RSS Feed

Tag Archives: checklist

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


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.


Next Post: GPS: Where do you stand?

Q&A with NPR’s Jack Speer

I distinctly remember saying goodbye to Jack Speer. After years of playing in the firelanes behind his house and skating on the pond near mine, his family was moving away. I can still see his eyes magnified behind the lenses of his thick glasses, and the cowlick at his forehead. I was in first grade. While our parents stayed in touch (and his parents came to my wedding 27 years later), I only heard about Jack and his radio career second-hand. Last week, during one of his NPR broadcasts, I noticed how Jack delivers a lot of content in a short span, without sounding rushed or breathless. I wondered; “Would he consider being our first SpeakEasy blog guest?” Graciously, he said yes. Welcome Jack!

How do you connect to an audience when you can’t see them? Are there radio rules? Radio is described by communications theorists as a hot medium, as opposed to a cool medium like television. That means that a listener to radio is more engaged via either mental pictures or active listening than, for example, a person watching TV. I have to use my voice, my words and the audio I have to help them engage and to paint a picture of the story for them. I believe NPR does this better than anyone. That’s one of the reasons I love radio so much. I have done some TV work in my career as well but there are many more people involved in that process and as a communicator that can be more limiting.

I notice how you sustain long and strong phrasing on the radio. Can you talk about pacing and breathing? Phrasing, pacing and writing are all extremely important in radio. Every newscast is in essence a mini-show that has to time out exactly to the second. Because of that, I try to vary sentence length and construction to keep listeners from getting bored. A long sentence, followed by a short sentence, followed by something else…for example a soundbite or a reporter piece. Something that helps to transport the listener. If all of your sentences are the same length they can run together making your delivery sound monotone and boring. We try to mix it up a bit while still getting the story across.

Have you ever worked with a public speaking coach? Any lessons from that experience? I think everyone at NPR has at one point or another worked with a coach. They try to help in terms of how we write and prepare our copy and how we read that copy. Some of the techniques they have taught me include underlying key words. An underline can involve emphasis…UP or DOWN arrows show increasing or decreasing valuations. I also use symbols such as ———–> under a word to denote emphasis or extension.. Simple, stuff but effective. We are also taught to break up sentences or thoughts. And something I still occasionally battle with is the up inflection at the end of a sentence. It can sound artificial and stilted, so it is something that I have worked to smooth out and largely eliminate from my delivery.

When you speak in front of a live audience, are you a different presenter than when you are on the radio? Speaking in front of a live audience is quite different since they can see you. You have the ability to use not just your voice but your gestures, facial expressions and even tools like PowerPoint if you need them. I have always enjoyed public speaking. Perhaps it is because so much of my communication has been done via radio where I really don’t see the person I am speaking to. There is a human connection in public speaking that I really like. I also find it very enjoyable to interact with an audience. To me the most fun thing about giving a speech is usually the Q&A at the end. Kind of like this Q&A only with more people!

Should I include the picture of us at age 5 in the bathtub in this post? I can’t believe you actually have that!

That was informative and fun. Thank you Jack.


The Things We Carry: Getting Over a Bad Speech

During yesterday’s long shoveling ritual, I moved the heavy, sleet-drenched snow deposited in our driveway by the city plows and got to thinking about the weight of the snow I was carrying (and about the energy required to lift it over the now five-foot high snow walls that line our drive and walkways.) Each shovelful was (I guess) a good ten pounds. It was heavy and wet and nasty. The storms of January have ranged from exhilarating fun, to yesterday’s “you have got to be kidding me” misery. I have carried a lot of snow this month.

As I followed this reflective snow daze, I thought about the things we carry as speakers…the heavy memories of presentations gone awry in our personal and professional lives. In our speaker workshops we often lead discussions about those, “worst-ever” presentation stories. Everyone has one. Many go back to early teen days. They all are vividly recalled and easily refreshed. I usually share my New Orleans 1986 “disaster” which took place in a packed Tulane University auditorium. I wanted to impress both my new colleague at Fidelity and the hard-won administrators from Tulane. Needless to say, there were no blue skies for me that morning. I was disappointed, embarrassed, vulnerable. It’s a bitter taste.

I have never met a person who does not have a variation of this story. It is part of the human communication condition and explains why there is a public speaking coaching industry. And while it’s one thing to have a sense memory about a bad speech, it’s another thing to let it develop into avoidance or a final judgment of your true speaking skill. Here are three things to do to get over a bad speech:

1. Get Real: Don’t brush it off or make it more (or less) than it was. Understand what went wrong from the inside out. Make notes to yourself – ideally in a journal – about how you will revise and improve on these things the next time. In my case, I was so focused on the opinions of the wrong people that I totally forgot about my audience.
2. Say It Out Loud: There is no benefit to letting your disappointment linger, nor hiding in shame. Find someone who you respect to share your story with. They will offer you good feedback and support. At Tulane, I swallowed my shame and let is fester. Now, I use it as a story that connects me to other speakers.
3. Find Another Speaking Opportunity ASAP: The sooner you get back in the saddle the better. In some cases, that may be leading a staff meeting, or presenting a project update to colleagues, but anything is better than nothing. It’s not so much who is in your audience than it is about honing your skills and feeling (yes, feeling in your body) the improvement you are capable of making in a short time.

Wet, heavy snow is one thing. Other than aching arms, the day passes. Bad presentations gone awry are another, you need to proactively put your experience in perspective, learn and move on.

-Charlotte Dietz

The Importance of Silence

While it may sound like an oxymoron, silence is a speaker’s best friend. The well-placed pause, the active listening to a question from the audience, the five-second wait after you’ve posed a question – all gifts that a talented speaker takes full advantage of.

Today I want to talk about the importance of silence right before you begin your presentation or speech. And again, I speak from experience. Last Sunday, I was the emcee of a local fundraiser that attracted several “centers of influence” in my world. We were running late and a handful of final tasks needed to be completed before I could welcome the group and kick off the event. My notes were in my bag which was two rooms away. First mistake. Suddenly, my colleagues were giving me the nod to get going, so I jumped up and launched into my opening remarks. It went well. Everyone could hear me; I had the right amount of energy in my voice without sounding cheerleader-ish; and I put people at ease with my humor. All systems go, right?

Not so much. In my haste, I overlooked an important element. I forgot to thank the event host. If only I had stepped away for a moment to gather my thoughts and to breathe. I know I would have gone through my mental checklist even if I had no time to grab my note card from the other room. Some things you only have to learn once and you never forget. Others rear their ugly head again and again. This is my blind spot as a speaker. I’m one part over-confident and one part distracted right before I speak. I count on my impromptu speaking skills to carry me to the finish line. But it’s not enough.

The next time you are to play a critical role like emcee, or you are speaking to your own centers of influence, take a moment to settle down, to breathe, and to conduct a mental tech rehearsal.

To your evolution as a powerful presenter,

– Barbara