Speaking for Success

Why bother?

Why should you spend time improving your public speaking skills? As long as you don’t have to speak too frequently and you can get through a speech without stumbling too much, who cares? I do and you should. And you obviously do, which is why you are here.

Improving your speaking does much more than enable you to deliver a message to a crowd. Knowing that you can address an audience with less discomfort is a real self-confidence builder. And that self-confidence will snowball and impact every area of your life, personal and professional. After all, everyone feels and performs better when they have confidence in themselves and their skills.

So, what can you do to boost your skills in the public speaking arena? TED Talk Curator Chris Anderson has been reviewing potential speakers for over a decade. In his own Talk, he discusses four major things you can do to ensure a successful speech.

  • – Stick to One Great Idea. Studies show that the great majority of people remember very little of a speech just a few hours after they hear it. By sticking to one idea, you can spend your time making your speech more memorable.
  • – Give your audience a reason to care. There is nothing new under the sun, as the old saying goes. Why should your audience care enough about what you have to say to actually remember some of it?
  • – Use language that resonates with the audience. Choosing the right words to motivate and inspire your listeners makes a big difference in their engagement with you and your topic.
  • – Have something worth sharing. Why is it important? Why do you care about it? Why should they?

How to Make It Happen?

  • – Do you have a choice? Is your speech topic prescribed or do you have some room to pick and choose? Either way, you’ll want to find the seed of the subject you’ll be discussing and coax it into germination. That is your One Great Idea.
  • – Share your passion! Find an angle of your subject that inspires you. Talking about something you truly care about makes public speaking much less nerve wracking because you can focus on spreading the message instead of your nerves. Give them a reason to care by showing them that you care! Passion is contagious!
  • – Tell a story. Present it as a mystery. However you do it, pick words that will motivate and inspire. Use a thesaurus to help you choose just the right word. Adjectives are especially helpful in bringing your story to life.
  • – Why is your speech worth listening to? Does it have the ability to make your audience more successful? Happier? Healthier? Consider why they are there and what they stand to gain. What’s the takeaway?

Try It on for Size

Pick a topic that you have recently spoken about, whether it was a one-on-one conversation or a discussion in a larger setting. Try out some of Chris Anderson’s suggestions and walk it through my How to Make It Happen tips and let me know how it goes.

For more great tips on how to improve your public speaking skills, sign up for my weekly newsletter!

Vocal Variety

Vocal variety is a great tool to add to your speaking skills kit. It includes things like your tone, your speed, your volume, and your pitch. It’s something you that already use in everyday conversation, but it can be easy to forget about it if you are nervous before you have to give a presentation. Your voice is an instrument that you can use it to great effect with just a little practice. It’s a way to add interest to your speech and hold your audience’s attention.

Turn it Up

Parents often use a whisper when they want to calm or get the attention of an upset child. Why? Because it difficult to hear what someone is whispering unless you are quiet and able to focus on the words. Try using a quieter voice to emphasize a point or regain the fading attention of an audience. Similarly, a pause can capture attention due to the absence of sound. The so-called “dramatic pause” calls attention to what you are about to say. The classic example of this is Henny Youngman’s joke, “Now, you take my wife…please.”

Slow it down

You can also drag out your words for effect. Instead of saying it was a long trip, say looooong, drawing out the middle of the word. Speeding up has the opposite effect. Think of the commercials you hear where an actor is reading the fine print at very high speeds. It can be annoying when it goes on for that long, but it’s definitely an attention getter.

Although you don’t want to go quite that fast, you can definitely play with speed to great effect. Watch how actor Danny Kaye and some of the cast of the 1956 comedy musical The Court Jester masterfully use a variety of speeds to keep viewers on the edge of their seats as they try to remember whether they should drink from the “flagon with the dragon” or the “vessel with the pestle” to avoid death by poisoning.

Onomatopoeia

Sizzle. Spray. Gurgle. Onomatopoeia is a word that is associated with its actual sound. If you can weave a couple of them into your speech, you can capture the audience’s imagination and hold it. This is especially effective if you are weaving a story through your presentation. Words like these are often used in children’s books, which are a great tool for practice.

Emoting for Effect

Ham sandwich. Ham sandwich? Ham sandwich! This is a popular phrase to use when practicing using a variety of tones and varying your speed and pitch. Try saying “ham sandwich” in different ways, such as excitedly, sadly, happily, or lovingly. How does it take on different meaning as you vary your phrasing? What effect might that have on your audience?

I’m Lovin’ It!

Talking about what you love is a great way to practice vocal variety. If you have a choice of what your will speak about, choose something that genuinely interests or excites you. You will find yourself adding vocal variety without having to think about it because you want your listeners to be excited about it, too.

Give it a try! Pick a favorite topic and practice telling a friend about it. Notice how often you change your tone or speed or use more interesting words to describe the subject.

Let me know how it goes by joining the conversation in the comment section below!

Make A Speech Memorable

Let’s get down to business. How can you make it easier for your audience to remember your speech? The most important thing you’ll need to do is capture their imagination.

To get started, think about a movie or book that has stayed with you over the years. Great writers and film makers know how to grab your attention and keep you on the edge of your seat. How do they do it?

The Intro: Memorable books and films grab you from the very first sentence or opening scene. There is a mystery that captures your imagination.  Take a look at the opening scene from Jaws, for example.

In this case, it’s the sudden death of a beautiful girl swimming in the ocean. The cause of the death is not seen in the introduction, but it will become clear and take center stage in the movie. The audience wants to know what happened to her and whether it can be stopped.

When you take the stage, it’s best to avoid the traditional self-introduction. The people attending your presentation already know who you are.

If need be, have the person who introduces you establish your credibility, or have that background information available in a handout as people come in. It’s your job to grab their attention with a startling, profound, funny, or otherwise engaging beginning, or hook.

The Hook: Writers and screenwriters have a central story, or idea, to share. They have chosen to spend a great deal of time and money and physical, and emotional labor to tell you about it. They believe it’s important and worth the effort. What is your central idea? What do you want your audience to walk away knowing, believing, or doing? Do you believe in the idea yourself? Why?

The Audience: Writers know their audience. With some exceptions, movies and books are targeted at a very specific audience.

They know what their audience cares about and what will inspire them. They use this knowledge to inform the creative choices they make when presenting the story. Who is your audience and what inspires them?

The Sequence: All stories have a beginning, middle and end. Some storytellers choose to move in chronological order, while others have flashbacks, prequels, sequels, and or an afterword.

Think about what order will have the most impact. Is there a surprising ending that can be told first, followed by the backstory? Or is chronological a better order? What would be most engaging from your audience’s perspective?

The Spice: Visuals are like spice. They add something special to your speech. But if over-utilized, they will drown out the central message.

Limit your visual to no more than one new one every ten minutes. Like great passages in books and films, they make ideal transition markers between important points. Make the image bold and keep the words on the screen to a minimum.

The Wrap: Both your introduction and conclusion should comprise about 15% each of your speech. You’ve spent a lot of time on your presentation and want people to leave with something memorable. This is the time to conclude the story you were telling, present a call to action, remind the audience of your central point, or wow them with a compelling quote or testimony. Go out strong!

Finally, remember that the attendees came to hear you. This already give you an edge. Take that as your starting point and make the rest happen by doing the work ahead of time to engage your audience with a memorable speech. Try using some of these tips the next time you are invited to speak and let me know how it went.

What are some of your favorite ways to make a speech memorable? I would love to hear them!

Commonly Misused Words and Phrases – Part 2

Here we are again, back to look at the other half of the dozen commonly misused words and phrases we are covering. Be sure to look back at Part 1 if you missed it!

We’ll pick up with number seven today.

  • 7. You’ve got another thing/think coming. People often say “thing” instead of “think” when using this phrase indicative of a stern warning. But it’s really “think”, not “thing”. Think about it this way: if we add the silent but understood first half of the phrase, it would read, “If you think XYZ, you’ve got another think coming!” It’s essentially saying that you need to reconsider your earlier thought, or understanding, of a situation.
  • 8. Imply/infer. The speaker in a conversation is the one who implies something. He suggests it in a roundabout way without saying it outright: “She implied that I would be laid off from work next week.” Conversely, the listener in a conversation, infers something (draws a conclusion) based on what the speaker says, “Based on her comments, I inferred that I would be laid off next week.
  • 9. Couldn’t/could care less. This one is easy to get backwards. People sometimes incorrectly say “I could care less,” when they mean just the opposite. “I could care less” indicates that it is possible for me to care less than I actually do. The correct way to say it is “I couldn’t care less,” meaning that I care so little now that I could not care any less than I do.
  • 10. Acute/chronic. This one is pretty straight forward, because the two words have entirely different meanings. “Acute” refers to a high degree of severity of a condition, i.e. “acute bronchitis”. “Chronic,” on the other hand, means on-going or constantly recurs, “She has chronic bronchitis that has persisted for a decade.” They can also be use together, “She has acute, chronic bronchitis.”
  • 11. Recur/reoccurring. The discussion of acute and chronic in number 10, above, brings us to these two easily confused words. Recur means to happens repeatedly, perhaps at regular or predictable intervals. Reoccur means something happens more than once but not predictably or at close intervals. High tide and low tide recur. Tsunamis reoccur.
  • 12. Disinterested/uninterested. Disinterested means unprejudiced or not favoring one thing over another, as in, “The judge was known for being completely disinterested while on the bench.” Uninterested means not having any interest, or being bored, by something: “She was uninterested in baseball because it was such a slow game.”

And there you have! As I wrote in Part 1, using words correctly is akin to polishing your shoes.

Many people don’t think about it or don’t bother, but those who do have an advantage in the way they are perceived by friends and colleagues.

Getting these right and showing that you are well-polished can make a big difference when you are up for a promotion, trying to win a new client, or making a presentation.

Choose just one a week to work on and let me know how it goes!

 

Commonly Misused Words and Phrases – Part 1

We all want to feel confident when speaking. Whether it’s a one-on-one conversation, a presentation to a small group, or a speech to a large audience, knowing that we are communicating as effectively as possible is important.

It not only ensures we are getting our message across, but it is a part of being confident in how we present ourselves to the world, just as much as the clothes we choose to wear.

An important part of creating a high level of confidence is found in our word choices. There are a great many words and phrases in the English language that are easily mispronounced and/or confused with similar-sounding words or with words that have a similar meaning.

Getting these right when we talk is like the polish we use to shine our shoes. It’s that extra “something” that makes people take note of you. In this two-art series, we’ll take a look at a dozen of the most commonly misused words and phrases.

  1. 1. Get your goat/goad. The goat in this phrase is a metaphor for a peaceful state of mind. When someone irritates you, we say they get your goat. The word goat is often mispronounced as goad.
  2. 2. For all intents and purposes/intensive purposes. The correct phrase is “intents and purposes.” It is sometimes misheard and repeated as “intensive purposes.”
  3. 3. Few/less. Use the word few when the item can be counted, e.g. He has 25 jelly beans. Use less when the exact amount is not known or can’t be easily measured, e.g. She has less milk than her sister.
  4. 4. Who/whom. If you can replace the word with ‘he’ or ‘she,’ who is the correct choice. If you can replace it with ‘him’ or ‘her,’ use whom. To make it a little easier, associate the “m” in “him” with the “m” in “whom.” The more you do it, the easier it will become.
  5. 5. Hang/hung/hanged. Hang and hung refer to placement or position of something as in “Will you hang the picture on the wall” and “She hung the picture on the wall” or The picture hung on the wall.” They are present and past tense, respectively. Hanged, however, refers specifically to executing someone by hanging, i.e. “An innocent man was hanged that day.”
  6. 6. Regardless/irregardless. Irregardless is considered a non-standard use of the word regardless. Those in the know eschew it in favor of the simple and correct “regardless.” Always use the latter and you’ll always be correct, regardless of what others say about “irregardless.”

There you have it! Six of the top dozen words and phrases that are commonly misused. I’ll be covering the other half dozen in Part 2.

Meanwhile, let me know what gets your goat when other people speak.

PowerPoint Failures During A Speech

You’re doing great! It’s about 2 minutes into your speech and you’ve never felt more confident.

You started with a strong opening and, just as practiced, you stepped away from the podium to take advantage of the large stage. You have been looking up behind you to draw the audience’s attention to your PowerPoint slide with it’s bright colors and clear bullet list of points you are making.

You turn to make eye contact with your audience and – what? — they are all looking down at their phones or whispering to each other.

Your confidence goes out the open window and you lose your place. You struggle to regain the audience’s attention and barley make it through your presentation, speeding through the words so you can get off the stage.

What happened?

You worked really hard to plan your speech and make sure your audience could keep up with you through your slides.

You know that visuals are an important tool to engage your audience. You’ve read up on public speaking tips and thought you had all the bases covered.

Let’s take a look at why PowerPoint presentations sometimes fail and what you can do to prevent it from happening to you.

  • – What is the purpose of a slide in a speech? It shouldn’t serve as a teleprompter, causing you to turn your back on the audience for extended periods of time. If you’re going to use slides, make sure they are there to simply emphasize or illustrate a point you’re making. A single bold image will have much more impact than a paragraph of text.
  • – How much is too much? There should never be more than six words on a slide and the font size should be larger than 30 pt so your audience can see it easily. Try not to use more than one slide for every major point you are making.
  • – Color, if you need to use it, should be simple and there for a reason. It should highlight or emphasize an element of the slide. Too many colors are a distraction.
  • – Image quality counts. Choose your images carefully. The stock graphics that come with PowerPoint are tired and outdated. Make sure the image you choose is sharp and clearly relates to the point you are making.

Finally, think about when you will display the image. If you have selected a good one, put it up just as you transition to a new point in your speech. Use it to grab your listeners’ attention and make them curious about what you’re planning to tell them.

Then make your point and tie the image to your idea. Helping them associate you and your idea with an image makes it easier for them to remember you later.

PowerPoint slides and visuals in general are a great way to keep your audience focused as you move through your speech. Just don’t let them take your place as the center of attention.

Try taking a recent speech you gave or one that is coming up and review these tips to improve your results. Let me know what you think.

I would love to hear about your success and challenges in using PowerPoint in your presentation!

Slides

Have you ever gone to a class or a presentation prepared to just listen or perhaps jot down a thought or two, only to be been bombarded with slide after slide of text, making you feel as if you had to get it all down? You may have left feeling as if you had drowned in a sea of information with nothing to think about after you left and a few pages of scrawled notes.

Slides are meant to punctuate your presentation, not outline it or display it nearly word for word. Remember: slides and visuals in aren’t for you. They are for you audience.

Slides with several bulleted points are too busy for the audience and takes their attention off of you. But when used correctly, slides can underscore the most important aspect of each section of your speech in your listeners’ mind.

What’s In?

Consider your audience. No more than six words on a slide, according to speaker and entrepreneur Seth Godin. And nothing on the lower quarter to third of the bottom of the slide.

Remember, depending on the setup of the room, many of your audience members may be seeing your visuals over the heads of several rows of other people. What about the design element? Find a font and color combination you like and stick with it throughout your presentation.

A powerful photograph paired with a few words can help your message resonate.

What’s out?

An entire document. Too many words will be lost on your audience and most of them won’t even be able to see it from their seats. Long lists or entire sections of your speech don’t belong.

Never, ever turn your back on your audience to read from the slide. It’s just as important as ever to make eye contact as you talk.

A good rule of thumb is no more than 10 slides for a thirty minute presentation. Even fewer is better.

Saving the Best for Last

Create your slides after your presentation is written. This will allow you to pull out a few key points you want to emphasize rather than focusing on the content of your speech at the same time you are creating slides.

Think of it as using a highlighter to mark the most important parts of an article and take a look at Nancy Duarte’s tips for creating great slides.

What Next?

Take advantage of a speech you recently gave where you wanted to use slides but weren’t sure how to, or did use slides but weren’t entirely happy with the outcome. Use some of the tips we discussed as well as this great beginner’s guide to master slide basics and see what you can come with.

You can also sit down with your speech and go through it highlight the points you want to illustrate. Transfer each point to one side of a small card or Post-It note and, on the other side, write down no more than three words that describe what you want to illustrate. You can use those words to look for images later.

Send me an example of one your slides that you’re most proud of. I would love to know how it went in the comment section below!

Making Eye Contact with Your Audience

There are several great reasons to improve your eye contact skills when speaking to a group.

  • – It’s an effective way to connect with them on an individual basis.
  • – It increases the support and buy-in you have from the audience as a whole.
  • – When you are looking at one person directly, the people in their immediate vicinity feel you have also acknowledged them.
  • – It can calm your nerves by helping you focus on one person rather than the entire crowd.
  • – It will boost your confidence when people acknowledge you in return with a slight nod or a look in their eye that tell you they see you.

So now you know why improving your eye contact skill is worth investing some time in. What can you do to improve?

How to Practice

If you rarely make eye contact during your presentations and the thought of it makes you a little uncomfortable, remember that you aren’t alone. Eye contact is powerful and it can be a little intimidating because you are inviting someone to notice you. Here are some ways to practice.

Use the everyday opportunities you have

Spend a few more seconds at the cash register when you shop, looking your cashier in the eye as you chat and go through the transaction. Many people stand at a checkout counter for an entire transaction without ever looking the cashier in the eye. Having a meal out with clients or colleagues?

Look them in the eye during conversation when you have the floor, moving from one person to the next as you talk.

Speed Talk

This is a great exercise for two. Take turns picking a topic your partner is likely to know little or nothing about. Give them the topic and have them talk for a minimum of two minutes while making direct eye contact with you.

Have a Conversation

When you are speaking, treat each person in the audience as if you were speaking to them alone. How long should you hold one person’s gaze?

Sheri Jeavons of Power Presentations, Inc. says it should be for the length of a complete sentence, beginning to end.

Although you are talking to a group, it’s really a collective conversation. You can gain valuable feedback when you address the audience members one at a time. Most will nod slightly or look back at you in a way that indicates they know you see them and they understand you. But if someone is not looking at you or appears bored or confused, move on to the next person.

If you see several people like this, you can make some changes in real time to recapture those whose attention has slipped. Add some vocal variety as you talk by raising or lowering your voice or pitch and using descriptive words that will resonate with the audience.

Over the next few days, make a point to try out some of these exercises.

If you are in a group like Toastmasters, use your next meeting to work on making eye contact with your audience and see how it improves your speaking skills. Then send me an email to let me know how it went!

Get Emotional

What do you think of when you hear the word emotional?

  • Crying?
  • Laughing?
  • Yelling?
  • Arguing?

The idea of being emotional can connote being out of control. While that is sometimes true, it also refers to engagement and excitement. And that is something you want your listeners to feel.

As a speaker, you want your audience to be emotional, but there are many ways to show emotion without being out of control. Likewise, there are many ways to evoke it.

Creating passion in an audience means your presentation will have more impact and stay with the listeners long after they are gone. It increases the likelihood that they will buy into what you are telling them or make the choice to use your services over someone else’s.

Passion

What is important to you about your idea? Why should your audience care about it? What makes is better than other, similar products on the market?

Don’t leave your audience wondering about any of the questions. Answer them in your speech.

Show that you care about your topic by being so well prepared that your words come naturally rather than from a piece of paper on the podium. This allows your audience to learn what excites you. Enthusiasm is contagious!

Facial Expressions

Make eye contact with people in your audience, one person at a time, and smile when it feels natural. Most people react to a smile with a smile of their own which is a powerful brain trigger for endorphins.

Try scanning the crowd and stopping with your gaze on one person each time you change topics or make a transition.

Body Language

Your body language can stoke excitement in an audience. Don’t pace back and forth, but do move around, engaging different sections of the listeners, focusing more of your attention on one area of the group when you are closer to them before moving to another.

Use gestures to convey emotions and excitement about your project. Step forward when you want to emphasize an important point.

Visuals

Keep your visuals simple. Slides should be clean and bright, easily understood. Use no more than a half dozen words per slide. Look for compelling images that will have an emotional impact. There shouldn’t be so many words on your slide that you feel compelled to read from it.

Word Choice

Active verbs and descriptive adverbs will evoke more attention. Look for ways to use them in your speech.

Tell your audience that you’re excited to be here, not just happy. And then tell them why and what excites you.

Emotional Need

Consider why your audience is there. What do they hope to gain — especially emotionally — from you? Insight? Knowledge? What do you want them to leave knowing or believing? That your product is the one they should choose? Why? What makes it different?

In closing, let me tell you why emotional buy-in from your audience is so important: it means you can influence people when it comes to making decisions.

A friend of mine recently went looking for some flooring to install in her new home. She visited a big-box store and two independent dealers. The second independent dealer won her business. Members of his family worked for him. He had his products in his own home and his dog spent the day at his company. All of these spoke to him as a person and helped him make an emotional connection with my friend. Although he wasn’t making a speech, per se, he was giving a presentation. Without even knowing it, his own enthusiasm for his business and his product helped make the sale.

Before your next presentation, try thinking about how you can evoke emotion in your audience. Let me know what you did and how it worked for you!

Try Visual Storytelling When Presenting

Visual communication is closely tied to the art of storytelling. It’s definitely an area worth becoming proficient in, because focused imagery makes your message more compelling and memorable.

Photo Credit: http://cdn2.hubspot.net/hubfs/556655/Images/nonprofit_storytelling_blog.jpg

Too many images, or ones that are cluttered and not directly related to your message will detract from your speech.

Today I want to take a look at how to use images in a way that will have the most impact on your audience.

What are you trying to say?

What are your main points? What do you want your audience members to walk away remembering?

Sit down and take a few minutes to think about this. Then write down no more than three things you want them to remember after you are gone. Highlight the key words in your text and begin thinking about visuals that reinforce them.

Authenticity

It is important that your visuals feel authentic. Look for opportunities to use photos or video clips of actual clients rather than stock photos or outdated clip art.

Your audience members want to know how your brand or idea applies to them today.

Or look for stunning photos that capture the ideas behind your brand. Is your product future-oriented?

Consider using a photo of something or someone in motion, moving away from the viewer. There are many ways to represent a brand or idea.

What will have the most impact on the viewer?

Body Language

Even in visual storytelling your body language, presence, and personality are a critical part of telling a story as part of a speech. We have talked about body language here before.

Remember to take advantage of the tools you always have on hand. Gesturing, making eye contact, and moving around as you talk add a great deal to your presentation.

It’s another great way to engage an audience and make an impact on them.

Size Matters

Big and bold is the way to go in most cases. Large, simple image or clips will best grab the viewer’s attention.

Plan ahead by thinking about where your audience will be sitting in relation to the screen they will see. Can they see over each other’s heads?

Consider where best to place your visuals for maximum impact. Plan your movements so that you won’t be in your own way when you share the photos or videos.

Diversity

Use images that are culturally relevant to your audience. Diversity is important today and your choice of visuals should reflect that. Society is changing and inclusiveness is more important than ever before, especially if your business has an online presence.

It’s Your Turn

Give some thought to visual storytelling for your next presentation. Jot down some ideas and look for images or video clips that represent your brand or idea.

Maybe it’s time to make a short video with one of your clients who can talk about what you have done for them. Let me know what you do and how it works for you.

And if you have any ideas t share, I would love to hear about it!