- Resolve to avoid all public speaking.
- Realize this is not a sustainable resolution; resolve to mostly avoid public speaking.
- Do great at Resolution #2 until someone at work tells you that you have to present at a meeting in two weeks. Resolve to ignore this for at least one week.
- The meeting is tomorrow. You panicked for the whole two weeks. Resolve to just get through this presentation.
- The presentation is behind you, but the anxiety leading up to it was awful. Resolve never to feel that kind of panic again.
- Resolve to quell your fear of public speaking. You take a measured and deliberate approach: you prepare ahead of time, practice in low-stakes situations, get positive feedback, and remember that your job as a speaker is to create an experience for your audience.
- Resolve to do more public speaking, since you’re awesome at it! Happy 2016!!
It’s that time of year again—the merry-go-round of holiday parties at the office, in the neighborhood, at book club, at your spouse’s office, at the kids’ school…the list goes on and on. As an introvert, that packed calendar, full of occasions when I will have to make small talk with people I don’t know, makes me want to put my head down on my desk.
But wait! I’ve learned a few tricks over the years that I’ll be using this holiday season, and I’m going to let you in on the secret. (Spoiler: the secret is not “have a couple of drinks.”)
- Decide that you’re going to have a good time. This may sound obvious, but often we are anxious about the party, and we bring our nervousness into our expectations about the whole event. Remember that you do like people! And that the rest of these tips are going to help you enjoy the party.
- Stand in line. As you are waiting to get food or a drink, it’s a natural and easy time to exchange a few words with the person nearest you. Offer your name, then follow up with a comment about how you know the hosts, a compliment of your new friend’s clothes or jewelry, or a question about what brought them to the get-together. The finite nature of the line itself gives a quick out if you’d like to get away from the conversation, or you can keep chatting when you’re out of the line if things have gone well.
- Give yourself a goal. If you know a few people at the party, don’t just huddle with them on the couch. This is a great, low-stakes chance to practice chatting—give yourself an achievable goal, like “I’m going to talk with three people I’ve never met.” Once you’ve met three new people, you can go hang with your friends.
- Ask if you can help. Sometimes introverts feel awkward because we feel out of place. If you know the host well enough, see if you can come a little early and help them move chairs or put ice in the cooler. You will have loosened up before the other guests start to arrive, and you may feel more comfortable with the gradual build-up of guests than walking into a full-on party.
- All parties are not created equal. Some parties you have to go to, some you really should, some you really want to. If you know the holiday party swing is going to leave you with too little alone time, budget your energy. It’s fine to go to a party and stay for just 30 minutes, so look over your calendar and decide where that party energy is best spent.
Happy holidays, fellow introverts! May your home be a quiet oasis this holiday season. ☺
If every speaker will remember that their job is to create an experience for their audience, you will never need to hire a coach.
Here’s what that means in practice:
- Create your content with your audience in mind. What do you want them to walk away thinking about, talking about?
- Eliminate behaviors that distract your audience–remember, this is for them, not for you.
- Practice your speech. On your feet, out loud, with your slides if you’re using them. Your speech is a performance, and you’re responsible for the impact on your audience.
That’s it. That’s the secret sauce. Okay, I’ll admit that this advice is much easier to implement with a coach, but these are the building blocks of great public speaking.
(And if you’d rather practice with a coach, get in touch!)
A recent NPR story ( http://www.npr.org/2015/07/23/425608745/from-upspeak-to-vocal-fry-are-we…) explored the idea that we “police women’s voices,” complaining when they use “vocal fry” and “up-speak” despite the fact that men also use both of these derided habits of speech.
Since I make my living teaching people to present themselves powerfully, every friend who heard the NPR story posted it to my Facebook wall. What did I think? I asked myself–do I police women’s voices when I coach them to land their sentences instead of having an upward inflection?
The truth is that I have seen men and women use both vocal fry and up-speak. And I coach them all to develop a wider range of vocal expression so that they have that whole range accessible to them–it is better to have more tools, to be equipped for more experiences, and to be able to choose to use up-speak but not use it so often that it becomes a distraction. Just as an dancer who has full use of her body is a better dancer, so a speaker who has full use of her voice is a better speaker.
One woman quoted in the NPR story said that not using up-speak made her feel self-conscious. If I were her coach, I would ask her who her words are for–are they for her, or for her audience? If she is not a professional speaker, this is irrelevant. But if she is (and this woman was a journalist with occasional podcasting responsibilities, so it could go either way) then the onus is on her to push through the self-consciousness and develop her vocal instrument, just as dancers stretch at the barre and practice fundamentals.
What do you think? Do you hear up-speak and vocal fry around you? Do you love it, hate it, do it yourself, not care? 🙂
“This just doesn’t sound right.”
“It looked good on the page, but when I said it during my presentation…”
My clients often tell me how perplexed they were when the words that they polished so lovingly on the page failed to come to life when they said them out loud. The simple fact to remember is that sentences that are written to be read are (literally!) not created the same as those meant to be spoken. Read a contemporary play or screenplay: with few exceptions you’ll see that the dialogue doesn’t read like it might in a novel. Those writers are always working with the speaker and the audience in mind–not a reader.
As you are working on your speech, take frequent breaks to read what you’ve written out loud. Pay particular attention to transitions–connecting the end of one paragraph to the beginning of the next when you don’t have the formatting on the page to help your reader. Are you going to pause? Maybe add a few words to connect the dots for your audience? Details like this can make the difference between a presentation that is stilted and uncomfortable to deliver and one that flows naturally.
We’ve all heard the advice, “Just picture everyone in the audience naked!”
I’ll just tell you now–this probably won’t work. Oh, you can look out at the audience and imagine them without clothes on, but then…you’re thinking about your audience with no clothes on. You’re not thinking about your presentation. (Unless you are planning to talk about how all of those people are naked, in which case, carry on! That should be an interesting PowerPoint.)
“But what will work?” you ask. Here’s the cheat sheet:
- Know why you’re talking. What’s your goal? What’s your intention?
- Make sure your body and your voice and your content are all telling the same story. If you’re talking about how pleased you are to be there, your energy needs to be up, your voice energetic, and everything about you should be saying “There’s no place I’d rather be.”
- Practice. Stand up and say the words out loud. A bunch.
“But it’s faster to imagine everyone naked! I don’t have time to do all this homework.”
You’re right; it’s faster not to do the homework. But let me ask you this: what happens after you imagine everyone in their birthday suits? You still have to start talking. You still have to do the number one most important thing, which is connect with your audience. So let them keep their clothes on, and take some time before your presentation to really prepare. Everybody will be happier.
When we think about speeches or presentations we have seen that were terrific, we think about how the speaker made us feel. A great speaker can make us feel excited, motivated, intrigued, moved, or compelled. The same is true when we think about presentations we endured that weren’t so great—they make us feel impatient, bored, irritated, distracted.
It makes sense, then, that when we are preparing for a speech ourselves, we need to think about how we want to make our audience feel. Do you want your audience to feel passionate about your favorite cause? Do you want them to be swayed to vote for you? Do you want them to feel enlightened about your topic?
It is impossible to adequately prepare for a speech without first answering the question: “Why am I giving this talk?” and yet most speakers never ask themselves that question, let alone spend time answering it specifically and completely. Knowing the answer to this question is the most important part of preparing to deliver a presentation. If you know why you are talking to the audience, what Executive Repertory calls your “intention,” just about everything else you need to prepare will fall into place.
Let me give you an example. Susan has a big presentation to give in front of a client committee. Not only will top executives from her biggest client be there, but her immediate bosses at her own firm will be there, too. Understandably, Susan is a little nervous.
Susan spends weeks on the content of her presentation, creating a beautiful PowerPoint deck and knitting together an airtight summary of the exemplary work her team has been doing for the client. The night before the big day, she stays up late, tweaking the fonts and rearranging a few slides she was never totally happy with.
The big day comes. Susan stands up in front of the conference room, her laptop powers up, the first slide pops up, and Susan freezes. All those faces looking back at her! Why is that senior VP frowning? Suddenly her mouth is dry and her palms are wet. Her mind goes blank.
Now, if Susan knows why she’s up there, all she has to do is take a breath and remind herself, “My job is to make these people understand the scope of the work our team has done,” and she will settle down and know what to say.
On the other hand, if Susan hasn’t practiced this presentation and hasn’t identified the effect she wants to have on her audience, here’s what may happen:
Unsure what to do, she turns to the screen where her first slide is waiting. “Uh, okay, so, this…Thank you, for being here!” she starts, then reads her slides, one after the other, distracted by the font she still doesn’t like, not making eye contact or any connection with the audience, feeling, more than anything, that she wants this whole thing to be over. Her body language and voice tell the audience clearly that she doesn’t want to be there, and they are absorbing that message at least as much as the content of her presentation.
Executive Repertory focuses on the why first, and then the how. We help you identify your intention, then align your body and voice with that intention, and then develop a practice plan just for you.
“What’s the Point of PowerPoint?”
It’s ubiquitous, everywhere from TED Talks to teachers’ classrooms. When done well, PowerPoint is a great complement to a speaker’s presentation. When done poorly…unfortunately, we can all finish that sentence.
I just spent two days coaching the presenters for the Ignite Asheville event. The format of an Ignite talk is simple but tough—you get twenty slides, and the deck auto-advances every fifteen seconds. The slides march inexorably on, whether you’ve said everything you meant to say or not.
This year’s twelve Ignite Asheville speakers talked about a range of topics, from the life lessons learned by hiking the length of the Appalachian Trail to being a “geek dad” to the concept of community time-banking. All of the ideas were interesting. All of the speakers were passionate. Not all of the presentations featured a seamless fusion between the speaker and their deck.
I found myself wondering, “If you took the slides away, what would we miss from these presentations?” Sometimes, the answer was “Nothing.”
And this is a good thing and a bad thing. I firmly believe that a speaker should be ready to give a talk with no technological support at all. If the deck makes your talk, you should probably just email it to your audience. So sometimes when I thought, “we could lose the slides,” it was because the speakers were so good that the deck wasn’t adding anything to the talk.
However, I love when a well-timed and well-rehearsed slide pops up to underscore or tweak the speaker’s point. When well done, a PowerPoint presentation is like a duet or a pas de deux. The speaker and the slides merge to make something bigger than either of them alone, engaging more of our creative and analytic brain to put all the aspects of the talk together.
How do you make sure you’re using PowerPoint effectively? Stay tuned for Part Two…
No, you’re not.
Sure, you may have occasional “knock-it-out-of-the-ballpark” occasions when all the stars align and you feel incredible about your performance. But if you want to be consistently effective and powerful, you have to, (I hate to say it), practice.
“But when I practice, I sound rehearsed!” Yes, that can definitely be a danger. But, (I hate to break it to you), it just means that you aren’t practicing enough.
Here’s how it works. You outline what you want to say, then you start saying it. You listen to yourself. You might video yourself. You say it some more. You notice that, in this one section, a certain phrase keeps tripping you up. You replace that phrase. You stop practicing for the day.
The next day, or the day after that, you practice some more. Your brain kicks in and starts really feeling good about your content–you know how to get from point A to point B because you heard yourself navigating a tricky transition and you smoothed it out. You stop practicing for the day. Lather, rinse, repeat.
How do you know when you’ve practiced enough? One good indicator is that you can tell the content of your presentation to another person conversationally and keep their interest. Another is that, when you practice, you can engage with the room around you, and not think only about what you’re saying next.
Scott Berkun, author of “Confessions of a Public Speaker,” makes a terrific point in that book. He says that, if you’re doing an hour-long presentation or a speech for forty people, and you don’t practice, in essence you are valuing the five or six hours you might spend practicing above the cumulative forty hours of the people who are going to watch your speech.
If I still haven’t convinced you, think about this. That last speaker you saw, the boring one who kept looking at his slides instead of at the audience, who kept saying “uh” and messing with his glasses? He thought he was better off-the-cuff.