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Tag Archives: Effective Presenter

What Should You Do With Your Hands?

Charlotte and I facilitated a Speaker Bootcamp this week for a great company whose employees were ready and willing to learn.  When we reached the section on hand gestures, one participant asked, “Does a speaker have to use hand gestures?”  Our answer:  Only on the days of the week that end in Y.

If you want to connect with and leave a lasting impression on your audience, gestures are one leg of a three-legged stool. Without them, the impact of your words and your voice will be diminished.   Great speakers communicate visually as well as verbally.

When we asked the participant to elaborate on her question, she explained that she always felt awkward using her hands and therefore felt that her gestures detracted from her presentation.  She is not alone.  And for that reason, I thought it would be worthwhile to share the coaching we provided during the workshop:

  1.  Find a comfortable base position for your hands near your belt line.  This is the ideal spot for resting hands because it is neither too close to your chest (which can signal fear) nor too close to your, well, crotch, which can signal defensiveness.
  2. While in the base position, try not to grip your hands too tightly. White knuckles are a dead giveaway for nervousness.
  3. Visualize the gesturing “box” which is just outside and above your shoulders and no lower than your hips.  Keep your gestures in this box when you are standing up to speak.
  4. If you are sitting – for example, as a member of a panel presentation – don’t rest your elbows on the table while you gesture.  Sit tall in your chair with your forearms off the table when you are speaking.  When you are waiting your turn to speak, it is fine to rest your arms, but be mindful of your posture so you don’t slouch.
  5. Don’t bounce your hands when gesturing.  Your goal is to enhance your words, not detract from them.  Bouncing hands only worked for Mussolini.

Finally, keep one important thing in mind:  your energy has to go somewhere.  Whether it’s nervous energy or positive energy, using your hands effectively will channel that energy to the right place. Otherwise, it’s going to ooze out in your stance and you will rock and roll in your feet, hips and knees.  Your audience will wonder if you need to use the restroom.

So, yes, Virginia, always use your hands when you speak.

– Barbara


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

Five Deadly Sins of Public Speaking

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

Mike Huckabee and The Big Lie

Hard to believe that the 2012 presidential race has begun. Even harder to believe that the “silly season” is already upon us. I find presidential campaigns fascinating for a number of reasons, but mostly for the lessons they provide for public speaking. And we are off to a good start.

In case you were distracted by the Charlie Sheen debacle, allow me to provide the gist of what happened with Mike Huckabee last week. During a radio interview in which he was trying to appeal to the tea party voters, he claimed that Barack Obama grew up in Kenya and was influenced by his Muslim father and grandfather. He’s not the first politician to lie, but this one was especially grievous due to the fact that he knows full well that Obama lived in Hawaii, that he didn’t meet his father until he was 11,and that he didn’t step foot in the continent of Africa until he was an adult. By Sunday he had to dial it back and claim he misspoke.

The lesson for public speakers – and hopefully for Huckabee – is about the importance of credibility. When you establish credibility with your audience, you can then develop trust. Only with that relationship can you persuade others to consider your position. Whether you are trying to raise money, sell a product, or convince your Board to adopt a new policy, you must be seen as credible and trustworthy.

What happens when a speaker lies to his or her audience? Simple. Loss of credibility is like broken glass. You can glue it back together but it will never be the same. If I were Mike Huckabee’s advisor, this is what I would be telling him. But, as Norman Vincent Peale once said, most of us “would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.”

– Barbara

How to Win Others Over

As I was getting ready to write this post, I accidentally typed the letter T in the Google search window. Not because I wanted to, but because my dog wanted to go for a walk and he knows the best way to communicate that wish is to bump my hand off the mouse. All dog owners are nodding their heads right now. When I looked back up at the screen, the following search words had already popped up in this order: Target, TD Bank, Toys r Us and Twitter. Nothing I was interested in at the time, but it made me think about how the Google algorithm has a way of rank-ordering content to make our lives easier and more productive. That’s exactly what you need to do for your audience.

For today, let’s focus on the key message. Do you know your key message? Really? Let’s explore this a bit further. If you were my client and I asked you this question, you may say something like, “I want to convince my audience that they should switch to the American Express Open card and get rid of all their other cards.” Sounds like a key message, right? The only problem is, it’s being viewed through the wrong lens – yours. Where’s the audience in this? If you really wanted to win over your audience you would have said to me, “I want to exemplify the frustration people experience trying to juggle four credit cards because each one offers a different perk when all they need is the American Express Open with all the perks on one place.”

Human beings are managing an emotional balancing act at all times. The balance is between two simple things: pleasure and pain. Your key message, if you want to be successful, is to alleviate the pain and enhance the pleasure. Sometimes you have to point out the pain first and sometimes you have to open their eyes to the pleasure. Either way, if you use this one organizing tool, you will be a more persuasive and successful speaker.

If you would like to explore this concept further, I recommend you pick up a copy of the art of woo, by Richard Shell and Mario Moussa.

– Barbara

Four Quick Speaking Tips

If you’re like me, you are drowning in e-newsletters and marketing emails, and if so, I’ll go out on a limb and guess that most of them end up getting deleted without ever being opened. Which means your Mail Folder window looks like mine – a bolded “Deleted Items” folder – Outlook’s way of saying, “Hey! You got unread mail here.”

The other day I received an email about email. Well that made me curious, so I clicked on the link to the article which turned out to be a blog post about email etiquette. As I read it, I realized that all the helpful tips could apply to public speaking. So, thanks Rick at Business Hacks, for giving me an Aha! Moment. The parts in italic are Rick’s advice and the rest is my attempt to fit a square peg in a perfectly matched square hole.

1. Get to the verb. For email: Don’t make people dig through a long message to reach the action items. For speaking: Don’t make your audience have to wait for the key message. Tell them up front and in a concise manner the purpose of your presentation.

2. Number your issues or questions. For email: By giving each question its own line and number, you make it virtually impossible for people to ignore your multiple requests. For speaking: By providing a road map of your key points and the order you will present them, you increase the chances that your audience will actually listen to you instead of doing their grocery lists.

3. Label informational e-mails accordingly. For email: If you are sending an e-mail that has no action required, put FYI in the subject line. For speaking: Good speakers make it clear when they are simply providing information or when something important (persuasive, cautionary, punchline, etc.) is coming up. Choose your words carefully and use your voice as a way to differentiate the two.

4. Be as concise as possible. For email: Long e-mails are inconsiderate of your recipient’s time and more likely to result in you not getting the prompt attention you want. For speaking: Ditto! Your seven key points and 14 supporting points are only important to you. No one in the 21st century has the attention span for you to get through it all. So do everyone a favor and be a ruthless editor. I’m reminded of a client who called me for help after a particularly negative experience in which he had created 72 slides for a 30-minute presentation and just as he was about to start, the most important audience member was called back to the office. This VIP went up to my client and said, “Sorry, I have to go. Give me the presentation in a nutshell.” My client froze. He could not summarize his presentation into two sentences. Don’t let this happen to you.

If I were giving out belts for public speaking, these four tips would earn you a green belt.

– Barbara

Pema Chodrin and “The Cool Shade of Fearlessness”

Being a card-carrying Type A with a touch of ADD, it’s clear that I will never be a successful practitioner of meditation. The closest I have come to that “state of transcendent wonder” is on a long walk with my two Labrador Retrievers. But I still enjoy listening to Pema Chodron – the former elementary school teacher turned Buddhist nun who now runs the Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia. I try to have an audio recording of her work whenever I’m alone in the car, especially on the long trips back home to Boston. I always feel more relaxed and often inspired.

I recently purchased her audiobook Unconditional Confidence because I want to be more helpful to my coaching clients who battle with nerves and self-doubt before they speak. I was sure Pema would offer a useful perspective about the connection between our inner voices and the body’s physical response.

Allow me to digress for a moment. In her first three sentences on CD #1, she confessed to the fact that she rarely prepares for her talks, which she admitted, “is somewhat terrifying.” That surprised me – especially since we tell our clients that they must prepare and practice their speech before they stand-and-deliver. We explain all the benefits that can be derived from rehearsal, but the most important one is that practice is the best way to get rid of those nasty word fillers that can ruin an otherwise perfectly fine speech. Ironically, one of the things I like most about listening to Pema is that she never uses word fillers. Perhaps we need to add meditation as a tool to eliminating the “um” syndrome.

But back to the topic at hand: unconditional confidence. What I’ve learned so far is that when we are gripped by fear, the first thing to realize is that the opposite mindset is also available to us – just waiting for us to see it and embrace it. The second concept that will resonate with my busy, career-focused clients is that we need to turn toward the fear and see it for what it is: “shaky nervousness” that comes from enabling the anxiety and disabling the other, quiter inner voice that wants to yell: you are good enough, smart enough, and goshdarnit, people like you. Okay, Pema didn’t say that, Stuart Smalley did.

Pema’s core message is that only by fully recognizing the fear and turning toward it can we experience the “cool shade of fearlessness.” What I will advise my clients to do is to unpack every negative thought, say them out loud to me, and then turn them around – out loud – and embrace the fact that the affirmative voice is right there waiting to be heard and made manifest.

I’ll share more from the CD after my next long car ride.

– Barbara