Physical Presence

Beefeaters: The Olympians of Public Speaking

One of the great by-products of the Olympics is learning  about the history and culture of the host country. This year’s Olympic games in London, England are no exception. While learning about the United Kingdom was mandatory in my high school history classes (given the early ties between England and U.S.), we spent most of our time memorizing dates, facts, and names rather than learning the interesting particulars about the country’s culture and tradition. Yet it’s the background stories, cultural lore, and little-known-details that I find intriguing about a country. Fortunately for me, many reporters are finding wonderful side stories to cover while in London, and this past weekend I watched a fascinating segment on NBC news about the Yeoman Warders, or Beefeaters as they’re commonly called. The Beefeaters’ origins stretch back as far as the reign of Edward IV (1461-83), and they have long been symbols of London and Britain. It is thought their nickname is derived from their position in the Royal Bodyguard, which permitted them to eat as much beef as they wanted from the king's table. Today, they act as entertaining tour guides at the Tower of London.

But these aren’t your ordinary docents. To be considered for the job of Beefeater, a candidate must have served in the armed forces with an honorable record for at least 22 years. Then, they go through upwards of one year of training. Working with a coach, they must memorize, word for word, a script that details the history of the Tower of London and England’s overall history. They practice on site after hours (when the tourists aren’t there to watch and listen), and must get every word correct. They are quizzed with crazy questions tourists might ask (such as, “Where is Sleeping Beauty buried?”), and they must handle even the most outrageous question with skill, tact, and respect. Just as athletes work long and hard to compete in  the Olympic games, so too do the men and women hoping to be Yeoman Warders, dedicating their lives to their country, even after retiring from military service.

As a speech coach, I have to say that the Beefeaters are wonderful role models for public speakers. I’ve often heard that a best practice of motivational speaking is to rehearse your speech 30 times before going live. By practicing their script nightly for up to a year, these Beefeaters put even the most well-rehearsed speaker to shame!

So the next time you’re in London, be sure to join one of the famous tours where Yeoman Warders will entertain you with tales of intrigue, imprisonment, execution, torture, and much more…and be sure to get a front row seat. You’ll be getting a history lesson from a world-class public speaking role model.

Perfecting the Intangibles of Public Speaking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Give Your Presentation Skills a Pilates Workout

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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How to Assess Your Public Speaking Comfort Level

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

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

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

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

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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The Secret to a Woman’s Success – Take Care of Yourself First

I was traveling via air from San Francisco to Maine recently. As the plane was nearing take off, the flight attendants started their usual safety demonstrations. I politely sat through the “how to buckle your seatbelt” and “how to use your seat cushion as a floatation device” spiels. Then, after the demonstration of placing the oxygen mask over your own mouth before assisting someone else, I began to think how useful this advice would be for women in their everyday life. No, this has nothing to do with wearing oxygen masks around town. It’s about helping yourself before helping others—something too few professional women do these days.

I see these over-burdened women every day. They’re typically in their thirties or early forties. They’re trying to excel in their corporate job, trying to raise a family, and trying to participate in their communities. They’re juggling so much and being pulled in so many different directions that they ultimately reach a point where they are completely burnt out. They simply can’t compete at the professional level they need to AND take care of their family AND be active in their communities AND have a life of their own. Something has to give…but what? Too often, it’s their professional pursuits that get put on hold.

Some of these women drop out of the business world completely, some leave their corporations in favor of an independent work pursuit, and some stay where they are in the company but don’t compete for more senior level positions or responsibilities. This is a terrible situation for the business community, as we’re losing countless women—countless resources—who can advance a company, change the organization, and help businesses move from being linear driven to more strategic around communication and relationships.

So what’s the solution? How can we reach women and head them off at the pass before they make the decision to drop out of or diminish their role in the corporate world?

The key is to have women take care of themselves…first.

No one will deny that being pulled in many directions is tough. When you’re in that situation and feeling stressed, it helps to take a time out—go out in nature, go off for a weekend with the girls, go to a spa, or do anything that helps you replenish who you are. Of course, the tugging in all directions will still be there when the “me-time” is over, but when you’re mentally, emotionally, and physically refreshed, you have a better chance of being able to successfully manage it all.

So my request to all women is this: when you feel overwhelmed and that something in your life has to go, that’s your cue to focus on yourself. In today’s world, “me time” is not a luxury; it’s a necessity.

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.

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.

San Francisco’s Bay to Breakers Offers Valuable Public Speaking Lessons

Yesterday was the centennial running of the Bay to Breakers foot race. For those of you who have never heard of it, allow me to paint the picture: Over fifty thousand people, a majority of which were dressed in outrageous costumes, took to the streets of San Francisco and marched from the San Francisco Bay all the way to the Pacific Ocean. It was a seven and a half mile trek that weaved through a number of the city’s greatest sights. An event like this truly brings out the vibrant colors of the city and provides fantastic opportunities for people watching. Under cloudy skies, the wild parade of costumed marathoners made their merry way through the enchanting City by the Bay. 

And yes, even in this surreal environment I found lessons that pertain to public speaking.

Preparation is King – Preparing for your Bay to Breakers experience is vital. If you don’t coordinate with your companions, you will wind up lost and alone in an endless tidal wave of Smurfs, trolls, dinosaurs, and cavemen. Instead of being a fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon, it could be a truly disastrous and lonely experience. Likewise, if you are going to succeed onstage, you must prepare. You don’t want to give yourself the opportunity to make mistakes, so knowing your touch points and memorizing your opening and close and practicing out loud in front of a mirror will be sure to help you keep your cool when you are in front of an audience. 

Poise under Pressure – Without a healthy level of poise and self-confidence, you may not fully enjoy being out in public wearing a ridiculously funny costume. You may feel the desire to hide among the crowd or even bow out of the fun early. And while you likely won’t be presenting in an absurd costume, speaking in front of an audience can be an equally overwhelming experience. Without  maintaining some level of poise, you may make the mistake of fudging a line, forgetting a touch point, or freezing up on stage. 

Have Fun – The ultimate tool you can learn from Bay to Breakers, however, is to have fun. Can you imagine if you attempted to attend an event like Bay to Breakers and were self-conscious about how you were dressed or feared what others would say about you? You would stand out like a sore thumb! You can apply that same principle to being in front of an audience. If you are comfortable with yourself, your audience will be right with you throughout your entire performance. So relax and have fun! The more you enjoy yourself while you’re giving a presentation, the easier it is to connect with your audience and sound more credible. 

So what was my outrageous costume this weekend? For now, I’m keeping that a secret. However, the first person to guess correctly by posting your answers here will receive a signed copy of my book, Roadmap to Success. So keep those guesses coming!

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!

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.

In Honor of Presidents’ Day: Public Speaking Lessons from George Washington

Presidents’ Day, also known as George Washington Day, was the first federal holiday to honor an American citizen and was initially celebrated on Washington’s actual birthday, February 22. On January 1, 1971, the federal holiday was shifted to the third Monday in February by the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. This date places the holiday between February 15th and 21st, which makes the name “Washington’s Birthday” a misnomer, since it never lands on Washington’s actual birthday! Regardless of the date or what you call it, no one can deny that our country’s first president was a great leader. I recently read the book Presidential Voices: Speaking Styles from George Washington to George W. Bush by Allan Metcalf. It’s an interesting book and one I highly recommend. In it, Metcalf tells us, “the early years of the Republic through the end of the nineteenth century were the golden age of oratory… Listening to oratory, even for hours at a time, was a favorite entertainment in the days before movies, television, video games, rock concerts, amusement parks, and the internet.”

Interestingly, as it turns out, George Washington was not a great orator. In fact, “he established the precedent that oratorical ability is not a requisite for the presidency.”

One of the major reasons for Washington’s poor speaking skills was his teeth. Contrary to popular belief, his teeth were not made of wood. They were made of hard materials—tusks, bones or teeth of animals or humans, or gold or silver. During the course of his lifetime he had six sets of false teeth, and they did affect his speech. The upper and lower sets of his teeth were connected to each other by steel springs. Washington had to clench his jaw tightly together just to keep his mouth shut. This caused noticeable discomfort and made it difficult to speak for long periods of time.

But speak he did…and we can learn a great deal from the speeches he gave. Some key points include:

Brevity: Because of the pain and discomfort of his teeth, Washington spoke in very short intervals and no more than 15 minutes at a time. Most of his speeches were around 10 minutes. He was a master of keeping his remarks short and to the point.

Varied tone: In his first inaugural address, Washington set the tone of high, formal, ornate style, using long and elaborate sentences of 87 words or more. Yet in his second speech, he spoke plainly and directly. By varying his tone to match the event or situation, he showed his connection to the moment and to the audience’s expectations.

Highly personal: Though Washington looked to the British monarchs’ annual address at the opening session of Parliament as a model for his inaugural address, he chose to use the phrase “My fellow citizens…” He was, after all, the First Citizen and not His Majesty.

Spoke with dignity, formality, and humility: Washington had a quiet, low, monotone voice, perhaps caused by the effort it took to manage his teeth. When he delivered his first inaugural address, his voice was said to be shaky and soft. But while his voice was soft, his bearing was imposing. He was 6’ 2” tall—quite tall for those days—yet his physical presence coupled with his dignified yet humble style kept him from intimidating others.

No matter what your personal speaking style, take a lesson or two from George. After all, if his words, presence and speaking style were able to inspire a young country, they can also inspire today’s speakers.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.