You know more than you think you do

In the TED Talk below, social scientist Dolly Chugh speaks about an interesting idea: how we can become better people if we just stop trying to be good. I don’t intend to analyze her talk; rather, in this post, I’d like to focus on her speaking notes. 

As you can see from the image below, Chugh is holding her notes in her left hand. If you watch the video, you will see that the notes are written on both sides of the paper. On one side (see, for example, around 1:25) the notes are comprehensive, in paragraphs, typed in small font and with handwriting at the bottom. On the other side (see, for example, around 7:10) there are four spaced out bullet points, a couple of which look like long sentences.

Here’s the interesting thing. The first time that Chugh looked at her notes is around 8:25 of the speech. Until that point, she was speaking freely and fluidly, discussing science and psychology, telling stories and engaging with her audience. She didn’t need the notes.

When she did check her notes for the first time, it took her a few seconds to find what she is looking for — not surprising given the amount of information on the paper — and it broke the flow of her talk, however briefly. Chugh only checked her notes briefly twice more during her talk, at 9:10 and at 11:25, just before the end.

I am not against people using notes if necessary. Yes, it is better to speak without notes, but if you need to use them, you can be more effective if you follow a few simple rules.

First, don’t make the notes complicated. They should not consist of paragraphs of writing in small font because it will be difficult to find your point in the heat of the moment. Much better to have the main points of your talk written out in large font so that you can quickly situate yourself. The key thing is to know that you want to go from A to B to C to D. You do not need to write out the exact words that you will say about A, B, C and D.

Second, do not hold the notes in your hand. They are distracting and limit your ability to gesture. It would have been better for Chugh to place her (simple) notes in a pocket or even have them on a small table to the side. Then, if and when she needed them, she could pull them out or walk over to the table, take a quick glance, put them back and continue speaking.

Finally, it is important to remember that you know more than you think you do. I work with hundreds of people every year in public speaking and presentation skills trainings. Participants often come to the front of the room with detailed notes. I will let them speak for a bit to get a sense of how they use the notes, but then I will interrupt them.

I will take the notes and say something like, “A dog just ran in and ate your notes. Give us the information on your own.” And you know what? They always deliver and it is usually much more engaging because now, they are talking to the audience. This is hardly surprising. They have prepared and they know the material.

As Arthur Ashe said, preparation is the key to self-confidence. So if you have put in the effort to prepare well, have the confidence that you will know what to say.

As long as you cover the main points of your talk, it rarely matters if you forget a minor detail or two because people are not going to remember everything you say anyway. The audience will not know that you have forgotten something.

Again, I am not opposed speakers using notes — I still use them on certain occasions. But you don’t want your notes to detract from your talk and you don’t want them to become a crutch that you need for every speaking engagement.

For more ideas on how to use notes, you can check out this post.

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Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 298) – Charles de Gaulle

Charles de Gaulle (1890 – 1970) French General and President of France

“Silence is the ultimate weapon of power.”

—  Charles de Gaulle

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A fashion tip for women speakers

When it comes to giving fashion advice, I am on thin ice. When it comes to giving fashion advice to women, I have fallen through the ice and am flailing about waiting to be rescued. But on one point, I am firmly on solid ground.

If a woman is going to speak and she knows that she will have to use a microphone, it is important that she find out what kind of microphone it will be. There are four kinds:

    • The microphone that is mounted on the lectern
    • The handheld microphone
    • The lapel / lavalier / clip-on microphone
    • The headset microphone

For mounted and handheld microphones, I have no fashion advice for women whatsoever. But, for lapel and headset microphones, I do have an important tip.

Lapel and headset microphones are increasingly the most common types of microphones used at conference and other events. In the images below, Christine Lagarde and Marissa Mayer are speaking with headsets. Sheryl Sandberg is speaking with a lapel microphone.

Embed from Getty Images
Embed from Getty Images
Embed from Getty Images

Headsets and lapel microphones each have a wire that connects the microphone to a battery pack. Battery packs are the size of a small but chunky cell phone. And they have to be clipped to the speaker’s clothing.

For men, it is straightforward. Run the wire inside the shirt or jacket and clip the battery pack on the belt in the back. I’ve done it hundreds of times.

For women, things can be more complicated. Many women speak while wearing a dress. The dress itself is usually appropriate and professional; the problem is that, often, there is no good place to attach the battery pack. I have been behind stage with other speakers and have witnessed tech people struggling mightily (and delicately!) to help women find a place where they could attach the battery pack. In some cases, the women had to resort to dropping the battery pack down the front of their dress and clipping it to their bra.

Thus, if you are a woman and you are going to speak at an event, find out beforehand if there will be a microphone and, if so, what kind. If it is going to be a lapel or headset microphone, be sure to wear something that will make your life easier when it comes to wearing the microphone and battery pack. Otherwise, you might find yourself in the same situation in which Northern Irish broadcaster Christine Lampard (née Bleakley) once found herself!

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Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 297) – Seneca

Seneca the Younger (4 BC – AD 65) Roman Stoic Philosopher

“I judge you unfortunate because you have never lived through misfortune. You have passed through life without an opponent. No one can ever know what you are capable of, not even you.”

—  Seneca

Photo courtesy of Jean-Pol Grandmont / Wikimedia
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Lessons from the edge of a cliff … without a rope!

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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On 3 June 2017, professional rock climber Alex Honnold accomplished something that few people thought could be done. He climbed the 3,000-foot granite wall of Yosemite Park’s famous El Capitan — the 900-metre wall of granite in the image below — alone and without ropes.

To get a small sense of the adrenalin rush that comes with such an epic achievement, check out the trailer for the documentary about Honnold’s exploit.

Most of us, if not all of us, will never attempt something like this. And yet, there is much that we can learn from it.

In April 2018, Honnold spoke at the TED Conference in Vancouver to share his insights about the climb. As I listened to him, it occurred to me that there are valuable lessons for speakers from his free solo of El Capitan. To see Honnold’s TED Talk and to learn what those lessons are, please visit Presentation Guru and read my post using this link.

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