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Category Archives: Speech Delivery

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

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/

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

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

Public Speaking Lessons from the Tony Awards

Award shows offer dozens of do’s and don’ts for aspiring public speakers. Sunday night’s Tony Awards telecast was no exception. Here are just a few that I thought were especially instructive:

1. Every so often, change the pace of your presentation. To understand what I mean, you only need to watch this opening number with Hugh Jackman and Neil Patrick Harris. The structure is pitch perfect (as were their voices) for a 21st century (tweeting/texting) audience. Sometimes slow, sometimes fast, these two gifted performers held your attention better than if they had done one song at the same tempo all the way through.

2. Use the silent pause. I would include a link to John Leguizamo’s performance, but I can’t seem to find one. He was charming, engaging, and hilarious. He puts the pause just where it belongs to get maximum return on investment. Sometimes the pause was to allow for audience laughter (don’t step on your own jokes), and sometimes the pause was meant to let the words sink in and hit their mark. Other than putting his hands in his pockets, he put on a public speaking clinic.

3. Use your whole body to full effect. Granted, when you are on stage in front of a few thousand people, you are more inclined to enhance your gestures, but even if you are in Ballroom B at the Howard Johnson’s Motel at 1:30 in the afternoon, your non-verbal communication can do wonders to keep the attention of your audience. Don’t stand in one spot for more than a few minutes. Use the full height and width of your gesture ‘box’ – that square space from the top of your head to your hips. Keep your hands in view at your beltline when not gesturing and every so often, close the distance between you and your audience.

4. Never admit to your audience that you didn’t prepare. The actress who won for best musical confessed that she thought the idea of winning was so far-fetched that she didn’t prepare any remarks. Bad strategy. If your goal is to appear self-effacing or humble, you can still pull that off by saying “I am so surprised that I am at a loss for words” or something similar. Your audience will get the point. If there is even a slight chance that you will be asked to speak, have something ready to go, just in case. Who knows, it could be your moment to shine and there you are with a deer-in-the-headlights look.

On the Road Again

I love maps. I love figuring out travel routes and examining the terrain.  I have lived in Massachusetts for 33 years, yet I still continue to pore over New England maps whenever I get on the road.  I can’t relate to the “I have no sense of direction” people who look at me like I have two heads when I tell them to head east on Commonwealth Avenue.  And, for those of us who live in Boston (the mecca for road design that makes no sense…and makes us secretly proud insiders), we know that there are many paths that lead to our destination. As it goes with public speaking.

My client had an important presentation for a thousand people. Naturally, he wanted to be clear and moving, succinct and spellbinding. He had an insightful, intelligent, heartfelt story to tell.  We broke his presentation into three parts. (Remember, 3’s and their subsets are easy to remember). Each part had its own beginning, its path so to speak, that once set upon would be easy to follow and remember.  We developed opening sentences to the sections that would place him squarely on the road.  Easy, right?

Not so much. While we practiced he kept changing his opening lines, which led him deeply into the weeds.  I finally used the map metaphor.  Stop changing the route! Stay on the path we have created, it works and it will get you there. Stop thinking you can meander off into a side road, because inevitably you are going to get lost or take a much more circuitous route to get to your destination.  You will get there, but you will lose your audience in the process.  After a few stops and starts, he understood the power of seeing and staying the course.

Speakers need to map out presentations, to visualize and essentially memorize the route. All successful presenters do this.  One of the jobs of a good coach is to help you map the best route for your presentation.  So, think map metaphor when you design your next presentation.

-Charlotte

Next Post: GPS: Where do you stand?

Manage Your Nerves Like a Hollywood Actor

“I’m very pleased to be hosting the Oscars again because fear and nausea always make me lose weight.” – Steve Martin

There’s a theme emerging this month with my coaching clients: the battle of the public speaking butterflies. In a couple of cases, a more accurate description would be “Overcoming Crippling Stage Fright.” If you have your own dose of public speaking anxiety, you are in good company. Barbara Streisand and Carly Simon are two examples of talented performers who can be gripped by stage fright before a show. As Carly herself once said, “I can’t say I’m really comfortable about [performing in front of thousands of people], but I’m very positive. I know that, as nervous as I might get, or as shell-shocked as I might feel, I’ll get through it and I’ll give the audience a good show.”

Perhaps the best story I’ve heard on making lemonade out of nervous lemons is the one about comedian Steven Wright who is best known for his droll and deadpan delivery style. As the story goes, he was so nervous during his debut standup act that the audience thought he was in character and as a result, his stage persona was launched.

We may not all be as lucky as Steven Wright, but we are capable of managing the butterflies. My advice today is to print out the poem below and keep it handy so that you can recite it before your next presentation. I stumbled across it when I was researching stage fright and it spoke to me. If it works for stage and screen actors, it can work for the rest of us.

The Actor’s Vow (condensed)

I will take my rightful place on the stage
And I will be myself.

I am not a cosmic orphan
I have no reason to be timid.

I will have my throat open.
I will have my heart open.
I will be vulnerable.

I may have anything or everything the world
Has to offer, but the thing
I need most, and want most, is to be myself.

The best and most human parts of me are
Those I have inhabited and hidden from
The world.

I will work on it.
I will raise my voice.
I will be heard.

Break a leg…

– Barbara