Thursday, March 26, 2009

What are you talking about?

So..... you have managed to get to the point where you can speak clearly and confidently in front of your crowds, engage, amuse and inform them and leave them wanting more. Yet somehow, in the rush of all this success, you have managed to fail: fail to see the point.


A great presentation is about more than the just the presentation itself, it is about its effect on the audience after the fact and it is possible as a speaker to be clear concise, elegant, efficient and ….. ineffective.  The trick is to determine exactly what the purpose of your speech is. Is there one many point? Are there many points? And if there are many is there a good way to tie them all together and make them more memorable? When putting your presentation together define and isolate these points and ensure that they are going to come through as effectively as possible. It is often a good idea to write in the margins what your specific point is in that section of the speech. It is easy to get carried away with details on a subject and obscure the reason for bringing the subject up in the first place. Make sure that when you cover a subject you reach a conclusion with it and most importantly, define the appropriate response or strategy.


  Subject     >>      Conclusion     >>     Strategy


  There are different ways of organize these three elements. People often like to leave the conclusion and/or strategy until the end of a presentation which can work well as it leaves that as the final thought for the audience. It is also possible to place conclusions and strategies throughout a presentation which can give them more opportunities to sink in and they then can be associated with specific points. Another option is to begin your speech or title it using a conclusion or strategy and then explain it as you go along. 

Just remember that at all times, consciously or unconsciously, your audience is asking “what’s your point”, so give the people what they want.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Why you can’t find your voice as a public speaker

One of the greatest struggles faced by people in the field of public speaking is what many call “finding your voice”. Some people, after years of seeming success complain that they can get the job done but still haven’t found their voice. The reason this voice is so difficult to find is that it doesn’t exist, or rather, there is no one voice, there are many. To get to the level of comfort where you can speak effectively in a style that is distinctly your own, you don’t need to figure out a hook - you need to hear voices.


 Fortunately this specific instance of hearing voices involves neither spiritual communion nor psychological fragmentation just a simple recognition of certain things that you already know. Each person is made up of many voices, many moods, and many methods of communication. We have one way we speak to our children when we tell them to go to bed, another voice when we are trying to talk our way out of a speeding ticket and yet another when we are trying to scare away a bear who has arrived at our campsite. These voices all are part of who you are. You don’t have to transform into another person to frighten a bear, you just to bring out one of your many voices.


  If we have such specific voices for all these situations, why is there not one for public speaking? The answer is that public speaking involves far more than just a single situation or mood. It involves many different audiences, in different settings, under differing circumstances and no one voice can effectively deal with all of them. There are many moods that have to be entered into, many situations to be considered. Sometimes, the best possible approach could be a forceful one and at another time a softer, more self-effacing manner will bring your audience onside. This need for multiplicity does not mean you should “just be yourself” or learn tricks to manipulate a crowd. What it means is that you should observe and identify your own characteristics, moods, and manners when speaking and then learn how to use and adapt them to achieve the most positive results in varying situations.


  Learning to understand who you are as a character is an interesting and rewarding exercise that I will discuss in upcoming postings. I would also love to hear any insights you have regarding finding your voice:


 * how you achieved it

 * why you think you never will

 * anything you think people should or shouldn’t do to help the process


All fine things ……. Christopher


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Before you’ve even said a word

Taking control beforehand to make your presentation easier


To some degree all forms of public presentation share a common ground with the stage hypnotist. Before you go to a hypnosis show you see posters to advertise it that evoke a certain mood and mindset, when you arrive at the venue it is more dimly lit than usual, the music is of a calming nature, all diversions are shut down/switched off, and the heat is turned up slightly. Even when the hypnotist speaks he does not charge directly into the hypnosis but, in a low, slow voice, gives a pre-amble speech that helps to further reinforce the state of mind and mood that has already been established in so many ways. By the time the hypnosis actually begins the hypnotist has already put you in a state that makes his job so much easier.


In public speaking you can often do the same. Here are a few things to consider that could help make things go more smoothly for you.


  • If you making an important presentation try to make sure that your audience receives information in advance about you and/or your topic. Sometimes having printed material distributed immediately beforehand is useful as well. Things that can be read are things you might not have to say, and it gives them something to refer to before, during and after.
  • In a perfect world, every situation we speak in would be problem free but….. until that perfect world arrives it is best to be aware of all the little things.Take control of your aspects of the room you are presenting in where it is appropriate. Make sure your sound and lighting is the best it can be. Simple things like keeping the lights bright on you and dimming them on the audience can really focus your audience on you. Make sure you can be seen and heard.
  • Ensure that the area you are presenting in is completely under control in terms of materials you need, podiums, water, etc. and double check anything that’s plugged in. The last thing you need is to have to play Mcgyver in the middle of a keynote.
  • Get a sense of who your crowd is beforehand and see that they are seated to maximum advantage. If you are in a big room that isn’t very full and people are all pressed to the back or scattered around try to get them to gather together near the front. Usually people are happy to co-operate and it can make a world of difference.
  • Consider exactly how you are introduced and try to make your introduction work to your benefit. It is also advisable to get the most important person possible to introduce you. At times, the job is pre-set and inflexible, but sometimes you can have a say, and if you can get the president of the company to introduce you it raises your level of importance. Your audience has their eyes on you and wants to know what you have to say….. before you’ve even said a word.


Friday, March 6, 2009

5 reasons why you shouldn’t speak like Barack Obama

On January 20, 2009 1.8 million people gathered on the US Capitol grounds, the National Mall, and the parade route in Washington D.C. for the inauguration of the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama. Nearly 38 million Americans watched inauguration coverage on television, the most popular Inauguration Day on TV since Ronald Reagan took office in 1981 which drew 41.8 million viewers. In describing the event beforehand, the media likely used the word “historic” more times than at any other point in American history since the moon landing in 1969. The centerpiece of the proceedings was the inauguration speech, and this article is written in specific reference to this speech, rather than about the speaking style and technique used by President Obama in a more general sense.

   In the days following the inauguration, there was much discussion about the event and about the speech in particular. One comment I saw that referenced the speech was on a social networking site and was responding to a small business owners question about how to improve his public speaking skills. The comment recommended that the person should watch and learn from President Obama’s speech because that was great public speaking. At first glance, this may sound like good advice, but on closer examination it is of little use to someone who has to address small business groups. President Obama’s speech was made by a specific man, for a specific crowd on a specific occasion and to use that particular speech as a model for all one’s own speeches would lead to both tragic and comic results.

   To make the point at a simple and ridiculous level I could say that just because President Obama wore an overcoat for his speech, doesn’t mean that you should wear one for yours. This (joking aside) would actually be a valid piece of advice. What can be learned from this approach, however, goes far beyond such a trite example and because this particular speech is so well known, it provides a framework to put forward some valuable points to a large number of people. When coaching people in public speaking, it is important to emphasize that, though modeling other people can be effective, one cannot rely on any one style or system. Instead, it is more important to have a thorough understanding of one’s own style and abilities, combined with knowledge of the material in question, the points that need to be made, the nature of the crowd, and the environment they are in. Technically, I suppose, these are illustrations rather than reasons, but the title “Five aspects of the inauguration speech that illustrate why most people shouldn’t speak in the majority of situations the way Barack Obama did in this one speech ” seemed a bit wordy. At this point I shall be examining the specific style and techniques employed by President Obama in his inauguration speech and by doing so I will, hopefully, shine some light on how to make the most of your own speeches.

1 – Don’t stand behind a wall, a bullet-proof barrier and a lectern.


    A speech is about far more than just speaking; movement and body language can help to transmit a great deal of mood and information to your audience. While it is not very often that we have to deal with the first two items in question, the third is not uncommon. A lectern is not without its place; they can be most effective in providing a more serious air to a speech and are quite handy for a script or notes but the majority of presentation situations require a more comfortable and communicative face. It is preferable to be seen from head to toe and, of course, to learn how to express yourself effectively through gesture and movement. While there are some basic do’s and don’ts, each person has their own style of movement. Some people can move around and gesture a tremendous amount and look very comfortable, while others would look horribly nervous doing exactly the same thing. Find out what factors define your own style of movement and learn how to use them to their greatest advantage.

2 - Smile at least once every twenty minutes.


   Unless you are at an event that demands an extremely subdued mood, there is no reason to turn your speech into the dour hour. In moderation, smiling helps to put people at ease and creates a more positive mood. How broadly and how often you should smile depends on a number of factors but certainly it is important to consider your subject and your crowd and take into account your own appearance. Some people have a naturally happy look and others possess a natural severity. If you have a face that seems to smile all the time, you don’t have to reinforce it by smiling a great deal and, conversely, making a real effort may be very helpful to someone with a more sour countenance. 



3 – Don’t write a speech with constant historical references.


  When you are making a business presentation your audience wants to know what has just happened, what is happening now, and what could happen in the near future. While some background can be useful to provide context, boost morale, or illustrate a point, talking too much about the civil war will just make you look as though you are ignoring what is important. In this regard, also be mindful of the make-up of your audience. As a general rule, the older the crowd, the more they will relate to the referencing of the past and a younger crowd tends to be more interested in hearing about the future.



4 – Make eye contact with at least one person in the audience.


  Eye contact is a powerful thing. While people tend not to like being stared at, they do appreciate, during a speech, an occasional look to give them the feeling that they are being included. To stare outward in the direction of the crowd, but not actually make contact with any one single person will only work against you. Eye contact can also be used in very specific ways during a presentation. If, for example, you have one table or group that is not paying attention, make solid eye contact with one member of the group; consciously or subconsciously this will help to focus all of them. Eye contact should seem natural and not in a pattern or on a schedule and with some people, it can be balanced with a “thoughtful” absence of eye contact which effectively brings people in.


5 - Don’t try to stir emotions and then pause for applause too often.


   In small weekly boardroom meetings it’s probably best not to do it at all. Taking oneself too seriously is a quick route to looking foolish and structuring a speech that assumes too great an importance to its statements, especially in front of an audience that is either too small or too casual for it to be appropriate will rob you of all credibility. Humility can be a valuable tool, and genuine consideration of opposing viewpoints can help to give clarity to your point and silence the critics who may be present. To stand rigidly with your chin up and your face stern repeatedly making grand pronouncements is something that should be done only with the greatest of care. For some people, dignity and command are fundamental aspects of the character they always present, for the rest of us, much better to work well with the tools with which we have been provided.



   I hope that you have found some valuable information in this little list and are able to put it to good use when making presentations in the future. Defining and refining your own style and technique in public speaking is an involved endeavour but with continued observations and efforts it can definitely be done … best of luck!    


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