Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Head on over!

Hi loyal readers!

I finally took the bull by the horns and rebuilt my Web site, so now I host my own blog. Check it out at

See you there!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Speaking Skills: Afterward

Key 6: Afterward

Whew! You’ve done it! You planned, practiced, and performed. Now you’re finished with the presentation! Well, not so fast. A final key to better presentations comes after you have done the hard part. Some careful attention at this stage can help you hone your skills!

  • Graciously accept compliments and questions. People will want to talk to you afterward. Many will compliment you. A polite “Thank you so much!” is an appropriate response. No need to apologize if anything went wrong--it just draws attention to it. Be gracious in accepting compliments. Answer any questions thoughtfully and honestly. If your speech was brief, many people will want to know more! If it was very good (and of course it was!), they may want you to give it again and invite you to speak elsewhere. If you make presentations to promote your business, be prepared with follow-up material.
  • Ask for feedback, and learn from it. This is critically important. Be willing to learn from comments given by your audience. Sometimes they will be nice suggestions, sometimes people are rude. In any case, be gracious accepting suggestions. Write them down if you need to. Remember them as you move forward and hone your skills. If possibly, commission someone to evaluate you and give you tips for improvement. An evaluator can tell you if you were hard to hear, talked too fast, made appropriate eye contact, dealt with unexpected issues well, and connected with the audience.
  • Mine your content for blog entries, articles, podcasts, and more. If you have developed a presentation, why stop there? Build your professional presence by turning that speech into a series of blog entries (like this series), articles for publication, podcasts, and so on. You might choose to expand your presentation and offer it as a paid workshop, tele-class, or a conference presentation. If you get a lot of related material, turn your content into a book, e-book, learning CD or MP3, and so on.
  • Investigate Toastmasters. Almost everything I’ve learned about public speaking has come from Toastmasters International. If you want a positive, supportive learning environment, look for a local club by typing in your ZIP code at the TI web site. You will learn by doing, with helpful comments along the way.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Speaking Skills: Performance, cont'd.

Key 5: Performance, continued

It’s the big day! You have adjusted your mindset, planned, rehearsed, and employed some anti-anxiety techniques. You have been introduced to your audience. The moment is here: You stand up to give your presentation! Here are some more keys to performance that can help you get your message across while appearing professional.

  • Eye contact. A major part of any communication is connection with your listener/audience. Eye contact is key for creating and maintaining it. With a large crowd, you cannot make eye contact with every single person, but be sure to look to different points in the room, and make eye contact wherever possible with people in your line of sight. Make sure the contact is significant--a second or two--before moving on. Quickly cruising the eyes in the room is known as a “drive-by” and does not help you look connected. A terrific tip for commanding attention right from the beginning is to pause before speaking, take a few moments to make eye contact with your audience, then begin with your presentation.
  • Pace yourself. One of the easy things to do when you’re nervous is talk too fast. (I am terribly guilty of this.) People must be able to hear you and process what you are saying. A lot of rehearsal will help you learn to pace yourself well. Remember: Slow down, and take pauses. A great way to do this is to have a water bottle handy. If you force yourself to take sips from it at regular intervals, you will create pauses. In addition, you will be wetting your mouth, which hides one of the signs of nervousness (dry mouth, which can result in a lot of lip smacking noises).
  • Watch your volume. You should be loud enough to be heard clearly, even in the back, and to command attention. If people are straining to hear you, your message gets lost. Pay attention to people in your audience--do they look confused? Are any of them holding an ear and turning it toward you? That’s your signal to speak up. Make sure you maintain your volume--I’ve seen plenty of people reminded to speak up, and they do so for a sentence or two, but then fade back down to normal volume. Also, be sure to enunciate clearly. Some speakers have fine volume, but it’s difficult to pick out their words because they seem to all run together.
  • It’s good to have a support person in the audience if at all possible. If you corral someone into being your signal person, he or she can let you know how you are doing on time (say, signaling when 10 minutes have gone by, or if 5 minutes are left), if you are speaking too fast, if you are not loud enough, and any other roster of issues that you can address on the fly. This person can also hand out any materials for distribution (so you don’t have to do it), and help with some visual aids, if appropriate. Never underestimate the power of someone who is looking out for you.
  • Deal with messing up. You lose your place, stumble over your words, forget what you were saying, the projector doesn’t work, you trip and fall, or the mic goes dead (or all of the above). It’s okay--it happens! Take a deep breath, take a sip of water if you need to, and jump back in as best you can. The important thing is not to panic. Just keep going--there is no need to stop and apologize. It just draws attention to your goofup. Believe me, no one will rub it in if you mess up here and there. It’s more important that you recover from it and keep going. How you handle a goofup is far more important than the fact that the goofup happened in the first place.
  • Be ready to improvise when technical glitches happen--and they will eventually happen. PowerPoint suddenly won’t work, projectors aren’t available, your printer died, the microphone is dead. Can you give your speech without PowerPoint? You should be able to--after all, slides should illustrate or highlight your point, not be your point. If your script is in your slides, then it isn’t much of a presentation because you’ll just be reading your slides to the audience (and they can already read). Handouts not prepared? Then make sure you tell your audience to get out pen and paper and make your organization of the topic very clear so they can essentially create their own take-homes.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Speaking Skills: Performance

Key 5: Performance

It’s the big day! You have adjusted your mindset, planned, rehearsed, and employed some anti-anxiety techniques. You have been introduced to your audience. The moment is here: You stand up to give your presentation! Here are some keys to performance that can help you get your message across while appearing very professional.

  • Dress comfortably, professionally, and appropriately. You don’t want to be wearing clothes or shoes that are too tight, too loose, or sloppy looking. Nothing itchy either! If you concentrate very hard on your content and delivery, you can lose track of what your body is doing--which means, it’s easy to distractedly scratch where it itches, adjust your clothes nervously (like constantly pushing up your sleeves or adjusting your bra strap), or allow any manner of nervous tics to shine through. This kind of thing betrays your nerves.
  • It appears in the last post on anti-anxiety, and it bears repeating here: Take deep, slow breaths before speaking. Inhale through your nose, hold for a second or two, and exhale through your mouth. This will help you be mindful and present in your body, which can then cut down on unconscious fidgeting, swaying, and other giveaways of your nerves. Use a deep breath now and then in your presentation to create a pause and recenter yourself.
  • Stand in neutral position, which is feet shoulder width apart, hands down at your sides comfortably. Nervous movement includes hand-wringing and swaying back and forth, and you can counteract this by intentionally being in neutral position. Your gestures and body language will be deliberate, and your movement will be purposeful from this position. Random, nervous moment detracts from your speech by distracting your listeners. Deliberate, thought-out movement enhances your message and drives it home.
  • Don’t get trapped behind a podium if you have one. A podium can hide a bunch of nervousness, but it’s very easy to put your notes down, grip the sides of the podium, and not move an inch! This doesn’t make for a dynamic speech. Instead, put your notes (if you’re using them) on the podium, and then break out from behind it to move deliberately across your speech area. You can connect with the audience much better when you can move to them. Be careful that you don’t block any visual aids you might have (slides, flip charts, white board, etc.) as you move around.
  • If you have a very large room, and there is a microphone on the podium, you may be stuck there so you can be heard (first, ask if a lapel mic is available). If you must stay behind a podium, make your gestures large, so they can be seen. Add a lot of enthusiasm in your voice and face, so it can “read” to the whole room. And be sure to make lots of eye contact from the podium (remember to look up and connect with your audience).

Next: More performance techniques!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Speaking Skills: Antianxiety

Key 4: Antianxiety

Presentation time is looming! You have worked on your mindset and intentions, planned your material out, and practiced. You have a firm grip on your content, and it’s starting to come together nicely in the time allotment. As the date and time for your actual presentation get closer, you might start to feel a familiar nervousness. Here are some techniques to reduce anxiety in the days and moments leading up to your presentation!

  • Remember your mindset techniques: The audience wants to hear what you have to say, you offer value to them with your content, and you are “keyed up.”
  • If you tend to think in terms of worst-case scenarios, counter it by imagining the best that can happen. Take ownership of your success!
  • Before speaking, take deep, slow breaths. Inhale through your nose, hold for a second or two, and exhale through your mouth. If you practice yoga breathing, you may find those techniques useful. Focus on your breathing to calm down, slow your heart rate. Use these deep breaths to get centered before speaking. This will also help you be mindful and present in your body, which can then cut down on unconscious fidgeting, swaying, and other giveaways of your nerves!
  • Have a bottle or glass of water near you when speaking. One sign of nervousness is a dry mouth, which can, unfortunately, lead to “smacking” sounds as you try to enunciate your words. Sipping water will help you prevent this, as well as forcing you to make pauses at key points. Note that you should sip the water, not chug it--you don’t want to suddenly feel a very urgent call of nature during your presentation. Avoid dairy-based drinks before speaking, they cause a lot of mucus production and require a lot of throat-clearing.
  • Try an antianxiety acupressure technique: the thigh rub. If you’re starting to feel panicky before your presentation, discreetly place a hand (or both) on the top of your thigh. Press down with the heel of your hand, and rub from the top of your thigh down toward your knee. Repeat as necessary. This is an acupressure technique for reducing anxiety (you can search for more acupressure techniques with Google). You can’t really do it during your speech (you’ll be bobbing up and down a lot if you do), but it can work to calm you down beforehand.
  • Do you have other postures or gestures that calm you down? Employ them as necessary. For example, when I am calm and relaxed, I frequently find that my thumb is tucked between my first and second fingers. It’s an unconscious posture when I’m already relaxed. Sometimes I will deliberately do this to bring on a calming sensation. If something like this works for you, by all means, use it to your advantage!
  • A little aromatherapy (body lotion, cologne, or some other scent that won’t disturb others) can be a powerful mechanism for reducing anxiety. If I’m wearing my favorite cologne, a discreet sniff of my inner wrist brings on the delightfully peaceful feelings associated with the scent (the human sense of smell is powerfully evocative of certain emotions). Lavender and ylang ylang are particularly calming for most people.
  • Still a tad nervous? Think this: “Ok, in 10 minutes [30 minutes, 1 hour], I am done, for better or worse, and I won’t have to worry about it any more!”
  • Finally, if you are still nervous to give your speech, think of it as a performance, as if you are acting. Put on the persona of someone who is supremely confident, and then perform. Many actors are actually very shy, introverted people who feel more comfortable pretending to be someone else. You can do the same in a presentation. “Fake it ‘til you make it” has a big core of truth in it when it comes to boosting confidence. Adopt the persona of a confident speaker, and you will be the real thing before you know it.
Next key: Performance

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Speaking Skills: Rehearsal

After you have worked on your mindset and more or less completed your planning, it’s time to rehearse (the third key to better presentations). Rehearsal and practice are critical for being comfortable when giving a presentation of any kind. If you are well versed in your material, you’ll be much more confident and less likely to get flustered. Practice as much as you feel you need to. Here are some tips:

  • Practice your presentation by speaking at full volume (not whispering to yourself or “thinking” through it). I used to rehearse by whispering because I felt foolish talking to an empty room, but I found I was almost afraid to speak up as loudly as was necessary during the actual event!
  • Practice while standing up and moving around, as you would be during the actual presentation.
  • Practice the speech in sections (just the intro, just the conclusion) if you have limited time. Try to get at least two or three run-throughs of the entire thing.
  • Practice with a test audience, if possible. Anyone listening in can tell you if you are speaking too fast or too slowly or if your material is confusing.
  • Practice with visual aids until you can use them easily and appropriately.
  • Watch your pacing and time limits. Use a timer! This is very important--if you find your prepared material is running far too long, you have some cuts to make. On the flip side, if it’s running way too short, you have more work to do.
  • If you have scripted your speech, commit it to memory or reduce reliance on notes. Practice only glancing at your notes from time to time; you don’t want to just read from them when you give your presentation.
  • If at all possible, practice in the actual space you will give the presentation (or at least get a look at it, if it’s not familiar to you). Moving to use all the space available to you is a good way to engage your audience.
  • Practice your body language--you probably need to exaggerate your gestures to get your point across, especially if the audience is large. Many people only make gestures from the elbows down, which makes it look as if your arms are pinned to your side. Use your whole arm!
  • If you feel comfortable doing so, videotape yourself so you can clearly observe your pacing, volume, gestures, enthusiasm, and use of space.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Speaking Skills: Planning (part 4)

Part 5 of "Professionally Speaking: Six Keys to Better Presentations," is the continuation of the second key: Planning. In this entry: Scripting.

Once you have done your research, you may choose to start scripting your speech. Not everyone scripts their speeches word for word (I tend to work from an outline of bullets). You should do whatever feels most comfortable for you and makes you the most confident. If you do script out your speech word for word, make sure you don’t then read it straight from your notes at the actual presentation. An advantage to scripting: You can very easily turn your presentation into a podcast or article later! As you work on your material, keep any time limits firmly in mind. Have you been asked to speak for 10 minutes only? Then five pages of material is far too much. Speaking for an hour? You’ll need more than one page. You don’t want to be rushed, nor do you want to draw out too little material to fit a longer time frame.

As you create your script or speaking structure, you may be deciding if you want to use visual aids. (Using visual aids appropriately is a completely different set of topics not discussed in this entry.) Like with data and research, make sure the visual aid is truly useful and enlightening for the presentation, and not just filler. Also, do not put your script onto a slide; it’s not much of a presentation if you just read your slides to your audience.

Two important parts to script carefully: Your introductory statement, and your closing call to action. Work on your first few sentences until you have them right, because these are crucial to grabbing the attention of your audience and getting them intrigued in your topic. A tip: Begin with a question for which people can respond by raising their hands (and raise your hand as you ask it to show them what you mean). Asking a question like this makes your talk more interactive, so that you audience is a participant, not just a passive listener. Examples of the structure of questions include: “How many of you own more than one car?” or “Who wants to take a Hawaii vacation?” (note that these are open questions, not yes/no questions).

Your closing statement should reiterate your main point, briefly cite what you covered in support of that point, and then include a call to action. Your call to action is something to leave your audience with, and it varies depending on what your point and take-home message were. If you were suggesting a new method of sales, for instance, you might end with a challenge to your audience to put your new methods into action. If you were informing your audience about the state of the environment, you might challenge them to do more research on their own or make some changes toward a greener lifestyle. A call to action can keep a speech or presentation from being an isolated, one-time event—you can inspire and challenge your audience to take what you have shared and bring it into action in their own lives!