Wednesday, March 31, 2010

New addition to The Eloquent Woman on Facebook

For those who are new to The Eloquent Woman on Facebook, I've added an equally new welcome page that will be the first thing readers will see when they go to the page.  (If you're already a fan on Facebook, go here to see what the page looks like.)  Please do share the page--which welcomes new readers and explains our thriving community--with your friends, relatives and colleagues who may be interested.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

8 scary ways to be a better speaker

Speaking can be scary. I can tell, because I see speakers scared into the safe mode of speaking all the time, staying behind the lectern, using slides to advance their content, and limiting time for questions. It’s a bit like learning to swim by hanging onto the side of the pool.  In effect, you’re in the water, but not really swimming. You’ll improve by trying these scary—but fun and effective—ways to speak:

1) Move your body where the audience can see you. Yes, get out from behind that lectern, even if you stand to one side of it and rest an arm on it. This will force you to look up and out at the audience, and will let them see the whole person, not just a head behind a block of wood.

2) Move toward the audience. Instead of pretending there’s a moat full of alligators between you and the crowd, get out there. Greet people as they enter the room, or wander around to say hello, introduce yourself, and ask what people are interested in hearing. Then keep it up during your presentation. Move up close to the audience and their attention will rise, and stay high.

3) Interrupt yourself. When you pose a rhetorical question, don’t answer it right away. Stop and ask who else might know the answer. You also can stop yourself by announcing a Twitter break, a stretch break, or to introduce a game people can participate in from their seats. One good speaker I know likes to introduce a series of points by asking audience members to stand if they agree with each statement he’s about to say. By the end of the series, everyone’s been able to see this very visual poll, gaining more knowledge as a group.

4) Don’t use all the time allotted. Yes, this means flying in the face of the organizers who asked you to speak for an hour. And yes, it means you need to use the rest of the time to take questions from the audience. But I guarantee you’ll do a better job holding the audience’s attention, and the organizers will be thrilled. So will you.

5) Let people disagree with you. They’re going to, anyway, privately or publicly. So let them—and listen with respect, then feel free to explain why you disagree, without getting defensive.  See if you can acknowledge what they're feeling, even if you don't agree with it.  Your audience will feel it's been heard and that it is contributing.

6) Don’t have the answer to everything. You can’t, of course, but you’d never know it by the way some speakers overprepare. Instead, practice getting comfortable saying variations on “I don’t know” – even an “I wish I knew that answer to that, but I think we may never find out” will do.

7) Ditch your slides. If you’re using slides as big backlit notecards, try developing your content into a three-point outline that you can handle without notes. Scary, sure, but so much more engaging, since you’ll be forced to look at the audience instead of a screen.

8) Don’t waste time on preliminaries. Dive right into your talk instead. You can thank the organizers in a note, on your blog or personally afterward. Grab the audience while its attention is still sharp and you won’t regret it.

Related posts:  Attention!  Why speakers need a strong, fast start

Lecterns: use them or lose them

17 reasons to welcome audience questions

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

March muchness: Our top 10 tips of the month

March brought women's history month, the advent of spring, and all sorts of speaking tips, inspiration and news...and The Eloquent Woman on Facebook surpassed 2,000 fans! Here are the top 10 posts from March 2010 on The Eloquent Woman:

  1. Afraid to flop? Check out these lessons I gleaned when the much-awaited keynote by the CEO of Twitter bored, rather than energized, his audience. It's this month's most popular post.
  2. Social media's remixing the recipe for public speaking, from who speaks when to who's listening.  Here are the six factors you need to consider when you're speaking today.
  3. Are gestures and words the same?  Turns out your brain's translating the meaning of words and gestures in the same way.  This post is part of our "Speaking Science" series on research about public speaking.
  4. Should you stand when you speak?  I've got six reasons why you should, whether you're on a phone call or giving a keynote.  (A popular post, and one the Twitter CEO should've seen before he gave his seated keynote.)
  5. You know you shouldn't point at an audience, so I've got five tips for how to avoid pointing that will keep you out of trouble and still let you indicate individuals or directions.
  6. Are you speaking up less at work in these tough times?  This post summarizes a discussion on that topic--can women still talk tough in tough times?--from The Eloquent Woman on Facebook.
  7. I've never given a speech in an elevator.  But the principles of the so-called "elevator speech" are the basics of developing a message--and I've got four sets of tips to help you plan your content this way.
  8. Speakers, don't fear the questions.  I've got 17 reasons you should welcome, even encourage, audience questions. Try them out!
  9. A woman delivered 2009's top commencement speech, I'm happy to say, and we've got it for you in this popular post.
  10. March was Women's History Month, and this post looked at history through the lens of women speakers.  It hasn't been an easy history, but you can be proud and inspired by these important stories.
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Friday, March 26, 2010

Find concrete speaking advice on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook

If you're not a fan of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook, you're missing a big behind-the-scenes community of men and women interested in improving their public speaking, whether that's everyday talking or delivering a major speech. I've been using the page to ask readers questions about their opinions on speaker issues, and often will incorporate their views in future blog posts once the discussion's done.  On Tuesdays, I throw it open for questions in a series I'm calling "Talk to me Tuesday." 
 
Check out this week's "Talk to me Tuesday" discussion, which yielded questions about speaking too fast and about getting a dry mouth, which leads (in this case) to stumbling over words.  Emily Culbertson commented, "These are the best threads for concrete speaking advice. Thank you, Denise!"

Fans of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook also can participate on the page by:
  • Posting photos of themselves speaking, with details about where, when and to whom;
  • Posting video of speeches or presentations, or video questions; and
  • Sharing slides from presentations, using our SlideShare application.  You also can use this to find other good, shared presentations that you can adapt to your own uses.
Stop by, add your questions, post a photo or video and see what's behind the blog.  I welcome your feedback on the page and the blog; just leave it in the comments.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

17 reasons to welcome audience questions

Sometimes I run into a speaker -- either in coaching or a workshop setting -- who's uncomfortable, almost defensive about questions coming from the audience.  It almost seems as if questions are an affront, an attack, to the speaker, even if the questions are relatively mild. Sometimes you can see it in action, when the speaker winces or starts to shake her head "no" while the question's being asked, if she disagrees. Sometimes the speaker admits to it when we're discussing how to handle Q&A, as in, "But they shouldn't be asking that!" or "I couldn't believe that's what I had to answer." 

That's a more aggressive response. Others see questions as criticisms of themselves or their talks.  Both responses can frustrate your audience, and worse, make you look defensive rather than calm and knowledgeable.

I take a different view:  Speakers should welcome audience questions, and I say the more, the merrier--and the more effective you can count your talk or presentation.  So stop worrying and learn to love the Q&A, because questions mean:

  1. You provoked thoughts in your audience.
  2. They listened to you.
  3. You caught their imaginations, fancies or sore spots.
  4. They arrived with ideas about your topic and want to express them.
  5. You didn't overload your speech to the point where there was nothing less to say.
  6. People want to explore more about what you said.
  7. People think you have answers to something they've been searching for.
  8. People have knowledge to share and add to what you've said.
  9. Someone has the answer to something you didn't, and wants to share it.
  10. Some might be just starting out and need to know.
  11. Some might have old habits to unlearn, based on what you've said, and want to know how.
  12. You allowed time for inquiry, rather than filling up the time allotted.
  13. Someone's seeing a connection to another field, topic or focus, based on what you said.
  14. Some folks have real-life experiences that underscore what you just said.
  15. You asked for questions. Remember? They're expecting you to act like you meant it.
  16. You confused some people, and they want clarification, so you get a second chance to do it right.
  17. They want to learn what you're teaching, and repetition and discussion will help them take away the lesson.
I sometimes have trainees who fear getting no questions at all--and they're right to be concerned, since questions are the best way to confirm that you've engaged with your audience.  So build in time for Q&A right at the start of your talk, or allow questions throughout, and be sure that you purposely don't share every fact in your bag of facts, so that you can bring some out during Q&A and make your audience look smart while they get additional insights.

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

I've never given a speech in an elevator...

...Have you?

Everyone talks about the "elevator speech" -- that cogent, short summary of who you are or what you do or what you want, which you're supposed to have at the ready in case you're on an elevator with your boss/potential investor/Simon Powell.

But in my experience, the elevator part never happens.  And far from being a speech, that so-called elevator speech is really a core message.  You're much more likely to need a short summary of who you are, what you do or why you're here in these situations:
  • Networking events, or any meeting where you're getting acquainted with new people;
  • Family events, like Thanksgiving dinner or reunions, where you're getting re-acquainted with people you haven't seen in some time;
  • Panel discussions, where you have only a brief time to introduce yourself and your message;
  • Self-introductions before a presentation; and
  • Media interviews, where you need to make your points quickly and succinctly.
The good news? The principles are the same as in developing a message.  Check out these posts:

Thursday, March 18, 2010

How to: Panel discussions in the Twitter age

It's no surprise that we're seeing cases studies coming out of the recent SXSW interactive conference of what to do--and what not to do--when trying to mesh old-school speaking standards with the new Twitter backchannel. Earlier this week, I offered you some lessons from the Twitter CEO's unsuccessful SXSW keynote: Let the audience express itself early, don't sit to be sure you project energy, be interactive with the audience when you represent an interactive technology and plan, plan, plan your content.

Today, New York University professor Jay Rosen--who refers to "the people formerly known as the audience" as a signal of audience power--weighs in with a positive case study, How the Backchannel Has Changed the Game for Conference Panelists.  If you are organizing, speaking at or just attending a conference, meeting or workshop,  I think it's a must-read because it is:
  • A positive and achievable primer on how to put together a panel discussion that maintains high quality content, configured for today's audiences and the backchannel that comes with them.
  • A vision of how to merge the audience's needs and those of the speakers, mixing advance information and promotion with in-person followup on the backchannel and face-to-face at the end of the session.  In doing so, it manages the backchannel, but offers the structure that speakers, organizers and many audience members want to see.  (Witness the discussion on the Tactical Philanthropy blog, where conference organizers elicited audience opinioins on how and whether to structure panel discussions at an upcoming conference.  These comments "in defense of panel discussions" remind you not to throw the panel baby out with the bathwater, so to speak.)  But note that Rosen recommends leaving 40 percent of the time for Q&A--a must.
  • A demonstration that content planning can and should include diversity, just as much a current force as social networking.   This panel had a diversity of professional perspectives, an African-American, three whites, a woman and three men. As Rosen said, "People notice," as this audience member noted on Twitter.
  • A step-by-step look at what to do before, during and after a panel.  Too many speakers and organizers just let panels happen without thinking through the content, flow, space for adjustments that need to be made in real time, and how to give the audience (in the room and outside the room on the backchannel) the information it needs and wants. 
Don't forget that there are other great resources for you to consult on managing the backchannel, including:
A hat tip to Joe Bonner, a reader who unearths all sorts of useful information that's relevant to my blog, including this great contribution from Jay Rosen.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

What does it mean to find your voice?

I'm preparing a guest post for another blog about how you go about finding your voice--for speakers in general and women in particular.  For some, I know it's more emotional than physical; for others, the vocal issues are paramount; yet others see it as a content issue, focusing on "What do I have to say that will matter to others?"  It's the speaker's quest, so help me understand what you mean when you say you're finding--or have found--your voice.  Leave a comment!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Afraid to flop? Twitter CEO's keynote lessons

No one would have bet on this, but by all accounts, yesterday's SXSW keynote by Twitter CEO Ev Williams flopped.  Louis Gray sums up what happened succinctly:
After thousands of Twittering geeks and quasi-geeks alike had settled in to the packed exhibition hall and overflow rooms to hear the latest updates delivered straight from Twitter's leader, their excitement soon turned to boredom and finally, severe annoyance, as the interview's pace, tone and content fell well below expectations. After an hour's time, the halls in Austin were more than half empty, and an opportunity to showcase one of technology's biggest successes in the last few decades was for the most part lost.
Time and again, when I ask my readers what they fear most, several mention the fear that, despite their best effort, their speech will fall flat, get no reaction or a bad reaction--that there will be a mismatch between what they see and what the audience sees.  It's poignant here, because so many thousands of people looked forward to this keynote as a highlight of the interactive conference--even Gray's piece is titled, "The SXSW Keynote With Ev Williams You Had Hoped to See."  His long wishlist for the talk indicates that would-be attendees came there--as most audiences do--with many questions they'd hoped the speaker would answer.  And when that didn't happen, many voted with their feet and left.

What could have happened to make this talk work? Here are a few suggestions you can use to avoid just such a fiasco:
  1. Engage the audience first.  Any time you have a room bursting at the seams (and overflow rooms needed), or a controversial topic, or major news pending, it pays to let the audience express itself early in the session--even if you only take 10 or 15 questions that you promise to touch on. Let them put their questions on the table early.  You get a sense of the room, they get to choose what's discussed, and everyone benefits.  You'll look smart, inclusive, able to handle risk, and friendly...and you'll have my attention.
  2. Think about the energy you'll project.  As has become common in large high-tech keynotes, this talk was a seated interview with a moderator, whom Gray calls on the carpet for asking easy questions.  For the audience that meant:  Not much to look at, and no drama--it's tough to get people excited when you and your sole questioner are agreeing with one another.  And any amount of time the questioner is speaking, the audience is really wanting to hear the main attraction.  Worse for Williams, being seated might just be the last position a CEO should be in when speaking--it diminishes your authority, and even more important, your energy, which starts to slip 10 minutes into the session when you're seated. (That goes for your audience, too.)  By staying seated, he lost the chance to use his body to create visual interest, to move into the audience and to create a sense of excitement.
  3. If you're talk is about an interactive technology, demonstrate that quality.  One big downside to the onstage interview (and I've been on both sides of them) is that, at base, it's a conversation between two people with a big crowd of listeners. On Twitter, that would be a direct message--one that excludes all but the two people on stage, putting the audience in a passive role. Williams ran into a buzz saw that's been running for a while now:  Speakers about high-tech wonders are stuck in presentation styles enforced by both tradition and the large crowds they attract.  The audience expects more interactivity, human or technological, in such a talk.  It doesn't have to involve slides. The surprise element of one important person standing up to speak is like catnip for audiences--he might say or do anything.  Want to use technology? Do so in a way that surprises and delights us, then get back to talking.
  4. You've got to plan your content.  Sometimes, speakers who know they're about to be interviewed live in front of a crowd decide they need to plan less and just go with the questions.  Big mistake.  You need to make sure the questions reflect what the audience wants, or inject into your answers the news you want them to know, or both.  And what better way to elicit "what will you want to hear from me during the keynote on Tuesday?" than to ask it on Twitter?  Then just be sure the interview or speech answers the major groups of questions--and answer the rest online.
Twitter's my favorite tool of all the social-media tools I use, and yet, in this case, it's less the backchannel than what happened on stage that did in this respected CEO.  Focusing on these four steps, basic as they are, will help you avoid a flop the next time your big speaking opportunity rolls around.

Related posts: 6 reasons to stand when you speak

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Monday, March 15, 2010

5 finger exercise: How to avoid pointing

I once attended a political forum that gave "pointed" a whole new meaning, when an audience member asked how much time the candidates would spend on their elected role.  One candidate looked at the front row where the other candidate's family--including newborn twins--was seated.  Pointing at them, she snapped, "I don't see how my opponent can say he'll work full time when he has two little babies to take care of!"  You could hear sharp intakes of breath happening throughout the hall.  A few weeks later, she lost the election.

Speakers need to be wary of pointing (especially when you want the audience to vote for you). In many cultures, it's highly offensive--even a foot pointing at an audience can be insulting to some. It's directive, rather than welcoming, and that can make people feel uncomfortable.  You want to call on audience members, to acknowledge them and their questions, or to invite them to participate in some way.  So how do you do that without putting your first finger forward?  Try one of these 5 options:
  1. Extend your entire hand, not just one finger:  Keep all your fingers extended and held together, then put your arm out in the direction of the person you want to acknowledge.  It doesn't matter how you hold your hand, either. It can be palm up, palm to the side, or even palm down.  This is an authoritative but less offensive way to indicate which audience member you're interested in hearing from.
  2. Use three or two fingers, holding the others down with your thumb.  You'll see people who are gesturing directions--like flight attendants--use this all the time. 
  3. Do it the old-fashioned way: verbally.  A good old-fashioned, "Yes, the woman in the red jacket," or "Yes, what's your question?" is always a great way to call on someone.  Be prepared, however, to reinforce your words verbally; I find that when I call on audience members in this way, I often need to add, "Yes, you," to confirm my intent.
  4. If you know their names, use them.  "Bob, did you have a question on that last point?" reinforces a connection in person--and if your meeting has folks listening in on a conference line, using your colleagues' names will help the listeners who can't see the action.  Likewise, in a larger crowd, use the names of the people you know as another verbal way to avoid pointing.
  5. If you're mobile, walk up to your questioner.  There's no better way to invite a question than to go to the questioner, look her in the eye and ask, "What's your question?"   Positioning yourself directly in front of the person is the most direct way to connect and acknowledge her.
Finally, the question I get most from academics: What do I think about laser pointers?  Honestly, I think they serve to disconnect you from your audience--and you certainly should never point at a person with a laser pointer, or its old-fashioned pointer stick counterpart.  Use the gestures above to indicate where you want to audience to look for a more personal touch.

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Negotiating: Nasty or nice?

Building on our discussion of whether women who speak up in the workplace will be seen as "bitchy," here's a useful article from the Harvard Program on Negotiation about whether you should be nasty or nice during a negotiation--and what your bargaining counterpart might think of either approach.  Interestingly, the article notes "we may be more generous toward angry people than toward happy people," based on research from the University of Amsterdam.  The trick here: It depends on whether your audience believes you're truly angry in this instance, just bluffing to get a better deal, or always angry--the latter also is discounted.  While this is useful advice for the meeting-level version of public speaking, speaker also should consider this in the light of any debates, panel discussions or public interviews they're doing. Great insights!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Can women talk tough in tough times?

Over at The Eloquent Woman on Facebook, we've been discussing a New York Times article that recently looked at women in the workplace, and how many of them are concerned they'll be seen as bitchy when they speak up at work. This time, it's not just societal views of women influencing this line of thinking, the article notes:
Yet one issue was even more personal: A recession was in full swing, and jobs were on the line. As one woman put it, “Even in this day and age, a guy barks out an order and he is treated like someone who is in charge and a leader. But when a woman communicates in the exact same way, she’s immediately labeled assertive, dominating, aggressive and overbearing.”
Notice, by the way, how "assertive"--which used to be the preferred term for polite and appropriate speaking-up--is lumped in with aggressive. I was curious about how you saw the article. Here's what our Facebook fans had to say:

  • Robin Ferrier: "I haven't read the article yet, but I will say a lot of my professional colleagues believe that as a woman you definitely have to be more assertive to be heard... and that once you're more assertive, you get a negative rep."
  • Sharon Larisey: "I agree with the article and with the idea that, as women, we have to use greater finesse to get our messages across in order to even be heard, much less labeled (or libeled)."
  • Andrea J Wenger: "Communication in the workplace is a tightrope walk, regardless of gender. It's possible to be both assertive and kind. The middle ground is generally a better choice than either extreme, for both men and women."
  • Helen Fisher: Do we want to keep our jobs ? I agree with Sharon.In today's world we have to do what ever to just keep a job. I like the middle ground. Is it worth it to not have a job today just because we find double standards? There was a time in the past we could leave a job if we felt not worth it to fight the battle.But now it has come down to survial for both male and female.I think our economy has rocked the playing field more then ever on both sides. It has certainly weakened the average worker and the fairness of the workplace. I would agree with the article in better times of past but not today and where the workplace is headed.
Or, as the article's author concluded: "The ultimate goal: for them to get the message without wanting to get back at you."  What do you think? Have you changed your speaking approach in the office in these tough economic times? How do you handle your workplace speaking? 

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The blog gets more fans, & @OliviaMitchell visits

Yesterday was a big one here at The Eloquent Woman: The Eloquent Woman on Facebook reached more than 2,000 fans, and while that was happening, I welcomed New Zealand-based presentation coaches Olivia Mitchell and Tony Burns to Washington, D.C.  We visited the home of a great orator, the recently renovated Abraham Lincoln's cottage in Northwest Washington--a place where he and his family lived during the Civil War, a short commute by horseback to the White House. It's now a property of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  In this photo, Tony and Olivia are reacting to my suggestion they offer this life-size statue of President Lincoln some speaking advice.  You can find out more about their coaching in Olivia's very good blog, Speaking About Presenting, and on the Speaking About Presenting page on Facebook.  We had a lot of time to share our observations of the work we all do, and to learn about each other's businesses--a real treat for me.

Speaking of that, are you a member of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook? Join our thriving community to get extra content, early input into my blog posts, and to share your questions, photos and video.

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Speaking Science: are gestures & words the same?

Gesture model Meg Lanzarone (Photo: Patrick Gannon)
We talk a lot about gestures here—how you can use them to convey a powerful message,  how some speakers use them to create a dynamic impression, how they can help you find the right words, and how they can help your audience understand your message.

So it might be helpful for you to hear that scientists think at least some of those gestures head to the same place in your brain that processes spoken words. You can pretend to juggle or say, “Look at me, I’m headed to the circus!” and to your audience's brains, it’s all same. It’s all part of the one-stop translation service we have in our brains to turn symbols into meaning, according to a new study by Hofstra University neurobiologist Patrick Gannon and his colleagues.

Gannon and the others studied a special kind of gesture, sometimes called a pantomime or an emblem. They have very specific meanings that most of us understand immediately when we see them. If you pretend to unscrew a tight lid off of a jar, that’s a pantomime. If you lift your finger to your lips to let me know it’s time to be quiet, that’s an emblem.

The researchers decided to take a deep peek into the brains of people as they watched a Hofstra acting student perform a pantomime or emblem gesture (pretending to thread a needle, for instance) and later speak the meaning of the gesture (“I’m threading a needle”) Using MRI scans, they found that the gesture and the words made the same region of the brain light up with activity.

Does any of this mean that gestures aren’t as necessary—if it’s all heading to the same processing center, isn’t speaking enough? “In a sense it’ very natural for us to gesture.” said Gannon. “There are always going to be times when a pantomime can deliver visual information that speaking cannot do so easily across the room, such as, like ‘It’s way hot in here’ or ‘That food smells or tastes great.’”

Gestures can also help you access the information in your own brain that you want to communicate to others, he said. “I always like to think gestures can stand alone or serve as part of a unified package which can include whole body language, facial expressions, and speaking.”

Gannon became interested in gesture because he’s also an anthropologist who studies the origin of human language. This particular discovery might mean that gestures were the great-great-grandparents of spoken human language, he thinks. Speech could have “piggybacked” on to the brain circuits already at work interpreting gesture.

So where does that leave PowerPoint? Gannon points out that writing and reading are relatively recent developments in the 5 million-years of human history, but it’s likely that the same “flexible” systems are at work in your audience’s brain when you start up your slide show.

(Editor's note:  This post was contributed by freelance writer Becky Ham reports and writes for The Eloquent Woman on the science behind public speaking.)

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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

6 reasons to stand when you speak

"Should I stand when I speak?"

If that sounds like a no-brainer to you, let me just say that I get this question all the time.  And my answer is nearly always the same: An enthusiastic "yes!"  Standing works in 6 positive ways for speakers, whether you're facing a large crowd, a small meeting, on a seated panel or alone but talking on the phone.  Here's what standing does for you:

  1. It improves your vocal quality:  You'll breathe, project and sound better if you're standing, in part because your diaphragm will have the space to do its job at top performance levels. But you'll also sound more energetic.  Your body (like most) starts to relax after about 10 minutes of sitting and listening, and you lose attention and focus the longer your in that state.
  2. You'll feel more energetic.  Standing is a great way to channel that natural "fight or flight" feeling, and it also means you're ready for either option.  You'll be better able to interact with all parts of the room, which will energize you if you're an extrovert.
  3. It establishes a visual focus.  In the old parlance, "you have the floor" really meant that you were out on the floor, standing as the speaker.  We're conditioned to watch the person standing when all else are seated.  Why, you might do anything, and we want to see that. 
  4. It gives you options for movement.  It's tough to be dynamic from a chair, but when you are standing, you can move closer to or away from your slides, a questioner, or the group.  You can move to keep and hold their attention or to illustrate a point. 
  5. It ensures you can be seen.  Too few speakers think of this, but if some of your audience can't see you, they're more likely to tune out.  After all, they're here in person--where are you?  Standing immediately helps you to be seen by most of the crowd, and lets you move around so those in the far sides and corners can see you, too.
  6. It establishes your authority.  Standing for your presentation in a small meeting, or standing up when your turn comes by on a panel, helps you stand out as a leader.  You "have the floor," as they say, and you're literally above the group.  It's a subtle way to show you're taking charge without having to say so.
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Monday, March 8, 2010

How social media remixes public speaking

Public speaking comes with a lot of assumptions baked into it--forms, formats and formalities that have been used over and over again for centuries. Here's the basic recipe: Someone, the expert, strides to the front, gets introduced, stands behind a lectern on a raised platform and speaks for 30 minutes to an hour, perhaps taking a few audience questions at the end, but only if time permits. People in the audience listen, and clap at the beginning and end. There might be handouts to take away with more information, or business cards.

More and more, I'm seeing that standard recipe get re-mixed, thanks to the influence of social media--and not just one kind of social media, either.  Here are the six ingredients of speeches and presentations that are getting tossed and turned in the process:
  1. Who speaks:  Today's audiences expect to speak, share, question and contribute--so much so, I encourage my trainees to open their presentations with a Q&A session, to get the audience participating right away.  All forms of social media, from networks like Facebook and Twitter to online video and blogging, have given "the people formerly known as the audience" a series of microphones and platforms of their own, and they're using them. 
  2. Who shares: Once upon a time, only three people controlled what was shared outside the meeting room: The organizer, the speaker and any journalists who were covering the session.  Today, the tools for sharing what's happening, live and in real time, are right in your mobile phone or laptop. 
  3. Who stands where:  At a TEDx event in New York focused one education, speaker Jeff Jarvis told his listeners, "You should be up here."  He was speaking to the audience's expertise, but many speakers also are moving into the audience to hold listeners' attention, make a stronger connection and provide some visual variety.  Standing behind the lectern's falling more and more by the wayside.
  4. Who listens:  Listening in doesn't require being in the room anymore, thanks to the backchannel on Twitter and similar sites. That also means that "listeners" can scroll through an account of your talk hours, days or months later. You may need to provide more context online, including your slides, the text of your remarks or additional comments.  I've taken to creating blog posts with useful links after my major addresses--they become the "handout" and the context, all in one.
  5. Who watches:  With a webcam on a laptop, a cellphone or a Flip camera or other ultralight camcorder, your audience can record and upload your remarks within minutes--or choose to livestream it.  Speakers who address audiences with "just between us in this room" remarks, beware. 
  6. And for how long:  The instant gratification, speed and variety of information available in social media can't be matched in most formal speeches.  Attention spans are getting shorter, which is why I recommend that speakers need a strong, fast start.  No matter how much time you're allotted, use far less for your formal remarks. Open it up for questions, take some Twitter breaks and get the audience involved.
Related posts:  Tweeting at meetings gets controversial

What speakers can learn from Twitter hecklers

Creating tweetable presentations

Rebooting your events

Handouts no more!

I'm cross-posting this on both the don't get caught blog and The Eloquent Woman blog.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Are you too respectful to be a great speaker?

I'm so glad you all asked me to speak to you today, because I think I may have some insights you might find useful about my experiences as a woman in our industry.

Being a woman in our industry is like being a vacuum cleaner:  It sucks.  Let me tell you why.

Which one of those opening lines would you have chosen, if you were giving a speech or presentation?  Which one do you find more compelling, as an audience member? The first one's full of qualifiers--phrases that water down the impact in case it's offensive to anyone, and it's likewise full of passive verbs.  It takes a long, meandering road to the real content ahead.

The second one's shorter, punchier, more in-your-face and more active in its verbs. In seconds, it tells me where you're headed and takes me right there.  It's bold, and you need to be bold to be an effective speaker.  Respectful and qualified won't help you create that vital connection with your audience, whether you're in a meeting, a presentation or giving a speech.

I had a discussion about this with colleague Frank Blanchard, who watched me lead a workshop for scientists on communicating science to public audiences.  While watching me advise my audience on what has to happen for them to make clear their technical topics, he wrote down, "Be bold."  One problem many scientists encounter:  They're trained to describe to colleagues all the exceptions, competing ideas and potential for error in their statements about their research....but for public audiences, that amount of qualification can divert attention by the time the point rolls around. 

To explain his "be bold" note, Frank pointed me to this blog post,  Why You're Too Qualified and Respectful to Produce Great Content, by Pace Smith on the popular Copyblogger site.  While the advice is for writers, speakers can find a lot that resonates.  Here's what Smith advises, and how I'd interpret her advice for speakers:
  • Don't qualify. Be bold.   Edit your written remarks, and practice your delivery, to omit qualifiers--words like may, might, little, very, kind of, almost, nearly, sometimes, pretty well, maybe.  Figure out a statement you can make, without qualifiers. Then make it, and back it up.  Do you need to shoot for 100 percent accuracy or all the detail? No. You need to make a point.
  • Don't be respectful. Be bold.  If your statements are crafted to avoid offending anyone, it's a losing battle. Some will agree, some will disagree, some won't know what they think until you say more.  You can't possibly avoid offending someone. So say what you think and be ready to discuss it.  Smith uses 3 headlines to show what happens to your language when you're too respectful:  Five Grammatical Errors that May Detract From Your Credibility (respectful version); Five Grammatical Errors that Make You Look Dumb (bold version); and Five Grammatical Errors that May Sometimes Make You Look Dumb to Some People (what she terms the "wet dishrag" version). Which one does your speech sound like?
  • Write for the fence-sitters.   If you can't please everyone, Smith argues, aim your remarks at those who are not yet convinced. It's a great tactic for speakers, because it pushes you to persuade--and persuasion is a critical factor in creating an eloquent speech.  You might even bring along a few nay-sayers as you do it.
Use Smith's three steps to think through your next meeting or presentation.  I can see this being a useful self-coaching process you can use before a conference call or meeting (akin to my recent post on 7 ways to interrupt effectively), or as you are practicing a big presentation or a major speech.  Ask a friend or colleague to listen to you rehearse, counting the qualifiers and respectful statements and reviewing them with you afterward.  Many women have been told their speaking style "isn't respectful" -- I've heard that in relation to eye contact -- but I know bold speaking styles get results, and sometimes, comments about your level of respect are designed to keep you quiet. Keep all that in mind, and boldly go....

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Men and women use SlideShare differently



Do you use SlideShare? It's a popular site where you can post your presentation slides--and it's considered one measure of social-media credibility to have the most-shared set of slides. They make it easy by using tools that make it easy for you to embed the slides on your website, or share them via Twitter, Facebook and more (and I've added the SlideShare application to The Eloquent Woman on Facebook so you can share slides with us there.)  The SlideShare Zeitgeist has been released, full of data on who's using the site, how and why (see above slideshow) -- and it turns out that men and women are using the site differently. Among the findings:
  • The ratio of men to women sharing slides on the site:  3 to 1
  • Men's presentations have slightly more slides: 20, on average, compared to an average of 18 for women
  • The top tag for men's slide topics? Business. For women? Social
When I saw these statistics, I thought immediately of an earlier post, Who talks more: Men or women?, which describes what linguist Deborah Tannen has classified as men's tendency to "report-talk"--a higher comfort level speaking publicly, especially in meetings where they can report successes and progress--and women's "rapport-talk," focused on one-on-one interactions and building relationships.  What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments--and let me know whether you use SlideShare or similar sites.

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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Straying from the 'standard' in speaking

I've started a "Talk to me Tuesdays" feature on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook, so fans can pose a question. Last week, Chiara Ojeda wrote:
Hello! I have a question from the public speaking teacher's perspective: do you find practice in forms of speech like Pecha Kucha to be effective for students entering the business world? In other words, is it worthwhile to stray from the standard operating practices of public speaking courses and expose them to alternate forms like Pecha Kucha?
My answer: Absolutely!  Pecha Kucha, like Ignite and similar events, forces speakers to speak briefly, with time and slide limits, which pushes them to focus their remarks and practice, and makes delivery brisk and lively, in most cases.  Keep in mind what these events' organizers know: Most audiences don't want a formal, long, traditional speech or lecture.  The brevity and focus mean these opportunities are especially useful for speakers in business settings.  And you can get a taste of this form all over the world, as this is Global Ignite Week.  Follow the link to learn more and find an event new you.  Even if you can't participate this time, you may want to add similar limits to your own practice.

There's  yet another reason to "stray from the standard operating practices of public speaking courses."  Audiences are changing, and have been for some time.  In part prompted by the online revolution of social networking and even the participatory nature of reality TV, we're living in a world where the audience wants to join in the action.  For speakers, that may mean moving questions-and-answers to the start of a talk, or throughout it; incorporating Twitter breaks and other ways for the audience to participate in votes, polls or other actions while you speak; and even finding ways to reach the audience outside the room, listening in virtually.  The good news: You can employ a range of speaking styles and skills, and learn to use them to engage your audience more than ever before.

Related posts:  Engage your audience with new and social media

From the don't get caught blog: What speakers can learn from Twitter hecklers

Pushing yourself onstage: Ignite!

Learn storytelling online, 3 ways, from the TED, Ignite and Moth events

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Monday, March 1, 2010

Women's history through a speaker's lens

Photo from the Library of Congress photostream on Flickr
March is women's history month, and The Eloquent Woman offers you a wide-ranging selection of women's history, as seen through the lens of women who battled against the status quo and sought opportunities to speak in public.  Kathleen Hall Jamieson noted that "History has many themes. One of them is that women should be quiet."  Since that theme persists in many circles today, grab some inspiration from these women who found ways to speak up and speak out throughout history:

  • Henrietta Bell Wells, the lone woman on the now-famous 1930s black college debate team whose story was told in the movie The Great Debaters
  • Two great first ladies: Lady Bird Johnson, who overcame a powerful fear of public speaking to demonstrate poise and skill speaking before some of the most contentious audiences ever, and Eleanor Roosevelt, who felt pushed into speaking in public, but became a powerhouse communicator.
  • Women labor activists who shared public speaking skills with other women during a major auto-workers' strike in the 1930s, and other Michigan women who spoke out against slavery and for votes for women.
  • Dorothy Sarnoff, a noted New York speaker coach who began her work offering voice lessons for women in a department store--because that's where women were in the 1960s.
  • Some famous women who were prevented from speaking in public, including the top activists in getting the vote for U.S. women, bestselling author Harriet Beecher Stowe, charismatic former slave Sojourner Truth, and civil rights activist Rosa Parks.
  • The "eloquent thunder" of Representative Barbara Jordan still rings in many ears--and earned her a top rank among all political speakers, male or female.
  • A woman whose business savvy and presentation skills propelled thousands of women into public speaking in living rooms all over the U.S.:  Brownie Wise, who came up with the "Tupperware party" as a home-sales marketing campaign.
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