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.

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.

How Not to Stumble from Mumbles

I once knew a man who had such a serious problem with mumbling that everyone called him ‘Mumbles.’ He spoke in his own private language, sounding as if his mouth was filled with a mixture of peanut butter, guacamole, and oatmeal. Sometimes you could understand the beginning of his sentence, but by the time he got to the end it was mystery meat. Mumbles was a talented carpenter who helped us with the renovation on our house. But because we couldn’t understand much of what he said, we had to use our Architect as an interpreter. How the architect understood Mumbles…I’ll never know. To me, his sentences were impossible to decipher.

Unfortunately, mumbling is a common problem. I have known and worked with people from many industries who have mumbled: accountants, engineers, CEOs, celebrity sports figures, and many more. So yes, even intelligent, powerful, and talented people can sometimes be incoherent. Mumbling is a universal problem that stretches across every strata of society. The good news is that it can be overcome.

Mumbling doesn’t have a single root, but it can be linked to a number of vocal behaviors that seem to collide in a perfect storm…often ending in incoherence. Mumbles seemed to have all the elements that led to incoherent speech: he spoke too fast, he neglected to articulate his “ing” endings, he enunciated poorly, he spoke in a very soft voice, and he used long rambling sentences, causing him to run out of breath.

I’ve learned that you can’t cure a mumbler with just one technique or skill. Like most skills of public speaking, the cure for mumbling is holistic. Because mumbling is connected to many other behaviors, if you identify the less obvious you can often find the techniques that will lead to coherent speaking.

Here are some cures to try:

  • Raise your voice—speak louder than you usually do.
  • Use strategic pauses—pause after every second or third word.
  • Give every word its value—say each word as if it were the most important word in your sentence.
  • Use inflection—emphasize key words with force and power.
  • Enunciate—exaggerate your diction and clearly overstate each syllable of every word.
  • Use short sentences—keep them between 8-13 words.


Once you’ve had a chance to practice these skills you should then evaluate your progress. If you know people who have heard you mumble, ask them to listen for changes and improvements. Leave yourself a voice mail message every day for a week and listen to your progress. Video yourself at the dinner table, in a conversation at work, or with a friend and listen for changes in your voice.

I can only imagine how much business Mumbles lost on a regular basis because prospects and clients couldn’t understand him. So while mumbling can be overcome, it takes some sleuthing to uncover the cause. But once you know what you’re dealing with, you’ll have a real chance to make changes and become a coherent, articulate, and polished speaker.

A Pint Size Plan to Help Your Kids Study Public Speaking Skills

Part 2 of 2 


In Part 1 of this blog we talked about the importance of teaching children public speaking skills and using The Fun Theory to make the experience enjoyable and effective. The last thing anyone wants is to raise a child who suffers from glossophobia – the fear of public speaking. Today, as many as 75% of people have glossophobia, and studies show that many people fear public speaking more than death!


None of us want our children to contribute to these statistics. Rather, we want them to feel strong and comfortable whenever they are speaking and especially when they are speaking in front of a group. In case you doubt that children can be poised and confident in front of a group take a look at this famous video clip of Severn Suzuki who spoke at the United Nations Earth Summit when she was just twelve years old. 



In addition to her powerful message, which is still relevant today, did you hear the strength of her vocal delivery including her word choice, clear enunciation, strong inflection and pauses? Did you see the passion in her delivery?


While you may not want your children to be quite as assertive as Severn, you do want them to be confident and poised and to hold their own on issues that are meaningful and important to them. Children who feel comfortable speaking to groups tend to speak out more often, volunteer for leadership positions and meet challenges head on. In fact, developing public speaking skills is just as important as learning to read and write. That’s why “show and tell” is such a popular activity in the early grades. But there is more that we can do to help our children master this all important skill.


When teaching young children the fundamentals of public speaking there are two important areas you can work on every day: Vocal skills and body language.


Here are a few pint size tips I have used as an actress, teacher and parent. I am delighted to pass these on to you.


Vocal Skills

·         Read out loud to your child: Research tells us that there are many benefits to reading to your children. When it comes to public speaking, reading is a hidden resource. If you enunciate clearly, vary your pace from slow to fast and use expressive pitch and inflection you will heighten your child’s interest in the story and teach these important vocal skills by example.


·         Emphasize key words: When words in the story are colorful, descriptive and emotional, use added stress to make them sound dramatic. Change your volume (speak louder and stronger or softer and lighter) depending on the word and context. Vary your pace and alternate speaking fast and slow. Pause often and make those words come alive!


·         Have your child read to you: When children are old enough most love reading to their parents. When they do read to you encourage them to speak carefully and say each word clearly. Then, ask them to “play” with the words in the story and bring them to life. Ask your child such questions as, “How can you say this like Max would say it?” or “How can you sound happy, sad, excited or afraid?” Encourage your child to say a word the way it sounds (buzz, swish, cool) and to explore variations of expression for each word.


·         Add sound effects: Vroom, chug, boom, screech! Sound effects are a natural means of expression for many children. They love hearing and making sounds. And making many different kinds of sounds gives them an opportunity to practice creative expression and build confidence. So tune up your inner Thomas the Steam Engine or Roary the Racing Car and bring the story to life by using sound effects. Invite your child to play with sounds whenever they read out loud.


Teach Body Language

·         Take turns standing up and reading a page out loud: This is a wonderful activity to do with your children but it may be too stimulating to do right before bed. Start early in the evening so there is plenty of time to unwind. Select a favorite story and play “round robin” by taking turns and having each member of the family read a page of the story with dramatic energy and flair. Just this simple practice of standing in front of one or two people will give your child the experience of being in front of a group.


·         Play “public speaker”: Children love to role play. They play doctor, ballet dancer, truck driver and chef, so why not encourage them to play “public speaker”? Ask questions to help them learn how public speakers behave when they speak to a group. Encourage your child to stand up straight and not fidget or pull at their clothes or hold onto their hands or arms. Ask them to open their arms away from their body and use big gestures. And make sure you encourage them to smile.


·         Use everyday conversation to teach body language: Remind your child to make eye contact whenever they are speaking to someone. The dinner table is a great place to help them learn to do this. When they learn this skill at any early age they will not be uncomfortable using it as they grow.


Teaching public speaking skills to your children requires a great deal of commitment and consistency over time, but it doesn’t have to be a chore. You can teach the fundamentals in a seamless, playful and loving way…and have fun doing it. Before you know it, your children will grow up to be confident and competent young adults capable of standing in front of any group… even at the United Nations.


Ted Kennedy: A Voice of Power and Compassion

The public speaking community has lost a true orator today with the passing of Senator Edward Kennedy. Much will be written and spoken about this great statesman who spent his life as a public servant. As the remaining heart and soul of the rich Kennedy legacy he was indeed a champion of justice, fairness and compassion. Like his brothers before him, he believed that everyone was entitled to participate in the great American opportunity.