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Tag Archives: Speaker Preparation

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


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

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

Developing Your Speaker Practice

Being one of the most competitive people I know, I am deeply grateful for the non-competitive spirit of my 25-year yoga practice. It is mine. It is unique. It has changed and so have I. There are no rewards for doing the pose more photographically than anyone else in the room. In a culture pulsing with comparison and competition, this practice is a relief. And that is only the beginning of the benefits I experience.

What does this have to do with public speaking? Everything. Most of us hold ourselves up to some cookie cutter idea of “a great speaker.” And usually we don’t measure up to these ideals. When working with clients, I often spend time unwinding the anxieties we all experience: first time jitters, uncertainty,  self-consciousness.  Each new presentation is a new beginning and we often clutter the process with unreal expectations and desired outcomes that actually slow down our arrival at clarity, confidence, and sheer excitement to deliver.

I tell all my clients to create a “Notes to Self” folder. Each presentation, speech, conversation is a learning opportunity. What worked? What went well? What didn’t? What will you change the next time? From a reminder “not to wear that too tight jacket,” to “start preparing six weeks out,” we begin to create a personalized and useful tool to help each of us develop and strengthen our own unique and true speaker practice.  Enjoy yours.

– Charlotte Dietz

Your Presentation Coach

Have you ever received practical and insightful feedback that was so well timed and so relevant to your needs that you were able to hear it all and benefit from it?  If you answered yes, you know how valuable constructive feedback can be.  If you answered no, then you are missing out on one of the best ways of enhancing your skills and your confidence.

Welcome to SpeakEasy Partners Blog – a place to find helpful advice, insight, and perhaps inspiration on public speaking and presentation techniques.  We tackle the whole continuum of public speaking – from content preparation to post-game analysis.  We do this for people who don’t have the time or the resources to hire a coach, but who want to learn how to improve their presentation skills.

If you have a big presentation coming up, why gamble?  Call us and we will provide you with a “ruthless sanctuary” to practice your speech, receive constructive and actionable feedback, and refine your delivery skills before the big day.

As French essayist Jean de la Bruyere once said, “There are certain things in which mediocrity is not to be endured, such as poetry, music, and public speaking.”

We look forward to hearing from you.