RSS Feed

Category Archives: Audience Reaction

Make Your Audience Feel Something

I was stuck in a meeting from hell today. Boring agenda. Listless participants. Too many tangents. If that weren’t enough, the meeting leader was not on his game and had introduced the first agenda item and then the second without taking time for introductions. One participant raised her hand and asked, “I know we’re half-way through this meeting, but I would really like to know who’s here. Could we go around the room and introduce ourselves?” Everyone agreed so we stopped the meeting for introductions. These too, were mind-numbingly dull until one guy shared a fun fact about himself.

After giving us his name, rank and serial number, he happened to mention that he just returned home from his honeymoon. At that point a few heads turned his way. The meeting leader made an off-hand comment about vows of marriage being a really big step in a person’s life, to which the guy replied, “True, but when you strike oil, you stop drilling.”

Everyone in the room perked up and looked at him directly, and what we saw was a smile on his face that went from one ear to the other. He was beaming. I don’t think it’s too much of a leap to assume that the women started smiling back at him because it is refreshing to hear a guy publicly express loving thoughts about his wife, even if he did compare her to an oil gusher. I suppose the men in the room – and I’m taking a Scientific Wild-Ass Guess here – started smiling because the speaker’s facial expression may have conjured up images of, well, a great honeymoon.

From that moment on the meeting changed. There was energy and bonding and whoever else was left to introduce themselves stepped up their game. In scientific terms, the speaker’s sharing of personal information and expression of genuine emotion opened up a neural pathway in our brains that then let in more information and encouraged us to participate.

Sharing emotion may feel risky, but it can help you make a much better connection with your audience.

– Barbara

Advertisements

Robbing Peter to Pay Paul

Part One of a Two-Part Series on Ridding your Speech of Clichés

The debt ceiling debate has shed light on many problems, not the least of which is our penchant for speaking in clichés. After weeks of listening to politicians on both sides of the aisle sound like used car salesmen, we now have a list in my house of the Top Five sayings that should never be uttered again in this century:

 

  1. At the end of the day
  2. Kick the can down the road
  3. To be perfectly honest
  4. Robbing Peter to pay Paul
  5. Thinking outside the box

Thanks to the endless parade of talking heads, these expressions are plumb wore out (I just had to do that).  When you don’t have anything substantive to say, or you haven’t prepared, these clichés come in handy.  Many of our clients will respond to our feedback on eliminating clichés by saying that it’s important that they sound casual and conversational.  That’s fine.  You can still appear easy-going without uttering one of the five bizblabs above.  There is a difference between conversational speaking in which you avoid fancy, ivory-tower-sounding words and sleep-inducing catch phrases.

Do your audience a favor and delete these expressions from your memory.

– Barbara

Swim to the Deep End!

Thirty minutes into a challenging indoor cycling class when I was “seeing Elvis,” the instructor said, “If you have anything left in the tank, turn the tension up one more time.”  At that moment I had an epiphany:  the human body is capable of much more than the mind allows.  Once we push past the mental barrier that yells, “I can’t! It’s too hard!,” we find that we are stronger, smarter, and open to new possibilities.   Medal-winning athletes know this, and so do successful speakers.

When you are about to stand up and speak, what’s going through your mind?  Odds are it’s something like, “Let me just get through this without embarrassment,” or “Please don’t let me trip on the electrical cord.”  Chances are that you are not thinking, “I can’t wait to take a risk and really put myself out there.”

This blog post is an invitation to let your body move past the limits that your mind imposes.  If you want to really impress your audience and leave them with a pleasant aftertaste, consider incorporating one of these physical techniques:

  1. Change your volume.  If you are naturally on the church mouse end of the continuum, try speaking much louder.  If your style is closer to the carnival barker, try softening your voice.  Notice what it does to the rest of your delivery.
  2. Sing loudly right before you present.  You will be more energized and relaxed when you begin your presentation.
  3. Make a sound effect where you would normally use an adjective.  Go from bland to “Now that got my attention!”
  4. Step away from the lectern.  It’s a crutch.  Try speaking in the “magic circle” – that space front and center of the room.  Your audience will thank you.
  5. Break the wall.  Most speakers deliver their presentation at a “professional” distance from their audience.  Try moving closer into the personal space for an important point and then move back.

Break the mental barrier that keeps us stuck in the safe-and-average shallow end and move into the risky-and-fabulous deep end of the pool!  Your body should be in the lead role, not your mind.

– Barbara

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

What Good Are Your Words if We Can’t Understand You?

Did your mother ever say to you, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it”? That may be true if you are trying to maintain harmony in your household, but it’s bad advice for aspiring public speakers. How you say the words is just as important as the words you choose. Take for example the important skill of articulation. When you combine poor enunciation with a fast, nervous pace, it is easy to be misunderstood, and possibly even insulting to others.

The other day I was working out to an exercise DVD with my head down, shuffling side to side, not looking at the TV when the instructor yelled “Congressman Brown, Congressman Brown!” I stopped in my tracks and stood up. What?! Surely he didn’t just say that. I rewound the clip and this time I watched while I listened and it turns out that the words were “cover some ground, cover some ground.” OK, that made more sense.

The best way to improve your articulation skills is to speak into a tape recorder and listen back to it. Better yet, have someone else listen to it and tell you what they heard. It’s a better technique than videotaping because the only cue a listener has to understand you is your verbal delivery.

Do you want to hear a great example of verbal articulation? Listen to a clip of Anna Deveare Smith. She’s a master.

– Barbara

Marcus Buckingham and the Power of Showing Up

I admit that I would watch a 24-hour cable channel devoted to Marcus Buckingham.  He is not only a font of information on career advancement and workplace engagement, but he’s also, shall we say, telegenic.  I had the pleasure of seeing him present again this week on his new research and upcoming book called StandOut – the next iteration of strengths-based research.

This post has to do with his presentation rather than his new content (the book’s not out until September).  The key lesson I took away from his 40-minute presentation was that you have to show up completely to be a successful speaker.  The other presenters I saw at this conference were not nearly as impressive. They were just phoning it in.  You could tell they did not care if they were in Fresno or Fredonia so long as they sold products.

But Marcus was running on all cylinders and the audience ate it up.  It did not hurt that he was preceded by the amazing dance troupe called G Force who pumped up the audience and got the energy flowing.   Imagine if he came out on stage after that dazzling display with his shoulders slouched and mumbling an awkward introduction.  Everyone would have looked down at their I-Pads or smart phones (like they did in other sessions).

The lesson here is to stop strategizing and rehearsing right before you speak. Instead, take a moment to center yourself, enjoy a few, deep cleansing breaths and go.  When you show up fully, the audience responds in kind.

– Barbara

“American Idol” versus “The Voice”

My kids have already put “The Voice” on DVR pre-record mode. They are hooked and I may be getting there too.  American Idol never did a thing for me.  So what is going on?

Despite the incredibly tacky design and fight-ring theme, the blind auditions, star studded feedback (they vote with their hands, not their feet!) and team building competition makes for compelling intrigue. I love the blind audition element because it demonstrates how affected we all are by how people look.  We are thinking, “Wow, this is one crazy looking woman!” or “This guy looks like a 12 year old white kid from the Midwest but he sure sounds like a mature black R&B star!” But, since the celebrity judges can’t see the singers, they have to listen with their ears and hearts. And who doesn’t love the look of surprise, delight, and amazement when the stars slam their buzzer, swivel their (tacky!) chairs around and get to see the singer they just voted for! It’s so satisfying to watch their curiosity get piqued. It’s awesome. And fair.

In his book BLINK , Malcolm Gladwell describes the process that orchestras throughout the world faced in the mid 20th century, as auditioners began to fight the bias of conductors for white male players.  Screens were being used to avoid potential nepotism. Since “naturally” some instruments are “male” and should be played only by a man, judges were stunned when faced with a petite woman “blowing the house” out of her “male” trombone instrument. There was a lot of pushback.  Nonetheless since orchestras began using screens, “the number of women in the top US orchestras has increased five-fold.”  We listen with our eyes, whether we want to admit it or not.

For speakers this underscores the importance of recognizing how critical our physical movement and presence is to our audience. For singers on The Voice, it means (at least in the first round) freedom.

-Charlotte