Executive Speech Tips

Boost Your Public Speaking Skills by “Sounding” Confident!

Boost Your Public Speaking Skills by “Sounding” Confident!

If you’re feeling nervous about giving an upcoming presentation, use your voice to your advantage. In other words, as you speak, make your voice sound like you are enjoying yourself even if you’re under stress. Easier said than done? Perhaps. But the sound of your voice will convey confidence so that even if you are nervous you won’t sound nervous.  

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.

A List of the “Best of the Best” in Public Speaking Information

In many career paths (business, media, PR, etc,), public speaking skills are essential. Whether giving a presentation to your boss, a group of your peers, or simply interviewing, knowing how to express yourself and your ideas clearly is critical. The good news is that there are an incredible number of online resources that can help you sharpen your skills. The bad news? Well, there are an incredible number of online resources to sift through, making it difficult to find what will help you the most.

The folks at Masters In Communication realized this double-edged sword … and they did something about it. Knowing that there are lots of great resources for speakers online, they set out to compile and highlight the best of the best. The result is Public Speaking 101: The Top Online Resources, which are broken down into four categories:

1.Public and professional speaking

2.Presentation blogs and tools

3.Speechwriting

4.General communication and debate

So how did they decide which people and companies to include in their list? They began their research by perusing search engines and asking their current readers for recommendations on quality sites. After contacting a few of the early contenders, they sought out more recommendations from those in the public speaking field. After all, who would know the top online resources better than those actually in it?

From there, they examined each resource and attempted to categorize and accurately describe each site for their readers. Many sites received quite a few mentions and had large followings on social media, so it was easy to identify them as deserving of inclusion. Others may not have been as strong in their followings, but they offered deep content and valuable resources and insights on the subject. Ranking these sites exactly would have been too difficult and subjective; coming to a consensus on 101 great sites to include on a comprehensive list was more practical. The result is the comprehensive list that’s published today.

So if you’re tired of endless searching for reliable information about public speaking, check out the list (scroll down to entry #6 and you’ll see me!). It’s a great resource that will help you now and in the future.

Sometimes for Speeches, the Third Time’s the Charm

For the last few weeks I’ve been working with a new client, helping him prepare for a large meeting. He’s already a good speaker—the kind of person who actually likes to prepare (which is always a “gift” for me!). He is creative in his approach to content development and open to using a bit more dramatic stage technique and image-based slides. And he has a confident style. To help him be even better, we are working on a few improvement areas—posture, gestures, slowing down his rate of speech, and helping him to be conscious of his energy so he can direct it with more control. He’s been practicing not only in our sessions, but also in his daily meetings and phone calls. He’s really a gem to work with.

He gave his presentation last week to 300 people. When we debriefed afterwards, he seemed disappointed that he didn’t do better. He prepared and was more aware of what he was doing, but he found that he fell into some of his old habits too easily and didn’t catch them in time to correct them.

His experience reminded me of a quote:

“There are always three speeches for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave and the one you wish you gave.” -Dale Carnegie.

Having seen the speech he practiced, I thought he was ready for prime time. He felt the same—skilled, prepared, and confident. Then there was the one he actually gave. I didn’t see this one, but he said it didn’t go as well as he had hoped—he spoke too fast, was not as smooth in using his physical skills, and did not take time to respond to the audiences’ reactions to certain parts of his message. Then, of course, there’s the speech he wished he gave—the one that would have surpassed even his excellent practice speech.

When asked what prevented him from giving this last speech, he said, “I didn’t know what the stage set up would be, and it was very small, so I couldn’t move as much as I’d planned. There was a podium and I stayed away from it, yet I felt cramped and tight. I spoke too fast and noticed that my heart rate speeded up sometimes. I didn’t feel as connected to the audience as I wanted to be. And the one interactive piece I planned didn’t work as well with the real audience in front of me as it did in rehearsal.”

But not all was lost because he did learn several important lessons from the speech he wishes he gave. As he explained, “Next time I’ll find out ahead of time about the size and set up of the stage, and then I’ll practice for that size instead of practicing for a much bigger stage. I’ll also practice my rate and slowing down when I’m in everyday meetings and on the phone. In fact, I’ll slow down even more than I think I need too. Finally, I’ll give the audience more time to react to certain slides. I’ll pause longer, and I won’t rush.”

That’s all great advice. So remember, that speech you practiced…well…that’s just what it was: Practice. When you stand up to give the real speech, that’s when you need to have your wits about you to be able to actually do what you’ve practiced and manage the unexpected. As for the speech you wish you gave, that one is by far the most important and something every speaker strives for but sometimes doesn’t attain. However, if you can learn from your experience, there is really no loss or failure. The “on-stage learning” is critical for future success as long as you take the time to analyze the lessons. So even though you may give the perfect speech at some point, there will always be something to learn—and that’s what makes public speaking so challenging…and enjoyable.

Want to Sharpen Your Public Speaking Skills? Begin Now!

I received a call a few weeks ago from an HR business partner at a large construction company. She was looking for someone to support the soon-to-be CEO in preparation for his first board presentation. She explained that this person needed major help with his public speaking skills because he was moving into the role of CEO and was terrified of public speaking. Apparently, he had come up from the ranks, was a seasoned, knowledgeable and well respected leader, and clearly was the perfect person for the position. But knowing that public speaking would now be a required cornerstone of his new job, he almost decided not to take it. This is not the first time I’ve heard this story. Public speaking is a big challenge for a lot of people, and it doesn’t matter if you’re a C-level executive or a new supervisor. As part of my initial assessment I spoke to the new CEO on the phone and watched a video of him speaking. It was clear to me that the HR business partner was not exaggerating the magnitude of the problem.

When I arrived on site to work with him, I found a tense and anxious man who looked exhausted from lack of sleep. He confided that he was a “train wreck.” He spent the entire weekend fretting and almost cancelled our session. He viewed me as a necessary evil and was not looking forward to working with me at all.

After talking with him and providing constant reassurance, we started with the basics. I introduced him to our concept models, showed some good, bad and funny videos, and we shared a few laughs. When it was his turn to stand up and be videotaped, he asked if he could take a short break. Over 30 minutes later he walked back in the room with no explanation. 

I proceeded to work with him on basic physical skills and helped him stop swaying and wringing his hands. Accomplishing just those two things felt like we moved a mountain. Then we worked on his vocal resonance and he learned how to pause, speak slowly and clearly and use inflection. After two days of intense coaching, he was ready for a dry run. When a small team assembled to watch his presentation, everyone was delighted at his progress, his budding confidence, and his newfound strength and ability to engage the group. He too was noticeably pleased at his success, and, when it was over he simply said, “I wish I had done this years ago!”

What keeps you from tackling those burdensome obstacles in your life? Maybe it’s a fear of failure or the belief that it will be too challenging. Perhaps you feel alone and unsupported, or maybe there is just too much going on in your life to make room for something big. At a fundamental level, you may not know how to tackle the problem or even where to begin. Whatever the reasons, the truth is that these kinds of nagging issues produce chronic anxiety and stress. Knowing you need to change something important in your life can clutter your thoughts day in and day out. It makes far more sense to stop everything and deal with the issue so that your peace of mind will return and you will feel more balanced once again.

The story of the CEO reminds me of Goethe’s famous quote:

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”

So your action step is to do just one thing: be bold, brave, daring, courageous, intrepid, audacious, gallant, valiant. Boldness does not imply that you know exactly what to do to solve the problem; it just means you take a step in the direction of solving it. When you’re stuck like the CEO was, the very first step is always the most important.

How to Assess Your Public Speaking Comfort Level

Nervousness and public speaking go hand-in-hand. And in all my years as a presentations skills coach, I’ve found that people’s anxiety tends to fall into one of four categories. These four levels reflect a speaker’s comfort level and confidence. Which one best describes you?

  • Level 1: Pressured and Petrified: People in this category tend to display the greatest signs of nervousness—visible blushing, perspiration, quivering voice, or shaking hands. They are extremely uncomfortable and deeply afraid, often to the point of paralysis. These individuals generally have little experience speaking to groups, but because of a recent promotion or increased job responsibilities, they are now expected to speak (i.e., the technician who has been moved into the team lead position or the customer service representative who now has to manage others and represent the department). These people have little desire to speak in public, but now are required to do so. With limited confidence they have a great opportunity for personal and professional growth.
  • Level 2: Hurried and Harried: These people deal with their fear and discomfort by racing through their material for one specific purpose—to get through it! They are usually familiar with their subject matter but rarely prepare or practice. They like to wing it. Many even believe that their “practice” happens while they are giving their presentation. As a result of their lack of preparation, they “hurry” through their presentation, talking too fast, shifting their weight, avoiding eye contact, and showing other physical signs of nervousness. The good news for this group is that with a few simple changes they can quickly increase their capacity and become more comfortable and effective.
  • Level 3: Surprised and Startled: These people have situational nervousness. They are fine in their regular day-to-day presentations, but if asked to perform out of their routine, they experience anxiety and discomfort. However, they typically don’t show their nervousness. In fact, their audience barely picks up on it, but the speaker still feels anxious. These speakers take the time to practice and are generally more prepared than most, but unusual situations cause them to revisit earlier bouts of nerves and agitation. They are often the managers who comfortably lead staff or division meetings, but when asked to speak at an all-hands meeting or at a conference, they become anxious. The good news for these speakers is that they already know how to be comfortable in front of one type of audience, so it’s just a matter of increasing their capacity so that they can be as comfortable in every new situation they encounter.
  • Level 4: Eager and Enthusiastic: These are the people who love to speak and do so with ease, taking advantage of every opportunity and stepping up at a moment’s notice. They enjoy the adrenalin rush that speaking provides and ride it to peak performance. These people may be great product evangelists, expert salespeople, senior leaders, marketing and public relations professionals, motivational speakers, and corporate trainers. They have already built a substantial capacity for comfort—and there is still room to grow.

What sets these four groups apart? It usually boils down to just two things: knowledge and experience. Level 4 speakers know what they’re talking about and give presentations frequently. These confident speakers know from experience that preparation and practice are the keys to high performance. They develop powerful content. They prepare, rehearse, and get out there over and over. They have taken the time to build confidence.

Whether you need to give a presentation at a low-key staff meeting for just a few or at a high profile conference for thousands, you can increase your capacity to adapt to the demands of the speaking situation and use your skills and experience to succeed. Every speaker—even you—has the potential to get there!

How to Be a Great Woman Leader

In 2005, a year-long study conducted by Caliper, a Princeton, New Jersey-based management consulting firm, and Aurora, a London-based organization that advances women, identified several characteristics of women leaders. They found that when it comes to leadership, women are stronger than men in several areas. For example, women…

  • Are more assertive and persuasive
  • Have a stronger need to get things done
  • Are more willing to take risks
  • Are more empathetic and flexible
  • Possess stronger interpersonal skills
  • Can “read” situations better
  • Make those they lead feel more understood, supported, and valued

Since few people are “natural born leaders,” almost all great leaders—women or men—have had to hone their leadership skills in order to make the greatest impact. And while women do have some natural leadership traits, it’s how well you develop those traits that mark your true leadership ability. 

So if studies indicate that there are particular traits women leaders possess, perhaps it’s time to look in the mirror and assess yourself. If you’re ready to step up to a leadership role, here are a few questions to consider:

Who do you admire? Asking yourself this question is a good place to begin because it helps you identify the characteristics of great women leaders, and because studies show that the characteristics and qualities you admire in others are often latent in you. When I work with executive women, coaching them on communication and presentations skills, I always ask this question because it gives us a reference point and a role model. It also helps us see their potential. So make your list and identify the characteristics. That’s your starting point.

How do you assess your skill level? Once you have identified the characteristics of those you admire, assess yourself against these traits and sort that list into three buckets, “Strengths,”  “Average Skill Areas” and “Development Needs.”

What skills do you want to develop? In reviewing your list, select two characteristics you’d like to work on. They could be from any of your three buckets—strength, average skills area, or development need. Investigate options for learning, coaching, and skill development. If the area seems too big to tackle all at once, use the “Swiss cheese” method and decide how you can poke small holes in the challenge. For example, you may not be able to afford an executive coach but perhaps you can read a book on leadership.

With women holding only 14% of leadership roles in Fortune 500 companies, now is the time for more female leaders to come forth. So no matter what your leadership aspirations are, take the time to hone your leadership skills. We want YOU (yes you!) to lead!

This blog is part of my Wednesday for Women blog series, where I feature stories, resources and information to help women gain greater influence, power, and confidence in their professional and personal life. Please enjoy these weekly Wednesday blogs and forward them to the powerful women in your life.

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Steve Jobs, One of Today’s Great Presenters, Steps Down from the Main Stage

Anyone in the public speaking business has likely paused at the news that Steve Jobs has resigned from the iconic Apple Computer. We all knew it was coming, given the serious health issues he has battled since being diagnosed with treatable pancreatic cancer in 2004. But it is a surprise nonetheless. His career has been nothing short of inspiring. Jobs had been named the most important person in personal technology at the start of his career in 1978, and then again at the end in 2011. Over the years, he has brought a wealth of innovative products to the world that have touched and changed nearly everyone’s life. And though his primary goal wasn’t to inspire presenters, that’s exactly what he did, giving us all a solid roadmap to follow. As sad as having him step down from his role at Apple is, the thought that he will no longer be giving his exciting keynote presentations is even sadder.

I have analyzed Jobs’ speeches many times over the years, and while I have never had the privilege of working with him, I admire that he is such a thoughtful and skillful practitioner of the best public speaking principles. He embodies the core success principles top notch speakers are known for, and he seemingly follows the DeFinis Communications methodology to a T, such as:

Delivery Skills: Jobs has excellent physical presence skills (eye contact, facial expression, posture, gestures, and movement), highly developed vocal resonance (uses his voice carefully, clear pronunciation and enunciation, and effective use of pitch, inflection, rate of speech, and strategic pauses), and a masterful use of distinctive language (uses short sentences never more than eight to thirteen words, chooses exhilarating words that are both powerful and emotional, and keeps his language clean of fillers and unintentional slang). He has the talent for drama, clearly conveying his passion.

Content Development: Jobs clearly understands his audience, and as such, he respects the importance of structuring his presentation’s content for each group he addresses. He defines his purpose and states it clearly and succinctly. He develops a clear beginning, middle, and end. He begins with a strong hook, states his purpose, and then lays out the agenda of his three to five main points. He develops the body of his presentation with a series of touch points, including analogies, metaphors, stories, data, statistics, and humor. And he uses thoughtful, sequential transitions, and ends with a summary, thank you, and final thought—“one last thing.” It’s textbook perfect in every way.

Visual Aids: Jobs’ visual aids are the opposite of the dense eye charts we so often see in typical technical presentations. His slides are image based with large colorful images, one big statistic, or one powerful graphic. He uses these images to augment his key point, not to overshadow it or mute his performance. His slides are exciting and dynamic visual entertainment, with a powerful point.

The Bar Has Been Raised

Jobs has consistently been one of the most powerful and best role models for business speakers in high tech. And he makes public speaking look easy, seamless, and enjoyable. But this is not due to a natural talent. I’ve heard that he works hard to prepare and even harder to rehearse so that every moment is well coordinated. He spends days, not mere hours, in preparation for one of his large main stage product announcements. Indeed, he has set the bar high.

In the only commencement speech he ever gave at Stanford University six years ago, Jobs told the newly minted graduates, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” That statement is so true for public speakers. While it’s great to use Steve Jobs as a role model for excellent presentation technique, what made him really great was that his technique allowed him and his message to shine through. And he would be the first person to tell you to model his skill, but to develop you own personal spirit and style.

In his resignation letter, Jobs wrote, “Apple’s best days are ahead of it.” While that may seem hard for us to believe today, we know that by stating this, he is preserving his legacy—a legacy of poise, power, and passion.

Looking for a Mentor, Consultant, or Coach? Here are the 3 top things to look for

For most people, hiring a mentor, consultant, or coach is a tough decision. And for women it can sometimes be even tougher. After all, you’re hiring someone to help you look at all aspects of yourself. You want someone to help you address professional and personal challenges so you become stronger, more skilled, more strategic, and just plain better in some way. Whoever you hire is going to see the real you, flaws and all, and that can be scary on many levels. So how do you choose the right person to help you? What are your criteria? How should you evaluate the person? What’s your checklist?

The foundation of any relationship, especially for women, is trust. While trust is certainly important for men as well, women seem to seek it sooner in the relationship. As such, women often allow their “women’s intuition” or “gut instincts” about a person to shape their decision of whether to work with them…and they do so on the first phone call.

Whether you’re a woman looking for a mentor, consultant, or coach, or you’re a woman who works in one of these roles, following are the top three keys for building a trusting relationship during the first interaction.

  • Someone who takes his/her time with you. Obviously, the initial phone call with anyone is much like a sales call. But those consultants who focus on building trust are able to guide the conversation in such a way that it doesn’t sound or feel like a sales call. These people take their time, ask focused questions, really listen to the answers, and encourage the prospect to go deeper into the conversation. The dialog feels natural, not like an on-the-spot interview.
  • Someone who uses a neutral tone of voice. People who have a sense of tone—who know how to control their voice—naturally come across as more trusting. Using a neutral tone means the person’s voice is responding neither too strongly nor too lightly. Responding too strongly often makes it sound like the person is overbearing, while responding too lightly makes the person sound disinterested. Controlling your vocal tone so it’s deep, balanced and even puts listeners at ease.
  • Someone who is giving of information rather than guarded. Think of this as the difference between offering facts versus offering insights. While knowing such things as how long the consultant has been in business and what types of people he or she works with is important, that kind of information doesn’t always lead to trust. Real trust comes from sharing insights, personal examples, and emotional stories that are relevant to the prospect. The insights don’t have to go into great depth and detail, but they should highlight the quality of the consultant’s expertise.

If trust is the basis for an effective mentoring, consulting, or coaching relationship, then the selection process is indeed very personal. In other words, you can’t hire someone simply because of their experience. And even though it is important to review the person’s references and track record, what is more important in the end is to trust your interaction and your gut instincts. If trust hasn’t been established prior to your working together, you need to pay attention to that. Trust is not a “nice to have.” It’s an essential element for you to have a productive relationship that leads to positive and lasting change.

This blog is part of my Wednesday for Women blog series, where I feature stories, resources and information to help women gain greater influence, power, and confidence in their professional and personal life. Please enjoy these weekly Wednesday blogs and forward them to the powerful women in your life.

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Can Public Speaking Be an Enjoyable Experience?

For most people, giving a presentation—whether something formal to the board or something casual to a community group—is a stressful experience. And as we all know, too much stress can contribute to health problems and impede a person’s ability to live a robust life. The American Institute of Stress reports that some surveys show 75 to 90 percent of visits to primary care physicians are for stress-related complaints. And according to the National Women’s Health Information Center, the effects of stress on women’s physical and emotional health can range from headaches to irritable bowel syndrome. Fortunately, there is a way to make public speaking less stressful and something you actually look forward to. Making public speaking enjoyable comes down to being in control of yourself and your environment. The more control you feel you have, the less stress you’ll experience in any situation. Granted, there are always some things you can’t control, like the weather, but there are key things you do have a say on. Here are the top four for presenters.

  • Your Content – Obviously, if you’re writing your presentation’s content you have a great degree of control over it. But merely writing the words and confidently owning the words are two different things. That’s why practice is paramount before delivering your presentation. When it comes to practice, I like the “Think It Through, Talk it Through, Walk It Throughmodel. Here’s how I do it: Once the content is set, I think it through when I’m washing the dishes, taking a shower or driving my car. I talk it through when I’m out for a walk or bouncing a ball. And I walk it through in full dress at least three times with all my equipment, props and aids. For those important presentations, I recommend that you schedule three to five practice sessions well in advance of the event and take them seriously. If you find this difficult and need support or “tough love,” arrange for a colleague or friend to join you. It’s not as easy to cancel a “meeting” you have scheduled with a colleague—so let this small tip help you practice.
  • Room Prep – How many times have you arrived just in time to deliver your presentation, only to find out that the room isn’t set up, the LCD projector isn’t working, and your handouts aren’t photocopied? Now you’re scrambling trying to pull everything together at the last minute. Talk about stress! I advise that you make it a rule to be at your presentation site at least one hour early. Even if your presentation site is simply the conference room next door, at least peak your head over well in advance to make sure everything is ready for you. Don’t assume someone else will do it, even if others have typically handled it in the past. Ultimately, if things aren’t ready, you look bad; therefore, control the situation before it controls you.
  • Your Audience – While you can’t always control who will be in your audience or what kind of mood they’ll have that day, you can control your audience’s first impression of you. One advantage of being at your presentation site early is that you’ll be able to greet your audience members as they arrive. That physical contact of a handshake and your greetings and small talk will help put you and your audience at ease. You’ll no longer be talking to the people from the marketing department whom you’ve had limited contact with; you’ll be talking with Jack, Lori, Raj, and Donna—people you’ve personally met and shared a story or two with. Talking with people you know is much more enjoyable than talking to strangers.
  • Food – Chances are you’ve been to a workshop or long meeting where the supplied afternoon snack consisted of cookies and brownies. While tasty, this traditional mid-day fare is the last thing the presenter or audience needs to stay alert. If a snack will be provided during your presentation, arrange that it consist of fruit, whole grains (crackers, bagels, etc.), and water. Food that provides actual nourishment and slow releasing carbohydrates will help everyone stay attentive and on task with your message.

Being in control of yourself and your environment plays a big role in how stressful or enjoyable your public speaking experience will be. Manage these two critical areas and you’ll be a healthy and strong presenter who can control anxiety, connect with your audience, and find joy in every public speaking opportunity.

This blog is part of my Wednesday for Women blog series, where I feature stories, resources and information to help women gain greater influence, power, and confidence in their professional and personal life. Please enjoy these weekly Wednesday blogs and forward them to the powerful women in your life.

Sign up for our monthly newsletter to receive valuable tips, techniques and updates on the latest news and events from DeFinis Communications.

Keys to Developing Presentation Content for Women

No matter what industry you’re in or what type of presentations you give, chances are you have women in your audience. With 69% of American women in the workforce, the female presence in business is everywhere. Women give and listen to presentations, make buying decisions, lead groups to action, and influence companies worldwide. Therefore, to successfully present to this powerful audience segment, you need to know how to relate to women in every presentation you give. As a public speaking coach and owner of a presentation skills training company, I give and listen to presentations every day. So I have a unique perspective on this topic. I know what works from a technical standpoint, and I know what works from a audience standpoint. To that end, I offer these three tips for developing your content for a female audience. (Note: while these suggestions apply universally—to both men and women—the tips highlighted have a higher receptivity in women).

1. Women appreciate and respond well to stories.

It’s no secret that women love a good story. No wonder 55% of all fiction books sold are to women. Knowing this, it’s surprising how many presentations I hear that are overloaded with facts, statistics, and dry information—with no stories whatsoever.

To connect with the women in your audience, stories are a must. Realize that not every story has to be about you or your company. You can use stories that are in the public domain or stories you’ve heard from others. You can also use metaphors and analogies that relate to things women typically respond to, like family, food, or travel. As long as the point of the story builds upon or relates to your topic, it’s a valid story to use. So as you plan your content, make sure you focus on stories as often as you focus on facts.

2. Women want to participate and feel involved.  

Women enjoy feeling a part of the group. Women yearn for inclusion, for connections, and for relationships. Therefore, find opportunities to create ways for women to get involved in your presentation. You can suggest a “pair and share” activity, ask rhetorical questions, organize a group activity, or simply elicit feedback often.

The key, however, is to really want and value the involvement. Simply garnering participation at key points in your presentation but not making that participation meaningful to the experience, or not using or validating the information that is offered, sends the message that you really don’t care. So gain involvement and use what’s been offered. Your message will resonate stronger with your female audience if they feel they had a part in shaping it.

3. Women are keen to visual images.

Visual images are important for any presentation. In my experience, women respond to visuals that are more integrated, complex, and open to interpretation.  Unlike stereotypical visual concepts, such as men like images that are hard, sleek, and cold, and women like images that are soft, fuzzy, and warm. Women enjoy and are stimulated by images that are more subtle and less prescribed.  

One example of this is the Andrew Wyeth painting Christina’s World. In it, a woman is lying in a field, looking at a house. The painting’s message is not definitive. The woman depicted could represent someone distraught, forlorn, or forgotten. Or she could be hopefully reaching toward home—to that place of belonging and family love. Or she could have simply tripped and fallen. Paintings like this carry a degree of complexity and uncertainty that force people to interpret the image based on their own experiences. Women are comfortable with that complexity where there are multiple interpretations—no right or wrong. So to create powerful visual content for women, choose images that evoke a story.

Stories, participation, and powerful images – these are the three factors that are important for any presentation, but are especially so for a female audience. Keep these concepts in mind as you plan your next presentation and you’ll be one step closer to connecting your message with this powerful segment of the business community.

This blog is part of my Wednesday for Women blog series, where I feature stories, resources and information to help women gain greater influence, power, and confidence in their professional and personal life. Please enjoy these weekly Wednesday blogs and forward them to the powerful women in your life.

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The Key Factor for Your Presentation’s Success

When you’re preparing a presentation, who is the most important person you need to consider? The answer: Your audience. You’ve likely experienced, at least once in your career, what happens when you forget about your audience. Here’s the scenario: You create the perfect presentation complete with solid transitions, compelling visuals, and stellar numbers. You have great jokes planned and practice every element of your speech. Yet, as you stand in front of your listeners and talk, your message isn’t garnering any interest. You know you’re crashing fast. While you may have prepared incessantly before you went to the front of the room, you forgot about the one critical element to your presentation—your audience.

If you forget your audience, your presentation can backfire. That’s why knowing the details about them is critical for your success.

For example, Andrew Winston is a well-known consultant who is dedicated to helping companies grow and flourish by utilizing green environmental strategies. He speaks across the globe to varied audiences. As such, Winston is a master at crafting his presentation to match the needs of his diverse audience. 

Winston speaks to audiences of adoring fans, sustainability conference attendees, and even lumberjacks and loggers. Do you think he takes the risk of delivering the same speech to each unique audience? Of course not! The brilliance of Winston is his ability to deliver a compelling presentation every time he speaks because he caters to the specific needs of each audience. When he is in front of his fans, he is bold, controversial, and risk taking. However, when he is in front of an audience of skeptics, he eliminates the controversial pieces and engages with the audience on a personal level.

As a presenter, you must get your audience on your side. If the people in front of you want numbers, give them numbers; if they want jokes, give them jokes. However, if you don’t take the time to analyze what would best suit your audience, your presentation will fall flat no matter how much you prepare. 

Therefore, before you begin crafting your speech, know who you are going to be standing in front of. Will you be amongst your cheering, loving fans? Or a caustic, skeptical group of dissenters? Make sure you are prepared to speak to the hearts and minds of the crowd in front of you!

Embrace Your Authenticity: It’s the Backbone of Public Speaking Success

True, authentic communication is about creating a bond and connection with your listeners, whether you’re talking with one person or one hundred. Unfortunately, displaying authenticity when giving a presentation is a challenge for many women.   For example, I have a female client who is struggling with this exact issue. She wants to come across as authentic, but she’s looking externally the entire time. She focuses, and bases her presentation content and delivery, solely on what she thinks other people expect of her—what or who she thinks other people want her to be. She never checks in with herself and identifies who she really is. The way she measures herself is always by external factors.

Pssst…here’s the secret to real authenticity: be true to yourself. Take a moment and sit down with yourself and acknowledge what’s important to you -- your values, interests, knowledge, strengths and what’s exciting and satisfying to you about your message. Then, take all those parts of you and give them a voice. Bring them to any communication you’re having.

So as you can see, coming across as authentic starts with the internal work, not the external.

Many women, especially those in upper management and executive roles or those in male-dominated industries, often find themselves to be the only female in the meeting. As such, they think they can’t be their true authentic self if they want the men to take them seriously. But when you start with the internal work and build a strong sense of self (authenticity), you’ll come across as more powerful and confident to any audience.

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, exemplifies this point beautifully. Watch this video of her presentation on “Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders.” She comes across as authentic, sincere, highly believable, and courageous to address this issue head on. She shares pieces of herself, like the story of her three-year-old daughter hugging her leg and begging her not to go to work showing us she has lived the topic as well as witnessed it with countless other women. She is proof of concept and the message is perfect in her hands.

Developing this type of authenticity when speaking does not always come naturally. It’s a skill that needs development. To begin uncovering your true authenticity, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who is the “me” here?
  • Where do I get satisfaction and joy?
  • What do I feel when I’ve made a good connection with an audience?

The clearer you can get on who you are, what’s inside, and what matters to you, the better you’ll connect with your audience and have your real message be heard.

This blog is part of my Wednesday for Women blog series, where I feature stories, resources and information to help women gain greater influence, power, and confidence in their professional and personal life. Please enjoy these weekly Wednesday blogs and forward them to the powerful women in your life.

Sign up for our monthly newsletter to receive valuable tips, techniques and updates on the latest news and events from DeFinis Communications.

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Oprah’s Farewell: The Final Ovation for One of the World’s Most Influential Public Speakers

Wednesday for Women Celebrates Oprah! Oprah’s legend is…well…legendary. For 25 years, she has been the foundation of daytime TV for millions of people all over the world. And throughout it all, her presence and messages have been uplifting, inspiring and revitalizing.

I recently heard the story of a woman who purchased a pair of Oprah’s shoes at an auction. She said that whenever she feels sad or overwhelmed, she goes to her closet and steps into Oprah’s shoes. Talk about having a powerful influence on people! We all want a piece of those people who we believe have something we don’t possess—greater strength, clearer vision, goodness, talent, confidence. We seek out those people who can fill in our gaps, and for the last quarter century, Oprah has been that person for millions of people.

I have not been able to watch Oprah on a regular basis, but when I have caught her show, I am just as enthralled as everyone else. She has a natural way of communicating that draws us in. Her warm, deep voice, her broad inviting smile, and her easy tone and cadence are engaging. She is the consummate “connector.”

So when you’re looking for a communications role model, look no further than Oprah. Here is my tribute to this great woman and what she means to the world of public speaking:

O – Optimistic. Even when Oprah was covering a negative topic (failed relationships, child abuse story, unusual homicide case, etc.), she always looked for the good that could come in the future. That’s something we should all strive to do every day. So the next time you need to communicate bad news, state it, but don’t dwell on it. Instead, keep your focus on the good that will eventually come from the situation.

P – Prepared. I’ve heard that Oprah is a stickler for details and doesn’t like to be surprised. She and her producers are prepared for everything and anything that can happen during a show. Not only does she have a Plan B, but she also has a Plan C, D, E, and F. Oprah exemplifies that preparedness equals success.

R – Relevant. Oprah knows her main audience and makes every episode relevant to them. Being on her show could make anyone famous (and it has), but her guest list never strayed from the types of people and stories her viewers wanted to see. By making the information presented relevant, she earned millions of eager viewers every day.

A – Authentic. Oprah started her career as a TV news anchor, but she didn’t last long in that role because she had a hard time hiding her true self on camera. Yet, it’s her uninhibited authenticity that made her talk show a success. People tune in to watch her just as much as they tune in to watch the day’s topic. Oprah refuses to hide who she is. She cries on camera with people, shows all her emotions freely, and isn’t afraid to be her authentic self.

H – Humorous. While not a comedian, Oprah makes people laugh in her own way. She doesn’t tell jokes in the traditional manner; rather, she lets her natural humor shine through to diffuse a tense situation, make a point, and put others at ease. She shows that humor doesn’t always have to be about knee-slapping laughter.

Thank you, Oprah, for 25 amazing years…and for so many priceless pieces of presentation skills wisdom.

In my Wednesday for Women blog series, I feature stories, resources and valuable information to help women gain greater influence, power, and confidence in their professional and personal life. Please forward these weekly Wednesday blogs to the powerful women in your life. They’ll thank you for it!

Relationships Shape Women’s Communications

Welcome to my Wednesday for Women blog series, where I feature stories, resources and valuable information to help women gain greater influence, power, and confidence in their professional and personal life. Please forward these weekly Wednesday blogs to your family, friends and colleagues! In the 1970s, a lab at Harvard University conducted a well-known study that explored the stages of moral and ethical development. Two subjects who were part of this study were Amy and Jake, bright, articulate eleven year olds.

Amy and Jake were told a story that involved an ethical dilemma. It is called The Heinz Dilemma. The children were told that Mr. Heinz faced a difficult decision. He must decide whether to steal an expensive drug he cannot afford. The drug will save the life of his dying wife.

When presented with the Heinz Dilemma, Jake responded that the life of Mr. Heinz’s wife is more important than the rule to not steal, and he suggested that Mr. Heinz is justified in stealing the drug to save his wife. Jake pointed out that if Mr. Heinz were caught, a judge would probably understand and go easy on him. This response placed Jake in what was considered by the researchers to be an appropriate stage of moral and ethical development for his age. What are the characteristics of Jake’s response? Linear, logical, impersonal, and black and white.

Amy’s response was different from Jake’s. She believed that Mr. Heinz should not steal the drug. She thought there must be other ways of obtaining it. She didn’t know what those were, but she thought there had to be another option. She also thought that stealing might have very bad consequences. If Mr. Heinz did steal the drug he might be arrested and taken to jail, and then he could not take care of his dying wife.

What are the characteristics of Amy’s approach? Instead of linear, it is multidimensional; instead of black and white, it is multicolored; instead of impersonal, it is highly personal. Amy believed there had to be a way to solve this problem without resorting to an unethical choice.

How was Amy’s response reviewed? Her refusal to accept the either/or situation was evaluated poorly. It was interpreted that her open-ended exploration of the situation indicated a failure of logic and an inability to think for herself. She was placed in a lower stage of ethical and moral development for her age.

The Power of Connection, Communication and Relationships

Just as Amy’s more nuanced response was dismissed and devalued by the researchers, many women working in our established structures today are not rewarded for contributing their best ideas to the discussion at hand. Just like Amy, women use a logic of effectiveness that builds on the power of connection, communication, and relationships…and that ability is, unfortunately, often viewed as a negative.

Here are some facts about women and how they communicate their stance on an issue or their ideas:

  • Women are most concerned about how to do the right thing and get the job done. Often, that means working with others in cooperation and collaboration rather than meting out black and white decisions.
  • Women are more concerned about using interpersonal skills to solve problems. They seek input from others in meetings and during discussions to get the best solutions.
  • Women are more active in creating community. They spend time rallying people together around a cause or idea.
  • Women enjoy using relational skills. They like to talk things out, build camaraderie during tense issues, and make sure everyone gets a say in the matter.

All of the above are essential skills for delivering high performance results—whether those results are in the boardroom, on the platform, or in the home.

So what do we learn from Amy and Jake?

This one example gives us an opportunity to explore the differences in the ways that men and women approach and solve problems, communicate, and relate to others. It gives us a chance to discover how we can take advantage of these differences to contribute to workplace effectiveness. Most importantly, it reminds us that these very real differences can be integrated and blended to create the best possible options for high performance, productivity and success.