If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that we have mixed feelings about public speaking “crutches,” such as Teleprompters.
Generally speaking, we’d rather teach public speakers how to deliver more effective presentations without depending on technology to get them through. Many speaking situations—conversations at dinner parties, meetings around corporate boardroom tables, and many others—aren’t conducive to such technology.
Therefore, it’s far more important to learn the skills that can be deployed at any time, to any group, regardless of the availability of technology.
However, it’s also important to remain open to new ideas, and recent research conducted by the Human-Computer Interaction Group at the University of Rochester is worth considering. For their research, the group sent “real-time feedback” to speakers regarding their “volume modulation and speaking rate.”
The short video below explains the research and their findings.
The first thing that occurred to me is that receiving real-time messages could be distracting for the speaker. The researchers admit as much:
“One challenge is to keep the speakers informed about their speaking performance without distracting them from their speech,” they write. “A significant enough distraction can introduce unnatural behaviors, such as stuttering or awkward pausing. Secondly, the head mounted display is positioned near the eye, which might cause inadvertent attention shifts.”
But real-time “live” feedback from an actual person to a speaker during a presentation is also distracting to speakers, so the real test I’d like to see is how one compares to the other.
Beyond being distracting to the speaker, do real-time instructions distract the audience?
“We wanted to check if the speaker looking at the feedback appearing on the glasses would be distracting to the audience,” Hoque said. “We also wanted the audience to rate if the person appeared spontaneous, paused too much, used too many filler words and maintained good eye contact under the three conditions: word feedback, continuous feedback, and no feedback.”
However, there was no statistically significant difference among the three groups on eye contact, use of filler words, being distracted, and appearing stiff.
The researchers used only 30 subjects in their research, so it’s too limited a sample to know how broadly their findings could be applied (they want to test their technology with Toastmasters to get a better sample, which seems like a great idea).
I also question whether the obtrusive glasses themselves can distract an audience, which is aware that the speaker may be receiving real-time feedback and is abruptly changing their pace and volume.
Finally, who’s to determine the “proper” speaking rate? There’s a normal accepted range, but some speakers, for some topics and to some audiences, might be wise to adjust it. (Difficult or complex content might be delivered slower; exciting content intended to motivate might be delivered quicker.)
Either way, I find this research interesting and look forward to following similar future work. Perhaps it could be a useful tool in limited circumstances as the glasses become smaller and sleeker.
You can download the software for free here. Photo credit: M. Iftekhar Tanveer, et al
Want to learn more about public speaking? Check out our recommended reading list!
I recently received the following email from Christopher Holcroft, an Australian public relations pro. He writes:
“I have found these days more and more journalists who conduct phone interviews are recording them on voice recorders. To ensure there is complete transparency and to keep within my country’s federal laws, I ask the journalist if they are recording. I then ask do they mind if I record for my records.
This recording has now put both the journalist and yourself on the path to a complete record of what was said. Nothing can be mistaken.
Also, if the journalist skews their article/story you have a complete record to seek correction if required. The recording is also great for your bosses as it protects you and what you said versus what the journalist thought you said and reported.
I also encourage all interviewees to bring a voice recorder to media interviews and openly place it on the table next to the journalist so there is no mistake you are also recording the event for truthfulness. This way you can send a copy of the interview to your bosses before the story is aired or published.”
In my two decades as a journalist and public relations practitioner, I’ve seen three media relations practices that were once largely verboten become acceptable, at least in some circumstances: Asking reporters for their questions in advance, requesting to see a copy of their stories before they run, and recording raw copies of interviews. (To be clear, the first two practices are only acceptable in certain cases, but they’re more common today than they were a decade ago.)
One obvious reason for the apparent increase in taping interviews is technology: Whereas taping once required us to carry a separate piece of equipment (three, actually: the recorder, a cassette, and fresh batteries), smartphones make it easy today for anyone, at any time. I suspect another reason is that social media has gotten us accustomed to living more public lives, so journalists who might have viewed tape recorders as an intrusive irritant a generation ago are more likely to view it as an inevitability today.
I understand the merits of the “record every interview” argument well, and have encountered many clients who employ such a policy. For some clients, particularly those dealing with highly controversial and potentially litigious issues, I agree that keeping an audio or video trail makes sense.
Personally, though, I don’t advise it to our clients as a general practice. Setting a tape recorder on the table immediately creates a climate of mistrust. Therefore, you might reserve its use for times when: you have a reasonable suspicion that the interviewer has an agenda and is not to be trusted; the news outlet is unfavorable toward your work; the topic is of great economic and/or reputational consequence.
If you do decide to record an interview, make sure you remain on the right side of the law. You can find out if your state requires one- or two-party consent here.
What are your practices regarding taping media interviews? Please leave your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.
What makes a TED Talk go viral? The TED Blog recently asked that question and used a research-based study to answer it. According to TED:
“Over the last year, a human behavior consultancy called Science of People set out to answer this question. To do so, says founder Vanessa Van Edwards, they polled 760 volunteers, asking them to rate hundreds of hours of TED Talks, looking for specific nonverbal and body language patterns.”
Van Edwards’ research found five specific patterns:
1. “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” Van Edwards found that people rated speakers comparably on charisma, credibility and intelligence whether they watched talks with sound — or on mute.
2. “Jazz hands rock.” Van Edwards noted a correlation between the number of hand gestures a speaker makes in a talk and the number of views the talk receives.
3. “Scripts kill your charisma.” Van Edwards found that speakers who offered more vocal variety showed better ratings on charisma and credibility. What’s especially interesting: people rated speakers who clearly ad libbed in their talks higher than those who stayed on script.
4. “Smiling makes you look smarter.” Van Edwards found that the longer a TED speaker smiled, the higher their perceived intelligence ratings.
5. “You have seven seconds.” Van Edwards found that first impressions matter a lot, and that people had largely formed their opinion about a speaker based on the first several seconds.
The TED Blog features a fascinating interview with Van Edwards, and I encourage you to visit their site to read the whole thing.
One of the most interesting parts of the interview is that Van Edwards’ research confirms some of the existing research on ‘thin slices.’ Regarding the speed with which people form first impressions, she says:
“We took the same videos, we [edited them down to] the first seven seconds, and had people watch. We gave these viewers the exact same questions as people who had watched the entire talk. And we found that the ratings overall — who people liked overall and who they didn’t like — matched, whether they’d watched the first seven seconds or the full talk.”
For inspiration, here are two of the TED Talks Van Edwards singled out as viewer favorites.
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In a memorable scene from the 1988 comedy The Naked Gun, Lt. Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) forgets to remove his lapel microphone before using the restroom.
Life has been imitating art a lot lately. Earlier this month, a Georgetown, Texas council member forgot to remove or turn off his lapel microphone before taking a bathroom break. As the council meeting proceeded, the sounds of his…well, this one is pretty self-explanatory.
Georgetown Mayor Pro Tem Rachael Jonrowe tried to trudge on, but the sounds were simply too much for her to take. Who can blame her for breaking into laughter at the real-life “Drebin moment?”
Of course, this is no longer known solely as a Drebin moment. Many people now think of the “caught with a bathroom microphone moment” as a Durst moment, named after murder suspect Robert Durst. During the last scene of this year’s HBO documentary series about him, “The Jinx,” Durst appeared to have confessed to murder while still wearing his microphone in the bathroom.
There are many more examples. One of the more memorable is from 2006, when CNN anchor Kyra Phillips went to the bathroom with her microphone still attached—and slammed her sister-in-law as a “control freak” during a live address by President Bush.
It’s easy for this mistake to occur. Audio-visual technicians at conferences often wire up presenters several minutes before their speeches begin. If the speaker decides to make a final stop to the restroom before the speech, the microphone remains attached.
After a while, many speakers forget about the microphone altogether. Like their wallets or earrings, the microphone may be on their person—but they’re no longer aware of it.
As a general practice, I always shut off the microphone until I’m ready to speak and kill it as soon as I’m finished. That way, if I forget it’s on me, it’ll at least be switched onto the off position. But I’d be lying if I said I haven’t had a few close calls, which reinforces just how easy it is for this humiliating moment to occur.
Perhaps one way to solve this problem is to help your fellow speakers. If you’re an audience member and see a wired-up speaker heading for the hallway, perhaps you could gently ask them if their microphone is off. If it’s not, you’ve just made yourself a new best friend.
Crisis management professional and friend of the blog Melissa Agnes recently delivered her first TEDx Talk.
Her talk, “The Secret to Successful Crisis Management in the 21st Century,” made the case that being proactive during a crisis isn’t enough—but that companies need to be thinking proactively during their day-to-day business operations.
“Crisis management today, in large part, needs to be instinctive rather than solely reactionary,” Melissa says. “This real-time news cycle makes it increasingly difficult for you to get ahead of the story before the story is already ahead of you.”
Therefore, she argues, “Successful crisis management depends on your team’s ability to manage these real-time challenges that this digital landscape presents to us in a crisis while simultaneously actually managing the actual crisis in real time.”
TED Talks (or TEDx Talks, which are independent) are some of the most high-profile talks a professional can ever give. A great TED Talk can catapult an unknown to instant fame, with all of the perks that accompany it: bestselling books, consulting and speaking fees that reach well into the five figures, and widespread industry recognition.
Not all TED or TEDx Talks accomplish that for every speaker. But even if it doesn’t, the mere fact that a speaker delivered such a talk—and survived the test—boosts their professional bona fides. In Melissa’s case, it’s easy to believe that future potential clients coming across her speech during an online search will be impressed by her accomplishment (not to mention her smart advice).
With so much at stake, I was particularly interested in how Melissa prepared for her talk. She generously shared her approach, which strikes me as good advice for anyone preparing for a TED or TEDx Talk.
Melissa’s Three-Step Approach to Preparing a TED Talk
“For a TED or TEDx Talk, you’re given 18 minutes to discuss ‘an idea worth sharing.’ These 18 minutes are meant to be motivating, inspiring and, hopefully, aspirational for the audience. With only 18 minutes available to you, every second needs to count. Every word, every message needs to be thought out, timed and impactful.
I took a solid three months to prepare for my TEDx talk.
MONTH ONE: RESEARCH
The first of these three months was dedicated to research. In this time, I read three amazing books on the subject and I watched the 20+ most viewed TED talks repeatedly, all with the goal of inspiring myself and learning everything I could about the structure of a great TED talk.
MONTH TWO: MESSAGE REFINEMENT AND SPEECH DEVELOPMENT
The second month was spent refining my message and developing my speech. To do this, I outlined the stories I wanted to share, the actionable and (hopefully) inspiring message I wanted to leave my audience with and the overall structure of my speech. But a great speech cannot simply be written and delivered. It needs to be rehearsed and tested. For this, I looked to my trusted friends and colleagues for their honest and critical feedback.
For each version of my speech, I would record myself delivering it and send the recording to friends and colleagues that I trust and admire. With every piece of feedback that I received, the speech got better, more refined and more impactful. Quite frankly, the speech wouldn’t have been nearly as successful without their generous help.
MONTH THREE: REHEARSAL
With one month left before I was to take the TEDx stage, I dedicated myself to rehearsal. I set time aside to rehearse my speech 3 to 4 times per day, sometimes recording myself and always timing myself to make sure I was able to deliver my message in the allotted 18 minutes.”
Thanks for sharing your approach, Melissa, and congratulations on a terrific presentation.
Want to learn more about public speaking? Check out our recommended reading list!
On Wednesday, a 243-page report found it was “more probable than not” that New England Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady was “at least generally aware of the inappropriate actions” his team’s staff took to deflate footballs in January’s AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts.
In other words, there’s a better chance than not that Brady is a lying cheater.
Yesterday, Brady gave his first interview since the report’s release as part of a prescheduled interview at Salem State University. If you believed Brady was innocent of the allegations against him before the interview, you might have changed your mind after watching him dodge question after question in a manner that strained credulity.
Interviewer Jim Gray did his journalistic duty by asking Brady for his reaction to the report. The audience heartily booed every question Gray asked on the matter and enthusiastically applauded every Brady evasion.
Kelly Carlin, George’s daughter, summed up the interview perfectly in a tweet last night:
I believe the crowd’s hero worship will work against Brady, who relished the audience’s response and hid behind their angry boos to Gray’s fair and necessary questions. Brady’s response may not lose him any diehard fans, but the audience beyond the room—including many people reasonably asking whether Brady is the latest Lance Armstrong, Mark McGwire, or Barry Bonds—were probably not impressed.
My biggest problem with this interview is that his tone was generally unserious. The questions swirling around him go to the center of integrity, honestly, and playing within the rules. Regardless of his guilt or innocence, he treated the cheating allegations with a defiant and casual air instead of as the legacy-tarnishing accusations they are.
Brady should have stepped up and managed the crowd. He would have scored points by encouraging them to listen to Gray’s questions respectfully and giving him a chance to respond to them. He could have said:
“Jim is asking me fair questions, and it’s his job to ask them. So let me do my best to answer them.”
If he didn’t want to answer the questions, he could have said something along the lines of what he did say at one point during the interview:
“I haven’t had time to read the full report yet, and I’d like to have the chance to read it in full before commenting on it.”
Instead, he hid behind a hometown crowd, made a lame joke about his reading skills, and played the victim. And not once did he say he was innocent. All of that leads me to believe that he’s a cheater.
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Danielle Perez won a treadmill on The Price Is Right earlier this week. That typically wouldn’t catch my attention, but Ms. Perez lost her legs in an accident and uses a wheelchair.
According to CNN:
Perez, who is a comedian, has been in a wheelchair since 2004 after losing her legs in an accident. She said the strangest thing about her win was the reaction of the staff members on the show.
“I kept thinking that it was a really big joke,” she said with a laugh, “But there was no irony in their cheers or applause.”
Despite a collective and awkward pause from the audience that she said was edited out of the show, “Everyone at CBS seemed genuinely excited for me that I won.”
Ms. Perez demonstrated her comedy chops by having fun with the awkward prize, tweeting several stories about it and sending this tweet:
The Price Is Right obviously had no way of knowing that a disabled contestant would play a game involving a treadmill. I don’t know anything about the show’s production schedule, so I don’t know whether swapping one game out for another would have even been possible. I don’t blame CBS for the unfortunate moment—and neither, it seems, does Ms. Perez.
But what caught my eye was an official response from CBS (which airs the game show) to The Huffington Post:
CBS told the The Huffington Post in a statement, “Every member of ‘The Price Is Right’ studio audience has a chance to be selected to play. Prizes are determined in advance of the show and are not decided based on the contestants.” A rep for the network added that Perez additionally won an iPad Air Tablet and that “prizes don’t always match up perfectly,” before listing the following examples:
- Contestant(s) have won trips to their hometown or nearby
- Men often win the ‘Look Of The Week’ which is a prize package that includes a dress, high heels and a purse
That response strikes me as completely and unnecessarily tone deaf. I accept that everything CBS said in its statement is true—but facts don’t always help, and the spokesperson (or lawyer) who drafted this comes across as emotionally cold.
Why not just say something like this:
“Ms. Perez exhibited grace and humor in what could have been an awkward moment. Due to the unusual circumstances in this case, we are offering her a different prize of similar value. We’ll leave it to her to decide whether she’d like to keep the original prize or substitute it for something else.”
I’m sure the brains at CBS are worried about setting such a precedent. I get that. But some moments call for exceptions to the rules, and this one strikes me as an obvious time to allow common sense—or, at the very least, emotional warmth— to prevail.
While preparing for a recent media training, I came across a video clip from 2009 that I had never seen before.
The clip features Bob Diamond, who was the CEO of the British multinational bank Barclays at the time. During the interview, the reporter asked Diamond to defend his high compensation package—he was reportedly earning north of £20 million/year (roughly $30 million/year), with some reports putting his total compensation package at more than three times that amount.
As a reminder, this interview occurred shortly after the financial crash of 2008, when bankers, who were perceived to have contributed mightily to the crash, were under increased scrutiny.
Diamond started off strongly enough by making his case for free-market and performance-based compensation. But when the interviewer asked him whether he was worth as much as 1,000 Barclays tellers, he crumbled and took on the look of a boy who had been caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
Imagine, for a moment, that you were preparing Mr. Diamond for this interview. How would you have advised him to answer that question?
There’s only one “rule” for this thought exercise: You can’t advise Diamond to cut his salary or give a portion of it to the tellers, because there’s no indication from his response that he’d be willing to do either. Your advice should be based on the assumption that he’s going to continue receiving the same high compensation package.
What should he say? Please leave your suggestions in the comments section below. I’ll compile a few of your responses for a follow-up post later this month.