Confidence Building

Rate Your Public Speaking Comfort Level

When it comes to nervousness in front of a group, I have noticed people generally fall into one of four categories, which I describe as the following four levels. These levels are an indicator of what I call a speaker’s “capacity for comfort” in front of a group. Which one best describes you?

  • Level 1: Pressured and Petrified: People in this category display the greatest signs of nervousness—visible blushing, perspiration, quivering voice, or shaking hands. They are extremely uncomfortable and can barely get their words out. 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. They have little desire to speak in public, but are now required to do so. Their capacity for comfort is generally quite low. As such, 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 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 discomfort.  The good news for this group is that with a few simple changes they can quickly improve and become more comfortable and competent.
  • 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 carries the burden of anxiety. 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 learning how to apply their skills to a new venue to be 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 every opportunity and stepping up at a moment’s notice. They enjoy the adrenalin rush that speaking provides and ride it to peak performance. They may be executives, product evangelists, salespeople, senior leaders, marketing directors, 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 one thing: experience. Level 4 speakers know that preparation and practice are the keys to high performance. They are disciplined. They develop powerful content. They prepare, rehearse, and gain insight from every speaking engagement.

The good news is that while public speaking is an art and a science, it’s not rocket science. In other words, you can become a level 4 speaker too. 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 too can build your capacity for comfort and learn to adapt to the demands of any speaking situation. Every speaker in every category has the potential to become a relaxed and confident speaker—even you!

Good Habits Make Good Speakers

During a recent executive speech coaching session I was working with a client and having him repeat a single line from his speech over and over. I wanted him to develop the habit of saying a key phrase a certain way so he would get a particular response from his listeners.  When we took a break from the practice, he asked me, “Have you read the book The Power of Habit?” I hadn’t, and he told me to check it out because it was relevant to our work. I’m glad I took his advice. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by award-winning New York Times business reporter Charles Duhigg vividly explains why habits exist, how they shape our lives, and how they can be changed. While it’s not a book that focuses on presentation skills per se, its message is one that will benefit all speakers.

In his book, Duhigg says that the way to change any habit is to build awareness so you can identify which habits you’re currently using. You then build new habits by using the old habit as a blueprint. His model, what he calls “The Habit Loop,” consists of a cue, a routine, and a reward. For example, when you wake up each morning, the first thing you do is walk into the bathroom and see your toothbrush (the cue). You then brush your teeth (the routine). Finally, you feel the reward of a tingling clean mouth.

Almost all our daily activities revolve around this habit loop. Therefore, to make any real changes in life, it’s imperative that you get to the core of the drivers or motivations behind the habit. In essence, if you build your awareness and understand why you are doing what you do, then you have the ability to change ineffective habits and replace them with new more effective ones.

So how does all this apply to public speaking?

Your Habits Can Impact Your Presentation Skills

People come to me every day with all sorts of fears and uncertainties about presenting: “I get stage fright,” “I’m not a good speaker.” “Everyone will laugh at me.” The list is endless. My job is to educate people about the tools and skills they can use, and the habits they can develop, so that when they get up to speak they exude confidence and power.

So think about your speaking anxiety or challenge. What’s the cue that starts the negative behavior? What’s the routine you then normally engage in? Finally, what’s the reward you get from that? For example:

  • You get an email announcing that you have been selected to speak at the company meeting. (Cue)
  • You divert your attention from the fact that you have to speak by wasting time and doing everything but preparing. As a result, you run out of time to develop a powerful message and you don’t practice your delivery.  (Routine)
  • You put off the hard work of speech preparation and keep your fears at bay by distracting yourself and successfully avoid presentation practice. (Reward)

The outcome is an anxiety-ridden, half-baked performance that bores the audience and makes you feel even less confident. But that “habit loop” is a fairly typical pattern for many people who have stage fright. Of course, it doesn’t make sense to prepare for a speech by sheer avoidance, but that is a key message of Duhigg’s book: Our habits are so ingrained that we don’t even know we are doing them, even when they seem illogical.

So the next time you get that email announcing that you are to speak at the company meeting (cue), rather than goof off, decide to make a new routine that consists of three easy steps: 1) Develop your content, 2) Build your PowerPoint slides, and 3) Practice your delivery out loud at least three times. You’ll then experience the reward of feeling prepared and confident when you stand up to speak, and stage fright will be a thing of the past.

No matter what speaking challenges you’re attempting to overcome, rest assured that you can change your habits and develop your speaking skills. Simply find the cue, identify the routine, and feel the reward. By following this simple process, a new you, complete with new habits, will emerge.

Prepare Your Speaker’s Toolbox

By now, we all know that practicing your presentation and working on key public speaking skills will make you a better presenter. But practice and skill aside, there are other, more tangible, things that will help you excel at business presentations. I call these things your “toolbox essentials.” Just as you prepare for your job by making sure you have key supplies on hand, when you’re taking on the role of “presenter,” you must prepare by making sure your speaker’s toolbox is stocked. Following are my top recommendations for any speaker’s toolbox.

Tools and Resources for Your Toolbox

  • Print out your PowerPoint™ presentation. Print your slides (either 3 or 6 to a page) just in case of an emergency. If for any reason you don’t have access to your laptop you will still be able to give the presentation.
  • Charge all batteries. Make sure you have an extra battery for your remote. If you are running your laptop on battery power, make sure you have an extra one.
  • Have the right remote for the right room. When you purchase your remote make sure to get one that works for the size room you will be speaking in. When you’re presenting up front you may not have the need for distance, but if you are a facilitator and like to work the room, you may be standing too far away for your remote to work. Each remote has different distances—standard is 20-40 feet, and you may need 100 feet.
  • Know your venue. Have a sheet with all pertinent contact info for the venue where you are speaking. Include your contact’s name and cell phone number, the venue address, and room name.
  • Take a clock. Bring a small watch or travel clock you can place on the podium or other nearby table or surface. While you don’t want to look at the time continually, you do want to casually check the time every so often to ensure you’re staying on track.

Wellness Tips for Your Toolbox

  • Get eight hours of sleep. Getting plenty of sleep the night before a major presentation will keep you mentally sharp and physically strong. Studies from the National Sleep Foundation show that people who are sleep deprived have more trouble performing math calculations, have impaired physical performance, and have more difficulty retaining information. Getting between 7 and 8 hours of sleep prior to presenting will positively impact your performance.
  • Drink plenty of water. Drinking lots of water (at least half of your body weight in ounces) will keep you feeling refreshed and relaxed. Since stress contributes to dehydration, any time you feel stressed (such as when giving a presentation) you need to drink more water than usual.
  • Stay fortified. Eat a well balanced diet rich in good protein sources and consume plenty of vegetables and fruits. Avoid high carbohydrate foods like pasta, breads, and sweets before you give a presentation. These foods will make you sleepy and reduce your concentration.
  • Take ‘Rescue Remedy.’ If you are highly susceptible to nervous tension, pack Rescue Remedy in your toolkit. Rescue Remedy is a Bach flower tincture that can be found in any health food store. Place two or three drops in an ounce of warm water and sip it slowly. Most people find that it has a relaxing effect on your nerves.
  • Avoid caffeine. While caffeine can be stimulating and help you feel temporarily energized for the presentation, it can also backfire and cause unwanted anxiety. Too much caffeine can take its toll on the nervous system over time, and speakers need calm nerves and sharp mental acuity to deliver a winning presentation.

The better prepared you are for any presentation, the more effective your speech will be. So take the time to pack your toolbox items; you’ll stand out and impress your audience.

Perfecting the Intangibles of Public Speaking

I regularly write about the tangible aspects of public speaking (the concrete presentation skills), such as gestures, movement, language, and visual aids. But often, being a great presenter has a lot to do with that “certain something” the person possesses. Some people call it charm, energy, self-assurance, or charisma. Whatever you call it, it’s these intangible qualities that attract us to others. I use the word “intangible” to describe attributes that we all recognize but cannot easily quantify. I often spend my time trying to analyze, dissect, teach, and measure “intangible” behavior in others as it relates to public speaking because I believe that everyone can gain access to these qualities through awareness, learning, and skill practice. As a result of this work, I’ve found the most common intangibles to be:

  • Attitude – an internal motivation to go above and beyond the call of duty
  • Perseverance – a desire to put in extra time and effort
  • Openness – a willingness to take coaching and advice… and to give it to others generously
  • Tenacity – a commitment to work hard at skill development
  • Charm – a natural courtesy toward others coupled with wit and people skills
  • Maturity – a serious approach to their overall work, not just the outcome or results
  • Courage – a readiness to try new things

These are just a few of the key attributes that make speakers attractive to their listeners.

The intangibles affect every aspect of public speaking. To pinpoint yours, I suggest you take a walk in nature by yourself to reflect on your intangibles, as this where your assets lie. Take into account how you feel about your presentation accomplishments, how well you relate to your listeners, and how people respond to your presentations and ideas. In addition to this self-reflection, solicit feedback from others. Ask your friends and colleagues, “What are my intangibles—my strengths as a speaker?”

Realize that your intangibles are often inter-related, making it difficult to pinpoint just one thing that makes you stand out. For example, I was recently working with a successful woman who knows she is a good presenter but doesn’t know exactly why. Her question to me was, “What am I good at? What don’t I need to worry about?”

It’s a tough question. We began by breaking down all aspects of her “charm.” We scrutinized her video of her presentation and looked at everything—her behaviors, the way she moves and uses body language, her micro-movements, the way she speaks, her vocal tone and qualities, her use of language, her sentence structure and vocabulary. In the end we discovered that it’s the way she puts it all together—how all her tangible skills are in resonance with each other—that makes her the unique presenter she is.

So while knowing and practicing the tangible aspects of public speaking is vital, also get comfortable with knowing and practicing the more intangible attributes that make you a successful presenter. You may not be able to “put your finger on it” just yet, but with a little self-reflection and feedback from others you can bring these qualities to your awareness, and ultimately use them to enhance your speaking success.

Does Wisdom Play a Role in Public Speaking?

“I have to give a speech in a few weeks and I’m already nauseous and anxious. I need to talk to someone wise. Can you please call me?” This was a voicemail message I received last week from someone obviously in need of help.

Every once in a while I get a call like this one, and over the years I’ve discovered that these types of clients are often looking for more than just the skills of public speaking. They want other answers to help them manage their speech anxiety, such as how wise people handle the stress of creating and delivering a speech for the first time.

I’ve learned to take it slow with clients like this and to let them talk. So in the process of being a speech coach, I also become a listening coach. I ask questions to keep the conversation going in the right direction, provide feedback on what I hear, and re-phrase and re-state what they say to ensure clarification.

It’s true that a good coach is a chameleon—capable of changing colors to meet the emotional needs of the moment. This is something relatively easy for me to do and something I enjoy. I love to delve into a person’s deepest challenges and explore those places where people hold their fear and discomfort. I like understanding what makes people tick and why they feel the way they do. And I believe once we understand what’s causing the fear we can then move away from it, see things with greater perspective, and begin building confidence. Taking the time to search for a cause often helps people understand what’s getting in the way of moving forward. This sets the stage for the action oriented work that is to come.

So what happened with the person who left that voicemail? What did I discover about her when I prodded, probed, and questioned her fears?

I learned that she had not prepared—she hadn’t even thought about her presentation. She didn’t know much about her audience or why her boss selected her to give the presentation. She was deeply afraid that she would fail, embarrass herself, and let everyone down in her department. She was calling me for a shoulder to cry on. She wanted to whine, to complain, and to enlist my support to allow her to do it. I listened to her carefully, thoughtfully, and actively, but in the end I still had to provide “tough love” and offer a different vision than the one she had created in her mind. I had to give her enough direction and support so she could take action.

“Results,” I told her, “don’t come from hoping, wishing, whining, or complaining—they don’t even come from wisdom. They come from making a commitment to act no matter how small a step you take.”

I had to throw my gentle version of cold water in her face to move her out of the paralysis she had talked herself into and onto a new action oriented direction. Just like any behavior change, such as losing body fat or building muscle, talking about it won’t do a thing. You have to take action continuously every day. Nothing else will do.

So does wisdom play a role in public speaking? In a way…yes. Whether it’s in public speaking, losing weight, having a fulfilling relationship, or achieving great success in your chosen career, those with true wisdom know when and how to take action so they can make their lives better. Wisdom—coupled with action—brings success.

To be a Better Presenter, Become a “Consumer of Speaking”

The first step to becoming a better public speaker is learning to develop your observational skills. The power of observational learning is well documented by psychologist Albert Bandura, who implemented some of the seminal studies in the area and initiated social learning theory. Just as the name implies, observational learning involves the process of learning to copy or model an action or behavior simply by watching someone else do it. Because we all observe public speakers every day—at business meetings, conferences, churches, charity events, social activities, and on YouTube and TV—we have the opportunity to be influenced by the words and ideas of others. And if we pay close attention we can also learn to crack the code and uncover the mystery of what makes one person exciting and effective and another person a complete bore. Here is a short list of actions you can take to become a better consumer of speaking:

  • Watch the speaker’s performance or platform skills. What behaviors make the speaker look energetic and alive? Is the speaker using effective eye contact, facial expression, posture, gestures, and movement? Are you working hard to listen and stay awake, or are you captivated and intrigued?
  • Listen to the speaker’s voice. Is the speaker using well crafted and powerful vocal resonance skills including volume, enunciation, pronunciation, pitch, inflection, pauses and rate of speech? Are you listening with interest or is your mind drifting off to plan your next vacation?
  • Take note of how the content is organized. What is the overall theme or purpose? Is there an attention grabbing opening and call to action at the end? Are there three to five clearly stated main points? Is the message audience-focused? Or are you confused, overwhelmed, and bored?
  • Examine the content details. Look for the unique use of stories, testimonials, rhetorical questions, examples, facts, quotes and humor. Are you stimulated and curious, or have you heard it all before?

As you watch others, take notes. One speaker may use a technique that you want to try, while another might use one to avoid. Make a long list of the skills you think are most effective and then practice your newly consumed skills every day so that you too can use them the next time you speak. This is one instance where the more you consume, the better you get.

Give Your Presentation Skills a Pilates Workout

Joseph Pilates, the man who created and promoted the Pilates method of physical fitness, may not have been a public speaker, but all presenters can still learn a thing or two from him. In the course of his work, Pilates formulated six key principles to improve the quality of your physical strength and endurance. While these principles were designed for physical fitness, they can also be applied to the discipline of public speaking…and ultimately to all aspects of life. 1. Breath Joseph Pilates wrote, “Above all…learn to breathe correctly.” Correct breathing oxygenates the blood and increases circulation. This certainly holds true for the public speaker. Proper breathing will help you maintain control, calm your nerves, and give you the air you need to speak effectively with an even and modulated rate of speech.

2. Concentration Just as there are no mindless or careless moments in Pilates, there should be none in your presentation delivery either. Keep your focus on the task at hand and direct your body, voice, and words to carefully deliver the message with deliberate control.

3. Control Pilates called his method of exercise “Contrology” or the “The Art of Control.” Nothing could be more appropriate for the public speaker. In any physical discipline, control must be practiced and developed. Whether you are learning to play the piano, cook a meal, or hit a tennis ball, you need to practice increasingly difficult levels of control. This concept was intended to reduce the risk of injury and train your body for life. It works for public speaking too.

4. Centering People often describe Pilates exercise as “movement flowing out from a strong center.” Your center is the foundation for all movements. I like to think of this as a “girdle” that surrounds the midsection of your body, from your navel around to your lower back and including your lower ribs and buttocks. Having a strong core is essential to creating a powerful presence in public speaking. Lifting through the core gives you strong posture and an upright stance. You can move anywhere on the stage when you know you have a strong core.

5. Precision Precision gives each Pilates exercise the intensity of purpose. Each exercise is to be performed as perfectly as possible according to Pilates’ technique. This is true for the public speaker as well. A philosophy of precision in both content development as well as performance delivery is the key to reach success.

6. Flow Flow is a key distinguishing feature of the Pilates philosophy. Because physical movement is continuous in daily life, you should focus on the aspect of flow during each Pilates exercise. The intent is to strengthen control, balance, and coordination so you move through life with ease and agility. For the public speaker, moving smoothly from one idea to the next and using body language that is congruent with your message will help you stay in control so you can tackle any presentation challenge.

So as it turns out, Pilates is good for your health and your speech! But maybe I’m a bit biased. You see, my husband and I have a house in Maine that used to be owned by a well known dancer. She once told me that not only did she know and admire Joseph Pilates, but that he came to visit her on occasion. So I can legitimately brag that “Joseph Pilates slept here!” May his legacy live on in exercise enthusiasts (and public speakers) everywhere.

7 Tips for Giving the Perfect Eulogy

Recently I attended a memorial celebration of the all-too-short life of one of my husband’s colleagues. Several family members and friends made touching tributes to the deceased, and as I sat in the crowded room I listened to these presentations not as Angela the speech coach, but as a mourner in a community of mourners. Still, the speakers who know my profession came up afterwards and asked, “How did I do?” I’m by no means an expert on giving a eulogy (even though I have given a few in my life), but I will share what I learned that day that touched me as both a mourner and a speech coach. Here are my seven elements of a moving eulogy.

1. Use “good words”: The word “eulogy” comes from the classical Greek for “good words,” and that’s a great place to start. Choose uplifting, evocative, descriptive words, even if they are not in your everyday vocabulary. Now is the moment to employ words that bring solace, comfort, and hope to those listening, so let your imagination and your inner preacher flow. Think about the words that give you hope—they are the words to use.

2. Be grateful: You have been asked to speak because you had a special relationship with the person being honored, so consider yourself one of the lucky ones. Not only will you be honoring a person you loved, but you also have a unique opportunity to help everyone in the room feel more connected and at peace. This powerful moment will stay with you for the rest of your life.

3. Prepare well: The hardest part of giving a eulogy is that there is little time to prepare. Even if you only have a day or two to prepare, do more than “think about” what you’re going to say. The most memorable eulogies are well prepared with interesting facts, stories, and recurring themes and patterns. I’ve often heard people say they learned so much about the person from the speeches given at the memorial service. Type your notes double spaced and wide margins or write them on 5 x 8 cards. You may not need to refer to these aids but they will be there if you do.

4. Find the unique signature: Each of us has a personal signature, and like our fingerprint, it is unique to us. I don’t mean how you sign your name but rather the themes, behavior patterns, and activities that we love most in life. If you’re unsure of the person’s signature, talk to family members and friends to learn what gave the person’s life color and meaning. What was this person devoted to—tropical sunsets, their family, a particular sport, a special non-profit organization?

5. Practice your delivery: Practice at least three times before you deliver the eulogy, preferably in front of one or two people. Practice speaking to the closest family members. They will be sitting in the front row and deserve your focus and attention. Of course, include the bigger group, but always come back to those in the front. Stand up tall, stay still, speak slowly, enunciate clearly, and allow time for the audience to respond to your stories and jokes.

6. Manage your emotions: This may be the hardest part for many people, especially if this is your first eulogy. That’s why it’s so important to prepare and practice ahead of time. Yet, even if you do practice, your emotions may rise up unexpectedly. Don’t worry if they do. Your audience is forgiving if you tear up—they will be tearing up with you—but it will be very hard on everyone, particularly the family members, if you break down in sobs. So if you feel yourself becoming overly emotional, pause, take a deep breath, smile at the audience, look at your notes, gather your composure, and move on.

7. Use humor: The most touching and gratifying moments of any eulogy are embedded in humorous stories about the person being celebrated. That’s where “kernels of truth” reside. People relate best to stories, and humor helps lift our spirits in a way nothing else can. Your audience needs you to make them laugh. So even if you’re not a natural at telling a humorous story or funny joke, give it a try. Just remember to keep the story highly relevant to the occasion and to practice your punch line.

For some inspiration, I’d recommend you read a wonderful book, Farewell, Godspeed: The Greatest Eulogies of Our Time, edited by Cyrus M. Copeland. This remarkable collection includes eulogies given for some of the most notable people of our time, from George Harrison to Henry Ford to Lucille Ball. Here you will read many “good words.”

I’d love to hear your experience giving eulogies. Please comment on this blog or email me your thoughts with “eulogies” in the subject line.

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.

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The Perfect Retreat

This is another installment in my Wednesday for Women blog series, where I feature information to help women gain greater influence, power, and confidence in their professional and personal life. If you’re a man reading this, please enjoy it and then forward these weekly Wednesday blogs to the powerful women in your life. They’ll thank you for it! I’m a big proponent of vacations. Like you, I work long hours and am deeply committed to the success of my business, so managing personal time is a top priority. Taking time off from the rigors of work, technology, and the daily grind is critical for keeping creativity and motivation high. And I’ve discovered that it’s often during breaks and vacation times that I solve nagging issues and come up with some of my best business ideas. So rather than completely “checking out” during a vacation, I’ve become more conscious about using the time to “dial in” and gain a renewed sense of purpose and professionalism.

When I’m feeling overloaded and not working efficiently, I take short breaks. These “mini vacations” provide the space for my intuition to break through the noise and provide counsel. When I take weekend and longer vacations I use that time to plan and problem solve as well. So whether you’re taking a short break or a long vacation, here are a few tips that can help you use your time off in a way that not only calms your mind and body but also energizes your drive and motivation.

  • Keep a journal handy. I have small notebooks in every possible location: in my car, in every handbag, by my bed, and in my pocket. I take them with me on hikes, weekend getaways, long vacations, or even when  shopping or going out to dinner with friends. Great ideas often come when you’re the most relaxed…and they can disappear just as easily. So be prepared to jot them down for a later time.
  • Spend time with like-minded people. Every now and then it’s important to plan your time off so you’re spending it with people who can support you in your personal and professional growth. Sometimes that means taking time for you and leaving the family at home. A weekend with the “girls” can do wonders for your outlook and self-esteem.
  • Empty your mind…and then refuel it. Thinking about nothing on your time off is extremely helpful to reset your body and mind, and it helps you feel good in the moment. But the things you’re leaving behind (including those irritating challenges) will still be at work waiting for you. So rather than simply empty your mind, find a new activity that can help you refuel your brain. This could mean reading that business strategy book you’ve been putting off, learning about a topic that is outside of your area of expertise, or even focusing on improving a skill. Exercise your brain in new ways so you can gain a broader perspective to work and life.
  • Create a plan. The last day of vacation, of a long weekend, or even of a “mini vacation” is sad for many people. So why not find a way to keep that refreshed focus and feeling of calm you experience while on vacation with you all the time? You have choices on how you live your life every day. You can choose to let the stress engulf you, or you can choose to take control of the stressors in your life. Use your journal and jot down two or three concrete ideas that you can take back with you.

There’s no reason why getting some R&R can’t also include helping you be more and do more. For more ideas on how the two concepts can be combined, check out my new program, Speaking Spas. And before you plan that next vacation or long weekend—or even that short break—take a few minutes to think about what you really need. When you take care of yourself first, you’ll have much more of yourself to share with others.

Aspiring Women

Every Wednesday I’ll be posting a blog geared especially for women. This new blog will feature information to help women gain greater influence, power, and confidence in their professional and personal life. If you’re a man reading this, please enjoy it and then forward these weekly Wednesday blogs to the powerful women in your life. They’ll thank you for it! No one ever said work was easy, but for women, the workplace can be an increasingly difficult place. First, the old cliché of the “glass ceiling” is still alive and well in many industries. Second, the fact is that women still earn less than men—77 cents to every man’s dollar, to be exact. Yes, women have to overcome a lot to be successful. Therefore, having the advanced skills to break through that ceiling and help shrink the pay gap is critical.

Despite these truths about the workplace, there is a core group of women who aspire to reach new heights and who will stop at nothing to get there. These are the women in leadership roles in every industry who organize, educate, inspire, influence, create vision and drive results. These are the women who are determined to overcome any challenge. These are the women who set the bar to new levels, encouraging everyone—both males and females—to stretch their capabilities and master new skills.

And these women are passionate about personal growth and professional development. Aspiring women want to strengthen their skills, be challenged to grow and learn, and connect with other like-minded women. What can help them gain greater influence, power, and confidence at work? For many women, it comes down to their communication skills—their communication style, how they listen, how they facilitate a meeting, how they present information, and how they give direction to others. These are the crucial elements that truly matter when you’re trying to set yourself apart from the crowd and develop greater credibility and influence.

As you continually strive for new levels of professional success and personal satisfaction, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Polish your physical presence. Focus on refining your communication delivery skills, including your body language (what people see when they look at you—your eye contact, facial expressions, posture, gestures, and movement), your vocal skills (the creation and delivery of your vocal sounds—your volume, enunciation, inflection, rate of speech, pitch, inflection, and strategic pauses), and your word choices (the precise message you give—crafting concise sentences, selecting language that is audience focused, and liberally using words that convey power and emotion). For assistance with all of these skills, be sure to read my past blogs and web site articles.
  • Build your support network. Reach out to other aspiring women as often as possible. Integrate these women into your life as role models, support people, and taskmasters. Remember that you need people to learn from, to cheer you on, and to set the bar and hold you accountable. By having all three types of people in your life, you can achieve your goals.
  • Take more risks. Once you have developed your skills and built your support network, then you have to get out there and use your new skills and knowledge to build your platform. Nothing great in life ever occurs without some risk. So stretch yourself out of your comfort zone and go for it.  

To help women achieve more, I’ve developed a new program called Speaking Spas. Designed for women who desire growth and challenge—and who also require nurturing and support to achieve their goals—Speaking Spas is a retreat for women who want to become more powerful communicators. This program takes place in a tranquil spa setting, so interspersed with the rigorous DeFinis training curriculum are nourishing opportunities for spa treatments, exercise, privacy, and healthy food. I believe that professional development can be done in a whole new way—a way geared just for women.

If you want to be more and do more in your career, you can. Don’t let anything hold you back. With powerful skills and motivation, you can reach the sky that exists beyond the glass ceiling—and that’s when your opportunities are truly limitless.

In Celebration of Black History Month: The Legacy of Booker T. Washington

"The highest test of the civilization of any race is in its willingness to extend a helping hand to the less fortunate. A race, like an individual, lifts itself up by lifting others up." -- Booker T. Washington I became reacquainted with the legacy of Booker T. Washington a few years ago when I received a call from his great granddaughter, Sarah O’Neal Rush. Sarah is an educator and counselor who is also the founder and executive director of the Booker T. Washington Empowerment Network (BTWEN). Sarah works primarily with “at risk” youth in East Oakland California.

When she called me, she had been asked to give a speech at the 150th birthday tribute to her great grandfather. It was a high stakes presentation; she was anxious and she wanted to do a great job. I was more than willing to help her prepare.

Working with Sarah was like stepping back in time. The story she told took place deep in the annals of African American history. In the process of developing her speech, she told me about her great grandfather’s many accomplishments and contributions. I learned that Booker T. Washington was an extraordinary man.

The Real Booker T. Washington Though the term “at risk youth” did not exist during the time Booker T. Washington lived, you could say that given his extreme circumstances Washington was indeed “at risk.” Born April 5, 1856, Booker Taliaferro Washington was born into slavery in rural Virginia to a slave mother and white father. After emancipation, he worked in a variety of manual labor jobs before making his way to Hampton Roads to seek an education. In the midst of poverty and hardship, he still believed that he wanted to better himself and he knew that education was the key.

His strong desire, hard work, and determination fueled his decisions and created opportunities where none existed—and these traits led him to great success. As an educator, author, orator, and political leader, he was the single most important figure in the African American community in the United States from 1890 to 1915.

Now fast forward to his great granddaughter, Sarah O’Neill Rush. In her work with “at risk youth” Sarah is continuing the legacy of her great grandfather. Through speaking, writing, discussions, and book readings, Sarah empowers children, teens, and adults to rise above life’s challenges, embrace their life story, increase self-worth, and build healthy relationships. As an author, a mental health professional with a master’s degree in psychology, and one who has risen above many challenges, Sarah is, like her great grandfather, an inspiring and motivating African American leader.

While Sarah is not a famous person or a political leader, what she shares with her great grandfather is her determination to improve her life and the lives of those who are most “at risk.” She is willing to “extend a helping hand to the less fortunate.”

Here is an excerpt from the speech that Sarah gave at the 150th birthday of her great grandfather.

“I relate well to these children and they pull deeply at my heartstrings, because, while I did not suffer as deeply as some of the children I work with, I too was an ‘at-risk’ youth. I was a single teenage mother at the age of 16. At the age of 17, I lived on my own raising my one-year old son in a drug-infested housing project in East Oakland, way on the other side of town from my high school.

“I would get up very early in the morning, get us both dressed, catch two buses to school, drop my son off at day care, and rush to class. Yet with those overwhelming odds, I still managed to graduate from high school six months ahead of my class, having the grades and more than enough credits to do so.

“My strong desire and determination to have a better life began to drive my choices, and having my mother as a role model for hard work all of my life, inspired me to succeed. And it probably didn’t hurt that I had Booker T. Washington’s blood running through my veins.”

Last summer Sarah led eight youth and three mentors on a youth development program that she called Freedom Journey. This program is a rite of passage following the footsteps of her great grandfather from slavery to freedom. For the teens who went on this trip, connecting with their past was a powerful experience that will hopefully inform and inspire their future. This was definitely a journey worth taking.

Booker T. Washington was “at risk,” yet he persevered in helping others and paving the way for equality and justice. Sarah O’Neill Rush was “at risk,” yet she persevered in achieving an education and giving back to those in greater need. Today, the young people Sarah works with are “at risk,” and with Sarah’s help, they too will persevere.