Thursday, September 29, 2011

Speaking of Chris Brogan Speaking...

Last week, Chris Brogan posted a video of his speech to the Inbound Marketing Summit in Boston. For those of you who don't know Chris, he's one of the most well-known social media personalities in the world, runs several companies with various focuses on internet marketing, and is the author of Trust Agents and the upcoming Google+ for Business. Chris is a classic example of 'an expert who speaks', a label that describes the vast majority of speakers in today's market. He has also become a 'niche celebrity' - if you're on the web at all for business, his brand is fast becoming the Ben & Jerry's of internet marketing delicacies.

'An expert who speaks' is hired for the promise of content, not necessarily the quality of content delivery.

A 'niche celebrity' is hired first for their name value within an industry, second for promise of content, with delivery quality far down on the list of priorities. The difference between a 'niche celebrity' and a 'celebrity' in this case would look like this: Chris Brogan vs. Al Gore. Chris is an internet expert, Al is famous for inventing it - and a few other things.

Being a combination of these two statuses is close to a perfect storm. I'm willing to bet Chris is rapidly approaching more opportunities to speak than he can or wants to fulfill, and he's likely closing in on a quarter million dollars a year as a speaker alone. These are 'outside observer guesstimates' - if he's making less, he shouldn't be, if he's making more, I wouldn't be surprised.

The question for the day is this: Is Chris Brogan a Good Speaker?

If I could embed the video, I would. To view it before reading my comments - click here.

A. Familiarity - his introducer makes it clear to us that the audience knows Chris Brogan. Throughout the speech, Brogan acts and speaks like he is talking to a group of friends. On one level, this works for him as he breaks through the facade created by knowing people only online. On another level, it becomes so much a part of his speech (inside jokes and derailing commentary) that it detracts from the major reason he's there - to provide insightful content.

Honestly, I would have approved of this outfit more
- authentic and character-revealing.
B. Appearance - no, he doesn't need a suit. He can wear whatever he wants, and in this case he's reflecting his audience. He's also a self-declared geek. Still, his stage presence would have improved if he'd either worn a lighter shirt or darker slacks. Nobody cares, you think. But oddly enough, there are always people who care, even if only on a subconscious level.

B.2 Language - normally this isn't even an issue with speakers, but Brogan drops a couple bombs here. For some, that's a credibility crusher, not in terms of 'do you know your stuff', but in terms of 'do I care to listen'.

As an expert/celebrity, perhaps appearance and language is a moot issue. But as a speaker, we should always care enough about our audience to do nothing that distracts them from our message or tears down our credibility, if it is within our control, as these items are to a large degree.

C. Opening - epic fail here: an apology to open the speech, combined with a swear euphemism. Nothing gets an audience fired up like warning them your slides might not work. This is followed up with a credibility statement, as he tells the audience who he is and what he does. It's interesting, but a waste of time. You're onstage, you've been given an introduction giving you credibility. Your audience wants to be immediately involved in the story of your content, not sitting there tapping their pencils waiting for you to get to it.

D. Questions - Brogan uses the question device well in spots to interact with the audience while at the same time gauging their level of knowledge about his topic. His qualifying question asking who felt like they didn't want another social network when they heard about Google+ was perfect, with some wonderful followup comparisons to MySpace, AOL and Plurk.

In other spots, his questions seem to be more looking for approval than agreement about what he's saying, particularly his comments about 'inside humor'. Its a fine line between the two, and is the difference between a confident, engaging speaker, and one still learning to be comfortable in front of an audience.

E. Stories - Brogan uses fewer stories than he does short asides that illustrate his points. Some work, like his recount of Dolly Parton's stream, some don't, such as his comment about people complaining about his smoothie postings. The sub-opening story about meeting people in-person for the first time after only knowing them online works very well, and could easily be moved up as a true opening to break the ice, build familiarity, and be interesting all at the same time.

F. Power Point - the slides themselves were well done - mostly simple screen shots to show people what to do within Google+. As a training device, that's exactly what you need to do. He doesn't overwhelm us with slides, or over-complicate them. They are all branded with his logo, which is unnecessary, but at least in-obtrusive in the small overhead bar. Where Brogan can improve is his interaction with the slides. He's clearly uncomfortable with the process, which is fine but for his repeated comments about how uncomfortable he is with slides.

G. Content - this is why he's speaking, and he brings great information to new adopters of Google+, hitting the basics, while also pushing into the more advanced areas of the network. If only there were more of it. He goes off on so many bunny trails, it takes us away from the focus of his presentation, and robs us of the education he can provide. I'm all for humorous asides to keep people energized, but this speech can lose about half of them, keep and even increase its energy, and provide more expert content, which is why we're watching in the first place.

H. Closing - he comments a few times about the time he has left, and his close seems a bit rushed. Still, he hits an important main point before checking out with a book plug, and then a nice closing comment that refers to his speech goal - "Join Google+ (and buy my book to make it easier)" and ends with a nice jab at Friendster, going off stage with a laugh.

So again, is Chris Brogan a good speaker? Yes. And No.


He delivers the goods - strong content from a recognized expert. He keeps the topic interesting by mixing in both popular media and industry-related illustrations. He's occasionally funny, and doesn't come off as a stuffed shirt, condescending celebrity. At the end, he feels like a good guy - authentic to his brand, and his web presence, and worthy of spending time with both professionally and personally.


He wastes a lot of time that could be put to better use for his audience. He still seems uncomfortable with his own celebrity, which has its charm, but also detracts from his power. In responses to a couple of critics in the comments section, he talks about being ragged as a speaker because he's always changing his speeches. That's an easy problem to fix, and he implies that he will be fixing it soon.

As I said to open the post, Brogan is an excellent example of 'an expert who speaks' and a 'niche celebrity'. Overall, he does the job he's hired to do. But of course, the coach in me believes he can do more. (can YOU do more?) He's THIS close to adding 'great speaker' to the mix, which will put him in the middle of a perfect storm as a hireable speaker. He'll not only be known, not only be credible, not only be in-demand...he'll be able to Speak & Deliver, leaving his audiences with more than they ever bargained for.
Two quick disclaimers here. First, this is an unasked for critique. Of course, President Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey didn't ask for my advice either. These are just my thoughts. Apply them to your own speaking. Are you succeeding in the areas Brogan is? 

Second, yes, I'm hoping reviewing Chris Brogan, and using his name throughout the post will attract the attention of both him and boatlaods of traffic. Hopefully he'd be proud of that fairly blatant marketing tactic. But it's still my job to Write & Deliver so you can Read & Receive. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Speaking of Self-Sabatoge...

I've coached a lot of speakers over the last decade. I meet them all where they are in the moment. Some are brand new - they've heard speaking is the way to pump up their business, and want to get going. Others are Toastmasters looking to turn their hobby into a profit, or just finally win a contest. A few are already pretty darn good, and are just looking to fine-tune their content and put a glossy finish on their presentation skills.

As a coach, one of my biggest jobs isn't even related to speaking, to a point. I'm half psychologist, half bartender for my clients. It's my job to walk them through, around, under, and/or over a myriad of obstacles before they ever hit the stage. Obstacles that all qualify as Self Sabatoge.

Reluctance to Practice - big surprise here, right? Nobody likes to practice, but everyone wants to be good. No matter how many people tell you you're great off the cuff, you'll end up with better results if you're actually prepared to speak. Practice comes in a lot of forms, but one of the best is still speaking in front of your coach, and going over the HD video.

Reluctance to Write - I've written a lot about this lately, but its can be a tough nut to crack for some coachees. After all, it takes time, and they don't think they are a good writer, and if I write it all down it's going to be tough to memorize. Yes, it takes time. Whether you are good or not, write. Even if you hire a speechwriter, you're going to have to at least rewrite to be authentic and effective. No, you don't have to memorize!

Reluctance to Speak - On the other side of the coin, some speakers are more willing to write than speak! They read directly from their prose, and some of them quite well. But there's a difference between reading & reciting and actually Speaking & Delivering! At some point, put the pen and paper down, and Speak!

Resistance to Change – Yes, if you hire a coach, he or she is going to bring change into your world. You want change, remember? The very fact that you've 'always done it this way' is why you need change. Should you stand up for what you believe in when it comes to your own speech? Yes – of course. But if you aren't prepared to bring some change into your world, a coach is not for you – hire an assistant instead.

Shiny Object Syndrome – “I want to do seminars, and webinars, and speak to big companies, and speak at associations, and fill Madison Square Garden. And write a book. Oh, and I need a website.” So many directives we give ourselves as speakers, so little time. As a coach, I work to keep my clients focused, but its amazing how much can change in someone's stated goals in just a few days. And then another few days. “Oh yeah, I need a demo video too!”

Lack of Self-Belief – this takes many forms, from a belief that they don't really have anything worthwhile to say to a physical obstacle like stuttering or feeling bad about their appearance to an assumption that nobody wants to listen to them in the first place. As a coach, I work with clients to debunk these and countless other myths. While I don't serve alcohol, this often brings me closest to being a psychologist/bartender than any other aspect of my job!

Procrastination - “Oh, I didn't have time to get to that yet, coach!” Its amazing how time flies when you're having fun, instead of doing your homework. “I'm not quite ready for a live audience yet.” Yes, you are – trust me, it's my reputation on the line too! “Oh, the last couple sessions have been great, and I need more time to work on what you taught me – can I cancel this week?” Which means just what it does in the workplace – they'll get started the day before the next meeting.

Worse still – those that are THIS close to hiring a coach – who know they can use speaking to change their live, advance their career, and find their voice – and don't. Is that you? Are you waiting for the perfect time? The perfect time is now. Call that coach you've been thinking about for so long, and set up your first meeting.

Getting one step closer to Speaking & Delivering brings you one step closer to the audience that will change your life when you change theirs.

Self Sabotage is a life skill most of us learned at a very young age. A skill that we have honed to a fine point - so fine that we don't even notice it as it punctures and deflates our dreams. My job as your coach? To save you from yourself. Whether you like it or not!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Are You Flat Lining on Stage? Express Yourself!

"I hate you," I said angrily.
"I'm so happy", I exclaimed, and a wide grin took over my face.
"I had to trudge 10 miles in the snow - my legs felt like frozen anchors."

For those of us who actually learned to write in school, the above phrases, and similarly constructed statements, may not be that uncommon when you write your speech. I'm not sure about kids today - I think there's a limit on school papers of 140 characters, and emotions are all expressed with the smiley faces shown in last week's post...

For writing, it's fine. For speaking, it's death, at least for the audience.

How many times have you watched an emotionless speaker tell you with vivid vocabulary how angry or happy they were. How sad they felt after their dog died, truck got stolen, and wife left 'em? (Darn, gonna miss that dog...) - and yet nothing in their face, voice, or body language was congruent with what they were saying?

How many times has a speaker told you what they did, instead of, in the case described above, actually showing you the trudge to give you a stronger image in your mind?

There are several reasons speakers do this beyond just not being taught otherwise. First, we typically write the way we've been taught to write, and the way the authors we read write. I pity the audience listening to a Stephen King fan who doesn't learn to write like they speak, instead of how they read!

Second, it feels silly to emote on stage. You're not an actor, right? You're just an accountant who's been forced to give a speech you don't want to give, and you want to sit down as quickly as possible. Your audience no doubt feels the same way if you're delivering lines with no discernible emotion.

Third, we're too busy trying to remember our lines to emote, and if anything interrupts our flow of memory, the only emotion we'll be showing is plaintive helplessness.

Fourth, you knew you wouldn't remember your speech, so you're just reading it right off your notes. Ugh. Where are the fire exits?

You are no longer 13 years old reading a book report in front of a class of peers who could care less. You are an intelligent individual with a message you want your audience to understand and take action on, that, granted, may also be filled with a group of peers who could care less. The difference now is that you should care MORE.

It seems like a basic lesson, and it is one of the first items of business I cover when coaching a new client. Don't tell me how you feel or what you did, SHOW me. Instead of describing your smile, SMILE. Instead of telling me how angry you are, let your voice, volume, facial expression, and posture leave no doubt. Instead of just using flowery language to tell me about your trudging - start trudging!

It doesn't make you an actor, or a speaker going over the top - it makes you a human being having an enhanced conversation. When we have lunch with someone and tell them how angry we are that our spouse left the toothpaste cap off for the 1000th time, our voice and face has emotion. Most of you naturally tell stories to one or two people with more expression and vigor than ever makes it onto the stage. It is the stage, though, where you need it the most, where you must amplify it and demonstrate it to reach the audience. The bigger the audience, the further the distance between you and your listeners, the more important Expressing Yourself becomes.

It's ok to emote, to demonstrate, even to act a bit on stage. Your audience wants some entertainment value. It keeps them engaged, and enhances understanding. Let your inhibitions go, prepare enough to keep your notes to a minimum, and give the audience what they want - and before you know it, you'll have climbed another rung as you learn to Speak...& Deliver!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Toastmasters Monday: Should We Vote For Best Anything?

From Santa Cruz TM's Website - Awarding the Best Speaker Ribbon.

In my very first meeting in Toastmasters, at Titan Toastmasters in Littleton, CO way back in 1995, one of the many cool things I noticed were the awards given at the meeting. Titan awarded ribbons to the Best Speaker, Best Evaluator, Best TableTopics, and the Bone Award - for the biggest faux pas in the meeting (typically given by the previous weeks winner).

This appealed to the competitor in me, and after I rejoined Toastmasters after a 4 year break, my new club in Salt Lake City also voted for the Best's (though no 'Bone Award') - awarding inscribed pencils. After my first two years, I had a ton of pencils, and I loved it! It helped push me to do better week after week, to be more focused on the task. It's just my personality.

Not all Toastmaster clubs do this. Some Toastmasters even hate the fact that any clubs would give any awards, and the concept of a 'Bone Award' is appalling to them. Toastmasters is supposed to be a supportive environment, they argue. How is making one person a winner over others being supportive to all? What about those people who've gotten so good no one stands a chance? And after all, we have contests - if you want to compete, enter those! As for the 'Bone Award' - that's just belittling and hurtful!

All good and valid points.

Other clubs limit their awards to Table Topics - I suppose because there is less personal investment in giving an impromptu table topic answer than a speech, and less chance for hurt feelings.

What does your club do? Toastmasters Int'l doesn't have a policy against awards (though they do have something in writing against awards such as the 'Bone Award'), and they sell them on their website, so one might suggest that's tacit approval for the practice. Without awards, there's no need for the role of vote counter, either, right?

Each club is different, of course. Different cultures and membership makeup. A corporate club may create a bad atmosphere for awards - should I vote for my boss or the mail guy? Some clubs may simply feel they are 'above' giving awards. That's fine - go with that. Doesn't give me much to write about though. For those of you who do give awards, or are on the fence...

"Best" Award Best Practices:

A. Make it clear to visitors and new members that voting is a 'fun' activity, and not meant to be a judgmental situation.

B. When asking for the vote for Best Speaker, explain you are asking for people to vote for the speaker who best met their objectives - not who gave the best or most entertaining speech. Judge them against their goals, and not each other.

B.2. When asking for the vote for Best Evaluator, ask people to vote for who provided the most useful evaluation for the speaker. Some clubs even throw in reports from the Grammarian, General Evaluator, Ah-Counter, etc., into the mix, to encourage stronger reporting.

B. 3. When asking for the vote for Best Tabletopics, ask people to vote for who answered the question best - this will help them at a future, more formal, contest.

C. Train vote-counters not to announce 'how close it was' or 'what a runaway it was' results-wise.

D. Watch your scheduling patterns - mix up the matchups a bit. No one likes to be speaking the same meeting as another speaker too consistently, awards or no.

E. Make award giving fun - and if time allows, let them make an acceptance speech for 30 seconds. Yet another speaking opportunity for both awarder and awardee.

F. Don't let 'guest speakers', such as those folks practicing for contests, be voted for. Let your other speakers go first, call for the vote, then introduce the guest speaker. They don't need to win your ribbon, and they definitely don't want the ego blow of NOT winning your club ribbon!

"Bone" Bonus Best Practices - I actually don't have a problem with this award, but it really depends on the makeup of the club. If you have a laid back culture with members that won't be offended, it can be a fun way of correcting a faux pas, or a light way to suggest a member take a different approach after giving a speech on, say, correct condom usage. (I am not making this up. The award for my first club is actually named after the member who gave this speech...)

Members presenting the "Bone Award" should show good humor and good taste, and be wary of guests in the audience. Is it touchy? Sure. Is it risky? Yep. Can it help us learn comraderie, tact, and appropriate methods of humor? Absolutely.

The polar opposite of the "Bone Award" is an award given to recognize a member or guest who has contributed significantly to a meeting, beyond normal expectations. Come in and given a great guest speech. Brought multiple guests. Made dessert for the group. This award is often called the "Spark Award" or "MVP Award".

Both awards are typically homemade trophies, though I've seen ribbons and paper awards given out as well.

As I've aged as a Toastmaster, I've stopped worrying much about whether I win a ribbon at a club meeting or not. Much :) I do keep all the awards, though, in a little drawer in my office. Don't have any pencils left - the six kids have managed to steal all of 'em...

Awards of any kind are just a measure of a moment. As speakers and Toastmasters, we should continually be evaluating our progress, making sure we are growing as individuals, and contributing to our clubs in a positive way. We evaluate in so many ways in our organization - certificates, ribbons, and trophies are just one method of recognition.

Remember, no ribbon is as important as a member of the audience coming up to you and telling you you made a difference for them that day. I often say 'don't go after the wrong trophy' - but when was the last time you were the voice of the right trophy for someone else? When was the last time you were the person letting the Speaker know they Delivered?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Speaking of Emotions: Keeping it Together

A big part of being an effective speaker is sharing part of ourselves with our audiences. Usually, this comes in the form of a funny story from our past that supports a point, or self-deprecating humor to build a connection with the audience.

For some speakers, though, their speech topic hits so close to home that their stories become filled with emotion, both joy and sadness. They may talk about a joyous reconciliation with a parent just before their death. They may talk about a tragic accident to themselves or a loved one that taught them a new way of thinking. They may even talk about their divorce - which, I suppose, could go either way.

Common wisdom is not to talk about anything too emotional before you've dealt with it, because being emotional on stage can cost you credibility with an audience. While there is truth to this, there are some speakers and topics which involve and rely on strong emotional response to succeed, sometimes even in the middle of dramatic events.

Affiliate Link? Sort of, I guess...
My wife speaks about Thriving with Neurofibromatosis. This is a genetic disorder that affects her and three of our kids directly with tumors and plexiforms, and our whole family, of course, in a myriad of ways. When Kristi speaks, her intent is to inform, entertain, and inspire audiences. This means telling stories that aren't always filled with happiness. 

One of her most emotional stories involves our daughter Bailey, who is currently going through chemotherapy for a non-cancerous, but still growing brain tumor. The tumor may or may not be NF-related, though, ironically, were we not getting regular MRI's to keep tabs on NF, the tumor may have gone undiscovered until it was far too late to do anything about it. NF or not, dealing with it is certainly a part of living a "Thriving Life", and it is a crucial component to her presentations. 

Talking about your child and chemotherapy. How would YOU keep it together

A. Practice. The more Kristi delivers her speech, the more comfortable she becomes, and the more detached she's able to be - she's ready for the emotion to hit, and can re-channel it into effective delivery instead of simply breaking down on stage.

B. Stay Audience Focused. You are there to Motivate, not Manipulate, to deliver a message, not to evoke sympathy for your own benefit. While both will occur with emotional stories, if sympathy trumps message, your audience won't be served, and their sympathy likely won't help you much anyway. 

C. Dialogue. Instead of simply narrating the story and risking allowing yourself to get too deep into your current feelings, tell the story as it happened. What did the doctor say? What did you say back? Report on your activity and describe the emotion "in the moment", instead of continuing to live within your ongoing emotions.

D. Let the Tears Flow. Real emotion that doesn't lead to a total breakdown on stage can increase your audience connection, and help them realize you are a person, not just a 'motivational speaker'. Showing NO emotion about something so close to your heart can create suspicion and even cynicism within your audience. It's a delicate balance, between a voice choke and a real tear or two and going all Jimmy Swaggart on your listeners.

E. Plan Chute Deployment. Construct your speech with a small moment of humor, or an uplifting outcome to bring yourself, and your audience out of freefall during emotional parts of your speech. With Kristi, a crucial part of her story about Bailey's tumor is our daughter's unique and humorous response to the bad news. This gives both her and her audience an opportunity to know they are in an emotionally safe situation, and continue to enjoy and benefit from  the experience.

Don't let emotion rule your speaking - either in what you choose to talk about or what not to talk about, or as you deliver your messages. Emotional connection is essential in any talk - people buy first with emotion, second with logic, even if you're talking about abstract ideas, purchasing heavy farm equipment, or a can opener (ooh - this gold tinted can opener makes me feel like Donald Trump, and its affordable too!). 

Use emotion improperly in your speech, and you'll be standing on stage powerless. Use it properly, and your message, and its delivery, will be powerful, effective, and unforgettable.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Write Like You Speak - Listen to Yourself!

So glad we're in the computer age. Source: Library of Congress
Last week, I encouraged all of you to Write Your Speech. But, what if you don't Write Like You Speak?

Many, if not most of us, do not automatically write like we speak. We write like we were taught in school, or like the authors we read most, or with so much extra thought that the words on the page would overwhelm even the wordiest of speakers.

As speakers, we tend to speak in shorter sentences. We get to the point faster. Our voice inflections supported by facial gestures and body movements add context to what we say. As writers, we add the unspoken elements of speaking as extra prose.

As speakers, we get visual feedback from an audience, and can often tell when they are following our train of thought. We can even interact. As writers, we'll enhance our argument by stating from many different perspectives, never quite sure the reader is still reading.

If you don't Write Like You Speak, what's the point of writing your speech? Two reasons -

1. To learn to write how you speak, of course
2. To become more aware, both of how you speak and how you write.

Remember, even when you read, you're speaking the words in your head - so in one sense, you're already halfway there. Here are four of the best ways I've found to train yourself to Write Like They Speak:

A. Read your written speech aloud to yourself, and LISTEN. Listen for the double-talk, the narrative-speak, and the unnecessary parenthetical phrases. Mark, cross off, and delete as you go.

B. Write it, then wing it. Crystallize your thoughts on paper, read a section, then adlib the section. What's different? Notice the difference in how your brain processes the same ideas from written to vocal.

C. Give your speech aloud FIRST, record it, and transcribe it. Notice your speaking patterns. Rewrite your speech from your 'off the top of your head' version and strengthen it while staying in your own voice.

D. Read your speech in front of someone who knows you. They'll be able to quickly tell you when you are going overboard, and not sounding like yourself.

Learning to Write Like You Speak can take time - but it's time well spent. Your speechwriting speed will increase, and your writing will become more concise. This will make all of your writing more interesting, from emails to articles to the book you've been waiting to write. And, of course, it will help you Speak...& Deliver.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Why You Don't Need to Become a Better Speaker - The Action of Attainment

Yesterday, I wrote about Why You Need to Become a Better Speaker. And you do - your audience deserves it.

At the same time, you don't need to become a better speaker. You are likely good enough right now to make a difference to your audience, to teach them something they didn't know before, or remind them of something they used to know but forget to implement.

If you have an audience available to you, Speak!

We need to find the balance between what Tony Robbins calls Constant And Never-ending Improvement, and what many call the Paralysis of Perfection. What lies between is The Action of Attainment - getting better by doing.

Spending our life learning to get better is useless if we don't put it into practice, just as doing something without learning how to do it better will rob us of attaining greater proficiency, output, and effectiveness. Don't sit on 'Ready, Set', depriving your audience of what you have to say just because its not perfect yet, but vow that the next time you speak, your message will be clearer, stronger, and more memorable - and then GO!

Its a lot easier to hide behind books, spend money of one more round of coaching or another speaking bootcamp, or settle into the warm, supportive arms of fellow Toastmasters than to go jump into the fire of a real audience. It's an eye-opening experience. All at once you'll realize you're better than you thought you were, and not as good as you could be. Sounds crazy, but those of you who've done it know exactly what I'm saying.

Yes, you need to become a better speaker. Use all the tools at hand to improve. But go out and improve in both theory and activity - imPROVE yourself on the stage itself, in front of real live people who aren't obligated to applaud when you sit down. Just do it.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Why You Need to Become a Better Speaker

"I'm good enough - I don't need to get better!"

We see and hear that concept a lot these days. From governments, businesses, and business people. In a world where just surviving seems to be success, doing the work to become great at anything, from financial management to customer service to networking, and yes, even speaking, seems overwhelming...and unnecessary.

Which means now is the perfect time to get better - because so few are willing to do so.

Yesterday, we had a guest speaker give the sermon at church. He is a well-respected member of our congregation, and has speaking experience. He did a good job. Used a fun prop to get our attention, made good use of Bible references, had moments of humor, and delivered a strong message that left us something to chew on. He did better than 9 out of 10 other people in our church could do, I'm willing to bet. Maybe even 95 out 100. In the end, he did well enough.

It doesn't mean he couldn't have done better. Been more smooth with his prop. Added more impact to his points. Added one or two more humor moments. Used PowerPoint more effectively.

But WHY? Why should he worry about getting better when he's good enough? Why should YOU try to get better when all those folks in Toastmasters think you're good enough? When your boss picks you to give the next sales talk because he thinks you're a good speaker? When you've gone out in front of real audiences and received positive feedback and maybe even a $500 check?

Not so you can be an elite, champion speaker. You might not even care about being an elite, champion speaker.
Not so you can get more speaking opportunities. You might not even want more speaking opportunities.
Not so you can charge more. You might be richer than Bill Gates, or think money is the root of all evil.

You should get better for THEM. For your Audience. For those people whose lives you have been given a rare chance to impact with your message. Whose future might rest on the choice they make when they leave the room based on what you have shared with them. Whether its a sales goal, a life strategy, or a sunday sermon.

You should want to get better for THEM. If you don't care about THEM - then get off the stage and let someone else speak who does.

Become a better speaker. Join Toastmasters. Buy speaking books. Take a class. Practice more. Write your speech. Film yourself. Buy some CDs. Hire a coach.

Perhaps I should go up to my fellow church member and suggest some of the above. I might be seen as a bit of a jerk, though, to suggest it. After all, he was pretty good. I know I'm not the perfect speaker, and despite my success and happy clientele as a coach, I am constantly striving to get better, to learn more, and to give my next audience more than my last audience.

You might be good enough. But your audience deserves BETTER.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Toastmasters Friday: Crowdsourcing Your Speech

Oops. Toastmasters is tonight isn't it? You're scheduled for a speech, right? There you sit, with nothing. No time. All you can think about is finding a good excuse to not show up so you don't have to look your Club President in the eye and tell them "I didn't have time to write a speech".

Oops. You forgot, didn't you? YOU'RE the club president too!

Okay - it happens. A lot. More than it should. There are ways you can fix it, but right now you're STUCK! No amount of hindsight will save you. but Crowdsourcing just might.

Crowdsourcing is basically using your facebook/LinkedIn/twitter accounts to get opinions and ideas about a particular topic. This is your chance to go beyond telling people what you had for lunch, or putting up yet another Martin Luther King quote. It's time for your friends to put up or shut up - and help you write your speech!

Last week, I posted on facebook about my photoshoot tomorrow - and asked if speakers dressing up was a dead concept based on the dressing down I witnessed at the Toastmasters Int'l conference from both our opening ceremony speaker and the Golden Gavel recipient. Could I get photos of me in just a nice tee-shirt, slacks, and a coat?

The discussion was a lot of fun - it started at 9:30 am, and by 5 pm I had 50 responses. Using their examples and thoughts, along with some of my own, I was able to quickly cobble out a speech that sounded like I'd spent weeks researching the topic. The speech wasn't perfect, but it beat not showing up and leaving the club without a speaker that night!

Some ideas to effectively Crowdsource:

1. Interesting or Controversial Question: Ask something that actually pertains to your friends and followers. Perhaps state the question in the voice of the "Devil's Advocate" to spur on discussion.

2. Interact: Let people know you're reading, and that you appreciate their input. Ask follow up questions to get further comments.

3. Use multiple platforms: Not everyone uses Facebook. Put the question out to as many audiences as you regularly communicate with.

Next time you find yourself behind the eight ball with just a few hours before your meeting - give Crowdsourcing a shot instead of ditching the meeting at the expense of your poor Aunt, who has died so many times in the past she's tired of being your goto funereal excuse!

Your club, and your meeting's Toastmaster will thank you for it! 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Yes! I Want You to Write Your Speech!

I was working with a new client this week, and got the question I so often get from new clients:

Do I need to write out my speech?

This is usually followed by a set of reasons why they don't want to write it down - lack of time, a belief they are better on the fly, a concern they won't be able to memorize it, even a doubt that they are good enough writers to write a speech!

My answer is always YES! Write your speech! One big reason to write it is so you can EDIT it - which I wrote about in 2009.

One aspect of editing I didn't mention in that post is Creativity. When we write our speeches, our minds work as real-time editors, telling us even as we type that we can say something better. Our minds also have a capacity to creatively brainstorm as we write, and read what we write. To suggest better stories, better phrasings, allowing us to effectively write two or three versions of our speech as we go along, as opposed to ending up with just ONE version of the speech when we choose to wing it.

Writing the speech gives us a chance to apply mental sandpaper to our ideas - cutting unnecessary words, crafting our ideas into phrases that stick, and reducing stories from rambling diatribes to quick recollections built from dialogue instead of narrative.

Now, I have suggested an alternative to writing in the past, I admit. Wing the speech, record it, and transcribe it. Even that, ladies and gentlemen, is just another way to trick you into writing it, or at least reading what your transcriber put down to get your mind working as a creative editor.

Chances are you can cut between 25 to 50 percent of the words from any speech you don't write down once you get it on paper through transcription. That's 25 to 50 percent opportunity for you to increase your impact on your next audience, and 25 to 50 percent of oratory FAT that is wasting your last audience's time.

Don't cheat them, or yourself. YES! Write your speech. That doesn't mean memorize it, or read it (click here for my thoughts on using notes) - but buckle and and write it.

It's a basic step on your road to Speak & Deliver.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Speakers Bureau Myth

One of the many myths about the speaking industry is that Speaking Bureaus will line your pockets with money, promote you to stardom, and remove any need for you to market yourself. Upcoming speakers like this myth. After all, it means all they have to do is come up with a message and deliver it well, with no other grunt work required. Sounds peachy, doesn't it?

If only it were true.

The hard truth is what your grandparents told you growing up: There's no such thing as a free lunch.

The even harder truth is what I'm going to tell you now: Speaker's Bureaus are not there to help you. They are there to help themselves. They are a business, after all, and if you aren't already easily bookable, they lose money with every minute they spend on you vs. a proven speakers.

The Myth is a Myth, fall into the following categories:

A. Celebrity - You're an athlete, authentic bestselling author, or have 19 Kids (and counting)
B. Important - Beyond celebrity, you were/are a U.S. President, war general, or CEO of a large company
C. Successful - In other words, you already get plenty of speaking engagements, and they can parlay your marketing efforts to line their own pockets by helping take over the marketing machine you've already built.

Sounds depressing, I know. The bottom line is this - Speaker's Bureaus won't help you until you don't need their help. New talent is a RISK for them, a LIABILITY. Known speakers give them both higher commissions and a more reliable result for their clients. In Godfather speak, it's not personal, it's business.

The above describes most large, reputable agencies, such as: ___________
(Interestingly, I put out a request for reputable agencies from my Facebook and Twitter friends and followers, and it resulted in only one actual recommendation. I'm sure reputable agencies exist - they just don't seem to be intent on marketing much.)

But the Myth goes deeper. There is a second tier of Bureaus lying in wait for beginning pros - waiting to pounce on your wallet by way of your dreams. Bureaus that, for "a small fee" will let you be featured on their website, and for "just a little more" will help you with your one-page, website, business card, and, if you act now for their "platinum package" will feature you on their front page spotlight. Oh goody!

These bureaus feast on your belief that "if I can just have the right one-sheet, I can get booked!" and "These people only make money when they book me, so they are working hard on my behalf". Umm...NO. They are making money by selling you their 'coaching and advice', their tired graphic templates and exaggerated web presence. And if, by some divine intervention, they book you, they'll still take 25% of your fee. At least.

Stay away from these folks. FAR AWAY.

Awhile ago, I mentioned on Facebook that "Friends don't let friends pay Speakers Bureaus". This isn't entirely true, of course. If a bureau actually gets you a gig you weren't on track to get without them, they've earned their commission - generally 25%. This can help you once you're already known and marketable. If you've got several agencies wanting to ride your coattails and booking you once or twice a month, the time and money you'll save in marketing efforts will make the commission worth it.

But if you're paying a bureau just for the right for them to market you, you're most likely spending good money just to feel like you're marketing. Instead of writing a check and waiting for your phone to ring, try the following tried and true methods instead.

1. Tell Your Friends. ALL your friends. You might be surprised how many people you know that don't even realize you're a speaker. We all have an average of 100 friends (of varying degrees) - and so do they. Let them know if they get you booked, you'll give THEM a commission. Even a referral reward may give them the extra incentive to get you your next event.

2. Pick Up the Phone! Yeah, I hate it too. But it's still a great way to meet people and let them know you're there to help them. Make five to ten calls a day to service clubs, associations, and large event planners, among others. Let them know you exist. Isn't your career worth an hour of uncomfortable calling a day? Just like speaking, you'll get better at it the more you do it!

3. Network. A great excuse to get out of the house and away from your computer screen. Chambers and Business groups are an obvious start. But you can also visit some of the very associations and service clubs you might want to call. You'll see what their meetings are like ahead of time, get connected with the right people, and gather some potential material to customize your presentation when they book you.

4. Email, Snailmail, FedEx. Somehow, get your one-sheets and videos in front of people. Even if they don't hire you, you'll be more familiar to them when you call them or meet them.

These are just 4 methods out of many (we haven't even touched on websites, video, social media...) that will be more effective than trying to convince a bureau, reputable or otherwise, to book you before you've hit it big.

We constantly read about how much money we can make as speakers. Financial success won't come without cost - it will take time and persistence to get yourself known and booked on a regular basis. The Speakers Bureau Myth will taunt and tempt you with its siren song. After all, who doesn't want a shortcut to success?

If you've had success (or have a speakers bureau horror story), please share your experiences. I would hope that someone, somewhere, has been helped by a bureau before hitting it big in their own right, and without losing their shirt in the process.

I just haven't heard of it yet...  In the meantime, go grab your next 'gig' - and then Speak & Deliver. Nothing markets you as well as you giving a great presentation that changes the future of your audience.

Monday, September 12, 2011

What is Public Speaking?

Public Speaking would seem easy to define, on the surface. My general take on this is if you are speaking and someone is going to hear it, it's public speaking.

But there are so many different shades to public speaking that I hear arguments from people all the time that sound like this "Oh, I don't do public speaking - I just ____________ (fill in 'talk to clients on the phone', 'give a report to my team', 'teach my Sunday school class') - it's not really public speaking..."

It's safe to say that Public Speaking is like an Ogre - because an Ogre, of course, is like an onion - they have layers.

These layers include, but are not limited to:

- Speaking in front of a large group
- Speaking in front of a small group
- Speaking to customers and vendors
- Speaking in a job or media interview
- Speaking in front of the water cooler
- Speaking to your children
- Speaking to your spouse
- Speaking to your friends

They also include:

- Teaching
- Training
- Preaching
- TV or Radio Announcing
- Stand Up Comedy
- Talking on the Phone
- Public Readings (bible verses, children's books, etc...)
- Webinars
- You Tube Videos
- Voiceover Work

These all require the same basic skills of speaking, in varying degrees. To say "I'm only giving a small report to my boss every week" isn't public speaking, people are selling themselves short, and often depriving themselves of a learning opportunity, by believing what they are doing isn't important enough to do better.

As a coach, I have worked with people from all walks of life, with a diverse range of goals:

- Restaurant wait staff needing better rapport with their diners
- Accountants who didn't want to be boring in front of their association
- Professionals wanting to impress at their next job interview
- Internet Marketers speaking and selling at a large, national conference
- Investment Brokers starting free seminars
- Multi-Level Marketing entrepreneurs expanding their selling skills

Last week, I worked with a company president to help him properly deliver a video voice-over to promote his company. Heck, I've even worked with an animal psychic!

No matter where you speak, who you are speaking to, or what you have to say, you are Public Speaking. When you are Public Speaking, you can always do it better. Find a coach. Join Toastmasters. Go to Dale Carnegie. Take a Community College course.

Invest in yourself. Invest in your audiences. No matter what layer of Public Speaking you are involved with, you want to Speak & Deliver. Everyone deserves it - be the best Ogre you can be!

Sunday, September 11, 2011


U.S. Coast Guard photo by Public Affairs 2nd Class Mike Hvozda.

10 Years Later...Still Speechless.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Toastmasters Friday: Where Leaders Are Made

Two new members joined my small club last night. They've both joined to gain confidence in their public speaking skills - one specifically to help with his accent and mastery of the English language. Both are assigned to positions of speaking and leadership next week - one's the timer, the other vote counter. Easy entry-level slots for new members.

Toastmasters is the preeminent organization worldwide for people to overcome their fear of public speaking and develop their skills as a speaker and communicator at a variety of levels. It also offers leadership training and leadership roles that can be directly transferable to the real world.

GASP! I know what you're thinking: "Rich, what happened to you hating 'Where Leaders Are Made'?" Don't worry, I still think it's incomplete and misleading. But - I've never said Toastmasters doesn't help create leaders.

Whether you are a timer or a vote counter, a club secretary or president, a district officer or an Int'l officer, you will have opportunities to lead. Even if all you are doing is counting votes, the fact that you took the job shows leadership to others, in that you are willing to step forward instead of sitting back and letting others run the show.

I've heard folks say we don't train leaders well, making the tagline a lie.  I disagree. While our leadership training is not as prevalent or obvious at the lower levels as the speaker training, at the higher levels the leadership training is, in some ways, MORE comprehensive than our speaking training. Once you become a District Public Relations Officer, Lt. Governor of Marketing or Education, and District Governor, training becomes frequent and robust.

Others say we don't have enough material to say we have a leadership program worth marketing. Yes and No. Certainly we have more information available about speaking than leading. More speaking awards that are measured and attainable. But leadership material exists. Those who actually read their CC and CL basic manuals will find plenty of information on how to be involved in leadership roles. The Successful Club series offers leadership training modules at the club level. We offer manuals for the club officers. And we can even talk to a mentor!

There is also a contingent who insist we have bad training and create bad leaders. Yes and No. Training can always improve, and we do have some bad leaders. But the training that exists is pretty strong as it is, and we have plenty of great leaders. In fact, the very act of leading will often create a polarizing atmosphere, with people coming down on both sides of the fence, one side saying "You're doing great", the other saying just the opposite. Welcome to leadership.

Toastmasters is, in large part, an exercise in self-direction. The information and opportunities to become great speakers exists, but not everyone leaves Toastmasters a great speaker. Some speakers who have been in Toastmasters for decades still might not have achieved a competence level as high as some who have been in a year and gone on to win a World Championship. Leadership is the same way.

In the same way, there are some lousy officers from the club level on up - folks that get by on doing as little as possible and get the credit anyway. And there are some amazing officers. Both have the same access to information and opportunity. If we don't create 100% great speakers and leaders, is it wholly on TM? Of course not.

Leadership comes in many forms. It will lead to disagreements. It will occasionally lead to taking a stand that divides the thoughts of others. It can also lead to compromise and common ground. Yes, Toastmasters is where leaders are made, even if they usually become speakers first.

If you are looking for an opportunity to lead, to practice leading, to learn leadership skills, to practice banging your head occasionally against brick walls, like leaders often do, Toastmasters is a great sandbox to do that in. Along the way, you'll most likely become a much better speaker than you are today, because you'll be forced to speak consistently throughout your leadership journey, even if you never give a manual speech (good luck becoming an officer without at least giving an Icebreaker...).

No, fellow Toastmasters, I don't disagree with the statement that Toastmasters is where leaders are made. And I still stand by my earlier posts and actions - marketing ourselves as leadership only isn't a great strategy, in my opinion. But I'm willing to find common ground, and least in my own little world.

Both new members started their journey the same way: visiting the club, introducing themselves, doing table topics once or twice, watching speeches and evaluations, and deciding to join. Speaking is the entry point to our organization 99% of the time, even if its just for people to come have a place TO speak, and they no longer fear the process. Leadership happens along the way, and often in gangbusters.

Toastmasters. Speak Today, Lead Tomorrow.
Before you lead someone, your voice must be heard. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

Speak & Connect - It Goes Both Ways

Connection is a vital part of public speaking, yet it is often one of the last aspects of a presentation speakers think about. We can get caught up in our content, our slides, our gestures, our humor, our performance - and forget our audience is not there to watch us, they are there to listen to us.

In other words, you are not their as an actor - you are not separated by a fourth wall, be it the movie screen, television screen, or even the invisible screen between Broadway performers and their audiences.

Because they are there to listen, we need to make sure we connect to them by identifying with them. Notice I didn't say connecting with them by getting them to identify with US. Before they will identify with you and what you have to say, before you can bring them into YOUR presentation and message, they must know you understand them, that you know the message THEY have brought in the room.

What are you doing in the first few minutes of your presentation to let your audience know you 'get' them? That you aren't just some speaker brought in to spout off a few platitudes and sell some books?

An easy answer is 'Know Your Audience' - but it goes beyond interviewing employees and reading up on the company. It means grasping their pain and their joy, and sharing it with them enough that they know that you know that they know. You know?

Use humor, use a recent event they'll recognize, use a conversation you had with the CEO. Stop performing long enough to actually look into the audience and speak directly to them. Say something that signals to them that you are, if only for the next hour, a part of their organization, a part of their mindset.

Once you are part of them, they will be more willing to be a part of you, your presentation, and your message. Once you are a part of them, you are poised to Speak, & Deliver!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Toastmasters Thursday: Revisiting the Rebrand - and YES, I Still Love Toastmasters

This week I created a bit of a stir on my Facebook wall after announcing that I have stepped down from President from my home club and chosen to switch membership to a smaller club where I will not have an official leadership role - and that it was my feelings on the re-brand that led me to this decision.

A little background. Over the last few years, Toastmasters upper leadership has put in a new strategic plan, which included a re-brand of our organization. This re-brand was more than changing colors and updating a logo. This re-brand is designed to change the way our organization is perceived in the world.

For over 80 years, Toastmasters has been viewed as a place to overcome your fear of public speaking. If you wanted to speak at work, in church, or just in general, Toastmasters would get you over your fears - help your 'butterflies fly in formation' so to speak. TM does a spectacularly good job at this mission, and members join specifically for this benefit.

As people become more and more involved in the organization, they find themselves in a position to take leadership roles - a club officer, a district officer, even International Board positions. Because of the need for leadership in a worldwide organization, leadership became a co-existing, if somewhat secondary, aspect of Toastmasters. A formal leadership track was introduced, and over the years has continued to transform. It's still not as complete or comprehensive as the speaking track, but they are committed to continuing to 'beef it up'.

So committed in fact, that the re-brand has essentially changed the direction of the organization from a 'Speaking Organization that offers Leadership Training" to a "Leadership Organization that offers Speaking Training". The new tagline changes our first impression to the world from "come learn to speak" to "Toastmasters: Where Leaders Are Made".

This strikes me as a poor move for our organization for a few reasons:

1. After 80 years of marketing ourselves as a place to learn to speak, we are now marketing as a place to become a leader. This is a confusing message. If I want to be a speaker, does this mean Toastmasters is no longer the place to go? If I want to be a leader, and then go to a club where all I really see is speaking, am I the victim of a bait and switch?

2. The re-brand comes with no change in our leadership program. No new manuals, awards, programs. People keep saying "Rich, nothing has changed, your club won't feel a thing" essentially. Well, yeah, that's part of the problem. If the organization really wants to shift gears, then launch more than lip service. Launch an actual program. When people ask me what the re-brand means to them, and my only answer is "nothing yet, we just need to update our banner, lectern and website, and start telling people Toastmasters is Where Leaders are Made, it feels more than a little empty.

3. I don't think the organization is really intending to make speaking secondary - even if the marketing makes it look that way. If this is the case, then the marketing campaign needs to reflect the facts - that speaking and leadership training exist in Toastmasters on a level plane. Don't toss aside our speaking message just to push leadership. Push them together. To use a very tired cliche - don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

4. IF, and this is a BIG IF, Toastmasters really does want to make leadership the primary component of our organization, then our programs and clubs and culture will be changing drastically over the next 5-10 years. We will essentially go from building cars to building planes. And, IF this is what they want to do, so be it - but it won't be an organization I want to belong to any longer. But again, that's a BIG IF, and I tend to think #3 is closer to reality.

So, why did I step down as a president and switch clubs? Did I do it to 'stick it to the organization'? Uh, no. Don't think they would really care anyway. Did I do it to 'stick it to our local Brand Ambassador'? Uh, no. He's a friend of mine - and we agree to disagree.

I did it because I disagree with the move to the point that I couldn't be a good little footsoldier/mouthpiece for the organization in a leadership role. That's just not my personality, for good or bad. For the good of the club, they needed a leader willing to buy in to the new direction.

Did I need to leave the club? Probably not. But there's another club closer to my location that is rebuilding, and they need some experienced members. I don't need to officially 'lead' as a TM leader, but I can lead as a speaker, and experienced TM, without getting mixed up in what TM wants me to say or think about the organization.

I still recommend Toastmasters for those who want to overcome their fear of public speaking, or get feedback on speaking they already do. I owe a lot to Toastmasters for leading me to my current avocation as a speaker and coach. If TM changes to the degree I mention in Scenario #4, I probably won't be around for it - because it won't be the organization I knew, or owe the debt to. Until that doomsday scenario plays out, I'm still a Toastmaster - a speaker and a mentor to the best of my ability.

Many of you will disagree with my viewpoint on the branding, my choice to step down and switch clubs so that I can change my role in the organization. I've been called out as a quitter in public by a few. That's fine. Many of you will agree with me as well. Perhaps a Board Member or two will run across this post, and revisit the plan. Perhaps not. In the end, I did what I felt was right for my club, for me, and even for the good of Toastmasters. We all are entitled to our opinions - and if you disagree with me, that's OK. It's also OK that I disagree with YOU - and hopefully we can all be friends anyway.

My long-term hope for Toastmasters is that this over-correction in course comes back to center - and that our marketing message again reflects who we are and what we do. Speaking AND Leadership vs. Leadership which includes Speaking. It's Marketing 101 - sell to your strength, then up-sell. Even McDonald's, which has been working on going upscale with its coffeehouse branding continues to sell its core - consistent fast food at a low price. Toastmasters offers inexpensive speaking training, and if you want a leadership latte, we have that too.

Toastmasters: Where Leaders Are Made? Yeah, sort of. Truthfully, I believe its: Toastmasters, Where Speakers are Made, and Given the Chance to Be Leaders - If They Are So Inclined.


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