Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Stephanie reflects on gender issues

Stephanie's a beginning speaker, but in this video, she shares her experiences with gender issues in public speaking--including her frustration at getting talked over in meetings where she had seniority and the authority to comment. She's responding to my coaching this week about gender issues in public speaking.

Her question is: How can you assert yourself and get your point across without feeling as if you have to be like a man, but take advantage of the messages and strengths women have? It's a great question, and Stephanie's coming to this early in her career, which means that if she starts tackling this now, she'll be more comfortable handling it throughout her career.

Here are some ideas on what she--and you--can do to better handle situations in which you suspect or see that your gender's being used to derail your speaking, whether in a meeting, a one-on-one exchange or a formal speech. (And by the way, both women and men sometimes undermine women or use their gender against them--it's an equal opportunity ploy.) Please add your ideas and wisdom in the comments, so we can build a database of help for Stephanie and all of us:

  1. Speak with "I" statements: Don't say "We" and don't say "us." Speak for yourself. Saying "I think..." or "in my experience..." is both powerful and accurate. Anyone can challenge a "we" statement; few can challenge you for speaking your own mind. In my view, the 6 strongest statements speakers can make all start with "I." Bonus: This is especially true when you are expressing your own feelings or ideas--no one can claim those, and if they try to, you can easily refute the challenger.
  2. Take the quieter route. As Stephanie alludes to in her video, trying to talk over the person talking over you rarely works. Instead, get quiet and thoughtful; listen to your challenger until he's done. Then take a deep breath and respond...calmly, or playfully, but never in anger. Use the time when your challenger's talking to gather your thoughts and develop a calm response. It's much more powerful to avoid escalating the tension--and if your challenger continues shouting, he or she will merely look out of control, while you stay in control.
  3. Be ready for the gender zinger. It may come when you're done with your presentation or right in the middle, but have some calm or fun responses in your back pocket that zing back just enough to set a boundary. Work with your friends to come up with appropriate responses for your workplace. Check out this one experienced by Jill Granoff, CEO of Kenneth Cole--it doesn't just happen to you!
  4. Team up with the other women. Don't be afraid to reach out to other women you trust in your workplace about this issue. You may be able to share information, back each other up or offer support in public and in private. Many women I know bring another woman to their meetings to ensure they're not the only woman--it works.
  5. Take charge from the start. If it's your meeting, signal that you're there to do business and do it right away, using the space, your voice, and your timing.

UPDATE: I'm pleased to say that this post was included in Andrew Dlugan's weekly roundup of the best public speaking blog posts on the Six Minutes blog.

Related posts:

Week 5: Gender issues in public speaking

Convey power without the "pow!"

The 6 strongest speaker statements

Signaling "let's get down to business"

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

week 5: gender issues in public speaking

Have you ever been "talked over" in a meeting? So has Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Ever wonder why you can chat away with a girlfriend or small group, but hate to get up to speak? Most women prefer one-on-one communications; most men prefer making public statements. Ever wish you could adopt the male uniform of flat shoes, pants, jacket, shirt and tie instead of the heels, skirt, and jewelry that seem to trip you up on stage? They're all double-edged swords for women in terms of their public appearances.

To get Stephanie started on our coaching for week 5, I'm sharing the presentation I made to Washington Women in Public Relations about how to step up your speaking, which shares a lot of information about the challenges that women, in particular, face in public speaking.

Most important to remember are the words of Kathleen Hall Jamieson: "History has many themes. One of them is that women should be quiet." From the days of ancient Greece and Rome to today, women have often been forbidden to speak in public, or discouraged from doing it with punishment, name-calling or simply making it logistically difficult.

Ironically, Jamieson also notes that women's style of communicating--connecting with one person, sharing emotions and listening--work best in the age of television. In fact, it works so well, that some of our most successful presidents (all men, of course) have adapted these skills (think Presidents Reagan, Clinton and Obama). Yet many women go the opposite way, wearing male-style uniforms of power suits, making strong-sounding verbal statements, not sharing emotion or personal stories for fear of seeming too soft.

If you'd asked me when I was Stephanie's age whether I observed this, I might have been defensive and said, "Not at all." But today--especially as one who trains speakers--I've heard from many women about the discomfort they feel about speaking. Sometimes that's due to their introverted personalities, lack of training or experience, or nervousness. But often, it's because they've experienced or sensed an issue because they're women. They may feel they're called out for more attention because they wear colorful clothes--something women have as an advantage in their wardrobes--or sometimes they're told their presentations aren't "sexy enough." But whatever the situation, their confidence is undermined. Here's a great example: Women often hear that they "talk too much," yet men and women speak about the same number of words in a day! (16,000, to be exact.) Many more women find that they have trouble seeing women speakers at the conferences they attend, and getting women on the program as speakers continues to be an issue to this day in many settings.

For Stephanie, a beginning speaker, my advice is to be aware of this phenomenon. It's been around for thousands of years, and may be more subtle today than in ancient times, but it's still an issue for many women who speak. It's important to figure out when the problem is about you--or not about you. If it's not about you, it may be that someone's trying to marginalize you in order to get you to stop talking.

Mainly, I want Stephanie to remember that we can coach her in speaking skills and speaking confidence, two big essentials. But she'll also need opportunities to speak, and that sometimes relies on others. If they're uncomfortable with a woman speaking, she may not get that opportunity...and may need to create her own opportunity to speak!

Have you experienced any issues as a speaker that are gender-related? Leave your insights in the comments.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

September's top tips for speakers

Time to shake the sand out of your shoes, finally, and get into fall with our top tips from the action-packed month of September on the Eloquent Woman blog. Here's what our readers consulted most this month:

  1. Can gesturing help your speaking? The answer is yes, and this month's most popular post explains the science behind gestures and why they work so well.
  2. Speaking from strength is an issue for many women, so I offered these 6 statements I think are the strongest ones any speaker can make--keep them at the ready!
  3. Handling questions -- especially when they get your talk off-track -- continues to be a topic our readers consult, making these graceful ways with Q&A popular in September.
  4. Webinar or conference call speakers will want these tips for handling yourself when the audience is invisible, our next-most-popular post.
  5. Prepping to speak in a meeting? The [non]billable hour blog thinks our checklist for the whole speaker is the "perfect preparation" for meetings, negotiations, even court appearances, and made it a popular tip this month.
  6. Developing a message was among the coaching areas we covered this month with contest winner Stephanie Benoit. Readers followed along with this post on message basics.
  7. How can you learn more about your audience? A reader posed this question, and the answer was one of the month's top tips.
  8. Building up your confidence as a speaker? So is our contest winner. My advice to her on her top priority as a speaker: Fake it until you make it, with 12 ways to seem confident before you really are.
  9. Confidence tips from other speaker coaches made up this "confidence bible" post, one of our top reads.
  10. Can you see yourself speaking? Better yet, can we? This post urges you to post a photo of yourself speaking on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook--I'd like to build a photo gallery of women speaking so there are good role models out there. This was inspired by one of our Facebook fans, who uses a picture of herself speaking as her profile photo.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Stephanie works on her speaking fears



Here's Stephanie Benoit with her response to my coaching about gaining confidence by using a "fake it till you make it" strategy. In the video, she highlights four tips that stood out for her, and in the post below, she does one part of her homework, which involved writing down the things she fears might go wrong, along with a possible solution for each one--an exercise that moves the speaker from just worrying about what might go wrong to actually envisioning a solution. That plan-ahead process allows you to have that solution in mind when you face the actual situation. Feel free to add tips or advice for Stephanie from your own experience in the comments!

This week's video is about confidence with the focus being "faking it till you make it!" I was given the task of brainstorming a few possible things that may go wrong when speaking publicly and my ideas for solving those problems. Here is my list:

  1. PROBLEM: Losing my train of thought: It's so easy to do this. You may get so wrapped up in a previous point and have gone so far beyond what you initially meant to say, that you don't know how to successfully transition your way back without sounding so choppy. Then you're stuck standing there in silence while you try to figure it out. SOLUTION: it's best that you have 3 solid points that follow some sort of pattern or rhythm, so that it is easier for you remember. I would come up with a rhyme or jingle that only I knew in order to help me remember quickly in case I forgot.

  2. PROBLEM: Sounding Silly or Inexperienced: It's very easy to end up sounding ridiculous when you go above and beyond to impress people. The nerves take over and you make references to things you don't truly know or haven't ever experienced, hoping that this is what they want to hear or will be impressed by. SOLUTION: My advice would be to "go for what you know." You can't anticipate what a bunch of people you don't know want to hear, because, you simply don't know. You have to be confident in the information that you can genuinely provide and hope that it reaches someone. It may not be rocket science, but being able to fully stand behind the things that you say will make you more credible in the long run.

  3. PROBLEM: The reaction you were hoping for is not what you received: We've all been there. Where you say a joke that you think is hilarious, but it takes you much longer to realize no one is lauging because the sound of your loud, not-so-infectious laughter is clouding reality and it's pretty embarrassing. We've also been to the place where you share what, to you, appears to be the secret to life, but no one is moved. This is the part where you wish to sink into the floor and seriously think of ways to do so. SOLUTION: The fact of the matter is everyone isn't going to get your joke, think you're funny, or be earth-shatteringly moved by what you say. You have to be able to bounce back from that by simply moving on. I haven't had that happen to me, but my advice would be to stick to things that the general population is privy to. Stay away from things that only affect a certain culture, class, or demographic. This way, for the most part, everyone will be on the same page.

  4. PROBLEM: Someone interrupts your speech: This is another place I'm sure many of us have been. You've been in a crowd where some very bold person decides to yell something or do something inappropriate to throw the person speaking and/or performing off. If you're really experienced, you may be able to answer back, or make light of it, and move on, but for many, that would stall your speech/presentation. SOLUTION: I'm not sure if there is one solution to this one. I think it depends on exactly what the interruption is. If it's something minute, then you may be able to brush it off, but it's it more disruptive, then other steps would have to be taken. I also think the way to handle it depends on your experience. I'm sure a seasoned speaker would be less baffled and more prepared to deal with that, than a newer speaker.

I hope you enjoyed my list and please feel free to share your own comments, questions, concerns, and experiences. Thanks for the continued support!

--Stephanie Benoit

Related posts: Confidence: How to fake it until you make it

The 15 Weeks to Step Up Your Speaking contest and program

Thursday, September 24, 2009

public speaking focus of teen pageant

Here's a new twist: A teenage pageant that included public speaking, debate and Q&A drills as part of the competition. Best of all: It was won by a girl who had to overcome her fear of public speaking to win. This article describes the Lexington, Nebraska "Miss Voz Latina" (Miss Latina Voice) winner and high school senior Janeth Barocio, who says of herself "I'm the biggest person with stage fright." She wins $2,000, to be used half for her education and half to attend a conferences on Latino issues; she'll also come to Washington, DC, to meet with senators next spring. From the article:
Despite her fear of speaking, she developed a presentation on obesity. She also prepared herself to debate another contestant....she has learned, “You have to let go of being shy sometimes. You have to give it a chance and put yourself out there. Be willing to give it a chance.”
Wise words from a young inspiration. Barocio will spend the next year giving presentations on her platform issue, childhood obesity, getting a strong start to her speaking career.

Confidence: fake it until you make it

You can't buy confidence as a public speaker--you can only build it up, like a muscle, over time. So what do you do until you've worked out your fears and gained enough experience to feel confident as a speaker? That's the dilemma facing Stephanie Benoit, who's getting coached in our Step Up Your Speaking Program--it's her top training priority, and a tough one, since she is just starting out as a speaker. And this week, my advice on confidence to Stephanie--and you--can be summed up in two words.

Fake it.

I think many of us create a mythical view of the Ideal Speaker Experience, a perfect vision of What It Should Be Like. You know what I mean: The audience loves you and begs you to keep talking. You look fantastic. Your voice projects well and modulates effortlessly to fit the emotions and facts in your speech. You don't have to look at notes. Your words inspire, persuade, convince. Heads nod approvingly. No ums, ers and ahs pass your lips, and there's no question you can't answer. The lighting's perfect, everyone can hear you, the room is quiet enough that you could hear a pin drop. All the technology works perfectly, with no effort on your part. After you speak, the crowd rushes forward to offer you roses, champagne, lucrative book deals, and a ride to the airport. Unicorns and a magic genie accompany you home.
This has never happened to me, or I'd have shown you video of the unicorn by now.

What has happened: I've given some of my best speeches under conditions that don't fit nicely into that Ideal Speaker Experience. Some of my best lines have been unscripted and in the moment. One of my best talks was one for which I had almost no time to prepare; another had every kind of room and technology problem, all last-minute, that you could imagine.

My goal in coaching Stephanie, and any trainee, is to help you avoid letting that Ideal Speaking Experience vision--the bar you are setting for yourself--keep you from trying. Thousands of would-be speakers fail to step forward every day because they think they have to be perfect. And that's a shame, because no one's perfect. But here's a wondeful secret. Your vision of perfection has something in common with your lack of confidence or fears about speaking: No one knows about it but you. And that will allow you to fake it.
 With that, here are 12 ways you can fake it--that is, look confident and even feel more confident--until you get enough experience to feel you can handle any situation. Most of these also will help you reduce the stress you're feeling about speaking, which contributes to your lack of confidence:
  1. Banish that perfect vision. Just stop thinking and talking about it, even to yourself. Better: Spend time focusing on what might go wrong--and brainstorm one or two ways you can deal with those problems, in case they happen. (Stephanie, some homework for you: make a list of the things you imagine might go wrong and come up with one or two possible solutions for each one. Let me know what your list looks like--and if you can't come up with a solution, I'll help.)
  2. Don't tell the audience. I've met fearful speakers who've decided to overcome their fear by telling the audience all about it, and they feel it's an asset to their speaking. I disagree. Most audiences are hoping you'll do well--you can almost always assume that, unless you're dealing with a confrontational issue. Alerting the audience that you are nervous is like waving a signal flag. From then on, they won't be paying as much attention to your content as they will to wondering when you're going to freeze up. And remember: They can't tell you're nervous, most of the time. Why share?
  3. Don't keep telling yourself. The mind is a powerful thing, and it's entirely possible to sabotage yourself by repeating over and over in your mind that you're nervous or that things might go wrong.
  4. Watch yourself on video. Better yet, get a pal to watch your video with you, and task her with sharing a few things she noticed and a few things she might suggest to improve. If you feel nervous while you're making the video, ask her whether she could see it. Use this handy tipsheet as you evaluate your video. (Stephanie, you've got a few videos thanks to this program. Ask a friend to watch them and share with us what she noticed.)
  5. Take charge of your introduction. Sometimes, all it takes is a lame introduction to get a speaker off on the wrong foot. Take charge of that situation with these tips.
  6. Smile. Smiling actually releases endorphins, a chemical response that makes you feel better. (Same with exercise.) Audiences love a smiling speaker, and you'll be counteracting the natural tendency of most mouths to turn down. Bonus: You'll feel better, they'll feel better.
  7. Breathe, before, during and after. Deep breaths before your speech will help moderate your blood pressure and calm you physically and mentally. Practicing the "relaxation response" breathing exercises also will help you master the art of calming yourself when you get into stressful situations, like speaking. Bonus: Breathing isn't just essential, it's invisible. So do it.
  8. Stand up straight. Great posture will help you feel better and make you look very confident to your audience. (What slouch ever looked confident?) A bonus: It'll help your breathing and ability to project.
  9. Don't overdo. Often, speakers get in trouble here, so seek to avoid overdoing. Especially when you are beginning as a speaker, keep it short and focused. Don't aim for the longest sentences--or the longest speech. Don't use elaborate props or technology until you feel more confident.
  10. Don't overprepare. Over-preparation is an agitated way of setting yourself up to fail--you'll never need all the facts you're trying to master in advance, and you can set some parameters for what you'll talk about. Again, better you should spend your prep time working on your message or practicing your talk.
  11. Wait quietly until the group is quiet. If you have a talkative, fidgety group and you're the first person to speak, just wait for them to settle down--it's the most powerful, confident-looking start, far better than repeatedly trying to call them to attention. Keeps you calmer, too.
  12. Plan your message. Knowing what you want to say with a structured three-point message can help you feel more confident. Plus, this type of message will help you find your way back to your points easily if you get off track. (Stephanie: Keep working on developing your message as part of your ongoing homework.)
Related posts: When you have to give an impromptu speech

When the speech hands you lemons...

Take charge of your introduction

Do you overprepare for speeches?

When the speaker needs to catch her breath: Breathing exercises

How to plan and prepare a message

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Ann Medlock's "near-TED" experience


UPDATED: Video of this talk is now available. In this great post, Ann Medlock describes her "near-TED experience" speaking at a regional offshoot of the TED conference. She describes the high stakes the TED conferences set out for their speakers. Here's the list:
Speakers are given the TED Commandments, which writer Amy Tan called a prescription for a near-death experience. Said rules include: Be personal. Be vulnerable. Make people laugh/cry. Do something the audience will remember forever. Say something you've never said before. Share an idea that could change the world. Do not pitch for your company or organization. Do not go over your allotted time. Do not read. Rehearse and be spontaneous.
Even better, she describes how it felt to go through the talk, including:
  • how it feels to speak in such a large venue that you can't relate to the audience with eye contact (too many lights, size of room);
  • how she planned and actually executed her speech;
  • what she did to compensate for a last-minute equipment change (yes, that even happens at TED);
  • how she compared herself to the speakers before and after.
You may not be in such a highly competitive speaking environment, but you can try to incorporate the TED rules--try one at a time--and glean some great tips from this post.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

when the audience isn't visible

With conference calls and webinars a part of every work day, figuring out how to speak when you can't see the audience is now a vital speaker's skill. This Computerworld article looks at several factors that you should consider when preparing yourself to speak without an audience in front of you:

  • Are you an extrovert or an introvert? Extroverts get their energy from being around people, so a webinar setting may make you feel like a fish out of water--uncomfortable and stressed out.
  • Can you use technology to succeed? The author suggests getting a pal to listen and send you instant messages to say "slow down!" or to encourage you, or use other means to send and receive questions and answers from the listeners.
  • Have you reorganized your presentation for this format? Speaking in short bursts, using vocal variety and adding some pow to your slides all may help hold the attention of the listener who's eating lunch, cruising the web or otherwise multitasking.

I'd also add these tips:

  • Stand up. Wear a headset and roam around if you like, but stand. Your diaphragm will thank you and you'll automatically sound more energized.
  • Think of your call or webinar as a radio story. On-air reporters know they can't rely on visuals. Vary your vocals so they offer some surprises -- pauses, variation in volume or tone, and more -- to hold interest and add emphasis that your hands might otherwise do. Focus on energetic delivery, even if you have to mark up a script to remind yourself. (Practice tip: Listen to some NPR stories before you do the webinar, to get a good example in your ears.)
  • Talk visually. People can't see what you're describing, so describe it, and choose words that create vivid mental pictures. This may mean a more colorful vocabulary than you usually use, but it should pay off in adding emphasis and detail to hold your audience's attention.

Related posts: Vocalizing tips from National Public Radio

Factor in your speaker personality type

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The 6 strongest speaker statements

Want to look confident? Want to hold your audience's attention? Want to make your point stick? You can do all the tricks and tropes out there, but these six phrases, in my experience, almost always grip the listener, make the speaker look strong, save her from a world of trouble, and invite real connection with your audience. Keep these in your back pocket for a stronger speech:

  1. I don't know. The power of this simple statement increases with your level of expertise, yet it works for all speakers. Refusing to go beyond what you know shows good sense, and helps you avoid a multitude of problems later. But it also exudes confidence. Other ways to say "I don't know" gracefully: "I wish I knew that, but I don't," or, with a big smile, "If I had the answer to that fine question, I'd be a millionaire," or, "Who can really say? That's always been a mystery to me," with a shrug and a smile. But only if that's true for you. Not answering a question? Work a rhetorical question into your remarks, and answer your own question with an "I don't know"--a strong way to underscore uncertainty on an issue, or establish your own place in the discussion, with power.

  2. I disagree. Many speakers, aiming to please the audience, feel they must agree with what audience members say. But confusing agreement with acknowledgment, or with your credibility, means your speech can and will go wrong. Disagree with calm, respect and even good humor, but if you disagree with a questioner's point, do it. It's fine to say, "I see your point, but I disagree," or simply, "I disagree. In my experience..." or "research shows definitively that..." Sometimes, disagreeing may be more subtle. If an audience member's question presumes something about you ("It sounds like you've always wanted to be a politician..."), be sure to refute the assumption ("My real goal, growing up, was to be a scientist").

  3. I agree. When you can genuinely--not every time--agree with an audience member's point, it's a powerful way to establish or reinforce your connection with the group. Be sure, as the speaker, to share some perspective of your own on why you agree. And play around with some graceful ways to say you agree: "Ain't it the truth?" "I'm just sayin'," or "I'm with you there" are all fun ways to cement the agreement connection.

  4. I'm surprised. Again, only if it's genuine. But if you're surprised by the question, sharing that reaction automatically pricks up the audience's ears. Then be sure to explain yourself.

  5. I'm sorry. Too often forgotten by erring politicians, this simple phrase can take the tension out of an exchange faster than anything else. If you've erred, be quick with your sorry statement, and then you can move forward with your remarks. Without it, you may never recover.

  6. I'd like to hear what you have to say. The speaker's power in large part derives from control of the microphone, the room, the stage. When you open it up to the audience and share that power, you demonstrate your confidence and show your willingness to hazard the unexpected--making you even more powerful.

It's not a mistake that all these phrases start with "I...," the most powerful statement any individual can make, according to psychologists--and also, the most genuine. You can't speak for anyone else, and no one else can speak for you, so start with "I" and see where that gets you.

5 ways to find out about your audience

That sea of faces, those nudging/BlackBerry-ing/distracted people, the eager fans, the strangers, your office colleagues. Who are they? What do they want from you? What should you know about your audience?
That was reader Emily Culbertson's question, posed on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook. I think speakers have five opportunities, at minimum, to find out what they need to know about an audience. Are you making use of all of them?
  1. Ask the organizers. I always take the time to ask the organizers of any conference, session or meeting at which I'm speaking what I should know about the audience, especially in reference to my topic. What prompted them to put on a program with this topic? Why was I invited? What does the group expect from me? What's their level of knowledge about my topic--beginner/moderate/expert? What are their concerns? Is this an important issue for the group? Why? If it is relevant to your topic, it may help to ask about the demographic makeup of the audience, such as age ranges and gender. And then ask the last, best question: What else should I know about this talk and this audience? to get at the answers you can't anticipate.
  2. Ask yourself. Two questions that only you can answer will help shape your talk and your approach to the audience: Do I have something in common with them? Have I been or am I a member of this group? Use the answers to build in some details to your speech that are unique to the group, if you are a member, or that build a connection with your audience by sharing your commonalities.
  3. Ask the audience beforehand. If you know members of the group to which you're speaking, by all means, reach out to them. (Anyone who lets me know they're coming to hear me speak usually gets a response email saying, "And what would you like me to cover?" or "What issues do you see on this topic?") But even if you don't know the audience, you can post a question on your blog, Facebook or LinkedIn profile or on Twitter to get a sense of what the audience might want. Some organizers use electronic registration programs to elicit audience questions, so ask your program's organizers if they do that--and get the questions in advance.
  4. Ask the audience in person. I often start with a quick poll of the audience--a few questions to which they can respond with just a show of hands--to gauge things like level of expertise (such as "Who's using Twitter for business purposes?" for a social media talk) or to establish a bond between the audience and myself ("Who else is here because their boss thought it would be a good idea?" or "How many mothers are in this audience?) Want to know more? Start with some Q&A before you begin your formal presentation. This is a powerful tactic that works well when the audience is likely to have a wide range of expertise or questions about your topic, and helps give you a preview of what's to come, so you can adjust your remarks. If you try this, don't answer all the initial questions--after all, your talk should do that--but let it be known that you want them all on the floor. Then open it back up to questions when you're done.
  5. Ask the audience afterward. If your organizers use a feedback form, by all means, read the comments to learn what else you can do next time. And don't forget the value of lingering to answer questions one-on-one. Many audience members prefer to speak privately, or to wait to contact you for a few weeks, so be open to these opportunities to ask them what they liked or wanted to see more of.
Related posts: A checklist to prepare the whole speaker
What's your speaker presence? Questions to gauge the effect of your speech
What happened when I put the Q&A at the start of a speech
What to do when you're losing the audience

Thursday, September 17, 2009

week 3, part 3: how not to compare to others

videoHere's a two-part question to build confidence: How do you stop comparing yourself to other speakers--and how do you build your own style as a speaker? Stephanie's third question about her top priority for our Step Up Your Speaking program gets at an issue many speakers face. So this video offers my suggestions, including real-time experience as a speaker--and making sure that, for every speaker you watch for ideas, you spend more time honing your own skills and style. What else would you share with Stephanie on this issue?

week 3, part 2: how not to sound silly

video"How do you know you don't sound silly?" Stephanie asked as part of her questions on building confidence--I think we all wonder about this. So my answer in the video above looks at content, appearance and approaches that will help her be (and seem) confident. What else can you share from your experience to help this beginning speaker?

week 3, part 1: confidence through focus

videoStephanie had three questions about her top priority, building confidence as a speaker, and the first one was, "How do you avoid getting distracted and stay focused?" In this video, I'm giving her answers about how her content, the venue and her mindset all can be shaped to build her confidence and help her avoid distractions. What do you suggest, based on your experience?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Handling the heckler: How to do it 4 ways



In a two-week period when Rep. Joe Wilson heckled the President on live prime-time television, and singer Kanye West interrupted Taylor Swift's acceptance speech at an awards show, I'm not surprised that reader Karen Saverino wants to know more about "handling 'difficult' audience members. Hecklers are everywhere these days it seems!"

Heckling can happen in all sorts of speaker settings and it's good to think through how you'll respond, so you can seize and defuse the heckler's main weapon: surprise. And while you're unlikely to experience the kinds of high-visibility heckling seen in recent days, there are still lessons to learn from the experiences of President Obama and Taylor Swift:

  1. Let the heckler show you what to do. In the video above, Kanye West inadvertently shares a tip with you: When the heckler turns the stage back to you, take it and run with it. In answer to Jay Leno's question, "When did you know you were wrong...when did it strike you?", Kanye said "As soon as I gave the mic back to her and she didn't keep going..." Smooth answer for Kanye, good idea for Taylor Swift, who might have just said "And now back to our regular programming..." as a television-oriented and gentle joke, or even "As Kanye said, it's an honor for me to be among such talented nominees." In the same vein, if the heckler's rude, you get extremely polite; if angry, you stay calm and pleasant. Take your cues on the fly by paying attention to the heckler, not your distressed audience.
  2. Keep moving. Admittedly, when you're the President of the United States giving a prime-time talk to a joint session of Congress, this works fine--protocol's clearly on your side. But there are plenty of other formal situations any speaker might experience where protocol supports the "just keep going" theory of handling hecklers (think a major assembly, formal small-c congress of a membership organization, or another highly structured event, ceremony or graduation). It's a gamble that, by not missing a beat, you can marginalize the interruption. Advantage: You look calm and cool. Risk: The heckler will keep at it until acknowledged, requiring a shift in tactics. In this case, you're subtly relying on the combination of the formal setting and audience disapproval to keep things under control.
  3. Don't debate. Anticipate. You're not there for an unscheduled debate, so don't waste time arguing with or contradicting the heckler directly. Instead of taking the 'bate, so to speak, you'd do better to work the heckler into your remarks on the fly -- "Yes, indeed, tempers are high on this point. But I still believe..." or "That's exactly the kind of anger I'm talking about."
  4. At the same time, don't be afraid to disagree. Do it calmly and without a show of anxiety or anger, and, if you can, let the heckler say her piece. Then feel free to say, "I hear what you're saying, and I've heard it in many settings. But I disagree, because..." and restate your message. Then move on. (In Q&A sessions, you'll see a more polite version of this, from a pointed questioner who's challenging your central points. Listen, acknowledge the strong feeling, then feel free to disagree--it's a powerful way to underscore your message.)

Finally, if the situation allows for it, making an effort to let the audience talk and contribute might well eliminate the heckler's need to heckle.

Part of the trick here is to defuse the impact of the heckler without doing so in the same tone and manner that the heckler used. While the first impulse might be to argue with or mock the heckler, that just gets you caught up into the distraction. Thinking ahead of time about who might heckle and how, and some calm, controlled ways to respond, are the speaker's best course of action. Related posts: Graceful ways with Q&A

More on handling difficult questions

Convey power without the "pow!"

How to listen to audience questions

Persuade me: 21 ways speakers can

week 3: Stephanie's confidence questions



What if you fear public speaking--but don't have enough speaking experience to know firsthand what could go wrong or how you might handle it? That's a problem that I suspect keeps many a would-be speaker from taking the stage. It's week three in our Step Up Your Speaking program and Stephanie's video this week focuses on just that. Here are her questions:

  • How do public speakers stay focused? She notes distractions from the audience and has seen great speakers who don't get distracted by it and stay on message. What games do you play to keep from being thrown off by what's going on around you?
  • How do you know you're not sounding silly? How can you be confident in that? "I don't want to sound like I don't know what I'm talking about," Stephanie says, and it's a fear with a lot wrapped up in it: your credibility, future success, even whether you'll be asked back to speak again.
  • How do you avoid comparing yourself to other people? Stephanie's focus here is to avoid copying other great speakers and develop her own compelling style, rather than imitating others--or, possibly, feeling worse about her own skills.

Just like all my other trainees, Stephanie's asked some very smart questions. Feel free to leave your own answers, tips and ideas for her in the comments, and I'll be posting a video response to her soon.


Related: Go to The Eloquent Woman on Facebook to see these suggestions from our fans on how to build confidence and reduce fear of speakin.

Dilbert on speaking up in meetings

If you're a regular Dilbert reader, you know Alice might just be the most outspoken woman in this fictional workplace. Her reward? Getting told she needs to speak up more in meetings. A hat tip to reader Mark Sofman, who shared today's Dilbert cartoon on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook -- just another reminder that it takes a lot to be an eloquent woman! Leave a comment if this one strike a bit too close to reality for you. It's a good reminder that, in many workplaces, when people make comments that try to marginalize your skills, it's a sign that they may be envying your skill rather than pointing out a real defect.

Related posts: Even Ruth Bader Ginsberg gets talked over in meetings

Kenneth Cole CEO Jill Granoff on women presenting in meetings

Where our readers do most of their speaking

Our checklist for the whole speaker helps you prep for meetings, too

A book that analyzes how and whether women speak up in meetings

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Red Cross president talks tough



Speechwriter Jeff Porro profiles American Red Cross President Gail McGovern in his "Tough Talk for Hard Times" blog this week, highlighting her recent address to the National Press Club in the video above. Porro notes that when she took the job just over a year ago:
... the easiest problem she faced was how to close an operating deficit of $209 million within two years.

The really tough problems included (in her own words) “eight named hurricanes and tropical storms … a record tornado season, the worst wildfires in California history and the worst flooding in the Midwest in 15 years.” Oh yeah, and she took the job just before an historic economic meltdown that made more people want Red Cross help, and fewer people want to make contributions.
I'm glad to have the chance to help Jeff highlight the speaking skills of this remarkable eloquent woman. What do you think of her persuasiveness?

The confidence bible: what trainers say

Building confidence in public speaking is the goal of most of my trainees. Here's a roundup of tips on building confidence and battling your speaking fears from some of the best speaker coaches who blog on the topic. I'm hoping this small "confidence bible" of tips will get us all ready for this week's Step Up Your Speaking coaching session, where Stephanie Benoit will work on just that as her first priority,
You can find all my posts on fear and public speaking here, but two fan favorites ask Do you overprepare for speaking? and what to do when the speaker needs to catch her breath, on why you may experience the fight-or-flight response when you start speaking--and what to do about it.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

"Not just 'that blind person'": Petrou

Today's New York Times "The Boss" profile looks at Karen Petrou, managing partner of Federal Financial Analytics and a former Bank of America vice president, who writes about managing her career and her retinitis pigmentosa, a form of blindness that began when she was 18 and developed into a significant disability in her 30s. (In her own words, she's "not just 'that blind person'.") As with many women interviewed for this series, public speaking came up not once but twice with Petrou. About her one of her high school jobs, she notes:
I also worked at Philipsburg Manor, a restored Colonial house in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y. Nothing prepares you for public speaking like appearing in a colonial style dress and mobcap in front of 50 or 60 sixth graders staring you down.
Now that she's managing her own company as well as her disability, she sees shifts in how her audience perceives her:
I speak to a lot of groups about finance. Years ago, I’d get the reaction, “Oh my, it’s a girl.” Audiences have become more educated over the years, and there are more female executives in finance now. These days, the barrier I encounter is, “Oh my, it’s a girl with a big German shepherd.”
Check out more of the Eloquent Woman series on inspiration for women speakers.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Week 2: Glue to make your message stick

video

Even if you know what you want to say, how do you make sure it sticks with your audience? That's the issue when you're crafting your message, the core of any presentation, speech or even a one-on-one conversation where you want to be sure to get your points across.

This week, my video offers the glue that's needed to make a message memorable, building on the content Stephanie Benoit outlined in her video submission. She's chosen her goals as the basis for her three key points -- all related to the business she's creating, called Forward Movement, which is intended to empower women with retreats, books and inspirational examples to help them move forward. My advice offers her examples of three ways she can rework the message to make it more memorable--"sticky"-- for her and for her audience, and even inspiring. She even gets to have fun with it, if she wants.

Stephanie's next step will be to choose one of these approaches and rework her message (using my suggestions or similar approaches she comes up with) in time to put the newly revised message on a video in week 12. Next week, we'll be tackling her number-one priority: Building up her confidence and reducing her fear of public speaking. So Stephanie's next video needs to ask me any questions she has about her number-one priority, and also to share with me any experiences or issues she thinks are impacting her ability to feel confident when she speaks. What's holding you back? What do you really fear? Once we know those things--and any other questions she has--I'll be able to coach her to a more confident stance.

As usual, offer your reactions, encouragement and advice here in the comments or on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook. Reader feedback is really encouraging to Stephanie, and I appreciate it, too.

Related posts: Stephanie Benoit's video about her message

15 Weeks to Step Up Your Speaking (describes contest and program)

Good speeches: Messages in threes

Tweet your way to better speaking

At some meetings, the practice of live-tweeting is controversial--that's the practice of using your laptop or mobile device to send short updates, often on Twitter, about what the speakers are saying, in almost real time. But when I'm watching Twitter, what I see are useful tips and feedback from the audience -- and you don't have to be the day's speaker to take advantage of them. Here are some recent tweets on a day this week when audience members had lots of advice for speakers in conferences and classrooms. Glean the advice you need below, or find out what audiences are really thinking:














can you see yourself speaking?

Better yet, can we see you speaking? I'm asking women speakers to post photos of themselves in action on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook, so we can create a photo gallery of woman speakers on that site. (Some of the Facebook fans on that page have photos of themselves speaking for their profile photos, another nice option to consider.) My goal: To create a visible set of role models of women speakers, all in one place. Post your photo today...

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

week 2: Stephanie's core message




Stephanie Benoit was uploading this video for week 2 of our Step Up Your Speaking program while President Barack Obama addressed both houses of Congress tonight, and while I'm certain the chatter about the President's address tied up the Internet, both of them had the same goal: getting a message across.

In Stephanie's case, she's chosen a message that's focused on her future goals, which include:

  • Creating a women's empowerment conference;

  • Writing a book; and

  • Creating a new life and new opportunities for herself and her family.
I asked Stephanie to start with three key points for her message, and these are big ones--but they are also perfect for introducing herself and her intentions in a variety of situations. In other words, she'll be able to use this message when she meets people one-on-one at a networking event or conference, but also can expand them into a longer presentation about her goals. I'll be looking for a way to tie them together, and I'll be posting my coaching session for her this week to follow up on this post. What do you think of her message?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

are you your own glass ceiling?

Confidence--or the lack thereof--is a major barrier for many would-be women speakers, and even if you've taken the time to learn good speaking skills and have the opportunity to speak, lack of confidence can undermine your efforts from within. Germaine Palangdao posted this Newsweek column by Jessica Bennett on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook. Bennett describes going through a media-training session with male and female colleagues in which she and the other women thought they'd sounded confident in their mock interviews:
But when we watched ourselves on the big screen, our apprehension became embarrassingly clear—especially in comparison to our male counterparts. The trainer described me as "sing-songy," my voice inflecting up, time and again, turning my statements into questions. We used self-defeating words like "sort of," and started our sentences with "I'm not sure, but"—doubting our opinions before we even expressed them. The irony, of course, is that we're accomplished journalists; we knew these topics well. So why did we sound so unsure of ourselves?
Bennett interviews Rachel Simmons, author of The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence, who notes that it's not a matter of under-achievement: "Girls collect achievements by the handful, but often don't have the confidence to own them." Has this contributed to your public speaking fears or performance?

Week 2: Developing a message

A well-developed message is perhaps the most useful tool in any speaker's back pocket, one you can pull out and use in all sorts of settings, from chatting at a cocktail party to addressing a big crowd. For our second week in the 15 Weeks to Step Up Your Speaking program, I'll be helping contest winner Stephanie Benoit figure out how to develop a message that will help her get across what she wants to say.

What does a developed message look like? What are the advantages of using one?
  • Generally, it's limited to 3 key points you want to make. For centuries, storytellers have used the "rule of three" points to tell their stories (think about all those children's tales with three pigs, three mice, etc.) Three points are easiest for you, the speaker, to remember. (And while you can break the rule of three in some cases, start out with the rule of three if you've never done it before.)
  • It helps your audience follow your sequence. If a message is easy for you to remember, it also needs to be easy for your audience to take away and recall. A good message gives the audience an outline they can hang onto while you are speaking, so they can follow along.
  • It makes your message easier to repeat. If it's short, memorable and compelling, you'll increase the chances that your audience will be repeating your message later--just what every speaker wants to happen. (Far worse: Giving a presentation and hearing people say, "That was very entertaining...no, I don't really recall her point.")

One way to make sure your message sticks with the audience is to put it in terms that are easier to remember or visualize. That does not mean saying "number one," "number two" and so on before each point, as many speakers do. Instead, think about something to tie all three points together: a rhetorical flourish, alliteration, a visual image, an analogy. So, if we were talking about the weather, and our three points were that it changes frequently, it's unpredictable, and despite that, we're getting better at tracking it, we might create a memorable message in these ways:

  • With alliteration: "After 20 years of tracking the weather, I can tell you three things about it: It's always changing, it's a challenge to track, but we now can better track the chain of events involved in any weather system." Or, "it's fast-moving, it's fickle and yet we're far along in the hunt for better tracking tools."
  • With repetition of key words in each point (also called anaphora): "There's a lot we don't know about the weather, but I can tell you it's going to change, I can tell you it's unpredictable, and I can tell you we're finding new ways new ways to track it better."
  • With analogies: "I think of the weather like a good horror movie: The monster's going to change shape a lot, you don't always know where he's coming from, but if the good guys persist, they'll be able to find him in the end."

All those techniques can make it easy for you to state your overall points upfront in your presentation, then return to speak about each leg of the outline in turn, without forgetting where you are--and that's the big advantage of planning a message. It helps you speak without notes and without losing your place.

I'll be helping Stephanie make her three points memorable later this week, but first, she's going to work on the core of the message--the content. No amount of window-dressing will get around the need for three strong points. Here are some things she (and you) might want to do with those three pieces of content:

  • Tell us what she wants us to do and why we should care. That might mean including a call to action backed up by three reasons we should act, three things we can do to accomplish a goal, or three steps we can take to change something.
  • Tell us about herself. That might be three barriers she's faced, three hopes she has, three things she does in her work (or hopes to do), three things that have influenced her.
  • Share knowledge about an issue. When you're explaining a topic, breaking it into threes -- three factors, three parts of an issue, three things no one knows -- can help your audience follow and absorb a complex topic.
  • Add perspective. Maybe there are three reasons why she holds a particular point of view, or three views of an issue she can share that are unique. Maybe she wants to persuade us, with three reasons why we might want to share her view.

Stay tuned for Stephanie's video post and our message makeover, coming this week!

Related posts: Good speeches: Messages in threes

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

checklist: works in meetings, too

Thanks and a hat tip to Matthew Homann, whose very good blog for lawyers, the [non]billable hour picked up on my checklist for the whole speaker and discerned, correctly, that it works for more than just a formal speech or presentation. He said the list:
...isn't just for presenters. Instead, it is the perfect preparation for nearly every client meeting, negotiation and court appearance....Before your next high-stakes meeting, answer each question, first replacing "Audience" with Client, Judge or even Opposing Counsel. I suspect you'll gain answers that make asking the questions worthwhile.
It's a great point for speakers in any situation or profession: The ways you prepare for a big audience and formal speech aren't, at base, any different from how you should prepare for a small-group work meeting--even one-on-one--or a formal presentation in a different setting.

Related posts: A checklist for the whole speaker

Speaking science: Gesture to speak better


Coyote and Roadrunner were the original action heroes. You’ve got the falling anvils, the rocket cars, the exploding kegs of TNT, and anything else Coyote could order up from Acme to catch that beep-and-run bird. I admit that I’ve always had a soft spot for Coyote, but maybe it was Roadrunner who had the best strategy: keep moving.

When some people speak, they grip the podium as a way to steady themselves and their speech. Some people can’t keep their hands off the laser pointer, and others force their arms down to their sides lest their hands fly up and hide their words in a nervous flutter. But if you’re looking for a way to get your words out with a minimum of “ums” and awkward pauses, gesturing could be just the help you’re looking for, researchers say.

Psychologist Frances Rauscher and her colleagues asked Columbia University students to watch a few minutes of a classic Coyote and Roadrunner cartoon, and then describe the epic battle to a listener. Some the students were allowed to gesture while telling the story, while others were asked to keep their hands still. They discovered that students with immobile hands had a difficult time coming up with the words to describe spatial details from the story—such as where Roadrunner was when Coyote tipped a boulder over the cliff, and how Roadrunner sprinted out of harm’s way.

When the hands were forced into silence, the students’ stories were less fluent and filled with pauses and stumbles when it came to these spatial details. Gesturing didn’t seem to affect speech related to other parts of the story, but the researchers still saw the experiment as an example of how gestures can help the brain access the right words at the right time.

Scientists aren’t quite sure about how and where gestures and speech connect to each other in the circuitry of the brain, but plenty of research suggests that how you gesture (or don’t) can affect how you produce (or don’t) speech. In another study, another group of Columbia scientists watched a series of polished professional lecturers and undergraduates speaking, and noticed that both types of speakers rarely came down with a case of the “um, ah and er” when they gestured.

The common-sense idea, says lead researcher Nicolas Christenfeld, holds that gesturing is just “people groping for words by waving their hands.” But his study and others suggest that gestures are more often connected with fluent speech, rather than a sign of flailing around for the next phrase.

University of Alberta psychologist Elena Nicoladis saw this in action when she watched bilingual children gesturing as they told the same story twice, in both of their languages. She and her colleagues expected that the children would lean heavily on gesture to convey meanings that might be lost when they spoke in their “weaker” language.

But in fact, the gestures flowed more steadily when they told the story in their native language. Instead of gesturing to give meaning to their tale, Nicoladis believes the children may have been using gesture to help them recall the story and pick out the right words to tell it. "If you're in a situation where it's important to get the language out and you're having difficulty, it may help to start making gestures,” she says.

The next time you’re preparing for a speech, watch what your hands do as you talk. Do the words come a little easier when you go hands-free?


Editor's note: This launches a new series on The Eloquent Woman blog that will examine "speaking science," research from a wide range of disciplines that can help speakers better understand how, and why, certain techniques, environments and factors work for or against them. Science writer Becky Ham filed this report, and will be a regular contributor to the blog on this topic.

I'm delighted that this post is among those chosen as one of the best public speaking blog tips of the week on Andrew Dlugan's great Six Minutes blog. See his roundup here.


Related posts: How gestures contribute to your message


The origins of eloquence in a gesture


Be powerful with body language

week 1: let the coaching begin

Here's my first post in the 15 Weeks to Step Up Your Speaking program, in which I'll be coaching Stephanie Benoit as she works on her top three priorities--building confidence, making eye contact and connections with the audience, and preparing appropriately (but not overpreparing) for her public presentations.

video

Stephanie has chosen three priorities that may be working together to contribute to and reinforce her fear of public speaking. That's thoughtful on her part, and her choices for this coaching may be the most important factor in her eventual success. We'll find out more as we go through the next 15 weeks, but I've asked her to think more about the "why" behind each of her priorities--why they are issues for her, or what's prompting them. And sometimes, just realizing that your practices are reinforcing a negative result is helpful in changing your behavior.


Next week, our program calls for us to work on developing a message. I've asked Stephanie to think about what she wants to say so we can work together on coming up with a message; that process will help her with the planning aspects she wants to address. And please: Send an encouraging note or comment here on on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook to share your perspective, cheer Stephanie on, or offer constructive comments as we go forward.

Related posts: The 15 Weeks to Step Up Your Speaking contest, and what we'll cover


Stephanie Benoit: "Not just a contest to me"


Recorded on a Flip MinoHD Camcorder

week 1: Stephanie's speaking priorities

We'll be focusing on Stephanie Benoit's top three priorities during our 15-week Step Up Your Speaking online coaching sessions, and in week 1, I've asked Stephanie to share with me (and you) her three areas of focus and what she wants to accomplish, via the video above. Her three areas are:

  1. Building up her confidence as a speaker: You may think Stephanie looks confident in her video above--I do--but confidence is all about how you feel inside.
  2. Eye contact and connecting with the audience: Stephanie's observed how great speakers are in tune with their audiences and able to make them feel their words are targeted right to individuals in the audience. She also sees eye contact as a key to accomplishing that connection and wants to improve that skill.
  3. Better planning: "Sometimes, I plan to plan, which can be more busy than productive," Stephanie says. She recognizes some planning is good and wants to be ready with a message she can use -- but doesn't want to be rethinking it over and over.

Now it's my turn. Time to work on a video for Stephanie to help her think about these priorities and how we can approach them over the next 15 weeks. I'll post that this week, so we'll both be ready for week 2! In the meantime, please share your constructive thoughts and encouragement for Stephanie in the comments on on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook. I'm also sharing some reading for Stephanie (and you) on the topics she outlined, to get her started.

Related posts to read this week: Do you overprepare for speeches?

A jitters quiz for public speakers from Dr. Joyce Brothers

When the speaker needs to catch her breath: Breathing to help with stress

Inspiration from a famous fearful speaker: Lady Bird Johnson

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

on the eve of coaching: letter to stephanie

Stephanie Benoit's going to send me her first video in her 15 weeks of coaching this week--and get some feedback from me on her top three priorities and what we can accomplish in our coaching time together. On the eve of her coaching, I've decided to urge her on a bit more...and urge you to leave her some encouragement in the comments!

Dear Stephanie--

I bet that, about now, you're wondering what you got yourself into. You were frank in admitting that you fear public speaking--and, as the judges and I deliberated, there was a question about whether that would hold you back from completing the 15 weeks of coaching, a very basic requirement for choosing you as the winner.

But we decided you could do it. And I know you can.

I'll just point out that you've done twice what many women couldn't do: You've submitted not one but two videos and put them out there for the world to see, with your own list of improvements you want to make in your public speaking. Speaking itself is complicated enough; speaking about your ability or inability to speak is even more difficult.

We asked for either beginner or experienced speakers to enter, and you're coming to this early on, with almost no real public speaking experience. There's a strong advantage there: You'll have fewer bad habits to unlearn. And no matter what your level of experience, a willingness to learn is most important. Any coach will tell you that's the primary factor in your ability to succeed.

So let me say: Get that first coaching video done without thinking too much about it. Tell me the three things you want to focus on and why, and we'll take it from there.

I'm excited to work with you and to share what we learn with our readers!

Best,

Denise

share your first speaking experience

On The Eloquent Woman's page on Facebook, we've started a discussion where you can recall your first non-school public speaking experience and how it impacted you. Two readers have shared theirs so far, including:

  • Fran Briggs, who wrote: "I was nervous, but looking at the tape afterwards, you couldn't tell. I remember two students whispering during most of my presentation. I thought that was pretty rude. Then, they got up. I was relieved because I thought they were going to leave. They didn't. Instead, they walked down the ailse to get better seats. After I finished, they both told me how much I inspired them..."
  • Anna Tracy recalled speaking at "Rainbow, it's an organization for teenage women to serve their community. At one of our events I had recited "Ragged Old Flag" written by Johnny Cash. There was one woman who came up to me afterwards and asked, how did I manage to know how to project my voice, make eye contact and engage everyone like I did. There was no answer that I could give her. It was then I realized what I could not do on paper, I could give in speech."

Share your first public speaking experience on Facebook, or here in the comments!

speakers: 7 reasons I want you to talk more

Just as saying too much can be a speaker problem, so can the opposite. While all coaches advise brevity, giving someone room to ask a question or add a point, and keeping your remarks limited and focused, it's entirely possible that you're a speaker who needs to offer more words, rather than fewer. Here are seven situations where I'd like to hear more from you, if I'm in your audience:
  1. Answering a question: A simple "yes" or "no" don't work for me. I want to hear more, even just a little bit. Help complete the thought for me and reinforce the point that's being made. So if I ask whether you enjoyed speaking in Italy at a major conference, don't just say "yes." Tell me why. Describe something. Use the opening to tell me more. (Media interview tip: Answering more than yes-or-no is essential in a news media interview, and will help get your answer into the story--just keep it brief.)
  2. Agreeing or disagreeing: Likewise, if you're going to agree or disagree--whether it's with an audience member, the speaker who preceded you or a fellow panelist--tell me why. Add some data, share perspective, and use the opportunity to enlighten me. Please don't assume that I know, or that your point is obvious.
  3. Telling me a personal story: Personal stories can rivet an audience--if you give them room to do so. Think through the pacing and the plot. What hints can you drop early on that let me get the moral of the story later? What makes it funny or touching? Don't skimp when telling an anecdote.
  4. Telling me a technical story: Sometimes, explaining the technical will talke longer, or more words. In that case, just be sure to give it to me in manageable bites, if I'm part of a non-technical audience. Start with three key points, then elaborate on them one at a time.
  5. Explaining why speaking here matters: It may be just a formal stop for you: cutting a ribbon, opening a new facility, marking the organization's anniversary, an historic event. Make it sing for me by telling me why your being here today is significant to you, or better yet, to all of us in the room. Are you at my chapter meeting on a special anniversary? Tell me what else was going on in history the year my chapter launched. Give me something to make the experience even more meaningful.
  6. When my question is circumspect: Maybe I'm a shy questioner, or just don't want to take up too much time, or I don't want to give away my position up front. If you're not sure where I was headed, talk to me before you answer, and use the time to ask me some questions about my question. I guarantee we'll both get more out of the experience.
  7. If I don't normally hear much from you: The quieter you are normally, the more I'll want to hear from you as a speaker--and the more power you'll have, because I probably will sense that you choose your words with care. Give me more now, and you can keep mum later.

Speaking as your coach, the list above is not your excuse to talk all you want. Check out the equal number of reasons I want you to talk less in the links below!

Related posts: Who talks more: Men or women?

Speakers: 7 reasons I want you to talk less

Factor in your personality type when speaking