Can Wearable Technology Make You A Better Presenter?

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on May 26, 2015 – 12:02 am

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. 

University of Rochester Wearable Technology

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

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Five Body Language Lessons From Successful TED Talks

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on May 18, 2015 – 12:02 am

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.”

Temple Grandin delivering a well-reviewed TED Talk

Temple Grandin delivering a well-reviewed TED Talk


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.

TED Talks

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.

Temple Grandin


Jamie Oliver

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The Bathroom Microphone Claims Another Victim

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on May 14, 2015 – 5:54 am

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.

wireless microphone lavalier

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.

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How To Prepare For A Ted Talk | Public Speaking Tips

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on May 12, 2015 – 12:02 am

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 Agnes TEDx

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.


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.


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.


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.

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President Obama Gets “Schooled” By A Sixth Grader

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on May 4, 2015 – 2:12 am

Last Thursday, President Obama was interviewed at the Anacostia Library in Washington, D.C. for a “Virtual Field Trip” event that was broadcast into classrooms around the world.

His interviewer was sixth-grade student Osman Yaya. At one point, Osman asked the president to define “writer’s block” and offer suggestions to help students get past it.

President Obama took 3 minutes and 18 seconds to answer the question. During that time, he solicited some input from the students in the room—but for the most part, he held the floor and delivered an unnecessarily long and boring response.

Most interviewers—particularly those still in grade school—wouldn’t have the audacity to shut the President down. Most interviewers, however, are not Osman Yaya.

(The full exchange is here, and begins at 24:38.)

After the more than three-minute presidential filibuster, Yaya finally interjected and told the President, “I think we’ve sort of covered everything about that question.” That light moment wasn’t a big deal, and Mr. Obama handled it with humor. But it got me thinking about executives and other people in power.

It strikes me that just because elected representatives, CEOs, celebrities, and other executives are powerful people, many audiences will listen attentively—or at least politely— to what they have to say. And that can give powerful people a distorted view of their own speaking skills.

In other words, there are two reasons people might listen to a powerful person’s presentation:

  1. 1. Because they’re interested in what the powerful speaker has to say; or
  2. 2. Because they recognize that the powerful person is speaking mere feet from them, and that a lack of attentiveness might be considered impolite (at best) or could noticed by the powerful person and have repercussions (at worst).

Osman Yaya President Obama

I suspect that many powerful people have had different combinations of groups one and two present during different speeches. President Obama, for example, can be an electrifying orator at moments, so it’s not hard to believe that many people in his audiences are in the former camp. But he can also be dreadfully boring—as he was in this exchange—and in this case, I suspect the audience was shifting into the second camp.

The problem for many executives is that it’s sometimes challenging to tell the difference between genuine interest and polite interest. So I’ll leave the executives reading this post with this question: Do you know which camp your audiences are in?

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A Client Challenges Me: You Can’t Make This Slide Better

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on April 6, 2015 – 2:03 am

During a recent presentation training workshop, I discussed the best practices for PowerPoint design.

As usual, I made the case that words and bullets are ineffective mechanisms through which to transfer knowledge to an audience. Instead, I told the audience, well-designed visuals do more to make your points memorable than bullet points ever could. 

To reinforce my point, I showed several examples of my “before and after” slides. (Those slides are proprietary, but these sample slides will give you a good idea of the approach I take.)

After making my impassioned case for cleaner slides, one woman in the audience—a lawyer who lectures about copyright law—raised her hand. She said, “I like what your slides look like, but there’s just no way we can do that here. Our content doesn’t work for those types of visual slides.”

I noticed that she had a rather large printout of her slides in front of her, so I asked her to flip to any random slide in her deck. She turned to a page that looked like this: 

PowerPoint Example Producers2

“See what I mean?” she said. “There’s not a creative way to do that.”

I asked her to tell me what point she wanted to make while showing that slide. “I want people to realize that those are four different things—and that obtaining legal clearance from only one of those parties may not be sufficient.”

I asked the audience to give me a moment to try to come up with something better. For the first several seconds of silence, I’ll admit that I was stumped—and as the seconds ticked away, I got increasingly nervous that I’d have to concede defeat.

Suddenly, I had an idea. I whipped out my iPhone and did a quick Google search. I got the facts I needed, turned back to the audience, and announced:

“The best slide you could show to make this point is to show no slide at all!”

Then, I pressed play on the song I had queued up on my phone, Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean. The audience looked a bit confused as the song’s opening bass line kicked in, but I had their attention. Then, I said:

“Michael Jackson wrote and performed this song. But he didn’t produce it. Quincy Jones was the producer of this track. And Epic Records, a division of Sony, is the record label. If you want to use this song and think that all you’d have to do is clear it with Michael Jackson—or, in this case, his estate—you could set yourself up for serious legal risk.”


Billie Jean 45


Without much prompting, she agreed that would be a much more effective approach. And it didn’t require a single bullet point.

If she had still wanted to use a slide, she could have shown a full-screen still from the Billie Jean video, an image of the 45 (remember those?), or just a shot of Michael Jackson. She could have embedded the audio into the slide, pressed play, and allowed the audience to wonder what her point was for a few seconds before delivering it. 

With enough thought, there is almost always a better way to make your on-message visuals more memorable. And sometimes, you might find that your creative thought eliminates the need for a slide altogether.

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Monica Lewinsky’s TED Talk: An Important Clarion Call

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on March 21, 2015 – 7:10 pm

On Thursday, Monica Lewinsky delivered a much-anticipated TED Talk about her experience as “Patient Zero” in the Internet age of public humiliation.

Her story—and President Clinton’s—dominated the headlines in 1998, threw an administration off-topic for a year, and contributed to the impeachment of a sitting U.S. president. I was eager to hear what she had to say, both from the perspective of American history and her personal narrative.

Ms. Lewinsky proceeded to deliver a gripping 20-minute talk full of poise, integrity, humor, vulnerability, and seriousness of purpose. Although she might have been thrust into the headlines for unfortunate reasons, her reemergence onto the public scene stands to make society better.

Lewinsky discussed her own case, during which she was so low at one point that her parents insisted she shower with the bathroom door open to make sure she didn’t commit suicide. She was compelled to reemerge as a public figure, she says, for a related reason—the 2010 suicide of an 18-year-old Rutgers student whose same-sex kiss was taped and shared online without his knowledge.  

“Every day online, people—especially young people who are not developmentally equipped to handle this—are so abused and humiliated that they can’t imagine living to the next day. And some, tragically, don’t.”

Although offline bullying, shaming, and humiliation have been around almost as long as humankind itself, Lewinsky points out that the Internet has changed the scale dramatically.

“Online, technologically enhanced shame is amplified, uncontained, and permanently accessible.”

“Millions of people, often anonymously, can stab you with their words, and that’s a lot of pain.”

“There is a very public price to humiliation, and the growth of the Internet has jacked up that price.” 

Monica Lewinsky TED Talk

Lewinsky issued a clarion call to action: Don’t be bystanders to online bullying. Speak out against it, offer compassion to those who are being targeted, and refuse to click on links that lead to the for-profit humiliation of others. As she says in her closing remarks, “Public shaming as blood sport has to stop.”

One thing I hope Ms. Lewinsky addresses in future talks is the question of where the line is between tough but responsible analysis and unnecessary humiliation. At times, that line is easy to spot—those who called her a “tramp,” “slut,” or “whore” should be granted no corner in which to hide from their words. But other parts of the story are trickier.

For example, we can argue about whether The Starr Report, which contained sordid details about their relationship, should have been released publicly. But once it was, didn’t news organizations, which were covering the potential impeachment of a U.S. president, have a responsibility to report on its contents? If so, that would inevitably lead to humiliation for those involved. But I’m not sure such a decision, although uncomfortable, is wrong.

Is the difference between acceptable and unacceptable coverage of a newsworthy figure a matter of tone? If the reporter treats the subject in the limelight as a complete human being rather than a one-dimensional figure, does that mark the difference?

I don’t know the answers to those questions. I suspect Ms. Lewinsky has considered them, and hope she will choose to address to some point. 

What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.


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Google Executive Celebrates Women By Interrupting Them

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on March 19, 2015 – 12:02 am

When we prepare executives for panel presentations, we typically focus on the message they want to convey and the manner in which they deliver it.

We focus less on how they interact with other panelists—but after reading an article about Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt in The Wall Street Journal on Monday, we’ll probably bulk up that section of our trainings.

“Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt had a lot to say Monday about the lack of racial and gender diversity in the technology industry.

In fact, Schmidt had so much to say that he often interrupted and spoke over his co-panelist, Megan Smith, the U.S.’s chief technology officer and a former Google executive. The two appeared on a panel at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Tex.

At one point, Schmidt opined on which of two questions Smith should respond to. Later, he interjected mid-sentence with thoughts on Raspberry Pi, a small computer popular with digital tinkerers that Smith was promoting.

Toward the end of the session, one woman in the audience asked the two to address how personality biases in men and women affect workplace dynamics. She noted that Schmidt repeatedly talked over his former colleague — prompting applause from a full exhibit hall.”

Eric Schmidt Google via Wikimedia Commons Gisela Giardino

It’s entirely possible that Mr. Schmidt didn’t interrupt Ms. Smith because he’s sexist. He may just be a serial interrupter. Or perhaps he was particularly excited about the subject matter. Or maybe he viewed himself as a stronger presenter than his colleague.

But as I recently wrote, men on stage with women have to be keyed into certain gender-related issues—or risk being perceived as boorish. And that’s particularly true during a presentation about the lack of gender equality in the workplace.

Mr. Schmidt’s interruptions not only stepped on his core message about the need for greater gender equality in the tech industry, but generated a bevy of negative headlines, such as these:

CBS San Francisco: “Google’s Eric Schmidt Called Out For Repeatedly Interrupting Woman Tech Leader During Diversity Talk At SXSW”

The Verge: “Google executive Eric Schmidt, man, makes total ass of himself at SXSW”

Slate: “Google Chairman Gets Called Out by His Own Employee for Interrupting a Female Panelist at SXSW”

That said, interrupting your fellow panelists can occasionally be appropriate during panel discussions. In fact, some crosstalk can help electrify an otherwise soporific conversation.

Just remember that the audience is judging not only your words and your delivery, but the manner in which you interact with your fellow panelists. Be judicious with your interruptions, save them for the moments that truly matter, and work to contain your enthusiasm every time your id feels the need to express itself.

Photo credit: Gisela Giardino via Wikimedia Commons

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  • About Mr. Media Training

    The Mr. Media Training Blog offers daily tips to help readers become better media spokespersons and public speakers. It also examines how well (or poorly) public figures are communicating through the media.

    Brad Phillips is the Founder and Managing Editor of the Mr. Media Training Blog. He is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm with offices in NYC and DC.

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    Before founding Phillips Media Relations in 2004, Brad worked as a journalist with ABC's Nightline with Ted Koppel and CNN's Reliable Sources and The Capital Gang.

    Brad tweets at @MrMediaTraining.

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    Before joining Phillips Media Relations in 2011, Christina worked as a journalist with NBC News, where she produced stories for MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, NBC Nightly News, and The Today Show.

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