These are difficult times. The coronavirus, COVID-19 has hit the world hard. And it looks like things are going to get worse before they get better.
One of the impacts is that millions of people are now homebound because of the virus and it is not clear when this confinement will end. It makes for long days, especially for parents and children, and for those in apartment buildings without easy access to the outdoors.
As a gesture to offer people another activity that they can do if they are confined at home, my friend and business partner, Florian Mueck and I have have lowered the price of the app version of Rhetoric – The Public Speaking Game™ to $1.99. This price will remain indefinitely.
The purpose of the game is to give people a fun way to improve their public speaking skills. It is like other board games in that you roll the dice and move your marker around the board. But with RHETORIC, every time it is your turn, you have to stand up and deliver a one- to two-minute speech to your fellow players. There are four types of speeches:
Topic – Players draw a card with one or two words on it. They must speak about the topic.
Challenge – Players draw a card that has a challenging question or instruction. Challenges will stretch your comfort zone!
Question – Any player can ask the speaker a spontaneous question on any topic. The speaker then spins a wheel that determines the structure of the response.
Reflection – Players may talk about anything they like. No cards, no questions, restrictions. You have free rein.
The app version of RHETORIC has three themes (Classic, Family and Business) and can be played in six languages (English, French, Spanish, German, Russian and Catalan). It’s a fun, inexpensive and educational source of entertainment.
So if you want a break from the deluge of news, or even from Netflix or YouTube, visit theApp StoreorGoogle Playand give Rhetoric – The Public Speaking Game™ a look. You can also visit ourwebsiteto learn more.
Have fun and most importantly, stay healthy! Practice social distancing, wash your hands and help each other out. We will get through this together.
One of Gabriel García Márquez’s novels is entitled Love in the Time of Cholera. We could easily call the current state of affairs in the world Life in the Time of Coronavirus.
The COVID-19 coronavirus disease, which is now a pandemic, has shaken the world medically, financially and emotionally. Unless you have been completely cut off from society for the past several months and are only now coming online, you know the impact that this disease has had.
I would like to do my small part to share some helpful information about the disease.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses which may cause illness in animals or humans. In humans, several coronaviruses are known to cause respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The most recently discovered coronavirus causes coronavirus disease COVID-19.
COVID-19 is the infectious disease caused by the most recently discovered coronavirus. This new virus and disease were unknown before the outbreak began in Wuhan, China, in December 2019.
Symptoms of COVID-19
Again, according to the WHO,
The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, tiredness, and dry cough. Some patients may have aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhea. These symptoms are usually mild and begin gradually. Some people become infected but don’t develop any symptoms and don’t feel unwell. Most people (about 80%) recover from the disease without needing special treatment. Around 1 out of every 6 people who gets COVID-19 becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing. Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes, are more likely to develop serious illness. People with fever, cough and difficulty breathing should seek medical attention.
The impact hits close to home
While everyone in my family is healthy—touch wood—the disease has had an impact on my work. Several presentations and trainings that I had been planning have been postponed. And I have been put on notice that two EMBA courses that I am still scheduled to teach at universities in Geneva and Barcelona might also be postponed or cancelled.
So my business has been disrupted as have the businesses of millions. One of my friends with whom I collaborate at the IESE Business School and elsewhere is Conor Neill. He offers some advice on how small business leaders can respond.
Still, it is the health impact that is of most concern. As of today (11 March 2020), more than 115,000 people around the world have been infected and more than 4,200 have died.
I live just outside of Geneva and my work as a public speaker (normally) takes me all over Europe. Just three weeks ago, I was in Italy for a few days. I spent the first evening in Milan, traveled to Bologna on the second day to give a workshop there, and returned home on the third day flying via Rome. As I write this post, Italy is under total lockdown. I feel fortunate not to have been caught up in what is undoubtedly a difficult situation for everyone there.
I wish everyone in Italy—and around the world—good luck.
Where to get information
There is a lot of information circulating on the Internet. Unfortunately, a lot of it is inaccurate or deliberately misleading. And the growing number of conspiracy theories about COVID-19 is disheartening.
With an outbreak like this, it is more important than ever to get your information from reliable sources. While we each have to make up our own minds as to what to read, here are three sources that I trust:
The World Health Organization – I worked at the WHO for over five years and I know that my friends and former colleagues are working around the clock on COVID-19. One of the people spearheading the WHO’s efforts is Bruce Aylward with whom I worked on his TED Talk about polio. Bruce is top notch and I am happy to see him playing a major role.
Johns Hopkins, Bloomberg School of Public Health – Johns Hopkins is one of the leading medical and public health schools in the world. You can subscribe to a free, daily health security e-newsletter here. The newsletter is short and consists of concise, fact-based bullet points.
Health Canada – The COVID-19 / Coronavirus page on the Health Canada website is clear, clean and easy to navigate. This website is useful even if you are not Canadian. It is in English and French.
Protecting ourselves and others
One can quickly feel overwhelmed by everything that is going on, but there are many things that we can do:
Stay aware of the latest information on the COVID-19 outbreak by visiting reliable sources such as those above and your local health authority.
Regularly wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Alternatively, use an alcohol-based hand rub that kills viruses.
Keep at least 1 metre (3 feet) distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing. Small liquid droplets from their nose or mouth may contain the virus.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. This is one that I have to work on. It is incredible how often we touch our faces during the day.
Practice good respiratory hygiene. Cover your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or a tissue if you cough or sneeze. Dispose of used tissues immediately.
Stay home if you feel unwell. If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention and call in advance.
Get enough sleep, eat healthy, take vitamin supplements if necessary and exercise to boost your immune system. These are things we should be doing as a matter of course regardless of COVID-19.
Do not judge people based on their ethnicity. This disease doesn’t care about your culture and we are all in this together. There is enough prejudice, discrimination and racism in the world already. We don’t need more.
9 reasons to be reassured
It can be easy to despair when facing something frightening like COVID-19 and stories of illness and death and spread abound in the news. But The Guardian newspaper put out a welcome article offering nine reasons to be reassured. In short form, the reasons are:
1. We know what the disease is.
2. We can test for it.
3. It can be contained, albeit at a significant cost. (NB: This is based on the initial results of China’s extreme quarantine and containment measures. In the meantime, the disease is spreading rapidly elsewhere and more effort has to be focused on mitigation and treatment.)
4. It is not that easy to catch COVID-19 if you take proper precautions.
5. Thankfully, in most cases, symptoms are mild.
6. People are recovering from it.
7. Hundreds of scientific articles have been written about it, which means that critical knowledge is being shared.
8. Prototypes for vaccines exist.
9. Dozens of clinical trials are underway for antiviral treatments.
And what about public speaking?
While it is certainly far from being the most important thing related to COVID-19, what can you do to improve your public speaking skills if you cannot speak in public or attend trainings? Here are five ideas:
Speaking English to an audience of non-native speakers is tricky. Because English is so widely spoken around the world, many native English speakers tend to forget just how complicated English can be for others.
The difference the United Nations and the National Hockey League
For 17 years, I worked in the United Nations system. I began at the UN itself, then went to the International Organization for Migration and finally to the World Health Organization. I was based in Geneva, but traveled extensively, particularly throughout the Middle East.
Once I went on mission—UN language for a business trip—to Boston with Thierry, a friend and colleague from France. He and I spoke French to each other but in office meetings, the working language was English. Thierry’s English was excellent as he had spent some time studying in the United States. In Boston, we had several meetings, always in English.
One evening, Thierry and I headed into town. The Boston Bruins of the National Hockey League were playing the Ottawa Senators that night. Being Canadian, hockey is in my blood so I was excited by the prospect of seeing a live NHL game and introducing Thierry to the sport. We settled into our seats and had a great time, particularly chatting with the Bostonians who were seated around us.
After the game, we headed to a bar for a drink. As we walked, Thierry said to me, in French, “John, I have to tell you something and it’s very strange. When we’re in Geneva and working in English, you are clear and easy to understand. Tonight, I couldn’t understand half of what you said when you were speaking to the people beside us.”
I was puzzled for a moment, but then realized what he meant. Because I was back in North America and speaking English with other North Americans, I spoke faster than I did when at work in Geneva. I also used a lot of slang and colloquialisms that would confuse non-native speakers. In short, I was speaking a different English.
After 20+ years living in Switzerland, I have learned to modify my English when speaking to an audience of non-native speakers. This does not mean that I “dumb down” my speech because that would be an insult to people who are as intelligent, or more intelligent, than me. It means that I avoid jargon and complicated words. I speak more slowly than normal and pause more often so that people can follow.
Native English speakers are confusing everyone else
In an excellent article entitled, “How native English speakers can stop confusing everyone else”, Financial Times columnist Michael Skapinker examines the seriousness of the problem. He writes that it is widely recognized that many non-native English speakers don’t understand what native English speakers are saying. Furthermore, Brits, Americans, Australians, Canadians and others who have spoken English all their lives “are largely oblivious to the incomprehension they leave behind at conferences, business meetings and on conference calls”.
I am not surprised. While at the UN, I frequently moderated conference calls and face-to-face meetings between native English speakers and native Arabic speakers. All involved were thoughtful, intelligent professionals with impressive educational and work credentials. But the language of communication was English.
Many times I had to provide English-to-English interpretation because I knew that the native Arabic speakers did not understand an expression used by the native English speakers. Even when I stressed the importance of avoiding confusing English to the native speakers before a call or meeting, they would often forget and lapse into colloquialisms.
In his article, Skapinker cites a 2015 survey of a Nato working group that found that “native speakers of English are not always good at adjusting their English to the manner and level that is used”. This is a problem, not just for audiences but also for speakers who think that their message is getting through when the opposite is true.
1. Speak slower than you would with native speakers.
2. Avoid idiomatic language. This is language where the meaning is different from the literal meaning of the words used. For example: “hold your horses” (be patient); “piece of cake” (very easy); “loose cannon” (unpredictable).
3. Be careful with phrasal verbs, which are verbs that are combined with prepositions or other words. Different words result in completely different meanings. English has thousands of phrasal verbs.
Take the word “run” which means to move quickly. If you add different prepositions, you get different meanings: “run down” (in bad condition; exhausted); “run into” (to collide with something; to unexpectedly meet someone; to unexpectedly encounter a situation); “run through” (to stab someone through their body; to rehearse).
Another example is the verb “to break”. I hate to break it to you, but if you break into your girlfriend’s apartment, she might think that society is starting to break down and she will probably break up with you.
4. Avoid colloquialisms. For example, don’t say, “we need to up our game”; instead, say “we need to improve”.
5. Be careful with overly polite language. For example, don’t say, “To be honest, we were a little upset with the 1st quarter results”; instead, say “The 1st quarter results were disappointing” or “We were disappointed by the 1st quarter results”.
6. Don’t fill your slides with words. “Native speakers find them hard enough to read; second language speakers find them even harder. But do put numbers on slides, they say. Numbers can be hard to understand in your second language and seeing the figures on a slide makes it easier.”
Ultimately, it is about respecting your audience. When speaking in English to non-native speakers, you have to adjust your English.
For more advice on the use of the English, particularly written English, see this post that examines George Orwell’s classic essay, Politics and the English Language.
Slide presentations are a staple of the business world. Every day, there are millions of PowerPoint, Keynote other slide presentations around the world. By some counts, the figure is 30 million each day!
If you are going to use to a slide presentation, use a remote to advance your slides. I discuss the reasons why, and offer six tips for handling the remote, in this post.
My current remote is the Logitech Spotlight. It is excellent. Here is my full review of the device, including the pros and the cons. One of the pros is that it has a built-in battery. You charge it by plugging it into your computer. When fully charged, the Spotlight should be good for at least three months under normal use. Not having to use batteries means one less thing to worry about and it is better for the environment.
Still, I recognize that when it comes to remotes, there are good alternatives to the Spotlight and most, if not all, run on standard AAA batteries. That means there is always a risk that the batteries will run out of power during the presentation.
Here are five simple, but often overlooked, tips to avoid having your batteries run dry or, failing that, to allow you to react quickly if they do.
1. Never leave the batteries in the remote when not using it. Even if you turn the remote off, the batteries will still drain. Instead, remove them and keep them in the same case where you keep the remote.
2. Always have a fresh set of batteries as a back-up.
3. Leave the fresh set in an easily accessible location so that you can get them quickly, if necessary.
4. Know how to replace the batteries smoothly and correctly. You want to minimize the time spent doing this.
5. Stay calm while changing the batteries. Put the dead batteries in your pocket or somewhere out of sight. If you are comfortable, you can continue speaking to the audience; for example, by making light of the situation. If, by some chance, there is a way to relate your problem to what you are speaking about, even better.
If, after replacing the batteries, the remote still does not work, don’t make a big deal out of it. Just advance the slides by using the arrow keys on your keyboard. Not ideal, but you have to do what you have to do.
Richard Wagamese (1955 – 2017) Canadian Author and Journalist
“There is such a powerful eloquence in silence. True genius is knowing when to say nothing, to allow the experience, the moment itself, to carry the message, to say what needs to be said. Words are less important, less effective than feeling.”
As the clock winds down on 2019 and we enter a new year and a new decade, I wanted to share six posts from the past to inspire your speaking in 2020.
If you think that your speeches and presentations can’t have a major impact, think again. That’s what the ripple effect is all about.
Public speaking is a scary proposition for many people, but there are some speaking situations that make us more nervous than others. The public speaking fear grid examines those situations based on two variables: the size of the audience; and how well the speaker knows the audience members. The post then offers two dozen ideas for how to address those situations that make you the most nervous.
A public speaking lesson in a pot of clay is a simple story about a pottery class that contains an important truth on how to become a better speaker.
Finally, here are three posts from three previous New Year’s Eves: 2011, 2014 and 2018. Combined, they contain 70 ideas for your public speaking. Those ideas are just as valid for 2020 as they were in the past.
Questions from the audience. They are an important part of any presentation because they give members of the audience a chance to let the speaker know what is on their mind.
Sometimes, however, audience members might be reluctant to ask a question — after all, it requires them to speak in public — so I always recommend that speakers have a question “in their pocket” that they can ask themselves. For example, “While you’re thinking, one question that I often get is …”. That usually starts the ball rolling.
Today, while reading an interesting article entitled 52 things I learned in 2019, I discovered another tip (No. 52 on the list) to soliciting questions from the audience. It comes from Dr. Jacqueline Antonovich, an Assistant Professor at Muhlenberg College, specializing in history of medicine, gender and politics in the American West.
Her advice is not to ask your audience the standard, “Any questions?” — which leaves open the possibility that they might not have any — but instead to ask, “What questions do you have for me?”. The latter question assumes that there are questions.
According to Dr. Antonovich, the results from this simple shift in phrasing have been dramatic. I intend to try this out during my speaking engagements in 2020 and will let you know the results. And should you try this technique, I’d be interested in hearing about your experience. Just leave a comment below.
If you click on the image of the tweet above, you will be taken to the discussion thread. There you can read some other interesting shifts in phrasing, in different contexts, that have made a difference to people.