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Speaking Techniques

Movement when speaking

Speaker at a business convention and presentations. The audience on the large number of people. The announcer with a microphone in his handsIf you read my last post, you’ve probably concluded it’s better to move during your talk than to stand still. So how do you move effectively?

Public speaking coaches are largely united on this point: move only  for a reason. Don’t just pace back and forth like a caged tiger. Some feel that’s a captivating display of energy. It’s actually an irritant that will distract people from your message.

When you move, then, have a purpose in mind. Here are a few good ones:

  1. You’re about to make a point. Take a couple of steps toward the audience to get their attention and signal that something’s coming.
  2. You’ve made your point. Take a step or two back to signal that the point’s been made and you’re about to change gears.
  3. You’re transitioning. Take a step or two to the side so your physical position signals a change in your talk. This is a great opportunity to address a new segment of the audience, too.
  4. You’re illustrating some action you are describing: “Slowly, I turned.” When words and action combine, they become more memorable.

Here are a couple of fine points:

  1. When you step to the side, lead with the foot closest to your destination. As a young speaker I failed to do that and looked so awkward people thought I was going to collapse.
  2. Don’t cross the slide projector’s beam on your way from here to there. Yeah, Steve Jobs crossed the beam, but he was Steve Jobs and could get away with it.

Here’s a final thought:

Don’t choreograph your moves. Be yourself. People want to see the real you. Your motion, when you are yourself, shows your confidence.

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To move or not to move

Man standing on a podium under spotlights, paralyzed by speech anxiety, EPS 8 vector illustration, no transparenciesShould you plant yourself behind the lectern when you speak in public? Or should you roam the stage at will?

It depends. It depends on what fits the occasion, what equipment you’re offered, and your own style of speaking. Even so, there are some extremes best avoided.

The first extreme is to just stand there behind the lectern. Lecterns are meant to hold a written speech, which is why good speakers tend to avoid them. Good speakers are not likely to read a written speech. They speak directly to their audience. Their eyes are up and active. They engage listeners with those eyes and with the sound of their voice. If they need notes, the notes are minimal—just enough to remind them of their major points and perhaps an important detail or two they want to make sure of.  That can easily be handled with a couple of 3 x 5 cards to be viewed at a glance. Good speakers know a lectern will chain them in place and may even make them look defensive, hiding behind a castle wall.

Then again, they may have little choice. If the sound system is a single microphone attached to the lectern, then they may just have to speak from the lectern. Even then, though, they can engage the audience by addressing first this person over here, and then that one up there, in a pattern that eventually includes the whole audience.

So check out your venue in advance. See how it’s set up and how the sound system works. If you are free to move around the stage, that’s your best bet. But even then, there are pitfalls to avoid. Stay tuned for our next post.

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How not to moderate

The Showman interviewer with blank. Young elegant man holding microphone against white background.Showman concept.If you ever moderate a panel, here’s a list of things you don’t want to do:

  1. Mispronounce everything—names, titles, awards, everything. Why should you be ready?
  2. Introduce everyone in one fell swoop. The audience will never associate your introduction with the panelist you’ve introduced and will easily forget what each brings to the party.
  3. Spend the first 20 minutes reading the introductions. The tedium! Everyone will stop listening and forget who is who before the panelists begin to speak. Really, don’t even look up.
  4. Dominate everything. Make it about you, not the experts.
  5. Yet, step back during the Q&A. Forget bringing a steady hand to the proceedings, fielding questions and assigning them to the one best qualified to answer. Let ‘em fend for themselves.

One of us recently attended a panel discussion moderated in just that way. It was a disaster. Take a note from Toastmasters. Rory Vaden, second-place winner of the 2007 Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking, once compared the roles of speaker vs. moderator: “When you are the speaker, the spotlight is on you. When you are the moderator, you become the spotlight operator. It’s your job to make the panelists look good and you should fade away into the background.”

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A toast!

side view of champagne glass in male hand isolated on white backgroundWhat if you have to give a toast at a company gathering this month? How do you do it right?

One of our partners remembers a toast delivered by her CEO back in the day. He talked about all the success his agency had had during the past year, but finished every sentence with, “ . . . but that isn’t good enough.”

He thought he was encouraging people to hit a higher bar in the coming year. But when people’s best (and largely successful) efforts are dismissed, they do not feel warm or encouraged. His toast had the opposite effect. There’s nothing like making everyone feel inadequate.

Don’t do that.

Instead, remember that sentiment is the thing. Don’t try humor; humor is overrated. Instead, do kindness. In the beginning, the middle, and the end.

No notes.

But what if I don’t know what to say? 

Of course you know what to say.  You know these people professionally better than anyone else.  Just look at them and tell them how you feel about their work.

What about making a point?

No one is looking for a point.  They’re looking to be touched.  Get your audience to like themselves (and you) more than they did before you started speaking.

To do this right, pretend you are talking to someone in a bar.  What would you say to that person about your people at work?  Figure that out (mostly leave out anything negative) and there’s your toast.

Follow this technique:

  1. Stand up.
  2. Hold your glass chest high. Keep it there during the entire toast. Arm fatigue serves as a great, natural toast timer.
  3. Remain still, in one place, until you’ve finished talking. Then raise your glass and drink.
  4. Prepare to hear that you did a great job. Because you did.
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What we saw that wasn’t so great

Our last post covered the Rise of the Rest pitch competition on Oct. 12, which included some great, well-rehearsed pitches. But some could have been better.

  • Several presenters weren’t sure how the clicker worked and so stumbled and bumbled their way through their slide decks, advancing when they did not want to advance and going back a slide or two when that was not desired.
  • Several presenters also had WAY too much info on their slides. Putting three screens from your website into one projected image befuddles the audience. What am I looking at? What should I look at first? What’s the most important stuff? How am I supposed to read type that is that small?
  • Several had weak endings to their presentations and did not even include an ask. Audiences remember the first thing you say and the last thing. When $100,000 is on the line, make sure the judges remember how much good that money can do if they award it to you.
  • During the Q & A, one presenter kept her hands behind her back. Keep your hands visible–it increases trust.
  • One presenter ran out of time. When you rehearse, you have to allow time for audience reaction. Pause during your run-throughs when you expect your listeners to chuckle, gasp, be stunned, whatever; otherwise, on The Day, you will run long.
  • When the emcee introduces you as, “And now, here’s Jane Smith from the XYZ Company,” do not start by saying, “Hi, my name is Jane Smith and I’m from the XYZ Company.” Your  audience heard it the first time. Don’t waste precious seconds by repeating something they already know. Use an attention-getting opening instead. For example, “Look at the person on your left and the one on your right. Statistically speaking, one of the three of you will get cancer sometime in your lifetime.”
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“I’m sorry, but . . . .”

Businessman and woman standing so shadows look like she's giving him a giftDo you always find yourself apologizing? Even when some would say you’ve done little or nothing to apologize for?

Studies suggest that if you answered “yes,” you’re probably female. That may be a stereotype, but it’s apparently one grounded in reality. Women do indeed apologize more often than men.

But wait. It goes deeper. A 2010 study published in Psychological Science 1) suggests this pattern has nothing to do with egos (i.e., men refuse to apologize because it makes them look like losers; women apologize because they’re not assertive).  Both women and men apologize when they feel an apology is warranted. It’s just that men seem to have a higher threshold of what constitutes offensive behavior.

Now we’re getting somewhere.

Research conducted by Carol Kinsey Goman 2) about communication in the workplace noted a consistent strength in female communication: the ability to read body language and pick up nonverbal cues. Males, she found, are less sensitive to audience reactions. Thus, it may be that women perceive more offenses because they are more focused on the experiences of other people. They are also more likely to use tentative speech forms—qualifiers, hedges, and fillers—when speaking (e.g, “kind of” or “sorry to bother you”) because they are more sensitive to the possible effect of their words.

Males, on the other hand, may have a higher threshold for social pain. They are less likely to apologize because they are less likely to perceive that an offense has been committed. When they use a tentative form it is more likely meant to take the edge off a direct statement (“Perhaps if you turn to page 2 of your text you will see what I mean”).

The point of this is not to admonish either women or men to change their ways—just to be aware of this key difference in communication. When women apologize they are not necessarily being self-effacing, just displaying the empathy they may feel is warranted. When men seem overly blunt and direct it’s not necessarily that they’re trying to be overbearing, just that they see no reason to be less than direct and to-the-point.

As you prepare to address any audience, it’s worthwhile to learn whether it will be exclusively male, exclusively female, or some proportion of the two. That can have a bearing on how you present your information. It can also have a bearing on how well you understand your next workplace interaction with a member of another gender.

 

1) Schumann, K., & Ross, M. (2010). Why Women Apologize More Than Men: Gender Differences in Thresholds for Perceiving Offensive BehaviorPsychological Science, 21(11).

2) Goman, Carol Kinsey (2016). Is your Communication Style Dictated by Your Gender? Forbes online:
https://www.forbes.com/sites/carolkinseygoman/2016/03/31/is-your-communication-style-dictated-by-your-gender/#3d2b99bfeb9d

 

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Getting ’em back

Engage Your AudienceWhat do you do when your audience begins to drift away from you? Of course, no audience will be riveted on every word you speak, but when they start fidgeting, murmuring, and checking their watches, you may be losing them.

And it can get worse. Conversations may begin breaking out. People may grow uncivil, and some may begin to leave.  This most often happens during the question-and-answer session, when things loosen up, and it may lead to a classic fail. Even at that point, though, it’s possible to get back in control.

You do it by leading.

Leadership comes with speaking. When you get up there you become the captain of the ship. It doesn’t matter whether you are talking to the union rank-and-file or the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The audience will take its cue from you.

So remind them who’s in charge, but don’t do it by raising your voice or demanding attention. Be quiet. If you are behind a podium, step away from it. Walk toward the audience. Remove your glasses, if you wear them. Do this calmly and deliberately. Say nothing. Gaze at them. You’ve now broken the pattern of speaking, which is unexpected and therefore attention-getting. Chances are that everyone will fall silent and every eye will find its way to you to see what you are about to do. They will suddenly feel like children in a classroom.

This moment—and you can only invoke it once—is now yours. Use it wisely. Remind the audience why your message is important to them. Tell them a story. Have something to say, and then keep the initiative by continuing to talk as you return to the podium.

The important thing is not to relinquish command. Audiences can mutiny, just as ship’s crews can, but they don’t do so lightly, and they won’t do so if you remember who you are and why you are there—and if the audience clearly sees that you are in charge and have something valuable to say.

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You may need a visual aid

Anatomy of a man showing back pain. Isolated on a black background.Anatomy of a man showing back pain. Isolated on a black background.Here’s a golden rule of presenting: never underestimate the power of a visual aid.

I recently served on a jury for a three-day trial. We spent four hours of that time watching videos of depositions from three different doctors. The plaintiff was asking compensation for back pain allegedly caused by an accident, so we heard lots of testimony about the state of his spine and back muscles.

Now, this was tough sledding for us civilians because none of the three medical experts used any illustration, 3D model, or photographs. When a doctor referred glibly to the T4 or the C7 vertebra, it was up to us on the jury to puzzle out what part of the spine he was talking about. Had he just pointed to the area on a diagram, it would have been easy to understand.

They are called “visual aids” for a reason; they aid your audience’s understanding. Imagine that your audience is hearing your line of reasoning for the very first time – because they are. Visual aids give your audience guideposts as they follow along.

Explaining a complicated subject without visual aids requires your audience to work very hard. Explaining a complicated subject by using visual aids = aha!

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Show ’em you mean it

Cropped view of a man in a suit speaking into a microphone with his hands in fistsI recently had the honor of judging a university-level speech tournament. In one event, Persuasive Speaking, each of six finalists had 10 minutes to make a case about a cause. Judges looked for knowledge of the subject, a structured approach, documentation of the points made, and a good finish, often including a call to action.

Most of the speakers were good; they had all that. In fact, they were so good that when it was over I had a hard time ranking them.

Yet, something was missing from every one of those presentations—something important. These speakers, who were excellent in every other way, all had choreographed their gestures and movements. Here, I step to the left. Here, to the right. Here, I lift my hand. And all kept their hands at their sides when they were not actively gesturing. Thus, many of the gestures and movements they made seemed forced and false to my eyes.

My guess is that when you feel strongly about something, you don’t rest your hands at your sides. You probably hold them up about belt or waist level so you can easily lift them to punctuate your point, to signal the sharing of information, or to invite the listener to consider your position. You do this without thinking about it. You radiate energy. And the higher your hands, the more energy you show.

There’s a certain balancing act we do when we present in front of an audience, akin to what professional actors do when they perform on the stage. We are “in character” and yet conscious of the audience at the same time. We feel something for real, but we also remember that we are there to get something across. Our gestures are informed by our passion. But they are aimed toward those we’re addressing.

These competitors had the aim right, but not the passion behind it. No one will believe you really mean what you say if you look like you’ve been choreographed. You have to be comfortable enough inside yourself to feel what you ought to feel and be unafraid to show it. When you make a gesture, make it natural and bring it from the heart. That’s one way to show ‘em that you mean what you say.

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Jargon: the Enemy Within

Do You Speak EnglishA partner of mine once heard a talk by a man preparing to open a new hotel. He talked about the clientele he hoped to attract and, almost as a throwaway line, said, “And of course, we will address the SMERF market.”

Everyone stopped listening. He continued to plow ahead as the audience tried to figure out the role little blue people had in a hotel’s market. My partner finally raised her hand and asked what he meant by SMERF.

“Social, Military, Ethnic, Religious and Fraternal,” he said with a detectable measure of scorn in his voice. How could anyone not know that?

For him, SMERF was a commonplace term. He and his colleagues in the hospitality industry probably use it every day.  But its meaning was obscure to the audience. The speaker broke the continuity of his talk with that single phrase, leaving everyone behind.

Yet, only my partner raised her hand to ask him to explain himself. Most audiences don’t bother. They suffer in silence. People don’t like showing ignorance in front of others.

That’s why insider language is the enemy. You are likely to waste everyone’s time, including your own, if you approach your subject from your level of understanding instead of your audience’s. Oh, no one will say anything. They’ll force a smile when it’s over, say “thank you,” and walk out in the same state of ignorance with which they entered. In the meantime, your efforts to raise awareness will have left only confusion. Your desire to foster acceptance will have brought indifference. Your mission for action will still be sitting on the runway. And all because you did not trouble yourself to see the world from their eye level.

Jargon is insidious. We swim in the jargon of our professions like a fish swims in water, natural and unaware. That’s why we must make a special effort to learn about our intended audiences—and then take an extra step. Give a version of your talk to people who have about the same level of understanding as your intended audience. See how many pieces of jargon they can collect, how many obscure references they find, how many mysterious acronyms crop up. Collect them all, examine them, and rewrite your talk so that a child could understand it.

That’s not dumbing down. It’s using words for their intended purpose—to foster understanding.

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