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Tag Archives: Effective Presenter

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

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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

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

“Does anyone have any questions for my answers?” – Henry Kissinger

Want a sure-fire way to speak extemporaneously without sounding like the captain of the All Drone Team?  Here it is: Lather, Rinse, Repeat.

Lather:  While you’re waiting for your brain to kick into gear, fill the silence with build-up words rather than empty filler words like um and ah.  You could say “Thank you for that question [insert name here], I always appreciate an opportunity to talk about this important issue.”  This technique gives you a minimum of five seconds to formulate an answer without uttering one boring filler word.  Another option is to repeat or rephrase the question before you answer.

Once you’ve identified your primary message point, deliver that message with a confident tone. Your non-verbals need to say “I know this stuff and I stand by my answer.”

If you don’t know the answer to the question or don’t want to answer it, you can invoke the age-old trick of redirecting to your preferred question.  For example, last fall, when Congress was dragging their feet on whether to raise taxes, MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell tried to get White House Senior Advisor David Axelrod to talk about the split among Democrats when he asked, “Who’s right?  The ‘go-home now’ Democrats or the ‘fix taxes first’ Democrats?”  But Axelrod did not want to criticize his own party so he answered, “Well, the question really is ‘what about the hold-the-tax-cuts-hostage Republicans,’ which is what this debate is really about.”  This redirect allowed him to emphasize his key message.

Rinse:  Provide supporting and interesting details for edification.  A compelling statistic, an example, a story – all these strategies work well for enhancing the attention and interest of your audience.

Repeat:  Now that you’re in the groove, simply summarize your key point in a more articulate manner and then stop talking. The stopping is just as important as the starting.

– Barbara

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

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

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

Unplug Before You Present!

I attended a keynote presentation last week at an international conference of 3,000 or so executives. I arrived at the ballroom early to get a good seat for the kickoff event because I wanted to gather a lot of new ideas from the keynote speaker who was a nationally known expert in his field. I was the ideal audience member: my interest and expectations were high, I had pen and paper in hand, and a look of anticipation on my face.

Imagine my disappointment when ten minutes into an awkward introduction, the speaker’s Skype alert pops onto the screen. In case you don’t have a Skype alert, see the image above, except that there is no blackout of the person’s name.

Anyway! When this otherwise small and inconspicuous alert pops up on your desktop back at the office, it’s a helpful tool at best, and at worst, it’s a minor distraction. But when the message is magnified on a 20×30-foot I-Max screen, it’s a huge distraction. The speaker didn’t notice it because to his credit, his attention was focused on the audience.

Luckily, there was nothing too personal or potentially damaging during the 1-hour presentation, but it was very distracting. I kept hoping someone really famous would go online, like Hillary Clinton or Chris Rock. I could hear several audience members commenting on how unfortunate it was that the speaker forgot to turn off his alerts and how clueless he seemed to be about the whole thing. Those murmurs turned to laughter at each consecutive pop-up. Needless to say, it was harder to stay focused on the content of the presentation because we all just had to read every alert. After all, inquiring minds want to know.

Before your next big presentation, turn off all your alerts, sounds, beeps, and any other potentially damaging or distracting information. And speaking from experience, this goes for your desktop wallpaper. Need I say more?

– Barbara