RSS Feed

Tag Archives: Public Speaking

Sound Serendipity

<a href=";

Last night, after a near perfect beach day,  I rolled out my yoga mat.  No physical movement inspired me, so I just lay there, face down, stretched out, eyes closed.  

I noticed the sound of chirping crickets.  As I listened, I realized that the distinct throb of  chirping was on a unified beat. Somehow, I knew this but never noticed it. Cool.   Listening to the sound of summer was my entire practice, unexpected and delightful.


This morning, my public speaking feeds serendipitously led me to this TED talk by Julian Treasure. It’s about listening.  We talk alot about the power and importance of listening in public speaking, as it is the heart of connection.  It’s ironic that we are educated to read and write, but not to speak or listen. 

You will learn from and enjoy  this seven-minute video. Julian Treasure (great name!) is a grounded speaker, thinker and communicator.  He offers five ways to  increase your own conscious listening power. Plus (which is a plus),  it ‘s clear to me he is a devoted yoga practitioner. Today I will practice his second suggestion, “mixer” to increase my awareness.  Which will you chooses?

– Charlotte


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

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

The Dog Whisperer Speaks!

W.C. Fields once said, “Never follow kids or animals on stage.”  Sage advice for any public speaker, unless you are Cesar Milan, aka, the Dog Whisperer.  I had the pleasure of seeing Cesar on stage a few days ago.  He didn’t “follow” an animal on stage, he actually co-presented with Junior, his Blue pit bull. That’s Junior in the photo on the right.

As the show started, the audience didn’t know whether to watch Junior or Cesar. I think we all missed the first few minutes of Cesar’s talk because we were fascinated by Junior’s behavior – walking to the very front of the stage and sniffing the first row of audience members, following Cesar back and forth trying to figure out if he had a job to do.  But then he settled down and took a nap, and all eyes turned to the pack leader. And it was worth it.  Cesar not only provided many lessons for dog owners, but he also put on a clinic for how to be a kinesthetic speaker.

Kinesthetic speakers go beyond killer PowerPoint slides and great stories.  They don’t rest on their verbal skills or their perfect pacing. They use their entire body to make a strong connection with their audience.  And that’s what Cesar did.  In the span of 75 minutes, he mimed a cat cleaning its fur, a human trying to make a puppy sit, a Rottweiler checking out its new home, and a fearful canine trying to hide from the world.  And because of his physical delivery, his words were more powerful – and memorable.

Here are a few tips for anyone wishing to be a kinesthetic speaker:

  1.  You Need Your Hands.  Hands-free communication is not just a new law regarding the use of cell phones while driving; it’s a requirement if you want to add physicality to your delivery.  Holding notes holds you back.  Gesturing is essential to making that deeper connection with your audience.  You can still have notes, just not in your hands. Place them nearby so you have access to them, but don’t let them inhibit your communication.
  2.  You Need to Move.  Presentation coaches have a special term for the primary spot on stage (or at the front of the conference room). It’s called “the magic circle.” The term is intended to convey that a great speaker can do big things when they are front and center.  That’s true, but not sufficient.  Kinesthetic speakers know how to move out of the magic circle and break down the wall between the stage and the audience.  Cesar could not have come any closer to us when he wanted to make an important point.  Most of us increase the space between ourselves and a stranger.  Great speakers decrease it by moving into what psychologists call “personal space.”
  3. You Need to See Your Audience.  If you look down, up, or to the side while you speak chances are good that your audience will start compiling grocery lists in their heads.  Some might even start writing it down.  And you might as well stop speaking.  Eye contact is the equivalent of a 7-iron to a PGA golfer – they’d be lost without it.  You can practice this skill anywhere.  Walk into any superstore and notice how many times people look down or away instead of acknowledging you.  Next, make a point to look the next five people in the eye and say hello.  See what happens.  The more comfortable  you get connecting with strangers, the more comfortable you will be when you want to look directly at your audience.

– Barbara

Three Ways to Spice Up Your Presentation

“If I’m not having fun, or learning anything, then I’d better be sleeping.”

– Dr. Paul Dobransky

One of my “go to” experts for great ideas and inspiration is Harvard professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter.  She’s known for having tangible advice and practical ideas on leadership and change.  I’ve noticed that she is often included on those lists of the most influential thinkers so clearly I’m not alone.

In addition to her book on Confidence, I remember reading a piece on leadership that really spoke to me.  It was about the importance of positive energy.  Successful leaders possess this quality and are able to communicate in ways that enable us to hear their message and internalize it.  Based on her work, I offer three tips for speakers and presenters who want to enhance their ability to “speak” to their audience.

1. Make sure your examples, anecdotes and references are positive. A strong, positive message delivers better results for your audience than a critical or negative one. Take an inventory of past presentations to assess how many examples or stories you use that are critical in nature or have a deficit mentality.  Now re-cast them in the positive.  You can still talk about decreasing error rates, etc., without bringing down the collective mood of the room.

2. Don’t try to control the audience. Great presenters keep the pace moving and maintain a southern California climate. They are not thrown by negative, listless or texting-obsessed audience members.  And most of all, they don’t try to control those people.  If you allow your agenda to be sabotaged by a few difficult people, the rest of your audience will blame you.  But if you maintain your energized, positive vibe, the audience will thank you for it.  One caveat:  if you have an audience member who is purposely trying to undermine your success, by all means, take them aside and ask them to leave in your most polite flight attendant voice.

3.  Don’t take yourself so seriously.  Oops. I should put that into a positive sentence.  Lighten up and release yourself from the expectation of perfection.  This tip is one that I have worked hard to achieve.  What I learned over the course of some excellent speeches and some not-so-great presentations is that the average audience wants us to succeed.  We don’t have to know everything about our topic, and we don’t have to get everything just right.  The #1 sign that you are able to lighten up and go with the flow?  You’re smiling.  Otherwise you are going to need Botox for that permanent crease between your brows – and who wants that?!

“Studies show that optimists are more likely to listen to negative information than pessimists, because they think they can do something about it. To keep moving through storms, energizers cultivate thick skins that shed negativity like a waterproof raincoat sheds drops of water. They are sometimes discouraged, but never victims.” – RMK

– Barbara

Five Surefire Ways to Connect With Your Audience

When I was growing up, there was a framed print in our living room depicting the face of John F. Kennedy with a billowing American flag backdrop. That image stayed on the wall year in and year out, while other items came and went. New couch? Same wall art. New carpeting? JFK stays. Scant wonder that it is now an essential component of my childhood memories.

Without having planned it in advance, I mentioned this during a speech the other day, and lo and behold, the majority of audience members perked up and started smiling – actually smiling – and nodding their heads. I paused and asked if perhaps there were others in the room with the same memory, and sure enough, people of all ages and backgrounds had a similar print in their homes or a relative’s home. Without any effort whatsoever, I had made a meaningful connection with my audience.

If you are speaking in order to persuade, inspire, or motivate, the importance of connecting with your audience is the first order of business. Second is establishing credibility, and third is finding common ground. Once you have accomplished those three, then the only thing left to do is to make a compelling case for your position. But without that meaningful connection, your efforts at the other three Cs will fail.

There is no “one way” to connect. Depending on your content and personality, you may have a particular method that only works for you. But here are some important tips that will help any speaker accomplish the first of the Four Cs:

1. Be yourself. We have many posts on this topic, so I will not repeat it here.
2. Resist the urge to launch into your main content. Use your introduction – which should constitute 10-15% of your entire speech – as an opportunity to become irresistable.
3. Share a personal anecdote. This is a great way to establish yourself as a fellow human being instead of just a talking head.
4. Individualize the audience members. Speak to individual audience members through eye contact and physical presence rather than addressing them en masse. The rule of thumb is two to three seconds per person.
5. Never, ever underestimate the power of good posture. A speaker with rounded shoulders and downcast eyes will never connect, no matter how profound the rhetoric.

It seems fitting to end with a rarely seen quote of JFK’s:

“Effort and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.”

– 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