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Category Archives: Know Your Audience

Do You Rehearse in Your Head?

Would you pay $200 for a ticket to see a Broadway show if you knew that the actors never once rehearsed their lines?  Of course you wouldn’t.  And yet, most presenters stand and deliver without ever practicing their remarks out loud.

The other day I was walking past a couple of guys having lunch and I heard one of them say, “My big presentation is tomorrow and I’ve had no time to practice.”  At this I slowed my pace so I could officially eavesdrop.  He continued, “Well, that’s not exactly true – I’ve rehearsed it in my head.”  To which the other guy said, “Then you’ll be fine.”  Now picture me forcing one foot in front of the other so I wouldn’t lean in and yell “Are you crazy?!  Think about your audience and their expectations.  Get back to the office and practice out loud!”

No, he will not be fine.  That presentation will be filled with ums, and ahs, and will meander here and there, all to the beat of the tentative drum in his head.  If he’s lucky, his PowerPoint slides will save him from a brain freeze, but odds are he’ll use them as a crutch.

Rehearsing “in your head” is not a rehearsal.  Unless you actually hear your voice saying the words you wrote down on your storyboard out loud (at a volume of 7 out of 10), you are not rehearsing.

I give myself this finger wag all the time.  For example, I worked all weekend on an upcoming presentation and I have yet to say any of the words out loud.  My handout looks great.  My slides are ready for their close-up (even spell-checked and proofread!), but in this particular case, that is insufficient preparation.  There are two big reasons why I need to find time to rehearse.   First, I just found out that eight people are attending the talk from my client’s office to “learn and observe.”  No pressure there.  Second, I want repeat business from this client, so being on top of my game is essential.

Factor in the time to speak out loud to yourself, your pet, or your significant other – it doesn’t matter who – and you stand a better chance of achieving your goal.  And as an added bonus, you will likely lessen the chances of getting asked a curveball question because you have honed your content to its essential messages.

Next up:  Extemporaneous speaking – how to sound prepared and intelligent without the chance to rehearse.

– Barbara

p.s.  If you like what you read in our blog, why not work with us in person at our upcoming SpeakWell Bootcamp on July 28th in Boston.  For more details visit our website:


My Love-Hate Relationship with Howard Stern

As a card carrying feminist, it’s hard to like Howard Stern. I can’t go so far as to call him a misogynist because I think he truly likes women, but the way he has objectified the female sex over the years makes it very hard to listen to his show for more than 10 minutes at a stretch. I have reached for the seek button more times than I can count.

But I respect his communication skills. Aspiring public speakers can learn a lot from him (did you hear that David Axelrod?). Here are a few skills and attributes that I think we can all learn from:

1.He rarely uses a word filler. His speech patterns are clear and easy to follow – even when you are in heavy traffic and trying to get to work on time.

2.He connects to his audience. Howard allows himself to be vulnerable. He shares his insecurities, his fears and his foibles. He’s willing to tell the truth while other pundits dance around the issue.

3.He doesn’t ramble on and on, but seems to know how to cut to the chase and bring out the most salient points of a particular topic, thereby maintaining the attention of his audience.

4.He makes people laugh, without telling canned jokes.

5.He was born with a great voice for radio, but he also knows how to use his resonators – the larynx, pharynx, soft palette, hard palette, sinuses, – all the parts that help us create a more pleasing and more interesting sound, and that makes people want to listen.

He may be a 15-year-old adolescent trapped in an adult body, but he has honed is speaking craft and for that he gets props from me.

– Barbara

Are you a Credible Speaker?

I went to a fitness class yesterday with the intention of working up a good sweat after two days of sitting. Ten minutes into the class, the instructor said, “Now it’s time to do some dead lifts.” He proceeded to demonstrate your basic squat. I thought to myself, “It’s Saturday morning, his brain is still in bed,” and I joined him in the squat sequence.

Another ten minutes went by and he began to explain the importance of stretching the piriformis muscle, but he pronounced it “pirsiform.” OK, maybe he’s hung over. A few minutes before the end of class he turned to us and said, “One more rep!” But what he meant to say was “One more set.” The whole class did one last rep and set their weights down and he yelled at us –yes, yelled at us – to keep going.

That was it. Now I was frustrated. He had lost all credibility with me. Which means I will likely vote with my feet and avoid his classes in the future.

Of all the attributes of a successful public speaker, credibility tops the list. It’s even higher than making a connection, because what good is a strong connection with the audience if they don’t believe what you’re saying? Here are three tips to keep in mind about establishing credibility:

1. Don’t talk about what you don’t know. Before you get up to present, read through your notes and be sure there is nothing in there that could undermine your authority. Feeling confident that you are in command of your subject matter is essential.

2. Establish your ‘street cred” up front. Don’t wait until the conclusion to tell us you lived in London for ten years when your topic is Royal Weddings. Lead with the information that will help your audience settle in and give you their attention.

3. Put some energy into your words. Don’t memorize your speech or read from your text. Speaking is meant to sound different from the written word. The reason I overlooked the first error the fitness instructor made was because he was so excited to do 30 squats. That was more important than using the correct term, so we all just went right along.

In summary, consider this quote by Eliot Spitzer: ”I don’t care about motivation. I care about credibility.” Wiser words…..

– Barbara

Three Ways to Spice Up Your Presentation

“If I’m not having fun, or learning anything, then I’d better be sleeping.”

– Dr. Paul Dobransky

One of my “go to” experts for great ideas and inspiration is Harvard professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter.  She’s known for having tangible advice and practical ideas on leadership and change.  I’ve noticed that she is often included on those lists of the most influential thinkers so clearly I’m not alone.

In addition to her book on Confidence, I remember reading a piece on leadership that really spoke to me.  It was about the importance of positive energy.  Successful leaders possess this quality and are able to communicate in ways that enable us to hear their message and internalize it.  Based on her work, I offer three tips for speakers and presenters who want to enhance their ability to “speak” to their audience.

1. Make sure your examples, anecdotes and references are positive. A strong, positive message delivers better results for your audience than a critical or negative one. Take an inventory of past presentations to assess how many examples or stories you use that are critical in nature or have a deficit mentality.  Now re-cast them in the positive.  You can still talk about decreasing error rates, etc., without bringing down the collective mood of the room.

2. Don’t try to control the audience. Great presenters keep the pace moving and maintain a southern California climate. They are not thrown by negative, listless or texting-obsessed audience members.  And most of all, they don’t try to control those people.  If you allow your agenda to be sabotaged by a few difficult people, the rest of your audience will blame you.  But if you maintain your energized, positive vibe, the audience will thank you for it.  One caveat:  if you have an audience member who is purposely trying to undermine your success, by all means, take them aside and ask them to leave in your most polite flight attendant voice.

3.  Don’t take yourself so seriously.  Oops. I should put that into a positive sentence.  Lighten up and release yourself from the expectation of perfection.  This tip is one that I have worked hard to achieve.  What I learned over the course of some excellent speeches and some not-so-great presentations is that the average audience wants us to succeed.  We don’t have to know everything about our topic, and we don’t have to get everything just right.  The #1 sign that you are able to lighten up and go with the flow?  You’re smiling.  Otherwise you are going to need Botox for that permanent crease between your brows – and who wants that?!

“Studies show that optimists are more likely to listen to negative information than pessimists, because they think they can do something about it. To keep moving through storms, energizers cultivate thick skins that shed negativity like a waterproof raincoat sheds drops of water. They are sometimes discouraged, but never victims.” – RMK

– Barbara

Newt Gingrich: An Object Lesson in What Not to Do

When I heard Newt Gingrich say that the reason he was unfaithful to his wives was because his passion for this country made him work too hard, I was nearly speechless (and that, my friends, is a rare moment). I yelled out to no one in particular, “Who’s buying this BS?!”

I was then reminded of one my coaching clients who had to deliver bad news to a direct report and his instinct was to dance around the issue so as to not hurt the employee’s feelings. The result was confusion, resentment, and the need for three more meetings to iron everything out. When I asked him what he learned from the experience he said, “Telling the truth saves time and money!”

Rarely, if ever, is obfuscation the best approach. Unless you are an executive assistant who tells the caller that his or her boss is “not available right now” rather than “in the bathroom and not coming out for a while,” speaking honestly and with clarity is the best approach.

While we all know that audiences can turn on you in a flash, what is also true is that audiences will forgive you for your mistakes if they feel that they can trust you and believe what you say. So take a lesson from thinking-about-thinking running for president Newt Gingrich and treat your audience with the respect they deserve.

Note: I could not find a link to the interview that was “neutral” so I will leave it up to you to watch whichever version appeals to your own politics or religious beliefs.

– Barbara

How to Win Others Over

As I was getting ready to write this post, I accidentally typed the letter T in the Google search window. Not because I wanted to, but because my dog wanted to go for a walk and he knows the best way to communicate that wish is to bump my hand off the mouse. All dog owners are nodding their heads right now. When I looked back up at the screen, the following search words had already popped up in this order: Target, TD Bank, Toys r Us and Twitter. Nothing I was interested in at the time, but it made me think about how the Google algorithm has a way of rank-ordering content to make our lives easier and more productive. That’s exactly what you need to do for your audience.

For today, let’s focus on the key message. Do you know your key message? Really? Let’s explore this a bit further. If you were my client and I asked you this question, you may say something like, “I want to convince my audience that they should switch to the American Express Open card and get rid of all their other cards.” Sounds like a key message, right? The only problem is, it’s being viewed through the wrong lens – yours. Where’s the audience in this? If you really wanted to win over your audience you would have said to me, “I want to exemplify the frustration people experience trying to juggle four credit cards because each one offers a different perk when all they need is the American Express Open with all the perks on one place.”

Human beings are managing an emotional balancing act at all times. The balance is between two simple things: pleasure and pain. Your key message, if you want to be successful, is to alleviate the pain and enhance the pleasure. Sometimes you have to point out the pain first and sometimes you have to open their eyes to the pleasure. Either way, if you use this one organizing tool, you will be a more persuasive and successful speaker.

If you would like to explore this concept further, I recommend you pick up a copy of the art of woo, by Richard Shell and Mario Moussa.

– Barbara

Four Quick Speaking Tips

If you’re like me, you are drowning in e-newsletters and marketing emails, and if so, I’ll go out on a limb and guess that most of them end up getting deleted without ever being opened. Which means your Mail Folder window looks like mine – a bolded “Deleted Items” folder – Outlook’s way of saying, “Hey! You got unread mail here.”

The other day I received an email about email. Well that made me curious, so I clicked on the link to the article which turned out to be a blog post about email etiquette. As I read it, I realized that all the helpful tips could apply to public speaking. So, thanks Rick at Business Hacks, for giving me an Aha! Moment. The parts in italic are Rick’s advice and the rest is my attempt to fit a square peg in a perfectly matched square hole.

1. Get to the verb. For email: Don’t make people dig through a long message to reach the action items. For speaking: Don’t make your audience have to wait for the key message. Tell them up front and in a concise manner the purpose of your presentation.

2. Number your issues or questions. For email: By giving each question its own line and number, you make it virtually impossible for people to ignore your multiple requests. For speaking: By providing a road map of your key points and the order you will present them, you increase the chances that your audience will actually listen to you instead of doing their grocery lists.

3. Label informational e-mails accordingly. For email: If you are sending an e-mail that has no action required, put FYI in the subject line. For speaking: Good speakers make it clear when they are simply providing information or when something important (persuasive, cautionary, punchline, etc.) is coming up. Choose your words carefully and use your voice as a way to differentiate the two.

4. Be as concise as possible. For email: Long e-mails are inconsiderate of your recipient’s time and more likely to result in you not getting the prompt attention you want. For speaking: Ditto! Your seven key points and 14 supporting points are only important to you. No one in the 21st century has the attention span for you to get through it all. So do everyone a favor and be a ruthless editor. I’m reminded of a client who called me for help after a particularly negative experience in which he had created 72 slides for a 30-minute presentation and just as he was about to start, the most important audience member was called back to the office. This VIP went up to my client and said, “Sorry, I have to go. Give me the presentation in a nutshell.” My client froze. He could not summarize his presentation into two sentences. Don’t let this happen to you.

If I were giving out belts for public speaking, these four tips would earn you a green belt.

– Barbara