Speech

Your Dog, The Speech Coach

Your Dog, The Speech Coach

Whether or not dogs are man’s (and woman’s’) best friend they have certainly risen on the popularity scale recently. You see dogs everywhere you go from city streets, to office cubicles to airplanes not to mention dog parks and front yards. They are good companions and playmates and in some cases excellent emotional and physical support animals. But did you know that dogs can also be a great audience for your presentation rehearsal?

 

When you have an important speech to deliver it’s critical to practice out loud at least three times. Typically, I recommend that you practice alone in a room, or in front of a mirror, or in front of a friend, family member or colleague. I don’t believe I’ve ever recommended practicing your speech in front of your trusted canine but apparently I’ve been missing out on a great resource.  Students at American University in Washington D.C. are intentionally using dogs to practice speech making and as it turns out it’s an effective practice method.

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!

Adopt a “Pay it Forward” Mindset for Your Next Company or Industry Presentation

This week is the National Speakers Association annual convention. While I did not attend this year’s event, it got me thinking about what it takes to present at a large scale annual meeting—whether for a company or an association/industry. The key, I believe, lies in good planning—the kind that results in delivering a unified message and creating an atmosphere of “can do” collegiality. The best annual meetings provide an immersion in the uniqueness of the company or industry culture, important teaching moments, and opportunities to connect with colleagues. But the pitfall of any annual meeting occurs when the meeting gets out of control at the planning stage and caves in to excess, namely too much on the agenda and too many boring presentations.

If you happen to be giving one of these presentations, you have a unique opportunity to do your company, industry, and colleagues a huge favor—to pay it forward, so to speak, by taking the road less travelled and being a “kinder, gentler” presenter. How? By resisting the urge you may feel to deliver too much information in a typical PowerPoint presentation, just like every other presentation that will be given during the meeting.

If you are one of the chosen few who will deliver a presentation at the annual meeting, give your audience something that is easy to digest and that will lighten their load. Deliver a presentation so well rehearsed that your authenticity shines though. Give them a hard-core message delivered with just the right amount of charm and confidence. And do it so well that they feel the power to do the same for others in their presentations. When you pay it forward, they pay it forward. Here a few tips to help you do so.

  1. Plan with the planners in mind: Before you start planning your presentation, find out the meeting’s overall theme and goal. Understand why you were chosen to present. Is there a specific message they want you to give? Ask questions to clarify your role and any goals the planners have for you. If possible, check in with more than one person so you are certain of everything. Once you complete your due diligence, then you can tailor your presentation to focus on just one important area.
  2. Cut, Cut, Cut: You are one person and one presenter. So there’s no need for you to tell the audience everything. Remember that people are there to learn from many different experts. No matter how much you believe your audience needs to hear everything from you, you’re just one vital piece of the puzzle. Therefore, keep your message short, simple, and focused, and always tie your remarks to the meeting’s overall goal.
  3. Speak to the highest denominator: This is an important event. People from all levels will be there listening to you. Even with the broad spectrum of people in attendance, always perform for the people whose standards are the highest rather than for your most complacent audience members. This is your moment to shine for your boss, your boss’s boss, and even his or her boss. These people expect a lot from you, so be sure to deliver.
  4. Step out of the PowerPoint Box: Yes, PowerPoint is helpful…it’s even cool. But how about not using PowerPoint…at all. Think about the endless possibilities of doing something different and unexpected, like a treasure hunt or a group game. If you must use PowerPoint, design it with color, images, and sound. Use lively video clips or interactive pieces to entertain, educate, motivate, and inspire.
  5. Build in audience participation and involvement: Deliver your message with a light and creative touch. No matter how big the group, you can still get them talking to each other by pairing them up and asking them to share stories or to brainstorm ideas. Use your sense of humor, even if it’s modest. Tell inspiring stories and use examples to drive the message home.

Annual company and industry meeting status quo can have a powerful impact on your performance. You could fall in line, do the same old boring PowerPoint, and ignore the greater needs of your audience; however, if you do, you miss a great opportunity to truly excite and inspire others to act in a positive way. It takes confidence to pay it forward, but when you do you set off a chain reaction. Suddenly everyone’s presentations are more passionate, more creative, and more engaging—and everyone wins.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

The Key Factor for Your Presentation’s Success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Three Influential First Ladies

As the old saying goes, "Behind every great man is a great woman." When it comes to talking about American presidents, nothing could be truer. American presidential history is filled with influential First Ladies who have paved the way for women everywhere. What I find fascinating about First Ladies is that while they don’t have an official role, they nevertheless become influential because of the things they do, the programs they start, and the initiatives they spearhead. As such, they are often thrust into the public’s eye and into the limelight—whether they want that role or not.

For instance, consider Eleanor Roosevelt. Born into a political family, Eleanor Roosevelt quickly became America’s most influential First Lady as she blazed paths for women and led the battle for social justice. What was unique about Eleanor was that prior to her, First Ladies were not so public or active. In fact, Eleanor watched the traditional protocol of her aunt, Edith Roosevelt, during Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency and decided she would be very different.

With her husband Franklin’s support, Eleanor continued her pre-First Lady activities, which included working with the Women’s Trade Union League and being a leader in the New York State Democratic Party. In an era when few women had careers, Eleanor was showing women what was possible. During her twelve years as First Lady, she made frequent personal appearances at labor meetings to assure Depression-era workers that the White House was mindful of their plight. And her work with the National Youth Administration (NYA) was focused on training women to enter the workforce. Enjoy this early video of Eleanor talking about the NYA and its role in the future of women.

Hillary Clinton is another First Lady worth mentioning. One of her first goal’s as First Lady was to push for universal healthcare for all Americans. But in just a little over a year of embarking on her agenda, the healthcare bill was declared "dead" by Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell. Despite that setback, Hillary Clinton rose from the ashes and became the voice of healthcare issues that affected Americans. She initiated the Children’s Health Insurance Program in 1997, a federal effort that provided state support for those children whose parents were unable to provide them with health coverage. She also successfully sought to increase the research funding for illnesses such as prostate cancer and childhood asthma at the National Institute of Health, and she gave voice to the illnesses that were affecting veterans of the Gulf War.

In 1995, Hillary Clinton gave a speech at the U.N. Women’s Conference in Beijing that solidified her role as a powerful female speaker and change agent. Her poise, power, and passion for the subject matter—women’s rights worldwide—paved the way for her future political goals and gave women everywhere a worldwide voice.

Finally, only three years into her role as First Lady, Michelle Obama is continuing the tradition of Eleanor Roosevelt and Hillary Clinton by raising the bar for future First Ladies. Known for her sense of style and decorum, Michelle Obama has created her own role in the White House, focusing on childhood obesity and food policy issues. This effort is in addition to her other endeavors: supporting military families, helping working women balance career and family, encouraging national service, and promoting the arts and arts education. Interestingly, she has earned widespread publicity on the topic of healthy eating by planting the first White House vegetable garden since Eleanor Roosevelt served as First Lady.

In May 2006, Essence listed Michelle Obama among "25 of the World’s Most Inspiring Women," and in July 2007, Vanity Fair listed her among "10 of the World’s Best Dressed People." In March 2009, she appeared on the cover and in a photo spread of Vogue. Every First Lady since Lou Hoover has been in Vogue, but only Hillary Clinton had previously appeared on the cover. Hmmm…Do I sense a connection here?

Most recently, Michelle Obama gave the commencement speech to the 2011 class of West Point cadets. Her appearance there broke with tradition, as those who speak at West Point graduation events have always come from within the military’s chain of command. This also marked the first time a First Lady has addressed graduating cadets at West Point.

By all accounts, Eleanor Roosevelt, Hillary Clinton, and Michelle Obama are influential First Ladies. When it comes to being poised under pressure, they hit the mark every time. I urge you to watch some of their past speeches to see the true meaning of confidence, polish, and power. They are indeed role models for women worldwide. 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.

Samoan Car Thieves, Fiji Water…and Public Speaking?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"This is the White House calling..." A Last Minute Speech for Barack Obama

On Monday, September 21st, my business associate and friend Dawn Josephson received the call of a lifetime. “Hi Dawn…This is Karen from the White House. I’m calling to see if you and your son can attend an event with us this Wednesday the 22nd. President Obama will be in attendance, and he’d like you to be there as well.”

An invitation from the President! Naturally, she was excited and eager to go.

The following day she received another phone call: “Hi Dawn…about the event tomorrow… President Obama is going to start by saying a few words, and then he’d like to call on you to tell your story. Are you okay with this? Oh, and…can you send us your outline in an hour?”

If you thought doing a last minute speech in front of your board of directors, CEO, or company leaders was intimidating, imagine having less than 24 hours to prepare to speak before the President of the United States…and on national television! To top it all off, less than one hour before the event itself, the White House staff asked that she not use any notes as she spoke.

The event Dawn attended in Falls Church, Virginia was officially dubbed “A Backyard Discussion on Healthcare Reform and the Patient’s Bill of Rights,” and it featured President Obama addressing a group of Americans who have felt some benefit of the recent Affordable Care Act. Dawn was the first person the President called upon to tell her story about being able to obtain health coverage for her son, who has a pre-existing condition.

After the event was over, I asked Dawn how she managed to stay so calm and cool despite the circumstances. Here are some lessons she gleaned that will work in any high-stakes or last minute presentation setting.

  • Focus on only the most important details. Since she couldn’t use notes as she spoke, Dawn had to get clear on the most important points she wanted to make and focus her attention and limited practice time on those items only. She had to get those talking points right the first time—the other information had more leeway for impromptu dialog.
  • Follow instructions carefully. When you’re in a high stakes or last minute presentation circumstance, chances are the other party will have detailed instructions for you to follow. Be sure to follow them exactly, as it will actually relieve a lot of your stress. For example, the White House told Dawn that she had a maximum of two minutes to talk, to remain in her assigned seat as she spoke, and which parts of her story they wanted her to omit or use. By doing precisely what they said, she met expectations and didn’t have to stress over the details.
  • Remember that we’re all human. No matter how powerful or important the person or group you’re addressing appears to be, in the end, we’re all human. Dawn said that in the moments before the President arrived at the event, she told herself, “He’s just another person like me. He has to shower and brush his teeth in the morning, and he puts on his pants one leg at a time, just like the rest of us.” By assuring herself that people only intimidate us if we allow them to, she kept calm and told her story with ease.

While not everyone will have the opportunity to speak at a White House event with the President of the United States, we all have crucial last minute presentations that pop up. By following the suggestions Dawn gave, you can remain cool and confident in any speaking situation.

***

[Click here to see the video of the “backyard discussion” with President Obama. Dawn’s story begins at the end of video #1 and continues into video #2. At the beginning of video #2, watch as her son Wesley (age four) gives President Obama a high-five!]

Dying to be a Public Speaker?

I got a call today from a woman who owns a bakery that specializes in selling gluten free products—cookies, biscotti, scones and other wonderful wheat free foods. She has a good niche market but wants to grow her business—and someone told her to look into public speaking as an avenue to get the word out. I told her I thought it was a great idea and I’d love to help. Then I asked, “Do you like speaking in front of groups?” She gasped (literally) and said “why no, I’m scared to death. That’s why I’m calling you.” She was hoping that I could help her overcome her fear. “Well, how deep is your fear?” I asked. “It’s really bad,” she said. “I’m afraid I’ll stand up to speak, have a heart attack and die right there in front of everyone. That would be so embarrassing!” I didn’t dare tell her that embarrassment would be the least of her worries. And instead I told her not to worry. That as far as I knew there was only one person who had died of a heart attack while actually giving a speech. And his was a happy death.

 

 

Then I told her the story of Alben Barkley.

 

Alben Barkley was a politician who served as the 35th Vice President of the United States from 1949-1953 under President Harry Truman. Prior to serving as VP, Barkley was in the US Senate for over twenty years.

 

Barkley was known for his strong public speaking skills. He was a fierce debater in college and went on to become a powerful political and keynote speaker. His “stump speaker’s lungs” contributed to his booming oratorical presence. Above all he loved rhetoric, had a great sense of humor and was a wonderful storyteller.

 

Alben Barkley would have probably been lost in the historical archives had it not been in part for the unusual circumstance of his death. While giving a speech at the 1956 Mock Convention held at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia he felt pressure in his chest. When he finished his speech, with applause ringing in his ears, he collapsed and died of a massive heart attack.

 

Maybe I’m a romantic, but Barkley died doing something that he really loved to do. Political public speaking was his calling and his passion. And a public speaker dying while giving a speech? Well, that strikes me as not a bad way to go.

 

My client was quiet after hearing this story. I told her that her chances of actually dying of a heart attack while she was promoting her gluten free baking business were slim to none.  But I don’t think I convinced her. “I’ll think about it,” she said. “I’ll call you in the morning.”

On Thanksgiving Day: Give Thanks – Give a Speech

We are in the midst of one of the most difficult years this country and the world has seen in decades – the challenges of the economy, the irreversible issues of climate change, mounting healthcare costs, two complicated wars…plus our own personal challenges. During times like these it’s often difficult to look on the bright side and count our blessings. Yet in the midst of so much chaos blessings remain everywhere, and it is important that we acknowledge and share them not just on Thanksgiving Day, but every day.

 

As you gather around your dinner table on Thursday, whether you’re celebrating Thanksgiving or just a regular family meal, there’s no better way to share the blessings you have with others than by talking about them. So this year stand up, speak up…and drink up.

 

Give a Toast at Thanksgiving Dinner

Here’s a Thanksgiving invitation for you: Give a toast at Thanksgiving dinner. Why? Aside from it being a nice thing to do, it will also give you a chance to practice your presentation skills. You will have a chance to practice your content development skills (even with a message as short as a toast) and your delivery skills (never overlook an opportunity for this!). Best of all you will have a rapt and attentive audience to support you, and you’ll be adored for volunteering and letting others off the hook. You simply can’t go wrong!

 

The Custom of Giving a Toast

The custom of giving a toast is believed to have come from the ancient Greeks who, as the story goes, drank from the same goblet to avoid being poisoned by other dinner guests. The clink of glasses serves a similar purpose. When the glasses clink together, the liquid inside each spills over into other people’s glasses. This protects all guests from any attempt to poison them.

 

A typical toast has three parts: 1) The speech itself, 2) an agreement or acknowledgement by the group and 3) the long awaited imbibing….with bubbly.

 

To help you plan your Thanksgiving toast, follow this model: an anecdote followed by a statement of goodwill. For example:

 

“In honor of Thanksgiving I would like to say a few words. This has been a challenging year for our family (give a few examples), but in the midst of our struggles there have been many joys (more examples,). Let’s give thanks for our struggles, which make us stronger and wiser, as well as our joys, which make us richer and more content. Here’s to a great reunion of family and friends…and the many blessings that we share.”

 

Wait for the group to acknowledge the toast with smiles, laughter or phrases, such as “Hear, hear.” And then take a long or short sip.

 

Six Quick Toasting Tips

 

  1. Plan your toast in advance and practice it out loud ahead of time.
  2. Develop a beginning, middle and end.
  3. Stand up and hold your glass slightly off to the side.
  4. Keep your toast under two minutes.
  5. Don’t tell jokes unless you’re good at them.
  6. Speak slowly in a loud, clear voice…and smile.

 

It is said that a toast is made to complete the cycle of the five senses: sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing (with the sound of glasses tinkling). Giving thanks this Thanksgiving with all our senses is an opportunity not to be missed.

 

I want to wish everyone in our American community a Happy Thanksgiving, and to those international readers, Happy Thursday (if it is Thursday where you live). In any event, in the U.S. we celebrate Thanksgiving Day to give thanks…and that’s not a bad habit to get into every day of the year.