Can Exercise Make You a Better Public Speaker?

Can Exercise Make You a Better Public Speaker?

Most people know that exercise is good for you, both physically and mentally. Physical activity can be a great stress reliever too. However, when it comes to bulking up the brain, not all exercise is created equal.                                                                         

A new study examined three different types of exercise, running, weight training, and high-intensity interval training, to see which of the three created the most positive impact on brain cell growth. Specifically, researchers were interested in which type of exercise would increase brain volume, reduce the number and size of holes in the brain’s grey and white matter, and stimulate the creation of new brain cells. 

Your Dog, The Speech Coach

Your Dog, The Speech Coach

Whether or not dogs are man’s (and woman’s’) best friend they have certainly risen on the popularity scale recently. You see dogs everywhere you go from city streets, to office cubicles to airplanes not to mention dog parks and front yards. They are good companions and playmates and in some cases excellent emotional and physical support animals. But did you know that dogs can also be a great audience for your presentation rehearsal?

 

When you have an important speech to deliver it’s critical to practice out loud at least three times. Typically, I recommend that you practice alone in a room, or in front of a mirror, or in front of a friend, family member or colleague. I don’t believe I’ve ever recommended practicing your speech in front of your trusted canine but apparently I’ve been missing out on a great resource.  Students at American University in Washington D.C. are intentionally using dogs to practice speech making and as it turns out it’s an effective practice method.

Clean Up Your Presentation – There’s an App for That!

Clean Up Your Presentation – There’s an App for That!

Use your smartphone to improve your public speaking skills

Most business professionals have some brand of smartphone by now. And every day we can learn new ways to use them to increase productivity. But did you know your smartphone can also help you improve your public speaking skills? It’s true! For example, the app “Ummo” can quickly become your favorite tool for presentation practice and improvement.

Here is an example:

Many of my clients struggle to erase filler words, like “um,” from their vocabulary. In the past, I have used all sorts of techniques to help people control unwanted “fillers.” I would clap whenever I heard one, or have others clap when they heard them. For a while I used a “restaurant counter” bell when I heard a client say “um” and sometimes the room would be filled with rings! I would stand behind clients and tap them gently on the shoulder whenever an “um” slipped out or sometimes I would just say, “without the um!” and have them repeat the sentence. I would have them pause after every second or third word, which usually works like a charm, but if it didn’t I would have them listen to their presentations and count every “um.” The shock of hearing 40 or 60 unconscious, unwanted fillers in a short speech was effective.

Despite all this, some clients still struggle with “ums.” This is why a smartphone app like Ummo is such a good learning tool. It serves as a follow-up to our coaching, and it is easy to add to a speaker’s toolkit. It allows our clients to practice their presentations, get immediate feedback, and improve over time.

Ummo lets you record your presentation, and then helps you clean it up. It tracks what you say, shows you a transcript, and then offers various tools to help you improve. Going back to our “um” example, Ummo can track this, tag it as a problem word, and beep each time you say it. With continued practice and repetition, you can fix the mistakes, remove the unwanted fillers, and by the time your actual presentation rolls around you’ll sound prepared and confident.

Even those who engage in public speaking infrequently might benefit from Ummo or a similar app. Say you are presenting new material, explaining a complicated topic, or speaking to a larger than normal group. In these challenging situations, you might be more nervous than usual. You’ll want to practice often so you can speak with greater clarity. Having a support app like Ummo can help make your presentation clear and engaging. And for only $2, it’s definitely worth a download.

Will Your Q&A Session Make or Break Your Next Presentation?

Will Your Q&A Session Make or Break Your Next Presentation?

Most presentations benefit from a question-and-answer session (Q&A). Audience members appreciate this time to get clarification, share comments or ideas, and get deeper information on key concepts. However, because the Q&A feels less formal than the main presentation, many speakers neglect to prepare for this time. In reality, the Q&A requires just as much preparation as any other section of your talk.

7 Deadly Sins of Presentation Preparation

Have you ever found yourself sitting in the center seat of a packed auditorium—hemmed in on both sides by people and laptops—listening to a keynote speaker who is supposed to be imparting knowledge and wisdom, but instead is droning on and on? You want to run, but you can’t. So you endure what seems like torture.

You probably think this only happens in large university lecture halls, right? Not so. I’ve seen it at trade shows, association meetings, speaker forums, customer meetings, and yes, even at TED talks. One can only wonder what these speakers were thinking. How could they come to an event of such high caliber and not be prepared?

The funny thing is, if you ask them, they might tell you they spent a lot of time preparing, perhaps even over-preparing. Because the truth is that you can prepare and still not do well if you prepare incorrectly. In other words, not all preparation is the same.

Here is a list of the seven “sins” of poor presentations—all of which focus on the mistakes made when speakers prepare for their presentation incorrectly. Avoid committing these errors and you can give a stellar speech every time.

  1. Not having the right intention: In public speaking, as in every other worthwhile pursuit in life, intention is everything. If you don’t have a clear goal and objective for your speech, your audience will know it and become lost and confused … and most likely so will you. So set your intention, state the purpose of your presentation, and tell your audience what you hope your presentation will achieve for them.
  2. Not preparing your content before you prepare your PowerPoint™: Many people are in the habit of creating their slides before they create their full content, as if the PowerPoint slides are the end game instead of a useful, though limited, outline. They never take the next step to fully develop their message. That’s like building a house with a napkin drawing instead of a blueprint, and we all know how risky that can be. Take the time to fully develop your message first, and then create powerful visuals to accompany it.
  3. Not realizing that your content has two parts—message and structure: This is the tricky part for some presenters. Creating an interesting story line and developing an exciting topic complete with great examples, metaphors, and data comes naturally to some, but then taking the next step and forging that great content into a simple, easy-to-follow beginning, middle, and end structure is overlooked. Too much content without enough structure can leave the audience overwhelmed and perplexed.
  4. Not practicing your delivery ahead of time: Most people know better than to wing it in front of a large, high-stakes crowd, but there are plenty out there who think they have enough experience to stand up and speak with very little rehearsal. Every audience is unique and deserves your time and preparation. The best speakers practice out loud at least three times before every presentation they give.
  5. Not showing physical excitement and passion: Passion is an overused word when it comes to public speaking, but that’s because it is such a necessary component of a successful speech. You may feel plenty of real passion for your subject, but if you don’t practice showing it you will not be able to convince your audience that you mean it. Showing how you feel about your subject is just as important as knowing the details of what you are talking about.
  6. Not letting your voice be free: The human voice has the capacity to excite, stimulate, persuade, and inspire. Let your voice ring free of inhibitions by speaking with power, raising your pitch, using inflection, and exploiting dramatic pauses. The audience loves the music of the human voice, so make sure to let yours sing out and work for you.
  7. Not showing confidence and energy: There is the old adage that if you happen to be charismatically challenged you should “fake it until you make it.” That means even if you’re not “comfortable” performing with more vocal strength and physical action you must still do it. The audience depends on you to be lively and energetic during your presentation. They will forgive you if you try and fail, but they won’t forgive you if you don’t try at all. The more you practice, the easier this becomes. So take a chance at success and Come Alive!

When you prepare your presentation, be the saint and not the sinner! Use your knowledge of good presentation skills and prepare the correct way so that even those audience members stuck in the center of the crowd will stand up and cheer for you.

Please let me know what other preparation “sins” you would add to this list!

5 Ways to Keep Your Sales Team Focused on Improving their Presentation Skills

Last week I received a call from a sales manager whose team we worked with last year. He wanted a presentation skills “refresher” for his salespeople because their presentations were getting “sloppy” again. These were the same salespeople who did extremely well during our training class one year ago, but over the months they had gradually slid back into old habits. Granted, they were still “pretty good” in terms of their skills. But the manager wanted them to be great again.

While this is certainly frustrating for the sales manager, it is understandable. After all, salespeople have a lot to balance between prospecting, selling, client follow-up, and all the other things they must do in a day. With so much on their plate, they often let things like speech preparation slide to the back burner. Unfortunately, the result is that their presentations don’t always hit the mark, and they may look ill-prepared in front of prospects and clients.

From the manager’s standpoint, though, he’s not happy. He wants his team to shine. He’s invested time and money to train them, and he knows they have aptitude and skills to deliver successful presentations to their customers. And while he knows that doing things like prospecting and client support are important, he also wants them to find the time to keep their presentation skills up-to-date so they communicate effectively and consistently deliver high quality presentations.

We talk a lot about Continuous Learning in our programs, but it requires more than simply filling out a worksheet. Salespeople have the best intentions, especially in a training class, but they need help to realize their goals and it’s often the sales manager who can provide that level of support. So what can a sales manager do to stir things up, enlist everyone’s commitment, and keep the team motivated so they can perform at a high level?

Here are five tips for keeping your sales team focused on improving their presentation skills:

  1. Plan for continuous learning: Part of the challenge of continuous learning is staying focused. It’s easy to set goals but it’s difficult to follow through and actually achieve them. That’s why support and accountability are important. I recommend having everyone on your team create a three-month presentation skills action plan. Set aside time during staff meetings so everyone can share their action plan with the team, get feedback from others, and then refine the action plan as needed.
  2. Pair up for progress: The buddy system works. Have people pair up and commit to working with a partner for the duration of the action plan. Encourage the “pairs” to find creative ways to help and challenge each other. For example, they can listen to each other on phone calls and give feedback, or they can practice the same skill for one week and make it a point to catch each other doing it well.
  3. Use audio and video: We have more than enough technology options to keep us on track. For example, encourage salespeople to use their cell phone, tablet, or video camera for video/audio feedback. During playback, have them analyze themselves. How do they sound? Clear, organized, and passionate … or boring, monotonous, and rambling? Watching short clips of yourself as you prepare or present will give you good feedback on your body language and facial expression. Another idea is to have them transcribe their calls or use a program like Dragon Naturally Speaking to have their voice presentation turned into text. This is a great way for them to analyze their vocal skills, count their fillers (“um,” “ahh,” etc.), and check their vocabulary and word choice.
  4. Develop a resource file: Collect effective hooks, touch points, (stories, metaphors, examples, facts, statistics, humorous comments, etc.) and final thoughts that everyone on your team can use. This is a great way to “share the wealth” and ensure consistency.
  5. Use regular staff meetings: Take advantage of regular staff meetings for giving formal feedback. For example, use your status meeting every Monday, your bi-monthly presentations, or your all-hands meetings as a platform for skill development. Have people take turns giving a presentation at the meeting and getting feedback on their presentation from others. Use audio or video to record the presentations.

No matter how busy people are, continuous learning is possible. When everyone works together for the betterment of the team, staying focused on improving your presentation skills is possible … and relatively simple. Even better, when this philosophy becomes part of your company’s culture, new hires will be up-to-speed much quicker. So implement these 5 strategies today and watch your sales team’s presentation skills (and closing ratios) soar.

When Giving a Speech, It’s All About You!

When Giving a Speech, It’s All About You!

A client suffering from a mild case of public speaking anxiety recently told me, “When I’m giving a presentation, I’m too concerned about what people think of me to act like ‘the leader.’ I don’t want to stand out or project the notion that I’m better than or more knowledgeable than other people in the room.

Top Tech Tools to Build Audience Engagement

Imagine knowing your audience members’ questions while you’re speaking and being able to address them on the spot, before the Q&A. Imagine getting a better “read” on what your listeners are thinking or understanding about your topic and not having to solely rely on their non-verbal cues, which may not always be accurate. Imagine having an audience truly engaged from your first word to your last, because you know without a doubt that you’re delivering the information they find most useful.

The good news is that today’s technology tools can help you do that—while you’re speaking in real time. While some people may think that having technology front and center during a presentation (aside from PowerPoint™) would be too distracting and hard to manage, there are technology tools that make engagement much easier. Here are the three to consider using for your next presentation.

  • Twitter. For years, we’ve all heard the request made before important or main stage presentations: “Please turn off your phones.” These days, however, more and more speakers are instead saying, “Please take out your smart phone and turn it ON. Go to your Twitter app and tweet me your questions during the presentation. I’ll monitor it from up here and answers any questions I can in real time.” You can even make a special hashtag phrase that relates to your presentation to make monitoring easy. This low-tech technology approach is simple for audience members (most probably already have Twitter on their smart phone), and those who don’t can follow along and still ask questions by logging into a Twitter conversation tool like Twubs. Don’t like or use Twitter? Just have people text you their questions in real time.
  • Audience Response Systems. At the other end of the technology spectrum are Audience Response Systems (ARS). These are hardware and/or software technologies that audience members use to give feedback in real time. If you’ve ever taken part in polling during a presentation, where you received a gadget and then pushed a button to enter your response, you’ve used an ARS. Of course, ARS tools have evolved over the years and come in all shapes and sizes and do much more than simple polling. To get an idea of what ARS offers these days, check out Turning Technologies.
  • Apps. Need more audience engagement? Yes, there’s an app for that! One I recently learned of is called Join Speaker. What’s nice about apps is that they don’t require a special device like an ARS does. Rather, the attendees use the browser on their smart phone or tablet, enter your unique URL, and then interact with you, sharing input (questions, comments, or ideas) and even voting on other audience members’ input.

Of course, no technology can replace the essentials for audience engagement, such as using gestures, making eye contact, speaking with passion, and practicing your presentation so it sounds natural. Those are the timeless techniques that will never go out of style and are vital to your foundational skills. But still, it’s nice to know that technology can help with the engagement factor and actually encourage input and participation. When used wisely, today’s technology can positively impact your audience’s experience.

Be a Powerful Presenter … Even “On the Fly”

We all know that when it comes to public speaking, “practice makes perfect.” So if you want to bring the house down, you have to prepare your script or outline in advance and practice your delivery by rehearsing out loud. Only then can you rest assured that you’ll give a great speech.

But what about those times when you have to speak on the fly, as in an interview situation where you are speaking “off the cuff,” on a panel when any question can come your way, when the camera is running and you’re put on the spot, or when you are in front of a hostile crowd? How do you organize your thoughts so you sound like an expert and come across as natural, flowing, credible and confident? As one of my clients told me this week, “I want to be able to riff off the script and speak eloquently off the cuff.”

Here’s a secret: The best impromptu speakers follow many of the same principles you use when planning a more formal presentation. Since you’re being call upon to speak, it’s assumed that you’re a subject matter expert and passionate about what you have to say. So in those few seconds you have to plan your reply, use the simple rules of content organization:Keep your audience in mind, remember your purpose, and quickly organize your response into three discreet sections: beginning, middle, and end.

As you speak, keep your message concise (and yourself on point) by using short sentences. When appropriate, include an interesting story and relevant example to highlight your key point. Stick to your structure throughout – “first of all…” “second…” And finally…”

To appear confident, keep your posture upright, use gestures and facial expressions, and make eye contact with your listeners. Concentrate on your voice by controlling your rate of speech, using inflection to highlight key points, and pausing to give yourself and the audience or interviewer a chance to reflect on what you are saying. These few vocal skills will prevent you from getting tongue tied and help you come across as cool and collected.

And even though you have only minutes or sometimes seconds to prepare, make sure you hit your talking points. For example, if you’re on a panel and get a question you didn’t expect, bring the focus back around to the key points you want known about your topic. Most subject matter experts have key sound bites memorized about their topic. This is the time to draw upon those. 

You never know when you might be called on to speak on the fly, but if you use the same public speaking concepts and techniques you use for general presentations, you can make any presentation look like a well-planned event … even if you have just a few seconds to do so.

Public Speaking Best Practices from My Clients

This is the time of year when I check-in with my past Executive Immersion clients to see how things are going with their presentation skills—what’s working and what still needs attention. I had several interesting calls this week which revealed tips to fit nicely into a “Best Practice” list.

When I call people, I usually get the same response, “Thanks for reaching out. It’s nice to hear from you,” meaning, “[Gulp!] I better give a few great presentations before I speak to Angela next week!” It reminds me of my annual dental check-up. Like many people, I always brush and floss twice as much during the weeks before my appointment.

All of the people I spoke with give presentations to a range of audiences and venues, including all hands meetings, staff meetings, department meetings, executive briefings, board presentations, customer presentations and large national and international conferences.

I begin the calls by asking my clients how things are going with their presentation skills. Here are some of the typical responses I hear:

  • “I think I’m doing much better.”
  • “I’m using everything you taught me.”
  • “I’m getting good feedback.”
  • “I’m more relaxed.”
  • “I’ve gotten really good at telling stories and the audience seems to like it.”
  • “I’m recognizing the audience consciously.”
  • “I love using the delivery techniques I learned—the gestures, posture, eye contact, slowing down and pausing.”
  • “I’m more concise.”

And so the love fest goes on for the first part of the conversation. Then, without my saying anything, they switch gears and become their own worst critic with insights like:

  • “But I’m still not as strong as I could be.”
  • “I can’t seem to stand still.”
  • “I still go off on tangents.”
  • “I know I should spend more time preparing, but I still slap together dense slides sometimes.”
  • “I haven’t practiced the 3, 4, & 5 syllable word drills you gave me.”

Finally, I ask what they learned from our work that has had lasting impact. Here are the top replies they shared—and that everyone can benefit from:

  • Simplify the message.
  • Understand the audience and use techniques to engage them.
  • Use engagement questions such as, “I know what you’re thinking” and “You’re probably wondering.”
  • Be aware of my posture, gestures, and facial expression.
  • Use more emotion and show more passion even though I’m not comfortable doing so.
  • Keep my slides simple—use graphics and tell a story with pictures.
  • Prepare for the Q&A based on past presentations. Keep a file of questions and review them.
  • Practice by giving the presentation out loud and not just reviewing it in my head.

Everyone I speak with always has a long list of what skills and behaviors that have changed for the better and a short list of skills they still need to refine. They’re proof that the growth process in any area takes time. So if you feel that you still haven’t mastered all there is to know about public speaking, don’t worry. You’re not alone, and there is always more to learn. The key is to focus on a commitment to continuous improvement. If you do that, your skills will improve, and you’ll do just fine.

And please let me know what you would add to this list. I’d love to hear from you.

Wisdom for Speakers to Jumpstart Your New Year

“Improve my presentation skills” is a common New Year’s resolution. Finding the perfect example to follow on how to do that is a bit rare … that is, until you meet Jack Kornfield.

Jack Kornfield is one of the leading Buddhist teachers in America. I saw him speak a few days ago during the Monday Night Class at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Wood Acre, California, just a short drive from where I live.

The Monday Night Class, now in its 27th year, serves as an introduction to Spirit Rock and the Buddhist practices of awareness and compassion, which are the heart of the Spirit Rock community. This weekly gathering also offers support and ongoing teachings to committed students many who have studied at the Center since its founding.

The room was packed Monday night with hundreds in the audience. When Jack asked how many first-timers were in the crowd, dozens of hands went up. Then someone called out, “Thanks, Oprah!” I learned that Oprah had interviewed Jack last fall and the interview aired December 15. The interview brought out people who had never been to Spirit Rock and were curious about Buddhist teachings. 

The Monday Night Class attracts serious students of Buddhism and appreciative newcomers alike and they have never have trouble filling the room. But if you want to exceed capacity with a standing room only crowd, you just need a little fairy dust from Oprah. It was a spirited group.

For Jack Kornfield, it didn’t matter if he was speaking to 2 or 200. He was his usual entertaining and enlightening self, delivering his teachings with Buddhist-style charisma and practicing what he preaches by sharing his stories with patience, compassion and kindness. He is a good speaker, a gifted storyteller and a teacher who knows how to stand on the shoulders of the giants before him, reading their poetry and quoting their wisdom. Watching him, you get the feeling that he takes it all very seriously yet has an infinite capacity for lightheartedness. That combination is his greatest appeal.

And that’s the lesson I want to pass on this New Year as you make your resolutions about public speaking. If you are going to speak with greater poise, power and passion, do so with intense seriousness and commitment, but remember to keep a light heart. Happy 2014!