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Category Archives: Preparation

News Flash: You are Always Fighting for the Attention of Your Audience

We have talked about this issue before but it bears repeating. Just because you think what you have to say is ‘off the hook’ important and maybe even life-changing, doesn’t mean your audience thinks the same. You have to give them a reason to listen, and then another, and so on.

Enter the three S’s of presentation design: structure, storyboarding, and storytelling. This post addresses the first S, structure.

There are several ways in which a speech can be organized. They all serve your goal of keeping the attention of your audience. Which one you choose depends on your subject matter and your purpose. Are you trying to inform, motivate, convince, or persuade? Once you know the answer to that question, then you are ready to work with one of the following structures:

Chronological – when a time sequence must take center stage

Topical – when your key topic is so broad that you must break it down into component parts

Compare and Contrast – when you are trying to convince your audience of the pros and cons of a particular issue

Proposal to Proof – when you need to take a strong position or make a proposal. First you explain your proposal and then you prove to your audience why it’s the best option

Cause and Effect – we’ve been using this structure since our 6th grade reports on photosynthesis and it still works as a method for explaining why your audience should, say, quit smoking.

Motivated Sequence – perhaps the most used organizing tool when your goal is to persuade. The Motivated Sequence was created by a professor at Purdue in the 1930s. The structure includes five elements:

a. Attention – we have a problem
b. Need – explanation
c. Satisfaction – here’s a solution
d. Visualization – just imagine what could happen
e. Action – let’s do something

Now you’re ready to complete the first step in the preparation process. It takes a lot longer than winging it, but a good structure will increase your chances of speaking to an audience who actually pays attention.

– Barbara

The Paradox of Cliches

This week we are focusing on cliches, those overexposed sayings and overused metaphors that we hear everyday. As I write this I am sitting in an office reception area that itself could be a cliche: neutral colored couch and chairs, ferns and greenery (some real/some not), magazines on glass tables,and framed colored photographs of sunsets on the walls. Seriously, what is more cliche than a photograph of a sunset ? On a wall in an office?

The paradox of cliches is that they are often profoundly true (love is blind) deeply human (there’s no place like home) and embarrassingly unoriginal (easy as pie). They are also occasionally offensive, so please NEVER ask to “pick my brain.”   While we have all witnessed the gasping pinks and blues of a summer sky (I took this photo on Martha’s Vineyard) and the physical rush of “falling in love”, to use cliches in speech or writing is to communicate in tired language that masks your vivid, original self. If, as you prepare a presentation, the familiar language of a cliche speaks to you, try to reframe and recast the idea in your own words, using vibrant color, characters, setting and story. This will make you more real and more memorable.

So when you think cliches, remember:  Avoid them like the Plague.

-Charlotte

P.S. Note to Bostonians: check out the Catherine Opie photography exhibit at the ICA for an interesting twist on sunrises and sunsets.

http://www.icaboston.org/exhibitions/onview/

Larry Crowne and Public Speaking

Having taught undergrads at the college level, I believe that gives me license to critique the movie Larry Crowne.  Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts are back together again, but in no way do they deserve your hard-earned money.  I went because I wanted to see what Hollywood would do to the art and craft of public speaking.

Julia Roberts plays a cynical, disaffected community college professor who reluctantly teaches Speech 217: The Art of Informal Remarks.  In every classroom scene she conveys a palpable loathing for her students, except at the end, of course, when she has been transformed by the “life is good” energy of her star student Larry Crowne, played by Tom Hanks.  Did she have to hate her job?  Would the movie be less compelling if she jumped out of bed every morning with the anticipation of shaping young minds and developing the talents of her students?  Oh, wait, I get it:  Larry Crowne is competing with Bad Teacher for box office revenues.  But I digress.

Do not see this movie.  I think Rex Reed said it best in his review:  “In an endurance test of 99 minutes that feels more like running a marathon on the Equator, nothing ever happens in this movie. There is no conflict. The characters are dead on arrival. Somebody must be held accountable for clunky, unspeakable dialogue like ‘I was worked up and under the influence of the demon rum.’ I mean, who talks like that outside the pages of paperbacks for hyper-thyroidal teens sold in airport departure lounges?”  Wow. Harsh.

On the bright side, the movie did get a couple of things right about public speaking.  First, Mrs. Tainot (Julia) suggests to her students  that they find three focal points in the room – one on the left, one on the right and one in the center of the room.  And when you have an important point to make, look directly at the center point for full effect.  Correct. One point for Hollywood.

The second thing they got right was how to deal with nerves.  Toward the end of the movie when Professor Tainot is preparing her students for the final speech, she has them stand up and move their bodies in all sorts of ways while reciting tongue twisters loudly.  This is a great way to diminish nervous tension and it was a real plus in an otherwise wasted two hours of my life.

Sorry Tom and Julia – I love your work, just not in this particular instance.  But Rita Wilson?  Your cameo as the mortgage loan officer stole the show.

– Barbara

Jane Fonda’s Autobiography: “My Life So Far”

I know I am getting older. And not only because of the number of times I have circled the sun, but because I find myself enjoying new interests like bird watching, peony-growing, and reading non-fiction.  Jane Fonda’s book was a revelation.

I admire and applaud her for writing with such intelligence and honesty. I was stunned by the duality of her life – what it looked like in pictures versus what was going on within. I was shocked that she shared so much about her very flawed parents, her fear, shame, disease to please, eating disorder and sex life. Fonda’s intellectual curiosity, transformation and journey to self are inspiring. Her true commitment to social and political change (especially for girls and women) is tremendous. This book is long, but it is very well structured, and filled with photos, celebrity insights, great quotes, and a comprehensive history of the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.

Jane Fonda studied acting with Lee Strasberg, who developed a style known as the Method. He became the artistic director of the Actors Studio and Fonda learned her most important acting techniques and lessons with him. Fonda quotes him as saying, “Tension is the occupational disease of the actor.”

Hmm…just the actor? Dare I say that tension is also the occupational disease of the public speaker? As Fonda explains it, relaxation is key for actors, so that “the body’s energetic flow is unimpeded and inspiration can rise and express itself through the actor’s spirit: in eyes, voice and movement…the body as instrument.” She continues, “ You can’t do most things well without being relaxed, not in sports, not in lovemaking, not in acting.”

We know in our heads that we need to embody this same relaxation when we speak in public, so that we make genuine connections and deeply feel that we have done our best.  For the speaker, this state of mind (and body!) is called “relaxed readiness.” Being relaxed and ready means we know where we are going, we’re ready to attend to the ebb and flow of unexpected people, questions, scenarios, and trusting that the ideas, the eyes, the voice and the movement will connect with our audience.  This is an occupational aspiration for public speakers.

-Charlotte

The Power of Superstition

I slammed the back door and heard a resounding crash. The Irish plumber ran in from outside to see what caused such a loud racket.  We looked at 1,000 pieces of shattered glass. In a heavy brogue he said, “You know, it’s not seven years of bad luck if you weren’t in the house when it happened.”

No, I didn’t know that, thank you very much. In fact, I’m too busy wondering if I would still be yelling my head off at one of my kids had they just done this. But now I have to worry. And come to think of it, did I not just break last night’s wine glass while cleaning up this morning? So, I’ve got potentially seven years of bad luck and we all know that bad things happen in threes. Now what? Throw salt? Spin in circles? Touch a tombstone?

I can’t believe that my chest is slightly constricted. Not only do I have a big mess to clean up, but I have to consider whether fate has knocked on my door and decreed a future outcome from this present state. Is this fear real?  Facts and science say no, but we all know that when our heart is beating fast, the relationship between facts and feelings is as disconnected as the vast difference between hearing and listening.

When I am presenting to a group and something unexpected and uncomfortable comes up, I experience this same chest constriction. It triggers a physiological “danger” response.  The motor of my inner voice starts gunning.  It takes concerted, against-the-flow effort to slow down the voice(s) and stay connected to what is happening in the room.  And then, most importantly, to genuinely move on. This is so hard to do and not unlike extricating myself from thousands of years of superstition. I cleaned up the shattered mirror, reflected on where this crash had led and wrote it down for you.  Now that was a good day’s work.

– Charlotte

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:  www.speakwellpartners.com

Stating the Obvious

Why do we need and value feedback and coaching? Because it is nearly impossible to 1) clarify your thoughts, 2) organize them into a cohesive presentation and 3) deliver them effectively while at the same time observing your own distracting quirks, de-railers and inconsistencies.   This 82 second video-test is a great example of this. Tell me how you do. -Charlotte