Monday, September 28, 2009

Speaking Skills: Planning (part 2)

Part 3 of "Professionally Speaking: Six Keys to Better Presentations," is the continuation of the second key: Planning.

Many people don’t think to outline or plan their speeches beyond the main points they want to make. You should know that a very clear, simple outline can help you craft an effective speech and get your message across very clearly. I frequently call on the five-paragraph essay form I learned in high school:

  • Introduction (no more than 10% of your speech, and be sure to clearly outline what you will cover)
  • Point one (with a clear pause before beginning)
  • Point two (another clear pause)
  • Point three (a final pause)
  • Conclusion (no more than 10% of your speech, be sure to tell them what you just covered).

This simple structure will help you get to the point quickly and help your listeners keep with you. You will state your thesis very clearly in the intro. It helps to follow that with a statement covering what your main three points will be. After a pause, begin with the first point. Pause, then the second point; pause again, then the third point. A final pause comes before the conclusion, where you reiterate the points you covered, restate your thesis, and end with a call to action (covered in a future post).

A Toastmasters colleague of mine, Brian Castelli, uses the following system to structure his speeches:

  • Position (your approach, your opinion)
  • Action (action you recommend)
  • Benefit (results from the action)

You can easily work this PAB structure as the three main points of your speech. This structure is particularly useful when you are trying to persuade your audience to your point of view.

Next: Research and Scripting

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Speaking Skills: Planning

Part 2 of "Professionally Speaking: Six Keys to Better Presentations."

You’ve been assigned to give (or chosen to do) a presentation of some sort. You’ve been working on your mindset to channel your nervous energy, and you’re ready to begin planning and scripting your speech. A lot of people get stuck at this point. What do I say? How do I say it? Panicking at this stage can steer you wrong in two possible ways: not enough planning (thinking you can just wing it, or not providing enough content) or overplanning (and then sharing too much information for your audience to process). Proper attention to the planning stage (the second key) can provide a lot of confidence in your speech, which will make you much more comfortable when it is time to present it.

To begin the planning stages of your speech, I recommend asking yourself the following three questions, as they will guide you through the rest of your content:

  • Who cares? The answer to this question will reveal your audience. It is key to speak to your audience. For instance, if you are a software engineer speaking to a conference session of other software engineers, then you will be fine to assume a certain level of knowledge of the audience, as well as familiarity with lingo and abbreviations used commonly in that job. If you are speaking to a group of schoolchildren, however, you will need to explain things in much more basic terms and not use a lot of lingo. Also, knowing your audience helps you plan how to make your point, because you can figure out why they might care about your topic.
  • So what? Asking this question will help you absolutely crystallize your main point (or thesis) so that it is very clear and obvious. It will also help you get to the point in your speech. If a speaker is rambling with a long introduction, many details, and lots of stories, it can be very difficult to pick out their point. Your main point is the reason for the speech, and thus it should be apparent, clear, and stated several times in the presentation. For instance, if your presentation is about quarterly income reports and planning, your point might be that steps need to be taken to boost revenue (or cut expenses).
  • What now? The answer to this question will reveal the takeaway message that you want your audience to have. Again, it should be clear and obvious, perhaps stated as a call to action at the end of the speech (a call to action will be discussed in a later entry). Many times, the purpose of a speech is to persuade someone to your point of view, so you will want the take-home message to be a challenge to adopt your opinion, use a product, or try your method of doing something. In the example of the quarterly income reports, you might inspire your co-workers to turn in more billable hours for increased revenue. You can have more than one takeaway message, but keep them simple.

I find that asking myself these three questions helps me focus my speech plan and adapt it to my audience quite easily. Try it, and see how it works for you.

Next up: Outlining and filling in the content of your speech.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Speaking Skills: Mindset

I have recently been putting together a presentation that I am calling "Professionally Speaking: Six Keys to Better Presentations." Because much of my coaching practice involves helping clients improve their communication skills, I decided to make a series of blog posts following the outline of my presentation.

It's a bit of a truism (and also true!) that many people fear public speaking more than they fear death. It is commonly identified as the number one phobia! Yet we all are required to do some "public speaking," whether it's in a staff meeting, a job interview, a sales presentation, or in front of large groups. If the thought of speaking in front of more than one or two people makes your knees shake, then read on.

The first key to better presentations is mindset. When we focus on our fear, we will get more of it; the more you dwell on it, the harder it gets to achieve anything. If your mind automatically goes to the worst-case scenario--"What if I mess up and they laugh at me?"--you will not be able to move forward and seize your own success!

Set your intention for your speech/presentation/interview, and then start with these mind-setting techniques.

  • First, relax. Your audience, whoever they are, wants to hear what you have to say. They are rooting for your success!
  • Instead of thinking, "I am nervous, I am scared!", shift your energy to think, "I am keyed up!" Being keyed up is about having a higher energy to put into your presentation, not necessarily being frightened of fearful. Channel that nervous energy into something positive instead of dwelling on your fear! This is a subtle, but powerful shift.
  • Imagine your success ahead of time. Visualize the room, the audience, and yourself giving the presentation as if you are also in the audience, watching. Notice how well you communicate!
  • Take ownership of your success! A presentation is a chance to shine. You get to share something meaningful with your audience or listeners and show them what you can do! This is especially true of job interviews. Remember, you speech or presentation is not a torture device simply to drive you nuts: It is a means to an end of some sort. Think about the payoff to keep your motivation up.
  • If your mind continually goes to the worst-case scenario, then counter it by imagining the best-case scenario: Suppose that you do everything perfectly, and people are so impressed they whip out their wallets and give you all their money, plus you get a promotion, and you meet the love of your life, and they throw you a parade and give you a key to the city, all as a result of that one speaking opportunity. Obviously, that's not terribly realistic, but neither is the worst-case scenario. Realistically, your presentation will fall somewhere between these opposites.
Still have a nagging fear of being laughed at? Ask yourself this: Have you ever, in real life, seen a speech disrupted by people pointing and laughing over a mistake? Yeah, me neither. So relax!

Coming up: planning your speech, effective rehearsal tips, antianxiety techniques, performance do's and don'ts, plus what to do after.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

My path

I was recently asked to come up with a blog entry for an alliance I'm part of (Surve), and I thought I'd cross-post it here. This is a bit about my path to becoming a coach.

My path to coaching was rather roundabout. I have an established career as a professional book copyeditor, and for a while I had my own direct sales business as well. After a particularly grueling quarter, I was exhausted and extremely frustrated. I felt like I was doing the same old thing over and over! I started thinking about what I really wanted, and I began to realize that I wanted my work to make a difference in the world, to really have an impact in people’s lives. I was getting tempting little tastes of it, and I decided to ramp that up! The only problem was, I wasn’t sure what path would allow me to do that. Should I find a job somewhere? Go back to school? Try something different? At that point “keep doing what I’m doing” was not an attractive option!

Luckily, I attended the national conference for my sales company and met a wonderful trainer. I was so struck by her enthusiasm and creative ideas that I made a point of going up to her and asking point-blank if there was any way I could work for her! She said, “I need coaches with your experience.” Ding ding ding! The more I thought over this option, the more appealing it was. I could use my strong communication skills (written and oral), combine them with my desire to work with people, and really help clients transform their lives for the better!

I’m very glad that my new mentor insisted that I (along with three other women who wanted to work for her) take an ICF-accredited coach training course through Erickson College. Through this course, I learned the foundation of what true coaching is: supporting the client to unlock his or her own genius! The class gave me powerful tools to help my clients tap their inner strengths and resourcefulness, plus exercises for helping people get unstuck. I learned coaching as based on the core principles of the International Core Federation; I am a member of the ICF and abide by their Code of Ethics. I’ve continued my training as well and am now certified in team coaching. I’ve been able to work as a coach for just over two years, and I’m incredibly honored to support my clients. I take joy in watching them make changes, leading to an even greater transformation.