Patrick Stewart: A lesson from Shakespeare and Star Trek

Image of Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard

Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard

I do not consider myself to be a Trekkie, but I was a big fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It was the second Star Trek series and the only one that I watched from beginning to end. The main reason was the brilliant performance by Patrick Stewart, the brilliant English actor.

Stewart played Jean-Luc Picard, the Captain of the USS Enterprise. Courageous, eloquent and a great communicator, Stewart’s character was also a man of culture, a man of humility and someone who wasn’t afraid to seek the advice of others — and heed it. If only more real-life leaders were like him!

I recently came across the video below in which Stewart sat down with his fellow actor and good friend, Ian McKellen to answer questions from fans. One of the questions for Stewart caught my attention: “Did your Shakespearean training help you?”

Stewart said that his Shakespearean training helped him for Star Trek in two ways: one vocal and one physical. The physical is also good advice for public speakers.

See what Stewart said in the video below. It should start at the relevant time but if not, skip ahead to 8:47.

There you have it. Stewart said that he was the one person who knew what to do with his hands, which was nothing. In other words, he was comfortable leaving them at his sides as you can see him do in this clip from Star Trek, a screen shot of which is below.

Clients often ask me what they should do with their hands when they speak in public. Why not let gravity do some of the work and leave them by your sides? No, not for your entire speech or presentation, but from time to time. It’s the most natural position for your hands. And it’s better than putting them in your pockets or behind your back or holding them together in front of you.

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Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 303) – John Maynard Keynes

Photos of John Maynard Keynes

John Maynard Keynes (1883 – 1946) British Economist

“Words ought to be a little wild for they are the assaults of thought on the unthinking.”

—  John Maynard Keynes

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Pico Iyer and the art of stillness

Pico Iyer is a renowned essayist and novelist who is best known for his travel writing. He has been to some of the most far-flung places on the planet and his writings have appeared in leading newspapers, magazines and literary journals.

In the TED Talk below, Iyer discusses a theme that some might find counterintuitive coming from a famous travel writer: the importance of going nowhere, doing nothing and just being still.

Iyer’s gentle approach belies a powerful truth. Technology is making things move faster and faster. It is thus increasingly important for our well-being to slow down and just be still.

The same holds true when we speak to an audience.

I have frequently written about the importance of slowing down and pausing when we speak, such as here and here. And one of my favourite quotes from Mark Twain is all about the power of the pause. In his talk, Iyer delves into this theme:

Like many in Silicon Valley, [Kevin Kelly, co-founder of Wired Magazine] tries really hard to observe what they call an Internet Sabbath, whereby for 24 or 48 hours every week they go completely offline in order to gather the sense of direction and proportion they’ll need when they go online again. The one thing perhaps that technology hasn’t always given us is a sense of how to make the wisest use of technology.

And when you speak of the Sabbath, look at the Ten Commandments. There’s only one word there for which the adjective “holy” is used, and that’s the Sabbath. I pick up the Jewish holy book of the Torah; its longest chapter is on the Sabbath. And we all know that it’s really one of our greatest luxuries, the empty space. In many a piece of music, it’s the pause or the rest that gives the piece its beauty and its shape. And I know that I as a writer will often try to include a lot of empty space on the page so that the reader can complete my thoughts and sentences and so that her imagination has room to breathe.

The last part of the last sentence — “… so that her imagination has room to breathe” — is fundamental to public speaking. When a speaker pauses, audience members can reflect on what she has just said; they can find the relevance of the speaker’s remarks in their own lives. That is how you get your message across, because it is always about the audience.

Keep Pico Iyer in mind the next time you have a speech or presentation. As he says in his concluding remarks,

[I]n an age of acceleration, nothing can be more exhilarating than going slow. And in an age of distraction, nothing is so luxurious as paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is so urgent as sitting still.

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Naomi Osaka’s Australian Open Speech

Naomi Osaka of Japan won the 2019 Australian Open in dramatic fashion. She beat the Czech Republic’s Petra Kvitová 7-6 (7-2) 5-7 6-4 to become the first woman since 2001 to follow her debut Grand Slam win with another one.

Even after squandering three match points to lose the second set, Osaka fought back in the third to claim the title.

Her acceptance speech at the awards ceremony was delightful. When called to the microphone, Osaka began with a timid “Hello” which elicited good-natured laughter from the audience. She then said, “Sorry, public speaking isn’t really my strong side, um, so I … I just hope I can get through this.”

And she did get through it. She was gracious to Kvitova, appreciative toward the fans, grateful to the Australian Open organization and thankful to her team.

Osaka was clearly nervous and it would be easy to point out all the public speaking mistakes that she made. It would also be churlish to do so. Nobody cares that she was nervous or that she had lots of filler words or that she forgot part of her speech. Indeed, when Osaka said, “I read notes before this but I still forgot the rest of what I’m supposed to say,” she endeared herself to the crowd even more.

There is a lesson in Osaka’s speech for public speakers of any level. If your words are sincere and you just be yourself, people will overlook most any public speaking misstep. And even if they don’t, a bad speech will not define you.

Osaka is only 21. She will be a tennis powerhouse for years to come. She will undoubtedly have other opportunities to give speeches after winning tournaments. I think that her speaking skills, like her tennis skills, will just get better. Let’s see what she says next time.

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Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 302) – Martin Luther King Jr.

Portrait of Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King Jr. (1929 – 1968) American Minister and Civil Rights Activist

“A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true.”

—  Martin Luther King Jr.

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Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 301) – Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix (1942 – 1970) American Rock Guitarist and Singer

“Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.”

—  Jimi Hendrix

Photo attributed to Scanpix
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Don’t let this moment define you

Have you ever had one of these experiences while speaking in public?

  • You forgot what you wanted to say and froze on stage.
  • Your computer crashed and you fumbled your way through the presentation.
  • An audience member made a comment that threw you off.
  • You were asked a question that you couldn’t answer and became flustered.

I’ve seen these things happen time and again to speakers. And I’ve experienced these things because each of them—and more—has happened to me.

For example, I was once speaking to approximately 80 communication professionals on the topic of how to communicate effectively. As you might imagine, I felt the pressure of speaking on a topic to a room full of experts.

At one point during my talk, I showed a slide of me with some children in Kenya when I was doing some work there. It’s a picture that I love and that brings back strong emotions from my experience. I used it to demonstrate the difference in effect when one use a small picture in the corner of a slide versus having the picture fill the entire slide.

One woman in the audience took exception to the image and let out an audible groan and rolled her eyes. At that moment, it felt like the room had gone dark except for where she was sitting. For a good 10 seconds or so, she was the only person I could see. And it took me several minutes to regain my composure and get back into the groove.

Yes, public speaking can be scary.

I felt bad about that presentation for a few days, but then I had another event at which I had to speak and things went well. It was a good lesson on the importance of putting bad experiences behind you so that you can move forward.

I recently came across a much more profound example of this lesson in the story of Ryan Speedo Green. A star baritone in the world of opera, Green sings around the world in four languages. But how he achieved his goal is even more impressive than his voice.

Born into poverty in Virginia, Green lived in a trailer park and low income housing as a child. He had an abusive mother who frequently beat him. One day, he pulled a knife on her and she called the police. Green was sent to a juvenile detention facility where he spent two terrible months, often in solitary confinement. No one could foresee that that troubled young boy would become the thoughtful man in the video below.

No one, that is, except a few people who helped him turn his life around: his teacher, Elizabeth Hughes; Priscilla Piñeiro-Jenkins, a caseworker in the detention centre; and a Virginian psychiatrist.

In an interview on CBS’s 60 Minutes, Green was asked what he would say to his 12-year-old self sitting in solitary confinement in that detention centre. He answered,

I would tell him there are trees and sun beyond these walls. … Don’t let this moment define you. I would, in the words of Elizabeth Hughes [say], don’t let this moment define you. This is not the end. This is only a moment in time. And someday it’ll get better. Someday things will get brighter.

Remember Green’s story the next time things go wrong on stage and you feel like you will never give a good speech or presentation again. Things will get better.

Don’t let this moment define you.

Photo credit (first image): TEDxLTHS / Flickr
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When you speak, break the pattern

Presentation Guru LogoI am one of the co-founders of Presentation Guru, a digital magazine for public speaking professionalsThis post is part of a series designed to share the great content on Presentation Guru with the Manner of Speaking community.

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In my seven-part series on Chip and Dan Heath’s classic, Made to Stick, one of the posts dealt with the power of being unexpected.

The Heaths say, “If you want your ideas to be stickier, you’ve got to break someone’s guessing machine and then fix it.”  You have to break their pattern of thinking in a way that creates surprise and interest. However, you must do so in a way that is relevant and thoughtful.  Being unexpected in a constructive way involves much more than just doing something crazy.

The Heaths continue: “The easiest way to avoid gimmicky surprise and ensure that your unexpected ideas produce insight is to make sure you target an aspect of your audience’s guessing machines that relates to your core message.”

And yet, how often do speakers fall into the same old patterns? A bland opening, going through slide after slide of information, a weak conclusion, asking for questions at the end.

When you speak, break the pattern!

Pieces of coloured chalk

Inspired by Joseph Haydn’s Surprise Symphony, Stephen Welch has written a post to help you break the pattern the next time you have a presentation. He offers concrete advice that you can break the patterns of your audience’s thinking in your presentations. Fittingly, he divides his ideas into the following musical techniques 

  • Overture – Open your presentation in a creative way
  • Key change – Change the tone of your voice at key moments
  • Rest bars – The power of the pause
  • The instrumental solo – Videos, music and more
  • Intermission – Ways to give your audience a break
  • Encore – End on a strong note

To learn more about these techniques, please read Stephen’s post.

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Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 300) – “A Star is Born”

Quote No. 300 for public speakers. Hard to believe.

When I began this series back in 2009 with Quote No. 1, I wasn’t sure that I would find enough quotes to keep it running for long. But time and again, I have come across great quotes, aphorisms, sayings and other pieces of wisdom that have something to offer to public speakers.

I hadn’t thought too much about what I would do for Quote No. 300, but then I came across this trailer for the movie A Star is Born, starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, and I knew this was it. Because this is a milestone, you get the quote and a video.

Hope it inspires you to go out and speak. You’ve got something to say.

“Look, talent comes everywhere. But having something to say and the way to say it so people listen to it, that’s a whole other bag. And unless you get out there and you try to do it, you’ll never know. That’s just the truth.

“If there’s one reason we’re supposed to be here, it’s to say something so people want to hear it. So you gotta grab it. And you don’t apologize, you don’t worry about why they’re listening or how long they’re gonna be listening for, you just tell ’em what you wanna say.”

—  Bradley Cooper in A Star is Born

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10 tips for dealing wth dry mouth when you speak

If you give a lot of speeches or presentations, there is a good chance that you have experienced dry mouth (also known as cotton mouth) — that parched, sticky sensation that makes your mouth and throat feel like cracked soil in a drought.

The technical term for dry mouth is xerostomia. It’s a condition in which the salivary glands in your mouth don’t produce enough saliva to keep your mouth wet. There are several causes of xerostomia, some of which are serious. For many people, however, dry mouth is a temporary condition brought on by stress or nerves, something which every public speaker has experienced.

You know the symptoms: a dry, sticky mouth; a sore throat; difficulty swallowing; a heavy pasty tongue. Not fun and, if you are speaking to an audience, not helpful. So what can you do about it?

Here are 10 tips:

1.  Drink plenty of water the night before. Yes, you will be going to the washroom more often than usual, but all that water will hydrate your cells.

2.  Sip water regularly in the hour or so before you speak to stay hydrated. Be sure to go to the washroom before you take the stage.

3.  Chew citrus-flavoured gum or a lozenge before speaking, but don’t forget go spit it out before going on stage!

4.  Have water handy on stage so that you can take a sip if necessary. Two important things to remember about water:

(a) It should be room temperature. Cold water constricts the vocal chords.

(b) It should be flat, not sparkling. Bubble have a way of coming back up!

5.  Avoid alcohol, caffeine and tobacco before you speak as these substances worsen dry mouth.

6.  If you use mouthwash, choose a brand without alcohol.

7.  Try an oral rinse that is designed to counteract dry mouth. Such rinses usually contain xylitol, which helps stimulate saliva. I have used this brand and found it works well.

8.  Avoid antihistamines and decongestants as they tend to exacerbate dry mouth.

9.  Sleep with a humidifier.

10.  Prepare well. This will help you feel more confident, which will help you feel less nervous, which in turn will help minimize dry mouth.

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This year, push yourself beyond your boundaries

My wife Julie and I recently returned home after three days in Zermatt, Switzerland with our friends, Florian Mueck and Rose Chong, and some of their friends. Great people and great skiing!

Besides being a friend, Florian is also a fellow public speaker, my business partner and co-creator of Rhetoric – The Public Speaking Game™. One day, while taking the lift up the mountain, Florian and I shot an impromptu 45-second video. He asked what my biggest wish for speakers in 2019 is. Here’s my answer:

If you need inspiration on how you can push yourself when it comes to your public speaking, you can find lots of concrete ideas in this post.

And if you want to see more of Florian’s quick-tip videos on public speaking, visit him here on Instagram.

Happy New Year!

Florian and me with the Matterhorn in the background

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Five Public Speaking Resolutions for 2019

PG LogoI am one of the co-founders of Presentation Guru, a digital magazine for public speaking professionalsThis post is part of a series designed to share the great content on Presentation Guru with the Manner of Speaking community.

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As 2018 draws to a close, many people reflect on the year gone by and make plans for the year to come. If you are inclined to make New Year’s resolutions, and if you want to improve your public speaking skills, why not make a public speaking resolution or two for 2019?

I have suggested resolutions for public speakers in the past. Here’s a list of 50 that I posted at the end of 2011. They are just as useful today as they were then.

This year, my colleagues at Presentation Guru asked me to come up with another list. I was happy to oblige, but this time, I limited myself to five and went deeper on each. They are as follows:

  1. Arrive at least one hour before you are scheduled to speak.
  2. Seek out speaking situations that make you uncomfortable.
  3. Give a presentation without slides.
  4. Analyze other people’s speeches and presentations.
  5. Tell more stories.

Following through on any one of these resolutions will make a big difference to your public speaking. Doing all five will add rocket fuel to your speeches and presentations!

To learn more about my thinking for each resolution, and to get a bucketload of links to some great articles related to them, head over to my post on Presentation Guru.

I wish you a Happy New Year and all the best for a terrific 2019!

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