift shops...

Yield. In my case, I've had days where walking is very difficult, even impossible, whether due to my back or my leg. It's OK to give in to physical weakness and ask for a stool or chair on stage. If this happens regularly, ask for a ramp to be set up to the stage, and have a wheelchair handy. Better the audience knows you're in pain up front - that way they get past it quickly and stay with your presentation content - than sit wondering why you're grimacing for 45 minutes.

Whether you are in the mood to Speak & Deliver or not - your audience deserves your best. Take care of yourself so you can focus on them!


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