Content Development

Add Alltop.com to Your Speaker’s Toolbox

Alltop
Alltop

Whether you’re looking for an intriguing story, an interesting example, or a new data point to build out the content of your presentation, Alltop.com is an excellent resource to use and one I recommend to my clients. Rather than a search engine, Alltop is a content aggregator. That means they collect the headlines of the latest stories from the best sites and blogs that cover a particular topic. In our case that topic is public speaking. They group these collections—or “aggregations”—into individual web pages, where they display the five most recent headlines of the information sources as well as their first paragraph. Think of Alltop as an information filter to help you quickly find great material for your speech. Recently I was on the site reading Nancy Duarte’s featured blog, PowerPoint 2013: New and (Mostly) Improved. In it she talks about the anticipated release of Office 2013 (scheduled for January) and the latest and greatest version of PowerPoint that will be included. She and her team have picked apart the software from end to end. They’ve looked at how PowerPoint 2013 has improved, and how it hasn’t. Consider it required reading for anyone who gives business presentations.

Speaking of PowerPoint, another Alltop blog that caught my attention was from Ethos 3 entitled Before & After: Five Presentation Tips You Need to Know. In this post they show “before” and “after” PowerPoint slides and point out key lessons to learn from each one. Hopefully more of your slides look like the “after” rather than the “before” versions. If not, this blog and site offers a host of good tips to ensure your slides are memorable…for the right reasons.

And since the holidays are just around the corner, I particularly enjoyed the blog by Six Minutes, Stocking Stuffers and Gifts for Every Speaker. People always ask me what to get for the speakers in their life, and now I have a great post to refer them to. Of course, this blog begs the questions, “What great speaker-oriented gift have you received in the past?” and “What speaker-oriented gift do you wish you’d receive this year?” Leave your answers in the comments section.

These three blogs are just a small sample of what’s available every day on Alltop. You can keep up with your favorite bloggers, stay abreast of the latest trends in public speaking, and use the site as a resource for building and delivering your presentations.

Have you tried Alltop yet? What’s your favorite aspect of it? Please share the creative ways you use it to increase your public speaking knowledge and skill.

Asked to Give an Impromptu Speech? It’s as Easy as One, Two, Three

Have you ever been to a business meeting or other event and unexpectedly been asked to stand and “say a few words”? This happened to three of my clients recently. One woman told me how her confidence soared and she excelled at giving a presentation to her company’s executive staff, yet she fumbled when asked on-the-spot to speak to company interns. Another man told me how he loved speaking at his all hands meeting, which had an audience of 500, yet he choked when asked to speak impromptu to a small field sales group. And my own son, usually a composed speaker, “blanked out and babbled” when asked to speak at a recent awards meeting to honor his own promotion. These are all competent and experienced speakers, yet they all stammered when asked to present unexpectedly. Why?

When you know you are going to be giving a speech, whether to your executive staff, at an all hands meeting, or in any other public speaking situation, you have time to plan and prepare. It doesn’t sneak up on you. You can develop a grand theme and strong message, build stimulating slides with eye catching visuals, and rehearse your delivery and staging to perfection. Time is on your side and the equation is simple: the quality of your presentation will be matched by the quantity of your preparation.

But what about the impromptu speech? What can you do to you maintain your confidence, add value to the conversation, and sound convincing and eloquent when you have no time to prepare?

First, realize that you have given hundreds of impromptu speeches before—such as when you added input during a business meeting, informed your new employee how to follow a procedure, asked a question of your boss or responded to a question by a colleague, spoke up at your child’s school PTA meeting, and even talked to the manager at a retail store to offer praise or advice regarding an employee. Think of how you behaved in these situations. Most likely you were calm, confident, and concise. And that is the formula for impromptu speaking success—stay relaxed, organize your thoughts, and limit yourself to a few, salient remarks.

When it comes to putting this formula into practice before an impromptu speaking opportunity, I recommend using a simple beginning, middle, end (or one, two, three) structure and specific language to help you remember the flow.

  • Step One: “First of all…” Begin your remarks with, “First of all, I’d like to say…” One client I work with who uses this approach always begins with a thank you, as in, “First of all, I want to thank you all for being here today…” He says that gives him time to gather his thoughts. But if you’ve been asked a question or asked for you input, you’ll need instead to state the point you are responding to. You could say something like, “First of all, I’d like to acknowledge the challenge we are facing…”
  • Step Two: “Next…” After you state your first thought, then state one relevant “touch point” or piece of support evidence to back it up, such as a crucial statistic, example, quote, or humorous story. Going back to the previous example of acknowledging the challenge, you could follow up the “first of all” line with, “Next, I want to also acknowledge the incredible opportunity available to us right now…”
  • Step Three: “And finally…” Here you briefly summarize what you have said and add your final thought. This is the highlight of the impromptu—the moment when you make everyone feel welcome, inspired, respected or when you move the conversation along in a meaningful way, as in, “And finally, I look forward to working together to achieve the goals we all know are possible…”

One of my clients, who is very good at impromptu speaking, says that even though he is not on the formal agenda to speak everywhere he goes, he is usually asked to say a few words. Knowing this, he never waits to the last minute to gather his thoughts. He uses this three step process to prepare ahead of time so he is never caught off guard.

So if you are going to an event and there is even the remote possibility that you may be called on to speak, take the time to prepare in advance. Use this three-step process and you will appear calm, confident and concise—the epitome of a polished speaker.

Add Context, Not Just Content, to Your Next Speech

While vacationing in Maine, my husband and I ventured to Lubec, Maine, the gateway to Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada—the once popular summer colony for wealthy Americans and Canadians, including Franklin Delano Roosevelt. On our way we stopped at Quoddy Headlight, the easternmost point in the U.S. And once on Campobello, we went to the East Quoddy Lighthouse.

Perched on an island and only accessible in low tide, the East Quoddy Lighthouse called to our adventurous spirit. We were eager to make the trip across the sandbar and climb the steps to the lighthouse. Although it’s dangerous and rugged, for two hours when the tide is out visitors can climb the steep metal ladders, walk on the ocean floor, cross two intermediate islands connected by a short wooden bridge, take a second steep ladder and then walk across a rocky, slippery seaweed covered intertidal zone to get to the lighthouse. We were ready for the adventure when we were warned that the tide had turned. Then we saw the sign:

DANGER!--TAKE NO RISKS & DO NOT LINGER! If you become stranded on the islands by the tide, WAIT FOR RESCUE. Even former keepers of this lighthouse have lost their lives by misjudging the STRONG, FRIGID, FAST-RISING tidal currents and TIDE-PRESSURIZED UNSTABLE PEBBLE OCEAN FLOOR while attempting to make this crossing.

At that moment, Geoffrey Chaucer’s famous saying, “Time and tide wait for no man,” took on a whole new meaning for me.

The tides in this part of the Bay of Fundy are 25 feet or more. We learned that further up the bay in Nova Scotia, the tidal changes can be more than 50 feet and most extreme when the moon is full. These are the largest tidal changes in the world. That’s a lot of water moving in and out twice a day, and it was clear that the tides were the backdrop for the entire way of life in this part of Maine.

We saw firsthand the dramatic changes in the tides. In Lubec, there are poles on the wharf that go up nearly 20 feet, taking the dock with it as the water rises and falls. Like clockwork, an hour before high tide a dozen or more seals, cormorants, gulls, and bald eagles arrive to feed on the fish brought in by the tide. Travelling to these places and witnessing the significance of the tidal changes first hand brought Chaucer’s quote to life. The facts were important, but seeing the facts in action was exhilarating!

This experience made me realize the importance of “context” in describing any situation. Until I saw the physical power of these dramatic tides, the phrase “Time and tide wait for no man” had little meaning to me. But now I get it. You can’t beat the tides. The sea will never bow to your will. And no matter how strong a swimmer you are, at 50 degrees the water is too cold, the rips too unpredictable, and the force of the water flow too overpowering.

I often counsel my clients to use stories, metaphors, anecdotes, and quotes—the rhetorical devices that create compelling imagery and add power to your presentations. However, it is absolutely essential to also provide the context in which the images reside.

To create effective presentations we often use phrases from our own experience, thinking that our audience fully understands the meaning. But they may not understand where we’re coming from. So our challenge as communicators is not only to come up with and deliver the clever anecdote, quote, or quip, but also to be successful in communicating the broader world from which it evolves. Yes, the facts of tidal changes were compelling, but then there was the DANGER sign, the rising and falling poles on the dock in Lubec, and the sea life feeding at the exact same time every day. These images bore witness.

Therefore, I encourage you to find those fascinating rhetorical gems and take the time to fully render them in context. Tell us more; make it come alive.

And now, I’ve gotta run. The lighthouse beckons, and the tide is coming in!

Whether on the 2012 Campaign Trail or in the Boardroom, Use Stories to Build Trust

Recently, President Obama admitted that his job as President is about more than just getting the policy right. As he put it, “The nature of this office is also to tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times." Well said, Mr. President! For years I’ve been telling business presenters that stories are essential to getting your message across. Whether speaking to a large group, as the President often does, or speaking to a small gathering of staff, telling a good story stimulates a strong emotional connection between you and the audience. Tell a story and you entertain. Tell a story and you connect. Tell a story and you build trust.

Stories play an important role in our everyday communication. They can bridge the gap that’s inherent in many types of presentations, from the lively motivational speech to the serious executive all-hands meeting to the dense technical demo presentation. In fact, we’ve all seen what can happen with the introduction of a story—a boring presentation will come alive!

If you want to persuade your listeners to your point of view, connect on a deeper level, and most of all build trust, telling stories is key. Here are a few simple tips to help enhance your storytelling.

  • Be yourself: You likely tell stories every day, and these are the stories that have the power to create a bond with your listeners. When you share a personal story, the distance between you and the audience dissolves. Stories show your vulnerability, which creates an opportunity for trust. As you tell a personal story, both you and the listener share a heightened emotional experience.
  • Build believable characters: Who are the heroes in your story? Take the time to develop characters who are appealing to you and your listener. Create characters by using the five senses (sight, smell, hearing, touch and taste), and explore emotional, practical or other aspects of the characters as well. Let your characters grow every time you tell the story so that they take on a life of their own.
  • Create a plot that sticks: What are the stories that you remember? You no doubt have your favorites; we all do. No matter how charming and well developed your characters, the plot is often the most memorable. Create a plot that has action and movement. Let your character face and overcome obstacles, teach lessons and inspire. When you develop a detailed plot line, your audience will never forget it.
  • Listen to the stories of others: You hear plenty of stories regularly—in your everyday business presentations; in community meetings; in political, cultural, and religious speeches; in entertainment and comedy; at social events; in the media. Write down every great story you hear so you have fresh material to draw from and learn more about content style and delivery.
  • The Power of Practice: Most people are not natural “stage” storytellers but are comfortable telling a story at the dinner table. That’s why it’s important to practice your platform stories before you go live. Write out and organize the flow of your story, and then practice your language, sentence structure, pacing and rhythm. Remember that timing is still everything when it comes to storytelling, so use silence to create dramatic, strategic and forceful pauses. Practice is the key to delivering a story that builds trust.

No matter what kind of presentations you give, take some advice from me and the President: use stories! Let them help you grab the attention and tug at the heartstrings of your audience. Let your stories ring out and you’ll connect with your listeners in a whole new way—a way that builds trust and respect that goes way beyond the podium.

Show Off Your PowerPoint Design Skills (and win some cool prizes too!)

Visual aids like PowerPoint are an important part of any business presentation. When done correctly, they strengthen your presentation by boosting audience understanding. In fact, research shows that listeners remember key messages conveyed with the help of visual aids more than six times better after a period of three days than they do messages that were simply presented verbally. The following visual helps put the numbers in perspective.

Retention After 3 Hours Retention After 3 Days

Tell only

70%

10%

Show only

72%

35%

Show and Tell

85%

65%

Do you want to show off your skills at creating effective PowerPoint slides? My friends at www.Presentation-Process.com are hosting a Creative Diagram Contest 2012. To win, all you have to do is create a visual presentation slide and tell them how you did it.

First, create Before & After Slides: Take a screenshot of a 'usual' slide. Makeover the slide with your most creative diagram idea in PowerPoint. Take a screenshot again. Write a few lines on how the diagram solves the issues with the 'usual' slide. Tell if your diagram can be used to represent any other business situation as well.

Next, create a short Tutorial (optional): Write a simple step-by-step tutorial for your diagram idea.

Finally, enter the contest: Fill in the contest entry form and upload your screenshot images. That's it!

Of course, your idea needs to be original. Their panel of judges (Ellen Finkelstein, Geetesh Bajaj, Wendy Russell, Dave Paradi, Elizabeth P. Markie, and Doug Serrano) will decide the final grand prize winners. You can also get your friends to vote on your submission and win the prize for the most popular entry.

The contest started Wednesday, May 23rd and runs until Wednesday, June 20th. You could win one of over a dozen prizes, including 750+ PowerPoint Charts & Diagrams (CEO Pack) or iSpringPro Professional PowerPoint to Flash Conversion. So get your creative ideas flowing and start designing. You could be the lucky grand prize winner! Get your entry form and full contest details here.

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.

How to Be the Highlight of Any Meal: Tips for Making the After Dinner Speech

Most presenters shy away from being the one to give an after dinner speech. If you’re not careful, talking when people are full and tired can be a recipe for disaster. Perhaps that’s why Winston Churchill said, “There are two things that are more difficult than making an after-dinner speech: climbing a wall which is leaning toward you and kissing a girl who is leaning away from you." But despite any hesitations of modern day speakers, the custom of saying a few words at the end of a meal is probably as old as civilization itself. The after dinner speech gained prominence in England during the early nineteenth century, and according to Barnet Baskerville in his book The People’s Voice: The Orator in American Society, these speeches became so popular that they were called “the style of oratory most cultivated” in the U.S.

What makes these speeches unique (and sometimes feared by presenters) is that audiences generally expect to be not only informed about a particular issue, but also entertained. This duel focus can make the after dinner speech a challenge. But with skill and practice, anyone can deliver one with ease. Here are a few points to remember:

• Ditch the formality. After dinner speeches have a light touch—they are less formal that most other speeches since the intent is not just to persuade, inform, or motivate. The intent is also to entertain and to make people feel relaxed and welcome. They are community builders at their best.

• Choose an appropriate topic. Fortunately, just about any topic is good for an after dinner speech. Even serious, weighty topics work if they are handled with a light touch. The most important thing to keep in mind is that they must be relevant to the occasion.

• Be funny…but not too funny. While the tone and topic and can be lighter, that doesn’t mean you should attempt to be a standup comic when delivering an after dinner speech. Avoid stringing jokes together or using inappropriate humor. For more tips on using humor effectively in your after dinner speech, see my past blog post.

• Watch the time. One nice thing about doing an after dinner speech is that most people won’t have to rush out at the end to make another appointment. However, that doesn’t mean you can talk all night. Most people don’t want to stay up to the wee hours of the night listening to a speaker—even if that speaker is entertaining. Be mindful of the time so you can keep people’s attention.

While after dinner speeches were originally always delivered “after dinner,” today such speeches are delivered after cocktails, after lunch, after breakfast—or just about any time people gather for meals. So whether it’s morning or night, use these tips when you have to speak after a meal and you’re sure to have your audience eating out of your hands.

Wednesday for Women: Public Speaking Lessons from Meryl Streep

Meryl Streep just won an Oscar for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in the movie The Iron Lady, and in my view she deserves an equally prestigious award for her introduction of Hillary Rodham Clinton at the Women in the World Summit 2012 at Lincoln Center in New York City. I’m a big fan of Meryl Streep and an even bigger supporter of our Secretary of State. The combination of these two women on stage gave us a powerful example of how different styles and backgrounds can yield equally successful presentations.

Doing a formal introductory speech, like what Meryl did, can be challenging. So let’s look at three areas of Meryl’s speech and have a seasoned actor show us how it’s done:

  • Image: With her bright red jacket and those fabulous black reading glasses, Meryl’s image had impact. Best of all, she didn’t just look great; she used her outfit as a prop, referring to the “put downs” of Hillary’s pantsuits over the years. She twirled around and showed us her jacket, poking fun of those who poked fun at Hillary.
  • Content: Meryl’s captivating message is rich with what we call “touch points” or “rhetorical devices.” These are the stories, examples, metaphors, facts, and humor that make up the core content of a speech, and that make it interesting and inspiring. Meryl’s speech was funny and moving because it was packed with plenty of twists and surprises, contained humorous, colorful stories, and teemed with respect and sentiment all while making playful jokes about Hillary.

For example, Meryl began by comparing herself and her early life to Hillary, which she says that every living American woman her age has done. She goes on to compare the two women’s experiences at Yale, where their similar paths diverged. “While I was a cheerleader, she was the president of the student government,” says Meryl. “Where I was the lead in all three musicals, people who know her tell me she should never be encouraged to sing.” But then she got serious and said, “Regardless, she has turned out to be the voice of our generation. I’m an actress, and she is the real deal.”

Meryl went on to describe Hillary’s constant fight for women worldwide to stop criminal behavior, seek justice, and provide support. She revealed things not everyone may know about Hillary, such as how when travelling on diplomatic missions she meets not just the country’s leaders, but also the leaders of the local grassroots women’s movements. It’s something that’s automatically on her schedule.

And let’s not forget that brilliant ending that took everyone by surprise when Meryl reached below the podium, pulled out her Oscar, and said, “This is what you get when you play a world leader.” The audience went wild. “But if you want a real world leader and you’re really, really lucky, this is what you get,” Meryl continued, as she directed everyone’s attention to Hillary’s entrance on stage. This was a model introductory speech.

  • Delivery: Good delivery does not call attention to itself. It gets the job done by clearly expressing the message without distraction. Meryl’s delivery combined a certain degree of formality with the most charming attributes of good conversation. She was a bit dramatic—even showing off at times—but she was also direct, spontaneous, and animated. Most of all, she looked like she was thoroughly enjoying every minute with her erect posture,  big smile, confident eye contact, and that charming way she “sighed” so enjoyably at her own jokes.

She controlled the timing, rhythm, and momentum of the speech as skillfully as only an experienced public speaker—or actor—can. And while she had her written speech in front of her, she didn’t read it verbatim. She ad-libbed and took time to react to her message as well as to the responses of her audience. And even when she lost her place and briefly stumbled, she recovered with grace and slipped back into the lighthearted flow—and the limelight.

Public Speaking at its Best

Maybe it takes an actress playing a public speaker to be able to give a powerful introduction to one of the world’s great leaders. Actor or not, Meryl wrote a wining speech, delivered it with heart and soul, and accomplished what she set out to do: She made us realize anew why all American citizens, not just women, are fortunate to have Hillary Clinton traveling the world, leading critical diplomatic initiatives on our behalf. Hillary stands out as a leader, a role model and one of the greatest advocates for women in recent history.

Meryl was right. You get an Oscar for playing a world leader, but you get an adoring and appreciative public who deeply understands the importance of your mission when you are one.

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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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.

Using Humor in Your Presentation? Here’s a Checklist for Success

For the last six months I’ve been working with an accountant in our Executive Immersion program. As his coach, I’ve helped him polish his presentation skills, strengthen his image, project personal presence and build self-confidence. Most recently I helped him prepare for an internal presentation he was giving to five hundred division managers. Today I received his email report card. “My presentation was a success,” he wrote. “I received countless compliments. I think the company still can’t believe that an accountant can deliver a good presentation.” I love working with this man. He is earnest, disciplined and, like most accountants, extremely detail oriented so he shows up to our coaching sessions prepared and ready to work. He’s one of those people who truly love numbers. But in spite of his admirable work ethic and commitment to his subject, he has a difficult time sharing his passion and enthusiasm. He has “mono-face” and a stiff posture, and he uses limited vocal accents in his delivery so he can come across bland and uninteresting.

But he has one thing going for him, which you can probably guess from his report card comment: Humor. And that has made all the difference. His humor has become somewhat of a trademark for him and he’s proud of this new development. He sprinkles enough humor in his presentations now that people enjoy listening to him, and they tell him so.

So I encourage you, as I encouraged him, to use humor in your presentations.

But beware! Whether you’re telling a story, anecdote, joke or one-liner, there are important steps you must take to ensure that your humor is effective. Here is a short checklist to test your humor in both content and delivery before you give your presentation:

Humor Content:

  • Is it in good taste? Will it offend anyone in your audience? Will it damage your credibility or reputation?
  • Is it cliché? Has it been overused?
  • Are you using humor just to include something funny in your presentation or is it relevant to the message?
  • Is the humor brief enough to be told in a short time? Or will it pull you off track and down a rabbit hole.

Humor Delivery:

  • Does using humor make you self-conscious and/or uncomfortable?
  • Can you communicate the humor well? Or do you need practice?
  • Is the punch line clear and easy to understand?
  • Have you rehearsed the humor for this particular audience?
  • Have you tested your humor on others?
  • What if your humor flops? How will you recover?

Fortunately, you don’t have to be a comedian to use humor effectively. Simply use this short checklist for each presentation and every message you deliver will be memorable…and for the right reasons.

Guest Blog: A Corporate Speechwriter’s Halloween Tour of Medieval England

A veteran speechwriter and executive communications specialist, Ian Griffin helps CEOs and senior managers develop strategic messaging and content for presentations to audiences worldwide. He is Past-President of the Northern California Chapter of the National Speakers Association and an active member of Toastmasters. A version of this article first appeared in Ian’s blog Professionally Speaking. As a speechwriter for various Silicon Valley companies, I’ve seen both the bad (the tricks) and the good (the treats) of corporate speech development. And while speech writing may seem like a bore of a job, in truth the role of a speechwriter can be as diverse and intriguing as a Medieval Renaissance Fair. For fun on this Halloween day, let’s imagine the world of corporate America set in the time of Medieval England.

Quite ridiculous of course! We’ve come such a long way since the 14th Century. For example, back in the Dark Ages literacy was at an all-time low. Only a minority of the population held a passport and had traveled overseas. The rabble was entertained by jousting, feasting and Mystery Plays. And the King gave speeches no-one listened to.

I can’t possibly imagine what this era of history has in common with our own.

But what if? What if I did imagine?

What costumes could my corporate colleagues wear? And what do the characters in the Canterbury Tales, or Monty Python and the Holy Grail tell us about life today?

Obviously the CEO is the King (or, in rare cases, the Queen). An enlightened monarch or raging despot ruling over the organization. The EVPs and SVPs are the Barons at Court, consumed by intrigue and power plays. Sales managers are the Knights, conquering new territory. The staff are serfs and peasants, laboring in cubicle farms.

What about the speechwriter? Who would the speechwriter dress up as for a Medieval Halloween Ball?

Actually, there’s quite a number which fit the job description.

For starters, how about the speechwriter as the Motley Fool?

The Motley Fool

The fool on the hill Sees the sun going down, And the eyes in his head, See the world spinning ’round. - The Beatles: Fool on the Hill

The Fool in the Medieval Court stands behind King’s throne. While Barons and Knights give measured advice the Fool whispers in the King’s ear “That’s boring. Rubbish! Claptrap! The people won’t buy it. You’ll have to spice it up to keep their attention at the Guild Hall Luncheon tomorrow. Make ‘em laugh my liege. Tell ‘em a story.”

The Fool adds Laughter! Humor! Interest! He has King’s ear, for the moment. The King tolerates him (just) and values his fresh point of view.

The role of the Motley Fool is politically cool. You get to hang out with the powerful and mighty in the land. You might even spend time with the King on the Corporate Jet. But never forget that you’re the only person in the room without 5,000 serfs reporting to you and a quarterly number to make.

Screw up and it’s “Off with his head!”

As Robert Schlesinger said about JFK’s White House, speechwriters counter the “diplomatic blandness” the State Department bureaucracy produced.

Lessons for Speechwriters as Fools

  • Step outside the corporate bureaucracy.
  • Look at issues and topics with fresh eyes.
  • Inject humor, levity, tell stories – audiences love it.
  • Have the courage to speak frankly to the powerful.
  • Don’t show fear when the King growls.

Enough with the Jester. What other role characterizes the job of an Executive Communications Manager (aka Speechwriter) in today’s corporation? How about …

The Ploughman

Businessmen they drink my wine Ploughmen dig my earth - Dylan: All Along The Watchtower

A world away from the gilded Court, Ploughmen till the fields. Tedious but necessary work plays a large part in speechwriting. Doing research. Fact-checking. Ploughing through the background papers which spew from Subject Matter Experts like weeds sprouting on a April morning after a few sweet showers.

Lessons for Speechwriters as Ploughmen

  • It’s boring work, but learn to live with it. With any luck you’ll have the fields tilled by nightfall and the King will invite you to the feast that evening.
  • Have systems in place to take care of the boring stuff. Tracking forms; checklists; everything to speed the plough.
  • Divide up tasks. It’s less overwhelming to focus on today’s furrow than worry about the rest of the forty-acre field.
  • Take breaks, quaff ale, be strong behind the plough.

The Fisherman

Fish supplemented the Medieval diet. Carp was delicacy plucked from the castle moat by Fishermen. It’s always fun to throw a few lines in the water and see what slippery items of information you can catch. Today’s fisherman uses email and voice mail to leave requests for information with subject experts across the kingdom. Bait your hook with the name of the CEO. (“I’m doing some research for a speech John is giving next month and wanted your views…”). Always use the King’s first name. When the fish bite, reel them in.

Lessons for Speechwriters as Fisherman

  • Plan ahead. The fish might not be biting today. You need to get your lines in the water early on in the process.
  • Have patience. But if you don’t get an answer after a few days, fish in another part of the corporate millpond.
  • Don’t forget to bait your email requests with the first name of the executive you are writing for.

The Miller

The Miller is an important member of every Medieval community. Without him, there would be no flour and no loaves of bread. Bread and circuses are what keep the serfs fed and happy. Every Miller is dusty from grinding wheat into flour; separating wheat from chaff.

Subject Matter Experts (SME’s – rhymes with please) will bring sacks and sacks and sacks and sacks of data to your mill. Each direct report likes to provide at least 45 minutes of content for a 15 executive minute speech. If the executive has 10 reports that means you’ll have to sieve through eight hours of content.

It’s the speechwriters job to grind it down, then bake fresh loaves to feed the audience.

Lessons for Speechwriters as Millers

  • This is your biggest single value-add. No-one else wants to stand there while the mill-wheels are a-turning.
  • Edit ruthlessly – throw out 90% of the data the engineers and SME’s send you.
  • Say ‘No’ to requests for more data and facts from Knight’s and Baron’s who pile on the grain as a CYA strategy.
  • Keep the mill-wheels turning. Don’t send un-milled sacks of data to the court. They are paying you to sift and select.

The Alchemist

The Alchemist turns base metal into Gold. Like Rumpelstiltskin’s daughter you’ll take their words and sit in your room all night spinning them into gold. And next morning no-one will know how you did it.

Lessons for Speechwriters as Alchemists

  • Study the book of spells – text-books on speechwriting such as those listed at the end of this parchment.
  • Safeguard the Mystery. Don’t reveal your secrets to the other members of the Court.
  • Practice makes perfect. Alchemy is an art, not a science. Cultivate your Craft.
  • Understand that what you do is magikal to ordinary mortals.

The Monk

Scriptorium: a place for writing – commonly used to refer to a room in medieval European monasteries devoted to the copying of manuscripts by monastic scribes. - Wikipedia

Monks spent hours, days, weeks, months, years in the Scriptorium illustrating manuscripts like the Book of Kells. Everyone admires their artistry but wonders why they spent so much time coloring basic information and making it, actually, harder to comprehend.

That was then. This is now.

The speechwriter today spends hours, weeks, months, years in front of the computer illustrating presentations in PowerPoint. Future archeologists will gaze in wonder at the endless decks of slides. Beautiful, mindless illustrations of…what? Will anyone be able to comprehend these charts in the future? Can members of the audience comprehend them today?

Who cares. Monks may have had a diet of thin gruel, but illustrated manuscripts occupied them on winter evenings.

Lessons for Speechwriters as Monks

  • Learn cutting-edge PowerPoint skills. Take time to study and learn techniques.
  • Develop a good relationship with your graphics team who support you in this.
  • Read two of the Bibles of the modern era: Nancy Duarte’s slide:ology and Garr Reynold’s Presentation Zen

The Wandering Minstrel

Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me, I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to. Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me, In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come followin’ you. - Dylan: Mr. Tambourine Man

OK. I saved the best for last. All of the previous roles are aspects of life at Court, inside the hierarchical corporate world, bound by proscribed roles and strict protocols.

The Wandering Minstrel travels the land a free man composing sonnets and madrigals for clients.

Today the speechwriter as consultant wanders freely, far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow. If this sounds like the life for you, there’s important lessons you need to learn.

Lessons for Speechwriters as Minstrel

  • Aim for niche markets. Become an expert in a specific industry. You’ll make good money if your expertize is an inch wide and a mile deep.
  • Work fast, bill clients a flat fee, clean up and move on (just like Joe the Plumber).
  • Stay at the top of your game. You have to be good, darned good.
  • Work by referrals. People love to hire a Minstrel who has performed for the crowned heads of Europe.

Book of Spells

Here are some reference books I keep close by:

Read these great book but also spend time listening to speeches. Here’s a list of 100 great ones.

What Makes Women Successful Business Owners?

Recently, I’ve noticed an increasing number of women leaving their corporate jobs in favor of starting their own small business. In one case, the woman was let go, and in several other cases, she left voluntarily. Regardless of why she ventured out on her own, one thing seems consistent: women make great entrepreneurs. Here are some interesting facts I came across from the National Women’s Business Council:

  • There are 7.8 million women-owned businesses in the United States.
  • Women-owned firms generate $1.2 trillion in total receipts.
  • Women-owned firms employ 7.6 million people across the country with a payroll of $217.6 billion. These employer firms have average receipts of $1.1 million.
  • Women-owned businesses make up more than half (52.0%) of all businesses in health care and social assistance.
  • The other top industries for women include: educational services (45.9% of all businesses are women-owned), administration and support and waste management and remediation services (37.0%), retail trade (34.4%), and arts, entertainment, and recreation (30.4%).
  • Industries with the lowest percent of women-owned businesses include mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction (15.0%), transportation and warehousing (11.4%), agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting (10.3%), construction (7.9%), and management of companies and enterprises (6.7%).

If you look at the industries where women business owners tend to gravitate—healthcare, social assistance, education, administration, retail, and the arts—you can see a glaring trend. Women do well in industries that are communication based.

Surprising? Not really. Women are, by nature, strong communicators. They know how to build relationships and create strong teams, and they believe that teams are important. No wonder they do so well in fields that require fine-tuned communication skills.

Additionally, the Small Business Administration has reported in recent years that women-owned businesses are far outpacing all other businesses in terms of growth. To me, that means women are choosing businesses that play to their strengths and their passion and are putting their all to making it a success.

As a female business owner myself, I’m obviously happy by these findings. But I think we can do even more. Yes, women are choosing business ownership because they want more control in their life—they want a way to work and stay productive without having to sacrifice family time. But what if they didn’t have to make that choice? What if the fact that women held only 14.4% of Fortune 500 executive officer positions weren’t true? What if women held more than the measly 15.7% of Fortune 500 board seats? And what if women held more than 2.6% of Fortune 500 CEO positions? I believe, as does Harvard Business Review, that having more women in top positions ultimately leads to greater overall success. Why? Because with women participating, a group’s “collective intelligence” rises.

So women, if you’ve ever dreamt about starting your own business, know that you have some natural tendencies that will contribute to your success. And if you’re one who enjoys the corporate culture, push on to make your voice heard in the executive level. Whichever path you choose, know that the business world needs your expertise, your passion, your communication skills, and your unique female success traits.

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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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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Keys to Developing Presentation Content for Women

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

1. Women appreciate and respond well to stories.

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

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

2. Women want to participate and feel involved.  

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

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

3. Women are keen to visual images.

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

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

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

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

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