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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Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 299) – Adam Duritz

Adam Duritz – American Singer, Songwriter and Frontman for the Counting Crows

“People ask me if I have stage fright. I say, ‘God, no, I’m completely comfortable there. I have rest-of-the-day fright.’

—  Adam Duritz

Photo courtesy of Taylor Spaulding / Flickr
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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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Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 296) – Gloria Steinem

Gloria Steinem – American Feminist, Journalist and Political Activist

“I think the most obvious real fear I had was of public speaking. That really paralyzed me. I’d have to cancel appearances at the last minute because if I tried to do them, I’d lose all my saliva and each tooth would acquire a little sweater.

“I didn’t begin to speak in public until I was at least in my mid-thirties or maybe even my late thirties. I suppose I’d chosen to write as a way of expressing myself partly so I didn’t have to speak. It was only the beginning of the Women’s Movement and the impossibility of getting articles about it published that caused me to go out and speak publicly. Even then I couldn’t do it by myself, which is why I asked my friend Dorothy [Pitman Hughes, child expert and activist] to speak with me. For that first decade, I almost always spoke with her and one of two or three other partners.

“[Eventually] I discovered that you didn’t die, and that something happened when you were speaking in a room that could not happen on the printed page.”

—  Gloria Steinem (from an interview with Maria Shriver)

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore / Flickr
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6 tips for handling a remote when presenting

If you use slides in your presentations, whether PowerPoint, Keynote or some other software, you must become comfortable using a remote to advance those slides. The alternatives are not great:

1.  Standing by the computer the entire presentation and advancing the slides using the keyboard.

2.  Walking back and forth between the computer and the rest of the speaking area whenever you want to advance the slides.

3. Having someone advance the slides for you. This is the most annoying for the audience because your presentation will inevitably be punctuated by you saying, “Next slide … next slide … next slide.” It’s like driving down a country road and hitting a bump every 100 metres.

Using a remote will unchain you from your computer, allow you to move about the stage and interact with the audience, and add an air of professionalism to your presentations. But if you’re going to use a remote, you have to handle it properly.

Too often, I see speakers who have not had much practice with a remote. It’s obvious. The following are telltale signs:

  • squeezing the remote tightly;
  • fumbling with the buttons;
  • clicking the wrong button;
  • looking at the remote before every click;
  • accidentally closing the presentation;
  • using the pointer / laser awkwardly;
  • clicking dramatically at the computer as if the remote were a sword. 

(The last one is my favourite. It always reminds me of this classic scene from the movie The Princess Bride.)

It’s completely understandable that if you don’t know how to use a piece of equipment, there’s a good chance that you will use it incorrectly. So what can we do to remedy the situation? Here are five tips:

1.  Practice! Get familiar with your remote before the presentation. Try out all of the buttons to see what they do.

2.  Determine which buttons you will need for the presentation. Usually, a speaker does not need all of them. In fact, in most cases, the speaker will only use the button to advance the slides. Practice finding the needed buttons with your thumb without having to look for them. One of the features that I like about my Logitech Spotlight remote is that the Advance button is larger than the other two buttons and slightly recessed so it is easy to find it by touch.

3.  Don’t squeeze the remote as if you were hanging onto the edge of a cliff. Hold it comfortably. With practice, you will find that you can even gesture with the hand that is holding the remote. The images below (from Logitech’s Spotlight website) are good examples of how to hold the remote.

4.  Use the pointer / laser sparingly, if at all, and never use it on text. If you have to use a laser on text, you have too much text! When using the laser, there is no need to extend your arm fully as you point. It will reach the screen just fine. And try to keep the laser as steady as possible. If you move it across the screen, try to do so smoothly.

5.  When advancing the slides, do not point at the computer. Remotes these days have an incredible range. My Logitech Spotlight works at a distance of 50 metres from the computer. I have tested it. I have also gone outside the room, closed the door and it still works. So when advancing your slides, don’t make any gesture at all. You can leave your hand by your side and discreetly push the button while you continue to speak. The less obvious the remote, the better.

6.  If you are going to spend an extended amount of time talking about a slide, or if you turn the screen black, you can put the remote in your pocket or on a nearby table for a while to allow you to use both hands. Just remember where you put it!

So there you have it. Six tips to help you master the remote during your next presentation.

If you are thinking of purchasing a remote, be sure to choose one that feels right for you. As mentioned above, I use the Logitech Spotlight, but there are other excellent options. If you head over to Presentation Guru and check out this excellent article, you will find a great summary of the features to look for and three great recommendations.

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Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 295) – Byron Reese

Byron Reese – American Entrepreneur, Futurist and Technologist

“Stories are central to humanity, for they gave form to human imagination, which is the first requisite for progress.”

— Byron Reese

Photo courtesy of byronreese.com
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The Camera and Brett Kavanaugh

The fight over the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh was the ugliest confirmation process for an American Supreme Court Justice that I have seen. I’m not American, but I am a lawyer, and I thought it was a sad indictment on how politicized the American legal system has become. A thoughtful, independent judiciary is a cornerstone of any healthy democracy.

If you followed the hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, you are undoubtedly aware of the allegations of sexual assault that were brought against Kavanaugh by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and others. In response to those allegations, the FBI was ordered to carry out an investigation that was extremely limited in scope and time. When, predictably, it found no evidence to corroborate the allegations, Kavanaugh was confirmed as the newest Supreme Court Justice by a narrow 51-49 majority in the Senate.

I watched the testimony of both Kavanaugh and Blasey Ford and in my opinion, the latter was the more credible of the two. Quite simply, I believed her. Having said that, I also acknowledge that, from a legal standpoint, there was not enough evidence before the Senate Judiciary Committee to prove, to the requisite standard, that Kavanaugh was guilty of the crime he was alleged to have committed.

Embed from Getty Images

Nonetheless, I believe that his demeanour during the hearings was sufficient to disqualify him from a seat on the Supreme Court. I found many of his answers to questions from the Senators to be evasive, disrespectful or both. Further, his opening statement was full of vitriol that included outright attacks on certain members of the government. Yes, Kavanaugh was under tremendous pressure, but that is when you see a person’s true character. And when it comes to character, a country has to hold its judges to the highest standards.

Now, although this blog does venture into politics from time to time, that is not its purpose. The focus is on public speaking. So how does the Kavanaugh nomination fit? It has to do with the vote against his nomination by North Dakota Democratic Senator, Heidi Heitkamp.

Heitkamp was one of only three Democratic Senators who voted to confirm Donald Trump’s previous Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch. And she was initially inclined to vote the same way on Kavanaugh. Even when Blasey Ford brought forth her allegations, Heitkamp was concerned but still inclined to give Kavanaugh the benefit of the doubt.

Nevertheless, she watched the special hearing during which both Kavanaugh and Blasey Ford testified. After the hearing ended, Heitkamp changed her mind and decided to vote against Kavanaugh. Here is an excerpt from a CNN article that provides part of the rationale for Heitcamp’s decision:

Senator Heidi Heitkamp

She watched Ford’s testimony. And then she watched Kavanaugh’s. And then she watched Kavanaugh’s again, but this time, with the sound off.

“It’s something I do,” she said, “We communicate not only with words, but with our body language and demeanor.”

“I saw somebody who was very angry, who was very nervous, and I saw rage that a lot of people said, ‘Well of course you’re going to see rage; he’s being falsely accused,’ but it is at all times you’re to acquit yourself with a demeanor that’s becoming of the court,” Heitkamp said.

I found it interesting that after watching and listening to Kavanaugh’s testimony, Heitkamp watched it again but without the sound. 

When you watch a video without sound, you have no choice but to focus on the visual. If you watch the video of a speech or presentation without the sound, you have to focus on things like the speaker’s facial expressions, gestures and movements.

Clients often ask me whether they should practice their speeches in front of a mirror. I tell them no, because you end up trying to watch yourself when you should be focused on your message and the audience, and it feels unnatural. It’s much better to film yourself and then watch the video.

If you want to get the maximum benefit from video, you should use it three ways:

1. Play the video but don’t watch it. Just listen. You will have to focus on your voice and things such as pace, rhythm, pauses, clarity, emphasis, intonation and articulation.

2.  Play the video and turn the volume off. Just watch. You will have to focus on your body language. Where are you looking? How are you standing and moving? What are you doing with your hands?

3.  Watch the video with sound to get the complete picture.

It’s not easy to watch yourself on video—I still cringe whenever I watch myself—but it is a great way to get unvarnished feedback.

Clearly, when deciding whether to appoint someone to the Supreme Court, you have to do a lot more than watch a video without the sound. There are a myriad of complex considerations that one has to take into account, including the candidate’s judicial record. But temperament and personality are also considerations and those qualities are transmitted through voice and body language.

In the same way, your audience will form an impression about you and your message based on content and structure, but also by how you hold yourself on stage. Your facial expressions, your gestures and your movements all communicate something to the audience. To see what they saw, have a look at the video.

Posted in Video | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments