Today, 15 May 2019, is a big day in our family. Our cat Pico is now 20 years old. A significant milestone. According to generally agreed conversion rates, if Pico were human, she would be 96. Most cats don’t make it this far.
In some ways, Pico is showing her age. She is about 90% deaf; her hips and spine are bony; and she occasionally yowls a plaintiff moan at nothing in particular. Nevertheless, overall she is in great shape. She eats well; her eyesight is excellent; she still goes outside in the backyard; she can still dart up and down the stairs when she wants; and she is still incredibly social.
We got Pico as a kitten from a former colleague. I had never had a cat before and I did not consider myself to be a cat person. Twenty years later, that has changed.
I still love dogs, but cats will always have a special place in my heart. That’s why I get a kick out of this scene from Meet the Parents in which Robert De Niro sets Ben Stiller straight on the issue of cats and dogs.
Pico has given us a lot of joy over the years. In many ways, she has also been a great example. If you observe cats long enough, you can learn a lot from them. Here are four lessons from Pico that will benefit any public speaker.
When she was younger, Pico was a champion hunter. Over the years she has caught countless bugs, dozens of mice, five or six birds, and two bats. (She caught the bats while prowling along the rooftop at night and brought them back — alive — into the house through the skylight. This meant that I got to catch the bats in the house and then release them outside.)
Whenever Pico spotted prey, she would focus 100% on it as she slowly stalked it. She doesn’t hunt much these days, but her focus is as keen as ever. When she sees a bird or another cat or even a human, she is completely focused on them. She will look out the same window she has looked out for 20 years and still find something to focus on.
As speakers, we need to bring the same intensity of focus every time we step on stage. We need to forget about ourselves and focus 100% on the audience. When we do that, we become engaged, we become much more natural on stage and we have a better chance to make an impact.
Put anything new where Pico can reach it and she will be all over it. She’ll walk around, sniff it, scratch it, bat at it. Pull open dresser drawer or closet door and in she goes. Her curiosity is extraordinary. She is always interested in new things.
I admire her curiosity. It’s good to be curious. Albert Einstein said, “I have no special talent; I am only passionately curious.” Well, if it’s good enough for Pico (and Einstein), it’s good enough for me.
Whenever I have the time, I try new things, read from a wide range of sources on an eclectic range of subjects, watch different documentaries and try to meet new people. That’s how you learn. And learning new things makes you a more interesting speaker.
If you want to be a better speaker, stay curious. Read trade magazines; keep abreast of the news; learn a new skill; visit a new country if you can; and have meaningful conversations. Every bit of knowledge is something that you can draw on for your speeches and presentations.
We have an alarm clock at home but we don’t need it. We have Pico.
When it’s 5:15, you can be sure that she will be scratching on your door or, if the door is open, jumping on the bed and meowing a storm. Because she’s hungry and damn it, she wants to eat.
She’ll meow non-stop for five minutes and if you refuse to move, she’ll leave for a minute or two, lull you into a false sense of security and then come back and meow non-stop for another five minutes. Let’s just say that I have become an early riser out of habit.
Public speakers need to be persistent as well. We need to work constantly to perfect our craft. Even when it’s hard. Especially when it’s hard.
It might be speaking about a new subject or to a new audience. It could be mastering a new technology such as slide presentation software or interactive polls. Or it might be overcoming a bad habit such as speaking too fast. There is always room for improvement and we have to work for that improvement. But it requires persistence.
On average, cats sleep 15 or 16 hours a day. Some sleep even more. Pico is every inch a cat. Sometimes she just has a light “cat nap” and can be easily awakened; sometimes she is in such a deep sleep that you can pet her a long time and she won’t budge. But she does get her sleep.
For years, I thought it was a sign of weakness to have to sleep. I could not have been more wrong. Numerous studies and articles show that getting sufficient sleep — 7 to 8 hours a night — is critical for good performance.
I don’t always get 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night, but in general I do. I also take a 20- to 25-minute nap in the afternoon if my schedule permits. It’s just enough sleep to recharge for the afternoon and evening.
Getting sufficient sleep before a speaking engagement is important. You will be sharper and more present if you are rested. My advice for the night before a big speech or presentation is to get 30 minutes more sleep than usual in order to be well rested. And if your speech is in the evening, try to take a nap in the afternoon if you can.
If you are nervous about the speech and are having trouble falling asleep, here are some tips that can help:
Have a light supper.
Avoid the computer or your smartphone or the television for at least one hour before you go to bed.
Take a warm bath or shower.
Drink herbal tea.
Have warm blankets but cool air in the room.
There’s much more that I could tell you about Pico, but these four characteristics: focus; curiosity; persistence; and sleep will stand any speaker in good stead.
Happy Birthday, little cat. May you have many more!
Have you ever been in the audience listening to a speaker and found yourself lost? You weren’t exactly sure where the speaker was going or how the different points in a speech were connected?
There are many possible reasons for such a situation, but one of them is faulty, or non-existent, transitions.
What is a transition?
Transitions are words or sentences that help your audience understand the flow of your speech or presentation. They make it easy for your audience to follow along.
A transition is a signpost that tells the audience where you are going, just like signposts along the highway tell you which direction you are heading. When a speaker says, “You’ve seen what the product can do, let’s now look at market opportunity”, the audience knows that the speaker is leaving one topic and moving on to the next.
A transition can be a single word or a phrase or even a sentence or two. It connects one idea to another and helps the audience follow along. Never forget the curse of knowledge. Things that are obvious to you will not necessarily be obvious to your audience. Transitions can help.
Types of Transitions
There are many types of transitions in a speech or presentation. Below are some of the most common ones, with examples.
This transition is used to go from the opening of a talk (during which you should have grabbed the audience’s attention) to the main part.
Today, we will look at the reasons for [X] and what we can do about it.
In the next 45 minutes, I will share with you four ways that you can [X].
As a team, we need to [X] for the following three reasons …
Moving between main points
These transitions are used to signal a change between one point and another. Too often, they are absent and the different points blur together.
The first reason is [X] …; the second reason is [Y] …; the third reason is [Z] …
Now that we’ve seen the problem, let’s examine what we can do to solve it.
That was the past; let’s look at what we have planned for the future.
Comparison of similar ideas
Sometimes you will want to compare ideas that are the same or similar. A simple transition can help.
In the same manner …
In the same way …
We can also see this …
Comparison contrasting ideas
When comparing contrasting or conflicting ideas, transitions are important to signal a counterargument.
On the other hand …
On the contrary …
Notwithstanding the forgoing …
Expanding on a point
If you use several reasons to support a point, transitions such as these are useful:
In addition …
On top of the that …
When you reach a key moment in your presentation, it is essential that the audience understand how important it is.
And the most important reason is …
Most importantly …
Even if we put aside all the other reasons …
Above all else …
If you are discussing a causal relationship between two things or events, use transitions such as the following:
As a result …
As a consequence …
For these reasons …
It is important to transition smoothly from the main body of your speech or presentation to the conclusion. Depending on how long or complex your talk was, you may wish to repeat the main points that you covered.
In conclusion …
In summary …
To sum up …
I’d like to leave you with …
A word about team presentations
Transitions in a team presentation are important and something that must be practiced. Why? Because the way in which a team performs on stage sends a signal to the audience about the cohesiveness of the team members.
I tell my clients that when the audience watches a team presentation, it wants to see one team, not two or three or four individuals. Yet mistakes are made all the time.
Too often, a speaker will finish his part of the presentation and just signal to his partner to come on stage without a word. Or he will say something banal such as, “I’ll now hand over to my colleague.” It doesn’t look good and it can easily be avoided.
The key points to cover in a transition to the another speaker are as follows:
Brief conclusion of your part
Name and position of the next speaker
if speaking to an audience of strangers, use the first and last name
if speaking to an audience that already knows the team, you can drop the last name and possibly the position
Brief statement about what they will cover
A good format is as follows: “I’ve shown you [X]. I’d like to hand over to [NAME and POSITION] to talk about [Y].
Here are some examples:
“I’ve shown you the challenges that the new legislation poses. Sara Jones, the Head of our Accounting Department, will discuss the steps we’ve taken to adapt.”
“Now that you’ve heard the reasons for the office move, I’d like to invite Martin Smith, our logistics expert, to explain what we have to do next.”
“I’ve set out the cost-benefit analysis of the first option. Melanie will now do the same for the second option.”
Transitions in a speech or presentation are like the stitching in a fine suit or dress. They take up a relatively small part of the whole and when they work well, you don’t really notice them. But when they are loose and of poor quality, they stick out.
You want your suit or dress to be stitched together properly. You should want the same thing for your speech or presentation.
Simon Sinek – British-American Author and Motivational Speaker
“We are drawn to leaders and organizations that are good at communicating what they believe. Their ability to make us feel like we belong, to make us feel special, safe and not alone is part of what gives them the ability to inspire us.”
The temptation to be like others is strong. But if we always try to fit in, we will never stand out. We become just one more slice of bread in one more bland, homogenized loaf. And there are millions of bland loaves of bread out there. Good luck getting noticed while sitting on the same shelf.
A unique selling proposition (USP) refers to the unique benefit exhibited by a company, service, product or brand that enables it to stand out from competitors.
You also have a unique selling proposition … You.
Nobody else has your experiences or insights or points of view. Nobody else has your style or strengths or weaknesses. You are unique. That’s what authenticity is all about. You should not try to cover it up, as the following story illustrates.
A lesson from the world of art
In the video below, renowned art expert Philip Mould discusses a fascinating painting of Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson by the Italian painter Leonardo Guzzardi. What makes the painting fascinating is that, unlike many of his contemporaries, Guzzardi did not try to make Nelson look perfect. Instead, he showed the scars that Nelson had received on his forehead in the Battle of the Nile.
During the twentieth century, a restorer painted in Nelson’s lost right eyebrow, perhaps thinking it was a mistake. However, Nelson was actually missing an eyebrow because of a head wound and it was a key part of Guzzardi’s original portrait.
When Mould obtained the painting, he had it restored, stating:
This was like reversing plastic surgery to reveal lost history. Seeing the scar emerge was a remarkable moment – Nelson the human replaced the more heroic projection. It was not uncommon for unsophisticated restorers in the last century to believe they were “improving” original works with their own paint brush, only to disguise their authenticity and distinction in the process.
When you are authentic, when you are willing to share the real you with us — the highs and the lows — that’s when you stand out; that’s what sets you apart from other people. Because we are interested in you, flaws and all.
Being authentic doesn’t mean that we’ll always agree with you or even like you. Many people won’t. But if you are trying to please everyone, you will likely end up pleasing no one. Better to be true to your audience and yourself.
Don’t be a duplicate of someone else. Share your ideas and be yourself because, as Oscar Wilde said, everyone else is already taken.
As regular readers of this blog know, I co-created a public speaking board game with my good friend and fellow speaker, Florian Mueck: Rhetoric – The Public Speaking Game™. It is available as both a traditional tabletop board game and an app. You can learn more about it here, here and here.
On Saturday, 27 April 2019, I will be speaking at the Association of Speakers Clubs (ASC) National Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland. I have been asked to talk about Rhetoric – The Public Speaking Game™ and how gamification can help people become better public speakers.
Public Speaking: It’s not a game. Or is it? For many, the mere thought of speaking in public can set hearts pounding! And yet, being able to communicate one’s ideas is a critical and sought-after skill. But what if giving a speech didn’t have to be frightening? What if it could be fun? What if we approached the challenge of public speaking the same way that Microsoft, Starbucks, St. Andrews University and others approach their challenges? What if we brought gamification to public speaking? Public speaking would be child’s play! Hear the story of Rhetoric – The Public Speaking Game™, how it is being used around the world and what we have learned from it.
By gamifying public speaking, Florian and I have combined elements of fun, competition, play and socialization to create an environment that is both fun and educational. Players tend not to focus on the fact that they are speaking in public; instead, they just are playing a game. And play is one of the most powerful ways in which we can learn.
If you are in Edinburgh on 25-27 April, consider attending the conference or dropping by the venue to say hello. And if you want to learn more about RHETORIC, please visit our website.
During the week, I sat down with Conor for a free-flowing discussion about a whole host of subjects. The result is the 52-minute video below. In it, Conor and I cover a wide range of subjects such as:
Why you should distill your message into a single sentence
Why practice and preparation are essential
Pauses and why you need to get comfortable with them
The difference between a dialogue and a speech
Eliminating habits that reduce your power and convey weakness
Why you should video yourself and three ways to use the video
How to ask for, and get comfortable with, feedback
Learning from negative experiences
Pain and pleasure: the two great motivators
Why the bathroom mirror is a powerful tool
Speaking with, or without notes
Why speakers should think of themselves as sculptors
Going beyond your comfort zone
Being a bigger version of you on stage
A growth mindset for speakers
Accepting that not everyone will like you
There should be something in that list for everyone.
We also touch on swans, icebergs, Beethoven, Game of Thrones and the Toronto Maple Leafs. And if you watch carefully, you will even see me have a memory lapse and forget my train of thought — it happens — but don’t expect me to tell you where in the video. You have to find it!
I encourage you to visit Conor’s YouTube Channel. He has dozens of informative videos on a wide range of topics related to leadership, personal development and public speaking.
There is a lot to learn about public speaking. The fact that I have been writing this blog for 10 years is testament to that. And no matter how much you learn, no matter how good you become, you will never reach perfection because there is always room for improvement.
But there is one thing that you can do that will result in a giant leap forward in your public speaking. If you do this one thing, you will be more engaging and natural on stage. You will have a better connection with your audience and make a bigger impact. And the irony is that you do this one thing all the time.
Stop thinking about yourself
As you go about your day, you only spend a small amount of time thinking about yourself. For example, when you are looking in the mirror and shaving or putting on makeup. (Even then, I am often thinking about something else, which explains the razor nicks on my neck.)
Most of the time, we are focused on the things we are doing or the people with whom we interact during meetings or meals. We’re not thinking about ourselves, we’re thinking about them. And consequently, we are natural; we are ourselves.
Yet when we get on stage, the lens swings 180 degrees in the other direction and we become acutely self-aware. And that’s when things start to be uncomfortable. Let’s take a common, concrete example.
“Where do I put my hands when I am speaking in public?”
I get this question all the time. I understand the question but it always makes me chuckle inwardly.
I’m convinced that there are two times in life when people don’t know what to do with their hands. The first is when they arrive at a cocktail party.
The next time you go to a cocktail party, notice what people who are empty-handed do when they are speaking to another person, especially if they have just met that person. They fidget. They clasp and release their hands, or put them in their pockets or behind their backs, only to move them again a few seconds later. And then the waiter comes with a tray full of drinks and people reach for them like a drowning man reaches for a life buoy.
It’s the same when it comes to public speaking. As soon as people get up on stage, it’s almost as if they’ve discovered their hands for the first time. They don’t know where to put them. They’re like alien appendages that have just sprouted.
But you carry your hands around with you 24 hours a day. You don’t walk down the hall of your office flailing your hands about, wondering what to do with them. Because you are not thinking about them.
When you go on stage to deliver a speech or presentation, you should not be thinking about yourself, your hands, your hair, your clothes, what people are thinking of you. You need to stop thinking about yourself and start thinking about the audience. Because it’s not about you. It’s about the audience. I have made this point over and over and over again.
When you focus on your audience and connect with them, you will be so much more natural and everything will go a lot smoother.
Of course, as with most things, it takes practice. But with time and effort, you can shift the focus of your attention from yourself to your audience. When you reach this stage in your progress, look back and marvel at the giant leap forward that you have taken in your public speaking.
Theodore Roosevelt (1858 – 1919) 26th President of the United States
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Your title slide occupies prime real estate in your slide deck. It is the gateway to your presentation. You can either spend time thinking how to use it to maximum advantage or miss an opportunity to grab you audience’s attention from the start.
Titles slides often contain such details as the date of the presentation, the name and location of the event, the logo of the speaker’s company, contact details and more. In fact, it is not unusual to see a title slide like the example below or some variation of it.
Now, there is nothing inherently wrong, per se, with having a title slide like this. It conveys important information about what is to come. But it is bland and all too common.
Moreover, this slide is often projected on the screen before the speaker takes the stage. The speaker is then introduced and proceeds to say something along the lines of the following:
Good morning / afternoon. My name is [name on the slide]. I am the [speaker’s title on the slide] at [company whose logo is on the slide]. I am very happy to be at [name of the event on the slide]. Today I am going to talk to you about [title on the slide and perhaps some variation of the subtitle].
In other words, the speaker starts by telling the audience things that they already know because they have already read the title slide. Not a great way to begin. In fact, by beginning this way, many speakers waste one of the most important parts of their presentations, the opening.
Psychologists talk about the learning principles of primacy and recency. People tend to remember the first thing they hear and the last thing. So the openings (and closings) of your presentation are important. You don’t want to waste them.
Below are three ideas for you to consider with regard to title slides. They might seem unconventional – and to the extent that most presenters don’t follow them, they are – but whenever I have seen them used, the results have always been impactful.
IDEA NO. 1 – YOU DON’T ALWAYS NEED A TITLE SLIDE
There is no rule that you need a title slide for every presentation that you make. This is especially so if there is an agenda for the event that clearly states your name and the subject of your talk.
Instead, make your first slide black. The audience won’t even know it’s a slide: they’ll just see a black screen.
When you are introduced, walk on stage and begin speaking while the screen is black. The audience will be 100% focused on you because there is nothing on the screen to distract them. At the appropriate point, transition to your first substantive slide and continue the talk.
When participants in my corporate trainings try this approach, the feedback from their peers is overwhelmingly positive. The audience feels more connected with the speaker and a solid foundation has been laid for the rest of the talk.
Notwithstanding the above, if you distribute copies of your slides after the presentation, I recommend that you do include a title slide so that people have the name of your presentation, your personal details, the date of the presentation, etc. There is no rule that says that the copies you distribute have to be exactly the same as what you showed on the screen.
IDEA NO. 2 – START TALKING AND TRANSITION INTO THE TITLE SLIDE
This idea is a variation on Idea No. 1.
As above, you begin your talk with a black slide. You open, for example, by telling an interesting fact or making a bold statement or telling a story. Of course, whatever you say, it should be related to your talk.
Once you have completed your opening comments and have grabbed your audience’s attention, you click into the title slide and tell them where you are going to take them.
This type of opening reminds me of the opening to a James Bond movie. If you have never seen a Bond movie, they usually open with a riveting scene involving high drama: a high speed car chase; skiing down a mountain; jumping out of a plane; or some other adrenalin-pumping activity. Once the scene is over, things calm down and we find out what the plotline of the film will be.
The good news is that you do not have to be James Bond on stage. (Though if you are, I will buy a ticket.) But you can use the technique of a powerful opening and transition into the title slide to achieve a similar effect.
IDEA NO. 3 – START WITH A SUBSTANTIVE SLIDE AND CLICK INTO THE TITLE SLIDE
This idea is a variation on Idea No. 2. However, instead of a black slide, you begin your talk with a substantive slide on the screen and then transition to the title slide.
I once worked with a young start-up company that had created an incredible device to help people who have been injured regain the use of their legs. CNN had featured their device as part of an exposé examining the incredible technological breakthroughs in this field. I was helping them with their pitch.
They began with the usual, title slide and explained who they were and what they did. They then transitioned to their second slide, which was an amazing full screen image, and they told the amazing story behind it.
During the feedback discussion, I said, “Let’s try something. Let’s start with the image and put the title slide second.” I then reversed the two slides in the PowerPoint. “OK,” I told them, “go right into the story and then click to the title slide and tell me who you are and what you do.”
So they did, and they were almost jumping up and down with excitement over how much better it was. Now, they began with a compelling story that hooked you from the outset. After their story was completed, they clicked into the title slide and said, “We are [Company X] and our passion is to help people like [the person in the story].”
I have had the same experience with other clients. I don’t do much; just swap two slides. But little changes can make a big impact.
So there you have it. Three ideas to consider when it comes to title slides; three ideas that can give the opening of your next presentation a shot in the arm.