Friday, October 29, 2010

Speaking with Humor - HALLOWEEN SPECIAL!

If there is only one thing you do to improve your speaking, choose humor.

What does humor do for you?


Felicia Slattery and I talked about the book last year:

Felicia Slattery, Communication Consultant, Pro Speaker & Coach,
Mom, lover of good food and really happy person.

Speakers spend years looking for techniques to help 
their audience to listen, learn, and take action...
Go Ahead and Laugh will teach you to be funny, engaging,
and get you invited back to speak again time after time!

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Climax - The Make or Break Moment in Speaking

I was in the mood to laugh this weekend - so I went to a Toastmaster's Contest. Six speakers came up and entertained us with stories about antique dealers, mouse-hunting, stealing motorcycles, rhyming jags about the fear of public speaking, and dogs that are smarter than humans. The winner, however, got the audience roaring with her talk "I Feel Bad About My Neck".

For those of you going "Hey, that's a Nora Ephron book!", yes, she referenced it and Nora, both for attribution and repetitive humorous effect. She built up her speech by following the outline of the book, telling us what Nora Ephron wrote, and then finding the truth in it, to her horror, in her own life and the lives of her friends. Each tidbit was followed by an epitath - "I'm just like Nora!"

For those of you who don't know, speeches in Toastmaster contests tend to be 5-7 minutes long - comparable to a unit within a longer keynote. These speeches, when approached correctly, can be used to build a longer speech, and each need to contain a beginning, middle, climax, and conclusion. The only real changes going into a longer format are the additions of transitions from unit to unit.

Finding the climax of a speech can a challenge, particularly when the goal is humor. What YOU think will get the audience going may not be what actually works, and what you don't think will work may get them laughing harder than you imagined. And each audience is unique, so your humor may not work from performance to performance. Seems like you're stuck in a no-win, right? Yes, and No.

Three Keys to Identifying Your Climax

1. Build with the Climax in Mind - you know what you want the audience to do, how you want them to react. Build your speech with that purpose in mind. Put all your stories/points on the table and move them around. Do you have to tell them in a certain order? How does your impact shift if you tell your last story first? Which piece leads them closest to your end result? Are all of your pieces even necessary? Do you have better stories you can draw from?

2. Test, Test, Test - a good idea for most any aspect of your speaking. Toastmasters is a great place to do this - low risk, supportive audience. If you are going to throw out a clunker, better here than someplace it can hurt your professional reputation.

3. Be Ready To Take the Forks in the Road - by putting them there ahead of time. Did you just get a major laugh? Did the audience just respond to you in a way you didn't expect? Be ready to adjust. Perhaps the time to conclude is now. Perhaps, instead of tossing in that extra line, its time to transition to the next point. While there can be some great toppers, and your next story may bring them even closer to the state of mind you're aiming for, use that all important pause while the audience is reacting to decide which direction to go. If you put the forks there ahead of time, you'll always be ready for them.

What I noticed in the winner's speech was that after several points, and some strong titters and giggles, she had a line that induced all out laughter. Goal accomplished, and she was in the lead at that point, contest-wise (with four speakers to go, I couldn't give her the prize quite yet (and no, Toastmasters, I was not a judge that day)). She had already won the crowd over with her timing, tone, and facial expressions, but this line was a clear climax. This was confirmed when, instead of going straight into her conclusion, she went for one more point, one more laugh, and it flopped. The ever-dangerous anti-climax. She then finished up, and left the door open for the next few speakers to win the contest.

In the real world, mis-identifying your climax can result in slowing your momentum, losing your audience, and causing them to forget the point you just made. In the worst cases, it can cost you credibility, and even send your audience in a totally different direction than you intended.

For our Nora Ephron twin, it didn't end up costing her anything that afternoon. It might at the next level though. So if you know her, send her by this post. For you, it could cost a lot more, so take note of where, why, and how your speech will climax. The go out and Speak....& Deliver.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Re-Learning for the Very First Time: A Review of 'resonate', by Nancy Duarte

I hate PowerPoint, I don't use it in my presentations as a general rule, and, as a result, have never read slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations (amazon affiliate link) by Nancy Duarte. That said, I was pleasantly surprised, and feeling just a little bit guilty, to be offered the opportunity to receive a review copy of her latest book, resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences.

At first glance, its a bit intimidating. Beautifully designed in an over-sized, glossy, full-color format, it doesn't fit in my bookshelf, much less my preconceived notions of a guide to public speaking. While it runs a thick 248 pages, the content itself, if surgically removed and re-purposed into a traditional book format, might run only 100. I say that not as a criticism, but as an encouragement to the reader - open this book, read the first two pages of chapter one, and you'll be hooked for the next few hours as you get sucked into Nancy Duarte's energetic, creatively clinical, and graphically stimulating compilation of public speaking wisdom.

resonate is as practical as it is artful. In a sense, it's the Gray's Anatomy* of speaking. Each aspect of speech writing and speech giving is given fair time, illustrated by examples ranging from creative diagrams of storytelling, to careful analysis of online speeches we're able to see for ourselves, to the most intensive graphic dissection of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech I've ever seen. Duarte's 'Sparkline' method of speech analysis provides a unique visual approach to speech structure, as in the illustration below:

Click to Enlarge
Case studies are plentiful, and include such diverse presentations as President Reagan's address to the nation after the Challenger explosion, Interpretive Dancer Martha Graham, and Michael Pollan's dramatization from 2009's Pop!Tech. Each is carefully chosen to highlight specific points in Duarte's methods, proving their flexibility across a wide variety of speaking opportunities.

Techniques such as Making the Audience the Hero, explanations of Syd Field's Paradigm, illustrations of The Hero's Journey, are but three early examples of Duarte's analytical approach to speaking. Yet, far from being an advocate of cold and clinical speech creation, concepts later in the book include Create Emotional Contrast, More Than Just Facts, and Don't Be So Cerebral. Fusing fact with emotion and reality with possibility, are dominant themes throughout.

What stands out most to me in Duarte's latest book is that while there is very little, if any, new information in the book, it presents it's wisdom in such a way as to make even the most jaded student of speaking feel like they are discovering their speaking secrets for the very first time. This is the secret secret of the book, in my eyes. As speakers, we are rarely, if ever, covering ground our audience has not traversed in the past - but it is our job to bring them through familiar territory with a fresh perspective, a new outlook. By making us look at our speechcraft through innovative lenses, we can't help but consider renovating our current speeches, tearing them to shreds as a necessary sacrifice to rebuilding a higher form of presentation, transforming ourselves as we work to transform our audiences.

Whether you're a new or seasoned speaker, resonate offers a challenging look at the way we present today, and offers a myriad of systems, strategies, and solutions, whether your next speech is in front of your Toastmasters group, your stockholders, or 2000 presentation-weary conventioneers.

After reading it through, I'll be focusing on it chapter by chapter, looking for ways to directly apply Nancy Duarte's expertise to my own - I recommend you do the same. It can only help you as you endeavor to Speak....and Deliver.

Find out more about Nancy Duarte at or at her blog.

*Yes, just in case, an Amazon affiliate link...

Friday, October 8, 2010

Speaking with Authentic Authenticity

How do you show YOUR Authenticity?

Earlier this week, I spoke about Audiences with X-Ray Eyes & Ears, and the dangers of speaking on a topic you don't believe in. One the pitfalls is coming across with a complete lack of Authenticity.

But what if you DO believe in what you are saying, and still come off as staged, slick, and salesy? Authenticity isn't always easy to achieve from the stage. Audiences often start from a mindset of 'prove it to me' or 'I'm not going to let them sell me', which may put you at a disadvantage before you utter your first words. While achieving Authenticity could be a book unto itself, here are a few key spots in your speeches to target for maximum impact:

1. Introduction - always write your own introduction, and keep it real, use humor, and avoid the laundry list of credentials. What can you say about yourself that will make you appear more accessible to the audience, and therefore more authentic? Be sure to give your introduction to your introducer a day or two early, and bring a printed copy in a large font for them to read from on the day of your presentation.

2. Apparel - what are you wearing? Are you decked out in a three piece suit in front of a group wearing jeans and tennis shoes? If you look like a salesman, you'll sound like a salesman. In the old days, suits and dresses were the norm, but today, business casual is often more effective. Dress in something that balances these two concepts: what do you feel comfortable speaking in, and what does the audience expect of you? Some speakers, such as Scott the Nametag Guy, make their clothing a part of their brand. Similarly, I doubt you'd ever see Brian Tracy speak in anything BUT a designer suit (just seconds after I typed that, I found Mr. Tracy in this video wearing a polo)!
Scott the Nametag Guy

3. Opening - when beginning a speech, its easy to not look at the audience as we 'rev up' into our content. Instead, start by making eye contact. Control your tone of voice at the beginning as well - while you want to grab their attention, being overly dramatic for more than a few seconds will put your audience on guard. Using humor in the first 15 to 30 seconds, either using self-deprecation or audience related material, will give your audience a reason to laugh and pop that bubble of tension at the beginning of your talk.

4. Stories - are your stories believable? Assuming all your stories are true (if they aren't, you've got an entirely different problem), are you telling them in such a way that makes them 'too perfect'? Or using the story in an obvious play to manipulate emotions, such as talking about death, cancer, or disability with too much schmaltz or onstage emotion? You can tell stories about all these subjects, but the key to authenticity is to tell them in a way to lead your audience to their emotional response, instead of telling them directly how they should feel, or creating a mood where they feel forced to show an emotional response to you, as opposed to feeling it within.

5. Selling - any time you're speaking, you're selling. How you do it will have a dramatic effect on how authentic you are to your audience. There are plenty of sales tricks speakers use, from seeding their presentation with references to mid-speech product giveaways to the famous "for this audience, today only, I'm cutting XX% off my regular price". I'm not going to suggest you shy away from any of them, simply that you use the ones you are comfortable with, and don't hit your audience out of the blue with your pitch. If you're giving a highly emotional talk, consider giving your introducer an 'Outroduction', which gives them an opportunity to offer your products to the audience, instead of you switching gears at the end of your speech.

6. Tone - your tone of voice is the single most powerful advantage or disadvantage you can have as a speaker. Do you sound condescending? Fake? Overly Dramatic? Monotone? Hyper? Mechanical? Unsure?
Your tone of voice can be the difference between simply a well-crafted speech and a well-received speech. How the audience hears you will color their opinion of your content. Film your practices (and watch them), get feedback from Toastmasters groups, and plant people in your audiences that you trust. When you watch yourself, what is your gut reaction? Are your test audiences satisfied with your veracity on stage?

Think you have them all mastered? Don't stop there. Keep looking for new stories, to keep your presentation fresh. Look for places you can link current circumstances for the audience with what you're saying. Test different approaches to selling, alternate openings and closings, and introductions. Learn more about your next audience than you know about your last one.

Your authenticity, combined with your passion for your topic, and desire to give something of value to the audience will lead both your and your listeners to the results you're looking for as you continue to Speak...and Deliver!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Grabbing the Audience's Attention: Myth or Method?

Photo by BG³Photo

Today, I was checking out one of my favorite public speaking coach's blog, and was intrigued as Olivia Mitchell shared her thoughts on these three speaking myths. It's a wonderful post, and on the first two 'myths', she and I completely agree.

Her final myth, "You must grab the audience's attention at the start", got me thinking a bit, however. Her primary arguments are that audiences are already ready and waiting for the performance, that leading with a dramatic statement or shocking statistic puts your presentation into performance mode, and that risks putting the best material up front, resulting in an anticlimactic speech body. Her conclusion is that we must spend the first few moments building rapport, instead.

Here's what got me thinking - what if you could do both, without falling into the traps mentioned above?

Consider these ideas:

1. Build Rapport in Your Introduction - In most, but not all, speaking situations, you will be introduced. By providing your own introduction to your introducer, you create an opportunity to build rapport and borrowed rapport (rapport the audience may have with the introducer) with the audience before you ever get on stage, allowing you to start in more dramatic fashion.

2. Dramatic Openings and Shocking Statistics Create Thought - the right statements made to the audience can put them in a particular state of mind, either by jolting them out of the one they are in, or by challenging their belief system. If your introduction has gained their attention and built rapport, this opening can be more effective as a thought builder than an attention getter.

3. Performance Mode is Useful, Powerful, and Controllable - when used as a tool, instead of a crutch, Performance mode can build momentum, create humor, and add power to statements designed to move the audience to a new state. As a tool, it can also be turned off by the self-aware speaker. Moving from one mode to another can build a rhythm that keeps audience attention throughout, and allow the speaker to both interact and impact at strategic moments in the presentation.

4. If Your Attention Getter is Your Best Material - Write Better Material! - opening with your main point is one of the most debated methods in speaking. Some believe you can lead with your main point and spend the rest of the speech supporting it, others think you should circuitously lead your audience to the conclusion for themselves, and others recommend endless variations in-between. But if your opening statement is the best part of your speech, its time to take a second look at the rest of your material. The longer the speech, the more ebb and flow will exist, and in longer speeches, you may need several 'openings' to keep folks involved from point to point. As strong as your opening is, your conclusion must be as strong or stronger, or your audience leaves without clear direction to use whatever valuable information you've given them.

5. Your Audience Dictates - depending on what your audience is expecting, the audience size, and your familiarity with the audience, you may or may not need to grab attention or build much rapport. It's tough to create a blanket strategy for speaking when the venues, audiences, and purposes of speaking vary so sharply. Get a strong handle on who you are speaking to before you determine exactly how you will begin. The evidence Olivia provides in this article comes from a college classroom environment - how well that translates to your situation is something for you to decide.

6. Combining Dramatic Statements and Shocking Statistics with Humor Kills Two Birds with One Anvil - grab their attention and then get them laughing. You can find several examples of this in Go Ahead and Laugh. By throwing in humor, it helps your audience to both remember the statement and feel good about you as a speaker, and, more importantly, as a human being.

In fairness to Olivia, she doesn't say NOT to do these things directly, as much as she says they are not necessarily necessary. I do believe these methods, when used with deliberation and careful thought, are still very useful to speakers.

Be sure to pick up Olivia's free guide about How to make an effective PowerPoint Presentation - it offers excellent ideas for speakers dealing with the challenges PowerPoint presents.

A final thought - there are a ton of speaking coaches out there, and not only are there two sides to every opinion, there are hundreds of shades of gray within each. Find the truth for yourself as a speaker, whether the advice comes from a free blogpost, or a $3000 coaching session. Once you're on stage, it's up to YOU to Speak....and Deliver.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Audiences have X-Ray Eyes & Ears

photo by erix!

Yes, it's true - your audience can see right through you. 

No matter how strong a speaker you are, how well-crafted your words, precise your gestures, or perfect your props, nothing will conceal a lack of authenticity by a speaker, even if you are aware of it and actively working to override it.

At the climax of my training in August, I gave a final presentation of our sales script. During the evaluation, the VP, my boss' boss, suggested it didn't sound like I believed in the product. It was all I could do not to glibly fire back "I don't!" 

This overall lack of belief played a major role in my decision to leave that particular situation, in combination with the time away from my family.

Even as I was giving my all on stage, inside my head the words "yeah, right" and "if you only knew" echoed during various parts of the presentation. Even though people still bought, they didn't buy at a level that they would have if my authenticity had been higher; if I'd believed for myself what I was saying to them.

How X-Ray Eyes & Ears Work

A. Tone of voice - forced sincerity, even well-practiced, is a tone of voice that we're trained to pick up on subconsciously, if not consciously. We may choose to ignore it, but we hear it.

B. Energy level - the longer the presentation, the harder it is to maintain energy throughout. If it's a short speech, too much energy may be evident as over-compensation.

C. Eye-contact - it can be tough to look at folks in the eye in general - it just gets tougher when you think you're selling them a bad deal.

D. Lack of focus - with so many things to keep track of as a speaker, if focus is splintered by inner contradictions, plenty of things will go wrong that might have been caught otherwise. The speech itself, from delivery technique to transitions to humor will often suffer as well.

E. Sarcasm substituting for humor - it can be easy to let sarcasm slip through and excuse it as an effort to be funny, and connect with the audience. It does connect, but it connects them with the reality of our feelings.

F. Vamping - working to get a laugh or a reaction from the audience in an effort to validate the performance. After all, if they laugh or react as asked, we must be doing something right. 

Often we fool ourselves, believing that we're successful actors if people are buying what we're selling. What we fail to realize is that often people aren't buying what we're selling as much as they are buying what they came to get. If they were already convinced, or if the basic benefits match their expectations, they'll often buy despite the presentation. So we'll assume we're doing fine, and just need to pump up the enthusiasm or tweak the verbiage, instead of looking in the mirror and accepting the age-old truth that 'the first sale is to ourselves'

As long as we're only acting, we'll never truly inspire or persuade anyone. We might get great comments on our skills and content, but the long-term results will not be as strong as they would be if driven by strong belief and conviction. 

Three Quick Asides:

1. Belief and conviction does not have to equal truth - plenty of us wholeheartedly believe things that may or may not be true, and can successfully persuade listeners to agree, as long as we believe it to be true ourselves, first.

2. Our belief doesn't have to be anyone else's. The product I was selling has been successful for many years, and others wholeheartedly believe in it. The fact that I did not does not invalidate the product, nor does its success invalidate my feeling about it. I'm not a Mountain Dew fan either, but plenty of people I know are wildly passionate about it.

3. Many of the above delivery issues will be seen in beginning speakers. They may believe in what they are saying, without believing in their own ability to deliver the message - a much easier issue to fix.

What are YOU saying? Are you speaking for yourself and your beliefs, or someone else's? Are you speaking for money, or speaking your truth and creating money as a result? If you don't truly believe in your messages, you're not fooling anybody, except yourself. And I'm willing to bet you aren't even fooling yourself. 

If you do believe your own messages (and most of you do), how can you make it even MORE authentic? I'll take a closer look at that challenge later this week.

Today, take a moment and look at your own insides. Tell yourself the truth - YOUR truth - not your companies, your coach's, your family's, and be prepared to take action, regardless of your findings. Your belief is the difference between being someone who Speaks, and someone who Speaks & Delivers.


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