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Have you Seen Yourself on Video Lately?

Seeing myself on video typically elicits a variation on one of these responses:

1)   “I will never wear that outfit again.”

2)    “I thought I was so much (pick any of the following) smarter, funnier, clearer, better looking than this.”

3)   “Turn it off.  Seriously, I can’t take another minute!”

So needless to say, when Barbara and I hit replay on a recent workshop videotape, I was both curious as hell and defensively hardened to expect the worst. We watched for a few minutes in silence. Then Barbara said, “Well, I don’t hate it.”  (That just killed me because what I really heard her say was,  “This is much better than I expected and I can live with it!”).  And she was right, though her language revealed the negative orientation toward self- assessment that I both relate to and witness frequently with my clients.

But here was the real zinger. Once we loosened up and enjoyed laughing at ourselves and each other, (and frankly we both have seen ourselves often enough to not be too surprised), we realized that a whole back-story was playing out on this video that neither of us had any awareness of at the time.

We were floored. Was I really standing so awkwardly nearby while she was presenting an important module? Was she really prepping the room for the next piece, while I was delivering my content? We were roaring with disbelief!   And more importantly, in seeing myself on film, I was able to recognize that I had actually experienced a sense of discomfort about where to stand while Barbara presented, but hadn’t been able to resolve it at the time.  My body radiated that discomfort on film. It was so illuminating and hugely beneficial. We got great insight into how to make our workshops even more seamless. It was a fantastic learning experience. And we screamed with laughter at ourselves which is always good for the partnership and the soul.

So pull out your video.  And don’t just see the worst; wait for that unexpected —you may be glad.



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

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 King’s Speech: “Because I have a Voice!”

The title of this wonderful movie is a double entendre addressing both the serious stutter of King George VI and the world-altering speech he must give declaring England’s war against Hitler.  It is a rich film and a compelling story – witty, deep, beautifully acted and directed.

It is also painful to watch. Many of our deepest fears as speakers are poignantly portrayed. The first speech Albert delivers in the film is to a large crowd. We see the soon-to-be King as he prepares to step to the microphone: pale, eyes blank, terrified, and we know before he utters one word, that this speech is going to be every public speaker’s worst nightmare. And it is. The film catches the silent embarrassment, sidelong looks, torturous moments of silence and worst of all, the pity of the crowd. Your heart races for Alfred’s shame and humiliation.

This film is also about finding ourselves in positions we don’t want but must assume, (Albert was forced to the throne when his brother abdicated). It seems clear that had Edward continued his reign, Albert would never have pursued such a desperate measure to find his voice and speak (publicly) for and to the people of the United Kingdom. Facing his greatest vulnerability becomes an extraordinary victory.

I found this movie to be very psychologically engaging. I also experienced such feelings of compassion for speakers and audiences.  There is always a sense of high drama when we are before others and the risks we take are both heart breaking and courageous . My favorite line of the movie is by the speech therapist, played by the incomparable Geoffrey Rush. He says to the king as he prepares to broadcast the declaration of war to the entire British Colonies,

” Forget everything else and just say it to me.”

Real words to real people.  That’s a motto I can live by. Here is the original speech recording of King George VI on September 3, 1939.


Words Matter

I was leafing through a book focusing on the link between deep breathing and overall health when I came upon a section featuring a Swami who had been practicing yoga and meditation for decades.  He was offering advice on how to sit in meditation to become aware of one’s breath. Here’s the actual sentence:  “Place the left heel at the perineum and the right heel at the pubic bone above the organ of generation.”  Organ of generation?  I’m guessing the writer was looking for a way to avoid potentially vulgar terms, so I’ll give the him a pass. The problem is, speakers do this all the time and rarely does it improve delivery. In fact, it usually fails.

I mentioned this to one of my clients who had run for political office and made stump speeches every day for several months.  He said that many politicians have this problem because they’re afraid to say anything that might offend and therefore dance around topics by using obscure or vague words. 

Don’t let that happen to you.  At SpeakEasy Partners, we help our clients with word choice.  For example,  once they have written out the speech, we suggest that they hand it to a trusted colleague and ask him or her to sift through it for jargon or places where a $1.50 word is used when a 25-cent version would do.  In other words, eliminate your use of splendiferous terminology. 

Mark Twain advised writers to “use the right word, not its second cousin.”  The same advice applies to speakers.  Your words represent who you are.  Do you want to sound pompous or powerful?  Eccentric or eloquent?  The place to start is with word choice.

– Barbara Roche

Feedback, Part II

“He has the right to criticize who has the heart to help.”
– Abraham Lincoln

Our last post dealt with the most effective ways to give feedback. Now we want to share our tips for how to receive feedback in order to improve your skills as a public speaker.  First, I want to share something that one of our clients said the other day.  After several rounds of delivery and feedback, his final run-through was fantastic – clear, compelling, and authentic.  I asked him for his reaction and he said, “For 20 years I’ve been ‘umming’ and ‘ahhing’ my way through presentations and now those fillers are gone. It feels great!”  How did he accomplish this? By being open to constructive criticism, taking his ego out of the equation, and making conscious adjustments along the way.

If you are like the rest of us, you have probably received feedback that was anything but helpful.  With the explosion of shows like American Idol and What Not to Wear, it’s a wonder that any of us would actually seek out constructive criticism.  Don’t let that stop you.  First and foremost, think of feedback as the lunch buffet at your favorite Chinese restaurant:  take what you want and leave the rest.  After you have mastered that mindset, incorporate the following tips into your next feedback session:

  1. Ask your observer to focus on specific criteria. To ensure you receive actionable feedback, define the aspects you want your observer to focus on.  Without these parameters, observers often react in a stream-of-consciousness manner which is difficult to internalize.
  2. Practice active listening. If you have mentally shut down during the feedback stage you might as well go wash the dishes for all the good it will do.  Try to settle your mind, make eye contact with your observer and ask clarifying questions to be sure you understand what they are saying.  You might even try re-stating what they said to verify their intent.
  3. Find some “soak time.” Before you run off and practice bigger gestures or re-write your entire presentation, find some time to process what you heard.  Then take what rings true and decide how to incorporate it into your delivery.
  4. Choose your observers wisely. The best feedback is concise, practical and offered with your best interests in mind.  With that definition, I’m sure you can rule out certain people who might make you feel defensive or who will be too negative.  You want a neutral, third-party who can maintain a certain distance. Therefore, if you want to see improvement, avoid asking spouses, partners, siblings, or pets!

– Barbara Roche

It’s the time to Give and Receive….Feedback

I believe that one of the greatest benefits of our group workshops is the feedback loop. This is where people give real and specific comments about your presentation, addressing everything from eye contact, vocal tone, body language, content, and often issues that stand out that aren’t even on your radar. It’s one of the best tools in our bootcamp for improving presentation skills. At its core, one-one-one coaching is about actionable feedback and refinement.

It sounds so easy, doesn’t it? I just tell you what I like and what needs to be improved so you can build self-awareness, skill and confidence. And you definitely want it. Who isn’t interested in a group of people focusing on what you say and how you say it so you can be the best you possible?

 And yet, most people are REALLY BAD at giving feedback. They either cop out because they don’t want to say the difficult stuff or they are blunt to the point of being rude. The result is either vague comments like, “Yeah, that was good…” or really awkward, unhelpful comments, like “Wow, you seem really nervous up there.” And how do either of these comments help? They don’t. 

 We have integrated a learning module called “How to Give Feedback” in our session – how to say three specific, positive things and three unambiguous suggestions for improvement. How to only give feedback in the “I” voice (“I liked how you paused and smiled at the group before you started talking”) or (“I found it distracting when you kept jingling your change in your pockets.”) because the “I” voice is easier to for us to internalize.  We teach how to never give feedback in the YOU voice (” You look comfortable,” “You seem nervous”) because the YOU voice is too judgmental and experienced as an attack.

 Without this type of feedback, people go through life with the worst handshake in the world or oblivious to the fact that their perfume is overpowering.  And all the while others are making snap judgments about them. 

 I believe that excellent communicators, leaders, bosses, parents and friends know how to give and receive feedback that is constructive, truthful and in the best interest of the people around them. Try giving someone specific feedback today. Notice the difference.

Next blog subject:  How to Receive Feedback-