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Category Archives: Simple Tips

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

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Five Deadly Sins of Public Speaking

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If you want to be a better speaker, watch others in action. It’s a great way to reinforce the dos and don’ts of excellent communication. Sadly, there are more examples of what not to do and last week’s keynote address at a national conference was no exception. Once again, what seems fundamental cannot be over-stated.

Thou Shalt Not…

Submit a photo that is more than five years old.
Unless you are Madonna or Steven Tyler, you probably looked a lot better in photos from years past. But when the speaker looks nothing like the image in the conference program, it is a huge disconnect for the audience. Swallow your vanity and use a recent photo, or better yet, have a professional shot taken that captures the best of you today.

Wear clothes or jewelry that distract from your message.
Women: Let’s leave the glitter and the sparkle to Olympic gymnasts. This particular keynote speaker was wearing an ill-fitting, knee-length jacket that had a metallic weave and rhinestone buttons that practically blinded the audience when she moved. Men: Let’s leave the loud ties and big rings to anchorman Ron Burgundy.

Telegraph your mistakes.
When the speaker repeated the same sentence three times, we all understood the problem – she was having a brain freeze. With each reiteration, she lost connection with the audience by looking up and then down. If this happens to you, take a pause, refer to your notes that you knowingly placed on a table or lectern nearby, or share an anecdote. You will eventually remember what you wanted to say next…which brings us to the next deadly sin.

Tell a story you don’t fully remember.
Stories are powerful connectors to your content and your audience. We love them. However, to be effective, they need detail and an easy-to-follow connection to your key message. The speaker’s instinct was good, but her story left us on third base with no one waving us in.

Leave your opening lines to chance.
You must nail the first few sentences of your presentation. Never start with the word “um.” Second worst word? “So…” First impressions are critical. Be sharp, focused, and captivating. Memorize your first three sentences.

Next time knock ’em dead.

– Barbara and Charlotte

How to Introduce a Speaker

Recently I gave a presentation to a group of 40 people at a statewide conference.  A few minutes before the official start time I noticed that all the seats were filled so I asked the audience if I could start early.  All were in favor.  Why did I want to start early?  To avoid the ubiquitous death-by-introduction nightmare that runs rampant at these types of conferences.

I’m sure you’ve experienced this scenario before: you’re in your seat waiting for the presentation to start; the speaker is up front fidgeting while he or she waits for the conference volunteer – a complete stranger – to read the introduction from a piece of paper they’ve never laid eyes on.  The introducer slogs through the text with no emotion and usually a lot of mistakes.  Then, the speaker is supposed to step right in and be compelling.  Ugh.

This blog post is written to help those who are asked to introduce a speaker.  Regardless of how famous or powerful that speaker may be, if you follow these tips, you will give a great introduction and at the same time, ensure that the speaker can really hit their stride right out of the gate.

In order to deliver a dynamic and compelling introduction, you must do three things:

1. Obtain the speaker’s biography

Most speakers have a biographical sketch ready to go at a moment’s notice so this should not be a difficult task. If your speaker does not have one ready, then ask them to give you the Big Five:  current job and title, areas of expertise, academic background, title/focus of presentation, and something personal such as hobbies or hometown.  The biggest challenge is usually cutting out information from a lengthy and dry biography.

2.  Balance credibility with creativity

The goal is to give the audience enough information to establish the credibility of the speaker without going overboard. The next goal is to provide a sense of the speaker as a person.  One important distinction you must make is whether or not you can use the speaker’s first name or even a nickname to make him or her seem more approachable.  There are many situations in which this will not be allowed so be sure to check.  Some good questions to gather personal information to spice up your introduction are:  “How did you end up in this role?”  “Was this your dream job when you were 21?”  “What’s your favorite part of the job/topic”  “When you are not doing X, where or on what do you spend your time?”

3.  Write it down, then practice out loud

It is important that you have the introduction on paper.  Practice by reading your text out loud several times.  Since you do not want to read every word in real time, this stand-and-deliver practice will help you sound more comfortable – as if you actually knew the speaker personally.  Borrowing from the ancient Greeks, keep the following elements in mind:

Why this person?  Why this topic?  What can the audience expect to hear?

Good luck!

– Barbara

I am NOT a fashion mogul

I am an irrational dresser. In fact, I am sure that I join the ranks of millions who only wear the really nice clothes we own for special occasions. And by really nice I mean the ones that either cost a lot or that originally cost a lot and I got on sale (which would be 100% of my “nice” wardrobe.)  I don’t really think “out-of-the-box” either. No mixing high fashion (I spent more) with low fashion (I spent less) or wearing something really nice to a casual event. Never. I am not the daughter of a Depression-era farm boy for nothing! But, there is an important connection between public speaking and the clothes we wear.

 The beauty of a healthy attitude that emanates from looking our best is that it actually helps us to STOP THINKING about ourselves.  I feel good, I look good…. I can really focus on the people I am talking to.  That is our central message to our clients. Be prepared. Know what you want to say. Get out of your own way and think about THEM.

 Effective speakers prepare on many levels. One is dressing to feel strong, comfortable and self-confident. This is NOT about ridiculous standards of beauty, or fashion obsession, or the insane culture of narcissism we are living in.  I hate all of that.  It’s about understanding the power that comes from being our best, taking the time and energy to prepare for that and then focusing on what really matters between people.

I may have inspired myself to clean out my closet. Happy Holidays!

Charlotte Dietz

Handling Difficult Questions

“Questions tempt you to tell lies, particularly when there is no answer.” – Picasso

In a mock press conference I asked my client a question for which he did not have a ready answer.  As his mind raced to come up with a coherent response, his nerves got the best of him and he froze.  I said, “Cut!” and we discussed what just happened.  In a nutshell, he did not know how to handle the situation and the longer he waited, the worse it became in his mind.

There are a few tried and true tactics you can utilize when faced with a difficult question.  Remember that these moments – while certainly high pressure and fraught with the unknown – are really just another opportunity to get your message across.  When all else fails, try to turn the focus back to one of your key points, by saying, “As I said previously…”

Second, never make up an answer or evade the question.  If it’s a matter of not understanding what was asked, try to repeat the question and ask for verification. If it’s a matter of not wanting to answer, then rephrase the question to the one you hoped would be asked.  The classic lead-in is “If you’re asking me X…then…”

Third, if you still find yourself stuck, then ask a question back:  “Can you re-state your question?” or “Why is that important?” At a minimum, you buy yourself some time.

Finally, for those questions that cannot be answered due to legal or other reasons, explain to the questioner that you are not able to answer the question at that time and you’ll get back to them, or bridge to another point by saying, “but what I can tell you is…” This is one of the most helpful transition phrases you can put in your bag of tricks.

The more you practice answering difficult questions, the better you become at staying focused on a key message and avoiding the verbal cul-de-sac.  We advise our clients to keep their answers to 20 seconds.

So the next time you are about to enter in a Q&A session, remember the wise words of Mae West who said, “Don’t keep a man guessing too long – he’s sure to find the answer somewhere else.”

– Barbara Roche

The Name Tag Nightmare

Please answer the following question. “When I attend a business or social event, I wear my nametag….”

  1. Clipped to the bottom of my shirt so it doesn’t ruin the fabric.
  2. In the middle of my chest, where everyone can see it.
  3. I don’t wear them, they are so tacky.
  4. At my left breast coat pocket.
  5. Clipped to my purse.
  6. On my right shoulder.

At any given event, we see all of the above. It’s just crazy! When I am meeting you for the first time (and maybe even the second or third in which case I probably have forgotten your name and am really worried about that) there are about 10 million neurons firing in my unconscious brain. You are probably saying your name as I shake your hand, but I am so absorbed by the avalanche of information my brain is processing, that I really, really need that visual cue to remember your name. And, since the fundamental purpose for wearing a name tag is so that OTHER people can see our NAMES, then the only conceivable answer to where to wear ….is #6. On the right shoulder.  (Well #2 can work, but if you are a woman you are really creating an embarrassing situation for yourself, so please don’t do that).

The scientific reason for wearing the nametag on your right shoulder is that when we shake with our right hand (as even lefties do) our eyes naturally travel up the arm and land on the name tag. It’s a visual reinforcement of your body’s motion.  This couldn’t be easier. Our motto for public speaking is “Present for your audience.” For nametags, it’s exactly the same.

Charlotte Dietz

Simple Presentation Tips #1

Can notes written on a simple 8 ½ x 11 sheet of paper undermine a presenter? YES, when the nerves of an otherwise great communicator are belied by one of the 25 (shaking) muscles in our hands. We recommend using oversized 5×8 index cards for your presentation notes. If the presentation requires more than four cards, punch a hole through them and put the cards on a loose leaf ring (Staples) to avoid the nightmare of potentially dropping them. Dare I say…”that was easy?”

-Charlotte Dietz