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.

Cracked, dry earth

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?

Ten Tips to Deal with Dry Mouth

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 because 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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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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