What if we put the audience first?

What if we stopped thinking of the audience as the number of seats filled?

What if we started thinking about the audience as individuals who are giving us 15 minutes, 30 minutes, one hour of their time? Time that they will never get back.

What if we stopped focusing on how we look, where we’re putting our hands, whether people will like us, whether this speaking engagement will lead to a new engagement, a new client, a new opportunity?

What if we started focusing on how we can help the audience, entertain them, inspire them, teach them something, make this time—time that they will never get back—worth their while?

What if we put the audience first?

What might happen then?

Photo courtesy of Felix Mooneeram 
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Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 260) – Madeleine Albright

Madeleine Albright – American Politician and Diplomat

“It took me quite a long time to develop a voice and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent.”

— Madeleine Albright

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A lesson from Apple’s launch of the iPhone X

The iPhone X (pronounced “iPhone 10”) was touted as the next leap forward in smartphones. It is the first smartphone from Apple to feature a full-screen display, it has “Super Retina” resolution, wireless charging and more. Apple revealed it to the world on 12 September 2017 at a special event at the Steve Jobs Theatre.

One of these new features is Apple’s face recognition technology. Gone is the digital fingerprint that has allowed iPhone users to open their phones in recent years. Now, with the iPhone X, you hold your phone up and look at it. The iPhone recognizes your face and then opens.

Except when it doesn’t.

This is what happened when Craig Federighi, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Software Engineering, tried to demonstrate the new feature.

Ouch! Another awkward presentation moment for the history books.

So, what happened? Is Apple’s face recognition technology a massive fail? I doubt it. In fact, Apple has offered an explanation.

Prior to the demonstration, different people had been handling the phone that Federighi first tried to open. What nobody realized was that phone was trying to recognize the faces of those people. Because none of those people had Federighi’s face, the phone did not open. However, it was registering several unsuccessful attempts to log in. After a certain number, the device blocked face recognition—as intended—and required a passcode to open.

I find this explanation plausible. I have an iPhone 6s that has digital fingerprint recognition. If I press the home button several times with a finger other than the one registered with my phone, it locks and requires me to enter the passcode. It’s a good safety feature.

So Federighi’s iPhone X worked the way it was supposed to. But it didn’t look like it at the time. Instead, it was an uncomfortable 15 seconds that required Federighi to switch to a backup. Fifteen seconds out of a two-hour event and yet those 15 seconds have generated a lot of discussion in the press and on social media.

Those 15 seconds have raised doubts in the minds of some people as to the robustness of the technology. Those 15 seconds even resulted in a plunge in the price of Apple stock, although the drop was short-lived and quickly reversed. Apple will now have to wait until November 2017, when the $1,000 iPhone X becomes available in stores, for the debate about its face recognition technology to be put to rest.

In an earlier post entitled Ten Tips for Using Props in a Presentation, I offered some ideas on how to make sure things run smoothly when you use props. One of the tips was as follows:

Make sure the prop works. The more complicated the prop, the greater the chance that something can go wrong. Test it, test it and then test it again beforehand. This is especially important if the prop forms a key part of the presentation; for example, if it is an invention that you are revealing to the public.

In the case of the iPhone X demonstration, Apple should have known that the phone would lock if different people had been handling it. The last person to handle the phone before the demonstration should have been Federighi himself. He should have opened it a couple of times using face recognition to make sure that it was ready to go.

To his credit, Federighi did have a backup plan—which I also discuss in my earlier post—a second iPhone X. Even so, it would have been preferable had Federighi had the presence of mind to explain Apple’s lockout feature, enter the passcode, close the phone and open it again with face recognition. To be fair, he would have had to do all these mental gymnastics quickly and in the heat of the moment and with the eyes of the world upon him.

Nonetheless, the incident was a valuable reminder of the importance of preparation and how, even then, mistakes will happen.

Even Steve Jobs had days like this.

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Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 259) – Jonathan Evison

Jonathan Evison – American Writer

“You have to smile, if you expect anybody to smile back.”

— Jonathan Evison

Photo courtesy of Keith Brofsky
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10 Lessons from Jim Carrey for Public Speakers

I recently came across the six-minute film, Jim Carrey: I Needed Color. It is a beautifully shot and wonderfully told story about Jim Carrey’s fascination with art, particularly painting. The movie shows a side of Carrey with which many people may not be familiar, a side that contrasts starkly with his stand-up personality and with the characters that he has portrayed on screen.

Jim Carrey

As the years have passed, Carrey has spent more and more time on his art. He paints and sculpts to express his feelings, to connect with others and also to help heal the broken pieces inside of him. The film offers a very poignant view into the mind and heart of the man.

I was so impressed by the film, that after watching it the first time, I immediately hit “Replay” and watched it again, this time taking notes. As I jotted down the different points, it occurred to me that the things that Carrey says about art apply equally to public speaking.

After all, when you think about it, public speaking is a lot like art:

  • It begins with an idea.
  • The speaker / artist needs to spend time alone working on it.
  • It evolves.
  • It is an expression of what the speaker / artist is thinking and feeling.
  • Eventually, it is seen / heard by others.
  • There will always be critics.

The film is immediately below. It is followed by 10 lessons that I have taken from it that I believe are valuable for public speakers.

1. “You can tell what I love by the colour of the paintings. You can tell my inner life by the darkness in some of them. You can tell what I want from the brightness in some of them.”

Lesson: Speakers should share a bit of themselves in every speech: a point of view; a call to action; a concern; a hope; a weakness; a vision. What they share will depend on a number of factors including the purpose of the speech, the subject, the audience and the speaking situation. Some speeches will be brighter and some will be darker, but the audience should get some sense of who you are every time you speak.

2. “The painting was telling me what I needed to know about myself.”

Lesson: I begin writing my speeches with two things in mind: the audience and my message. But as I work on my speeches, many times I also learn something about myself. As you work on your speeches, think about your audience, but be open to possibility that you might be telling yourself something as well.

3. “What makes someone an artist is that they make models of their inner life. They make something physically come into being that is inspired by their emotions or their needs or what they feel the audience needs.”

Lesson: Similar to the first lesson above, a speech comes from within. You take your knowledge, your experience, your emotion, your point of view and you create something for your audience. Something from you that benefits your audience in some way.

4. “I like the independence of it. I love the freedom of it. No one else tells you what you can or can’t do … most of the time.”

Lesson: Public speaking offers an incredible opportunity to speakers. When it comes to preparing and delivering a speech, the possibilities for what you speak about, and how you speak about it, are endless … most of the time. Unfortunately, many people face restrictions at work when it comes to presentations; for example, in the form of mandatory slide templates. But even in such cases, with a bit of effort, speakers can still find ways to deliver something that is captivating and unique.

5. “There’s an immediacy to it.”

Lesson: When you speak to an audience, you have to be 100% present. You have to be 100% in the moment.

6. “Art has to be service. You’re servicing your subconscious and at the same time you’re doing something that someone’s going to relate to, hopefully.”

Lesson: First and foremost, your speech should serve your audience. But it can also help you. My good friends and fellow speakers, Florian Mueck and Olivia Schofield, like to say that public speaking is therapy if you do it right, and if it’s not therapy yet, you can do better!

7. “I was not the type of kid [to whom] you could say as a punishment: ‘Go to your room.’ Because my room was heaven to me. My isolation was welcome.”

Lesson: It is, perhaps, a paradox of “public” speaking that much of your time will be spent alone with your thoughts as you work on your speeches. Get used to being alone. Get to know yourself. Enjoy your own company.

8. “People that are different have a shot at being original.”

Lesson: As Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”

9. “Something inside you is always telling a story. I believe every single thing that you see and hear is talking to you.”

Lesson: Storytelling is an incredibly important part of public speaking, in any situation. Stories add meaning; stories are memorable; if people remember the story, they are more likely to remember the message. Look for the stories in your life, big and small, that you can use in your speeches. Spend time learning some of the secrets to great storytelling.

10. “The bottom line with all of this—whether it’s performance or it’s art or it’s sculpture—is love. We want to show ourselves and have that be accepted. I love being alive and the art is the evidence of that.”

Lesson: As Luciano Pavarotti said, “Some singers want the audience to love them. I love the audience.” Love your audiences and be willing to share with them the best that you have to offer. And even when people don’t agree with what you are saying—which will eventually happen if you speak often enough—if you have prepared properly and made your best effort to help the audience in some way, you have done your job.

Photo courtesy of Ian Smith
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