Wednesday, April 28, 2010

You Are an Expert - Yes, YOU!

When embarking on a public speaking career, it's vital that you present yourself (humbly, of course) as an expert on your chosen topic. If you doubt your standing in this regard, consider the following.

How can you say that I'm an expert?

For any given small- to medium-sized group of people (up to, say, 100), it is highly likely that each of the members of that group will know more about some particular topic or have more skill or experience in a particular field than everyone else in the group. That makes each person in the group an expert.

"But," I hear you protest, "everyone in this room is in the same industry. How can each of us know more than everyone else?"

Professions and hobbies are two good sources of expertise

For starters, you most likely have subspecialties that differentiate you from your peers. Take stock of the exact kinds of work you've done during your career, and you'll possibly find several areas regarding which you have uniquely specialized knowledge or skill.

Many people have hobbies, some of which, while not completely unknown, could be considered uncommon. As an example, I used to collect lapel pins produced by the Hard Rock Café restaurants and Hotels. Given a global population of HRC collectors in the 3-5,000 range, odds are very good that I could be the expert in a crowd of many thousands.

Community involvement is another area in which you can be the expert

Are you affiliated with any community organizations? In spite of the fact that there are over 12,000 Toastmasters Clubs worldwide, as a member for more than eleven years I could easily be the expert in a room of hundreds, even here in Orange County, California, the birthplace of Toastmasters.

Here's a tiny sample of other non-work-related groups which could confer upon you the title of "Local Expert:"
  • Homeless and battered women's shelters
  • Gardening clubs
  • Choral and orchestral groups
  • Community activist organizations
  • Parent-Teacher organizations
  • Photography clubs
  • Youth sports organizations
Find that topic and be the expert

Get out a pen and paper (or your computer), do a little homework and narrow in on what you know really well (and have a passion for!) that not everyone around you might. I guarantee you'll find that you, yes, you, are an expert.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Carry Yourself Well

The way you carry yourself says a lot about you. This is especially important when you're a public speaker, since it can directly affect your credibility and the willingness of others to trust and follow you. Specific points to consider are:
  • your physical fitness
  • how you walk and stand
  • your smile
  • how you eat
  • how you talk
Are you physically fit?

Physical fitness (proper weight, good energy, appropriate strength) eludes most folks unless they've created and maintained a responsible lifestyle. Your audience will be able to see just how responsible that lifestyle is by the way you maintain your body. Fitness speaks to self-respect and self-discipline. If you take proper care of your body, your listeners will feel better about trusting you and taking your message to heart.

You may be surprised by what others see

How do you walk and stand? Find out by having a friend make videos of a few of your presentations, and also of you in candid situations before and after your speeches, and elsewhere if possible. Review the videos with your mentor.
  • Do you stand and walk with confidence, or do you tend to hunch over or to lean on the lectern, a table or a wall?
  • Do you sit erect, or do you slouch and slide downward in your chair?
  • Do you hold your shoulders up and your head high as you walk and stand, or do they sag as if you're dragging a ball and chain behind you?
Now honestly ask yourself if the way you stand, sit and move would cause people to trust you or to be wary of you.

Smiles, everybody! Smiles!

Remember to smile. If you're not in the habit, develop it. Wear a sincere smile that says, "I'm truly grateful for the opportunity to help someone today." When you can smile and truly mean it, your audience will sense this and will follow you anywhere.

Table manners are still important

Be mindful of the way you eat. Using basic table manners is easy once you get into the habit of doing so. Here's a helpful acronym to motivate you (and it applies to all the other points as well):
  • YABWATT - "You are being watched all the time."
Watch your language

Finally, be careful of how you talk, particularly during those times when you're not on stage. Your everyday language, if in contradiction to your persona at the lectern, could destroy your credibility. The walls have ears - as do the curtains, the planter boxes and (dare I say it?) the washrooms.

Your life is now an open book

Once you accept the responsibility of speaking in public, your life is no longer private. You've committed yourself to helping others in any way that you can, and to succeed at this, you must be credible and elicit trust from your audience. Doing so requires, among other things, that you carry yourself well.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Can We Talk?

You're attending a manufacturer's presentation, hoping to learn about the marketing campaign being planned for the new Mega-Reach forklift to help you increase your business. Instead of that, however, you hear a deadly-boring lecture on the design parameters and lab test data for the device.

A major chunk of business is lost that day by the forklift company. How could they have prevented this? By having a conversation.

It's not your grandpa's way of speaking in public

Modern audiences are more experienced, busier and, frankly, more jaded than ever before. They want information and inspiration as quickly and compactly as they can get it.

If you want to make a lasting impression on the audiences of today, you must relate to them in a way that they don't expect - have a personal conversation with each of them. How do you do this with 200 people all at once?

Get to know your audience in advance

Visit other venues they attend and meet some of the movers and shakers personally. Find out what they think about their business and why. Become a student of their specific market niches. Mingle with attendees the day of your presentation and mentally select several of them to whom you will speak directly from the lectern or stage.

Don't be a data dumper

Unless absolutely necessary, avoid giving a data dump during your speech. Do the following instead:
  • provide technical details in take-away or internet-access form
  • address your listeners' personal or professional challenges and goals
  • ask unexpected rhetorical questions
  • offer specific questions for them to answer from their seats
Let your audience feel as if this is a round-table discussion between peers rather than a one-way discourse by an ivory tower expert.


Observe your audience continuously

Are they warming up to you? Are you pushing their hot buttons? Are they smiling, nodding, taking notes and starting whisper-quiet mini-conferences? Or are they sitting stone-faced with arms folded, yawning and looking at their watches or out the windows? If you find that you're losing them, tactfully inquire as to what they'd like to hear that you haven't yet covered.

Match the audience's style

Use your verbal and non-verbal skills to create variety in your approach. Match what you've learned in your research about your audience's communication styles. They'll appreciate your efforts and will find you a pleasant speaker worthy of their attention.

When speaking in public, please don't lecture - instead, have a conversation with your audience. You do realize this is important, right? Can we talk?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

But I Repeat Myself

Have you ever attended a conference and then failed to remember anything valuable about it or make use of any new skills or knowledge afterward? If so, both your attendance and the speaker's efforts were a waste of time and money.

As presenters we constantly struggle with the task of enabling our audience to remember and use the information we deliver to them. What can we do to win this battle more often?

How can we help our listeners remember and use our message?

Repetition was, is and always will be a key element of effective learning. Advertisers run their commercials and print ads as frequently as they can, and compete fiercely (and pay dearly) to do so. This expense speaks volumes about the value of repetition.

Using repetition to deliver and reinforce your content

Remember the old, familiar maxim on speech construction?
  • Tell them what you're going to tell them (opening, setup)
  • Tell them (body)
  • Tell them what you told them (closing)
In other words, introduce your content and construct a framework for it, fill in the framework with your content in detail, and then summarize and reinforce your message.

Sprinkle liberally with micro-summaries

During your presentation, interject micro-summaries of your main points, such as, "Remember, folks: we're looking to maximize our concentration, efficiency and follow-through, right?" Or drop in a sentence fragment: "Concentrate, be efficient, follow through." Be creative but consistent in peppering your talk with these brief touch points.

Repeat your message with audio/visuals and handouts

Include subtle repetitive headers or tag lines in your overheads. Design handouts (fliers, booklets, CDs, etc.) that repeat and reinforce your message. Even consistently-used repetition of colors or sound bites can reinforce your content.

Post-talk conversations can reinforce your main points

When meeting with attendees after your presentation, be sure to casually sprinkle your conversation with your main points. Every opportunity to reinforce your message will go that much further toward insuring that it will be retained and have a lasting effect on your audience.

Clearly, repetition is key to effective learning. It's used in the classroom, in political speeches, by athletes in training and even in physical therapy situations. Why not make repetition an automatic part of your presentations? After all, repetition works. But I repeat myself …

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

It's Your Responsibility

Excellent! The opportunity you've been waiting for has arrived! You accept an invitation to speak to the local Rotary Club about your non-profit organization that rescues abandoned dogs and cats. You dutifully prepare and give your presentation, the audience is receptive, and you leave feeling good about your efforts.

Afterward, you follow up with several attendees to get their feedback, offer further information and see if anyone wants to volunteer. Then you discover that your talk didn't have quite the effect you'd intended. No one remembered your name or the name of your organization, and only one showed a slight interest in hearing more or becoming involved. What could possibly have gone wrong?

When it comes to speaking in public, there are three things for which you are primarily responsible: get and keep their attention, deliver your content clearly and completely, and see that they retain and benefit from the information. Easy, right? Not necessarily.

Getting and keeping your audience's attention requires skill and a bit of talent. Start by opening with a real grabber - a provocative question, a seemingly outrageous statement or perhaps a very short but intense story. Enough with the likes of, "Good morning, everyone! It's good to see you today! How are you? Isn't this a wonderful conference?" Blah, blah, blah. Leave the warm-up comments for the master of ceremonies. Your job is to connect with your listeners and open a clear channel for information delivery.

During your presentation, use your voice to its fullest extent - vary your volume, pitch and pacing to match your content. Create a definite mood with your actions, your audio/visual aids and your props, one that provides variety and amplifies your message throughout. Bring your talk to a close with a strong call to action or stirring statement of conviction.

Your presentation will succeed or fail in part based on your ability to package and deliver the information well. Be sure that your material is presented logically and clearly so that everyone in the audience, regardless of their knowledge and experience, can follow and absorb it completely. Stay on track and don't deviate from your primary points unless it's absolutely necessary to do so. Watch and listen to your audience continually to be sure they're receiving it as you intended. Make mid-course corrections as necessary and note the changes mentally for future reference.

Retention separates good speakers from great ones. If your audience remembers your presentation and is able and motivated to use the information to their benefit, you have succeeded (and you'll get referrals). If not, you've wasted your time and theirs. Double-check your content to be sure it's well matched to the audience's needs. Provide appropriate handouts and other takeaways that support your message. Make yourself available immediately after your talk to meet with those who have questions or requests for information. Offer multiple ways for them to contact you in the future to discuss your topic and, if appropriate, work with you on an individual basis to enhance the experience.

Speaking in public is not only about educating, entertaining and inspiring your audience. It's also about delivering a quality product, and giving them more than they expected. A quality presentation captures and keeps their attention, delivers the information clearly and completely, and benefits them long after the event. Work hard to make each of your talks just such a quality presentation. It's your responsibility.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Any Questions?

You've traveled halfway across the country to listen to an interesting and informative technical presentation on new solar energy technologies. The speaker starts with a bang and you're eagerly anticipating the really juicy bits when someone in the audience asks a question about government financing of solar projects. Oh, no. Your presenter just happens to know a good deal about that part of the business as well, and takes off down a side path for a good 35 minutes, seriously reducing the time available for his core material. To say you're disappointed is an understatement.

Your seminar on health care for inner-city residents has struck a nerve. Several people in attendance are becoming agitated and one of them stands up to ask a question. When you reluctantly acknowledge him, he proceeds to come down on you, the government, the health care providers and anyone else he can think of. Then another audience member stands up and begins speaking without being acknowledged. You exchange glances with the event organizer as if to say, "what the heck just happened here?" and "how do we get this train back on the tracks?"

You're attending a one-hour overview on effective techniques for finding employment. The audience is primarily made up of desperate job hunters, and one of them has just asked a detailed question on using the internet to research your prospective employer. Since the speaker is very familiar with and excited about this sub-topic, she ignores the rest of her presentation and dives head-first into using computers to look for a job. What about the other aspects of job hunting? Guess we'll never find out.

Solving these problems requires preparation, quick thinking and tact. Start by anticipating questions and prepare for them. There will be the usual questions which can and should be responded to clearly, directly and quickly. Answer the simple, direct questions immediately (direct). A question that requires more time to answer needs to be either taken offline (deflect) or addressed in a future presentation (postpone). Be cordial but firm with your audience - they're paying you to deliver a quality product, and since you're the expert you're expected to know the best way to meet their needs.

Now for the hard part: dealing with the provocative questions, the ones that could derail your speech and send the train plunging down the hillside. First and foremost, always agree. The two basic rules of customer service apply here:
  • Rule #1 - The Customer is Always Right
  • Rule #2 - If the Customer is Wrong, See Rule #1
Next, gently remind the questioner that "We all agree that your point is well-taken and needs to be discussed further. Unfortunately, we have a limited time for our talk today, and there are still several important topics I've been asked to cover."

Finally, publicly encourage them to speak with you in person after the presentation, and be sure to follow through on this offer. Integrity is vital to the reputation of those of us in the public eye, so don't let your audience down and slip out a side exit. At the very least, be the best listener that you can be. Always plan for extra time for speaking with attendees after your presentation. This can work in your favor in many ways - it helps you diffuse a sensitive situation, it allows you to build valuable personal connections and can even generate invitations for future engagements.

Audience interaction is a double-edged sword. Keeping your listeners engaged in your presentation has to be balanced with staying on track and delivering what you promised to deliver. Any questions?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Take Care of Your Body

Can you imagine listening to a presentation on physical fitness delivered by a person who is obviously not in good shape? Or maybe learning about proper nursing home hygienic practices from someone that appears not to have bathed in several days? What about a motivational seminar in which the presenter clearly did not sleep for more than a couple of hours the night before?

As soon as you decide to begin speaking in public, you must accept the fact that everything about you will be scrutinized, analyzed and criticized by your audience. Your life is no longer private. You have joined the ranks of celebrity. Are you ready for your close-up? If you're not, you can forget about getting your message across to your audience the way you intended.

How you care for your body can dramatically affect your presentations, for better or for worse. You are an actor on the stage. You are also the director. What direction would you give yourself when playing the part of a successful, in-demand professional speaker?

For one, get into good physical shape. You don't need to look like a body builder or train to be a marathon runner, but you should strive to become generally fit. We all know how to do this, right? Eat well - no extreme diets, just good, wholesome food in modest portions, with smaller meals later in the day. Exercise - a tough one for some of us, but doable if you start slow, stay consistent and get a coach. Avoid the nasties - alcohol, smoking and drugs (enough said). Your goal is to look healthy - fabulous isn't necessary (nice to have, but not necessary).

Sadly, there are a few folks that just don't have a good handle on the whole hygiene thing. And in many such cases, they may not even be aware that there's a problem. Just to be sure, though, privately ask one or two good friends to give you an honest assessment of your personal hygiene. Commit to doing what they recommend in order to make the necessary changes. Enlist their assistance if necessary. Just as with improving your physical fitness, this process will not be quick or easy. Stick with it, however, and you (and your audience) will be rewarded.

Time, that most elusive of gifts, has a way of making itself scarce without our having noticed. Only when we come to the end of it do we realize that our priorities were out of whack as we planned our day, our week, our year and, unfortunately, our life. One of the most important things that gets short shrift time-wise is sleep. We cannot operate our bodies efficiently without down time. As a public speaker, you must be on top of your game at all times. This is difficult if not impossible if you aren't getting proper rest. The solution is to actually plan and stick to a specific sleeping schedule - no exceptions, no excuses.

You've accepted the challenge of speaking in public. You're continuing to learn the craft and practice it as often as possible. Now complete the package. Take care of your body.