passion

Oakland A’s Announcers Exemplify Passionate Speaking Skills

Those of you who know me know that I’m a huge Oakland A’s fan. Well, last night’s baseball game between the Oakland A’s and the Detroit Tigers left even me—a speech coach—speechless. Picture this: It’s game 4 of the American League Division Series. The Oakland A’s aren’t the favored team to win. In fact, they’re performing terribly. It’s the bottom of the ninth. The score is tied. The A’s are up to bat. It’s the final moments of the game, and then suddenly…against the odds…the A’s win on Coco Crisp's walk-off single. The crowd went wild! And so did the announcers. You can hear the announcers during the exhilarating final moments here. After the excitement died down and I replayed the footage in my head, I realized how the announcers Ken Korach, who does the play-by-play, and Ray Fosse, who does the color commentary, displayed their passion about the outcome yet maintained their professionalism throughout it all. It’s a classic lesson for public speakers everywhere.

I often tell my clients to let their passion guide their speaking. But really…what are the elements of passion? What does passion sound like from that vocal context?

As the clip of Korach and Fosse exemplifies, passion has two key parts. First, it’s the formal, technical, and mannered play-by-play of information. When you listen to Korach explain what’s going on, you hear every detail to the point where you can see it in your mind. It’s factual. It’s complete.

But the second part of passion is the free and unbridled response to what’s going on in the moment. That part of passion is incredibly clear in Fosse’s animated assessment of what’s happening in those key moments.

So as a speaker, you need to manage the characteristics of these two announcers during every presentation. You need to be the formal person with the details and the facts. But you also need to show your excitement, your enthusiasm, your zeal, and your passion for your topic.

It’s the combination of these two qualities in one person that ignites the spark of passion. That’s what ultimately captures the hearts and minds of your listeners and makes your message come alive.

The final game in this series is tonight. If the A’s win, we keep going on the road to the World Series. I’m keeping my fingers crossed and my passion alive. Go A’s!

The Most Unusual (and Amazing) Speech Preparation Story I’ve Ever Heard

I just completed a week’s training with the faculty at the University of the Pacific, Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry. This is my third year working with them, so we’re practically like family now. During one of the breaks we were chatting about speech preparation when one of the women present, Bernadette Alvear Fa, Assistant Professor, Department of Integrated Reconstructive Dental Sciences and Director of Local Anesthesia Curriculum, mentioned that the most challenging preparation she ever did was when she was in labor with her son. In labor with her son? What?  Prepping for a speech while in labor was something I certainly never expected to hear from anyone. I just had to get the details, and since we were all comfortable with each other, she didn’t mind sharing (or me sharing this story either).

I first met Bernadette in June 2011 when she was in my training class. I worked with her on her physical, vocal, and verbal delivery skills as well as her message development, and I gave her various options for preparation strategies to implement. At the time, she was 12 weeks pregnant.

Bernadette explained that in the months that followed the training, she gave numerous lectures with her ever growing belly, each time using the skills she had learned in my class. She was becoming a powerful and confident speaker. Interestingly, as her son started to kick, move, and punch from within, he always remained silent when she was lecturing or speaking in front of large crowds.

On December 3, 2011, Bernadette was officially 36 weeks and 1 day pregnant. She completed a lecture with a colleague and had one more official lecture to provide to the faculty 10 days later. She had the slideshow presentation ready to go and had reviewed it with her co-presenter. Then, on December 10, 2011, something unexpected happened. Bernadette’s water broke at 6:45 a.m. When she and her husband arrived at the hospital, she breathed her way through a few moderate contractions and then sent  out a flood of emails to notify people at work that she would not be coming in on the following Monday and would not be giving her presentation (at least not “live”). Three hours later she had an epidural and decided it was time to work on her “voice over” for the presentation she was going to be missing on Monday. Since she couldn’t be at the presentation in person, she wanted her co-presenter to have her sections of the presentation complete. Talk about dedication!

According to the readings on the monitors, Bernadette saw that she was intensely contracting, and her son appeared happy as a clam and bouncing around joyfully. She asked all visitors in the delivery room to remain quiet, as the only microphone she had for the voice over was the one included in her laptop, which was low grade at best. Knowing she had to make do without her usual professional presentation tools, she drew upon the DeFinis Communications vocal delivery skills she had learned and did the entire voice over from her hospital bed while in labor.

Once complete, she emailed the presentation to her co-presenter. She then patted her belly and said, “Okay, son. Mommy’s done lecturing. It’s time to come out. We’re ready for you.” Forty minutes later, the world welcomed Christian Michael Fa. He waited patiently while his mom finished her work, enabling her to completely focus on the most important task at hand now—being his Mom.

I sat mesmerized listening to her story. She could have easily turned the lecture over to someone else to prepare the voice over, and I doubt anyone would have noticed. But powerful women never give up! Bernadette was determined to follow through with the commitment she made and had the presence of mind to use the skills she learned in our class to prepare a voice-over presentation in this most challenging environment. In a room filled with stress, anticipation, adrenaline, and the frenzied activity of nurses and beeping computer monitors, Bernadette stayed cool, calm, and focused. As a result, she did an amazing job on her voice over…even while in labor.

Ever since women entered the workforce, they’ve had to creatively overcome the challenges of balancing work and home. In this case, Bernadette went the extra mile. She used her determination, perseverance, and optimism to balance these two forces in a way I’ve never seen before. If a woman can do what Bernadette did—be in labor and prepare a complex, technical dental lecture—then surely women are capable of anything, whether it’s leading a company, saving lives, or delivering a powerful  presentation under usual circumstances.

Bernadette is a true leader in her company and in her life. Christian has a lot to look forward to growing up with a role model of loving mother and confident professional.

Do you have an unusual or amazing speech preparation story? Share it here. We’d all love to read it!

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 Wednesday blogs and forward them to the powerful women in your life.

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Want to Be a Better Public Speaker? Play with Your Kids

My husband and I celebrated our wedding anniversary in Hawaii last week and went to the beach every day. To me, swimming in a warm ocean, unlike the cold San Francisco waters, is one of life’s greatest pleasures. We spent the majority of our time swimming, snorkeling, and body surfing. But we also had plenty of time for my other favorite beach activity—people-watching. That’s when I discovered the link between public speaking and playing with your kids. We watched as young families arrived in colorful clothes and weighted down with beach gear. Like all of us do when we arrive at the beach, they laid out their towels, put up chairs and umbrellas, and carved out their space for the day. Then the parents turned their attention to the kids. They lathered them with sunscreen, laid out the snacks and emptied the beach toys. I saw one toddler covered in sun protection from head to toe—sun suit, hat, sunglasses, and even little boots to protect his feet.

Once the sunscreen was applied and the toys assembled, the kids began to play in the sand and dip their toes in the water. That’s when the parents took out their cameras to take pictures—lots and lots of pictures. And then the parents retired to their chairs to sit back and watch the kids play.

There’s nothing wrong with being a fussy parent (I know I was one), but I do see missed opportunities for enjoyment and family bonding when all you do is “fuss” and watch. After all, what are vacations for if not for bonding, closeness, and that all too brief special time that vacations provide to create wonderful experiences and lasting memories?

In my beach time observations I saw one model family. They arrived weighted down like all the others, the kids helping to carry and set up some of the gear. They set up shop, lathered with sunscreen, and did all the requisite fussing. Then the dad scooped up the baby and walked down to the ocean, ushering the other two toddlers who ran beside him. Then he scooped up everyone and headed into the surf. As the waves tumbled around his small brood he never stopped laughing, smiling, tussling, and encouraging. He made it fun and safe for his kids to play in the water. I couldn’t keep my eyes off the energy and joy of this man. And when the mom joined in the fun, he scooped her up too—at one point holding everyone and bouncing in the waves.

This kind of personal energy, leadership, and magnetism was compelling to witness, and in my musings I imagined that this dad was probably a magnanimous public speaker too. I realized in watching this dad that when someone knows how to “play” with their kids, they inherently know how to create trust. They are willing to give generously of their time, energy, and attention—and those are the same ingredients necessary to be a good speaker. Knowing how to create excitement, inspire others, and lead them in an experience—whether enjoying the ocean or supporting an idea—are the same traits.

So if you want to become a better public speaker, take the time to play with your kids.

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!

Speaking With Conviction…Over the Phone

I have been working with a recent college graduate who is seeking an entry level job in sales and he is finding that many of the positions available are cold calling, telemarketing positions. While I am not certain that sitting behind a desk, on the phone for 80-100 calls a day, is the best fit for this young man, his job search got me thinking… What does it take to properly convey your message and deliver a captivating presentation over the phone?

Even if you’re not a telemarketer, you’re likely giving phone presentations every day. Think about it…we live in a world saturated with technology. Tools like Skype, GoToMeeting, and Telepresence are common in business, and you probably use them often. Yet, how much thought have you given to using these presentation options effectively?

When you’re using any one of these tools, you are essentially giving a presentation over the phone. You have to deliver your ideas without the benefits of a face-to-face meeting, or you have to speak to an image on a computer screen. When you’re faced with these situations, how can you use your public speaking skills and prevent your message from going down in flames?

Here are a few things to remember when trying to be persuasive over the phone or when videoconferencing:

Vary your vocal emphasis and inflection.

You’re on a conference call and your presentation is on the computer screen via GoToMeeting. You are talking about profit and loss margins, ROI, and, synergy. You’re using as much business jargon as you can to impress your clients. However, you forgot one thing: your shining personality!

Too many speakers deliver bland presentations in live settings, let alone over a conference call. To be compelling and interesting when you’re not physically there, you need to vary your vocal delivery. Using emphasis and inflection on key words helps your audience stay engaged.

Don’t let yourself drone on in order to get through your meeting. Rather, give your audience the opportunity to glean extra meaning from your words with some variety in your intonation and some diversity in the range of your voice.

Pay attention to your clarity and speed.

When speaking to a group in a live public speaking situation you always want to articulate clearly and talk slowly. When speaking to a group over the phone or via your computer, you need to pay extra attention to these points.

I cannot stress this enough. Producing a clear voice and a clean sound from a computer microphone or a speakerphone is difficult. Words will inevitably be lost due to static and choppy internet connections. So open your mouth, raise your volume, enunciate clearly and slow down.

When you speak slowly and articulate clearly, you enable your audience to catch every word, even if there is static or connection choppiness, so they don’t lose the entire meaning of your content. Give your listeners the chance to keep up and they will give you their full attention.

Smile and enjoy yourself!

While your audience may not be able to see you, they certainly know when you are smiling. Whenever you deliver an exciting and emotional presentation, whether in person or over the phone, feel it! Show your emotions through your facial and physical gestures; your audience on the other end of the line will absolutely be able to follow along.   

When you are excited and smiling, your voice naturally changes pitch. It is just as easy to recognize those speakers who enjoy themselves over the phone as it is to recognize those who simply run through the motions. Therefore, enjoy yourself and let your colors shine through. Your virtual audience will thank you for it with their rapt attention.

When you follow these three tips, you’ll be able to give virtual and phone presentations that engage both the hearts and minds of your listeners….and that inspire them to action.

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.

How to Create “Enchanting” Relationships

The word “enchant” means to cast a spell on or bewitch; to delight or captivate utterly; to fascinate; charm. Guy Kawasaki’s new book, Enchantment, The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds and Actions, has given us a new spin on a more traditional approach to persuasion, influence, marketing and customer care.

Kawasaki defines enchantment as “the process of delighting people with a product, service, organization or idea. The outcome of enchantment is voluntary and long lasting support that is mutually beneficial.” He adds, “The greater your goals, the greater you’ll need to change people’s hearts, minds and actions.” And then he sets out to give us a step-by-step process for creating enchanting relationships.

This book is for anyone who has ever dreamed a dream and wanted to see it materialize. If you are a small business owner or entrepreneur, if you work for a large enterprise, or if you’re a recent college graduate, you’ll find tips in Kawasaki’s book that will help you engage your prospects or customers so that you can compete in this changing marketplace.

With such chapters as “How to Achieve Likability,” How to Achieve Trustworthiness,” “How to Prepare,” and many others, Kawasaki gives tools for mounting a campaign that is geared to achieve your vision and goals by creating powerful relationships. The book is packed with interesting personal profiles, from everyday working people to celebrity icons such as Steve Jobs and Al Gore. And because the book took a year to write and a lifetime of experience to create, it is loaded with background research, which provides a nice balance to the short paragraph format. I especially enjoyed his “hat tips,” where he acknowledges anyone whose idea he shares. 

Yes, this is a great book for the everyday entrepreneur, but is the concept of “enchantment” too soft for the C Suite? In a recent Forbes interview, Steve Denning asked Kawasaki how he communicates enchantment as a business proposition to CEOs, CFOs, and other senior leaders. How does he persuade this serious group that they too need to be in the business of enchantment?

“The best way is to use examples,” says Kawasaki. “Wouldn’t you like to have the evangelistic base of Apple or the likeability of Virgin America? Wouldn’t you like customers to trust you the way they trust Zappo’s, so that they will buy shoes, sight unseen? Even the most hard-core pencil-pushing bean-counter will have to say, ‘Yeah, I wish we were Apple or Virgin America or Zappo’s! That’s not such a bad place to be.’”

If you want to get a taste of your company’s ability to cast a spell and enchant your audience, listeners, customers, or prospects, take this test Kawasaki created: Guy’s Realistic Enchantment Aptitude Test (GREAT). Then, no matter what your results are, read Enchantment. You’ll get practical, doable suggestions that could just make your company the next Apple. Now, wouldn’t that be great!

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.

Steven Tyler’s Rooster Feathers are a High Performance Prop

In entertainment, performance, and even public speaking, props play an important role when creating an image or making a key point. Whether your prop is something you hold or something you wear, your audience will connect it to your message, thus making your points more memorable. For example, I know a professional speaker whose signature prop is a hat. She wears one every time she gives a speech, and her audiences have come to expect it. She is so well known for her hats that her audience once arrived to her event all wearing hats—in tribute to her. That’s the kind of contagious prop that is worth cultivating.

But the prop to end all props right now is Steven Tyler’s hair feathers. Yes…hair feathers. And according to a story I recently heard on NPR, the popularity of his feathers is placing big demands on Whiting Farms, the feathers’ producers.

Located in western Colorado, Whiting Farms sells feather products for fly-fishing to over 50 countries. They specialize in raising specific chickens and roosters, and are well known for providing top flies to fly fisherman. They have a loyal customer base who create their own flies and who swear by the feathers Whiting Farms provides. Apparently, fly-fishing is a creative process and the fishermen say that the rooster feathers they buy from Whiting Farms are an integral part of the success in catching fish.

Now here’s the dilemma: Ever since Steven Tyler has been wearing these feathers in his hair, thousands of young girls want feathers in their hair too. And just any old feather won’t do—they want the exact same feathers Tyler wears. Whiting Farms is having a tough time keeping up with the demand from this new market.

This just goes to show how much impact a seemingly simple prop can have. If you follow American Idol (or if you’re a fan of Steven Tyler), you probably know that Tyler is always in costume. Even though he appears rather disheveled, everything he wears has been meticulously selected, coordinated, assembled, and crafted to create the image of what we see each week. Nothing is left to chance. As Tyler once said, paraphrasing Dolly Parton, “You have no idea how much it costs to look this cheap.”

Even his hair feathers from Whiting Farms are strategically placed. Now the feathers have become all the rage in boutiques throughout America as customers ask their stylists to integrate feathers into their every day hair styles.

As a result, Whiting Farms can’t keep up with the demand from the salons. At least 50 percent of their inventory is going to the salons now, and even when they raise their prices, the salons still order the feathers. The farm is actually concerned that they may lose some of their loyal fly fishermen because they can’t meet the demand.

So what’s your prop? What key item or piece of clothing can become your signature—something that increases your recognition and makes you memorable? From hats to feathers, the possibilities are endless. Just please choose wisely—you don’t want your prop to ruffle any feathers!

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.

Samoan Car Thieves, Fiji Water…and Public Speaking?

What do Samoan car thieves have to do with public speaking or speech writing? On April 1st I received a phone call from my son.  “You’ll never guess what happened,” he said.  “My car got stolen…again.”

Since it was April Fools’ Day, I figured it was a joke.  After all, his car was stolen six months earlier and recovered after twelve uncertain days. How many people do you know who have a car stolen once let alone twice in less than six months?  But as it  turned out, this was no joke.  His car was stolen while it was parked in front of his house in San Francisco.  He spent a few hassled days dealing with paperwork and insurance claims before the police called him to say they found the car.

And they found his car quite by accident. According to the officer, three large men driving an old green Acura ran a stop sign.  The police pulled them over and ran a check on the license plate—it was my son’s stolen car. They arrested the driver, who confessed to stealing the car, and let the other two men go. The officer then explained that the three men who stole the car were Samoans—big, big, big Samoans. So when my son got his car back it was filled with big things: three pairs of enormous Nike shoes, several shirts the size of small circus tents, a multitude of super size soda cups, one extra large belt, several half eaten pieces of red velvet cake, a large bottle of leather cleaner (I guess they were planning to clean the inside of the car), and most interesting of all, twelve large bottles of unopened Fiji water.

If you’ve read this story to this point, then it’s probably the details that have held your interest.  In writing as well as public speaking, “God is in the detail,” even if the story is about car stealing, which we all would agree is not very “God like.”  Details evoke images and “show” people the picture you’re trying to convey.  If you’re talking about business productivity, for example, your details will help your listeners or readers feel the hustle of productivity and the rush of a sales call.  Details do more than just tell people what’s going on.

In our programs we call the details “touch points”; they are the support evidence you must include to make your speech content interesting and evocative.  The more details—facts, description, metaphor, imagery, anecdote, picture, graphs, humor, charts, quotes,—the more you offer your listeners or readers to keep them engaged.  Details sell ideas, capture attention, and inspire others to take action.

Did the Samoan car thieves grab your attention?  Or was it the Fiji water or the red velvet cake?  Whatever it was I hope you are inspired to use a variety of “touch points” when you’re writing your speech.

As for the car—it has a few more dents and nicks, but it runs just fine.  Maybe this experience is a good reminder for all of us to focus on one other important detail—always remember to lock your car!

Rebecca Black: Public Speaking & Life Lessons from a 13-Year-Old Pop Sensation

Have you heard of Rebecca Black yet? If not, you probably will soon. She is a thirteen-year-old girl whose parents hired Ark Music Factory to produce a music video for her. If you haven’t seen it, here it is. But I warn you…while Rebecca is a sweet young teenager who may indeed be the next Miley Cyrus, I doubt you’ll be amazed at this video.

 

After her music video Friday was produced and released on March 14, 2011, it went viral on YouTube. As of this writing, it has had over 84 million viewers. She has been awarded just over 210,000 “likes” and over 1.6 million “dislikes”. So yes…she is famous for being among the most disliked people on You Tube, and her song has been dubbed “the worst song ever made”! But fame or infamy…all press is good press, and reports show that she has made well over $1 million for her efforts.

I don’t agree that Rebecca Black has little musical talent and poor performance skills, or that the video is insipid and of poor quality, or even that the song is imbecilic. All those things may be true, but overall, Rebecca comes across well. She looks comfortable and confident in front of the camera, has a sweet smile, relates well to the crowd she is singing to, and has a certain freshness and innocent appeal.

But obviously what I think matters little. (Aside from the fact that she’s getting some positive free press from me!) The point is that this young girl made a video that went viral, most people dislike it, and yet she has still fallen into the arms of success. Celebrity in the internet age is nothing short of phenomenal. But rather than sit around scratching our heads and wondering how this happened or rush to her video and click “like” or “dislike,” we’d be better off thinking about the lessons we can learn that can help us succeed. Here are a few:

  • Embrace risk. Of course, not every young girl has the parental support and resources to fund a project like this, but aside from the steep investment (approximately $4,000) what sticks out for me is Rebecca’s willingness to take a risk and put herself out there with absolutely no guarantee of success. If she had talked herself out of doing this video for any reason she would never be experiencing the fame and success she is enjoying today. How many of us lose faith in our projects and ourselves before we’ve even had a chance to test the concept? So even if you don’t have your parent’s funding, find a way to take a risk.
  • Go public with the best you have. While perfectionism is an important skill for success, sometimes it can get in the way. Nothing in Rebecca’s video is perfect. Yet its ability to work or not work, depending on your perspective, has given it a life of its own. How many of us are paralyzed by our desire for perfection before releasing our work to the world? Realize that perfection in anything is simply not possible. Do your best, and let it go.
  • Increase your expectations. Fantasy is usually not a recommended strategy for building a realistic project plan, but vision is a necessity. A strong, clear vision provides a better chance for success than just about anything. Even if the forces are against you, when you have a clear vision there is always the possibility that success is within reach. So why not think big?
  • Welcome the unexpected. In any project plan it’s important to have a Plan B or a “what if.” In Rebecca’s case, her stardom was generated from a completely unexpected source—her success sprung from a well of “dislikes.” The most unpopular girl on YouTube is also the most famous. She and her family could have run from this unusual development—but they didn’t. Sometimes the journey to our goal can take an unexpected turn and we get what we want in ways we can never imagine.
  • Be grateful. What do you do when you take a risk, give it your best, think big, accept the unexpected, and are successful? There’s only one thing left to do…think about all those who helped you along the way, including the unpredictable hand of fate. Then ask yourself, “For what and to whom am I grateful?”

Even though I doubt I’ll download Rebecca’s song into my iTunes any time soon, I do admire her willingness to take a risk and put her work out there. She’s proof that when you think big and go for your dreams, you can be a success…regardless of what other people think.