Say This 10 Times: “I Am Not A Wikipedia Page!”

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on July 22, 2014 – 9:00 pm

“Our company was founded in 1922.”

Whenever I hear a speaker say something like that, I think, Who cares? That piece of information, presented without context, could lead the audience to have one of two reactions:

1. “Wow, they’ve been doing this a long time. They must know what they’re doing.”

2. “Wow, they’re old. I wonder if they’re a traditional company that’s too slow to embrace change.”

I often tell speakers to stop being their company’s Wikipedia page by merely listing factual information. Their job during a presentation isn’t to list facts, but to create a useful context into which those facts fit. 

 

Wikipedia

In the above example, the speaker should have said something closer to this:

“Our company was founded in 1922. Our industry has gone through three major transformations from then to now—and the only reason we’ve been able to continue our growth is because we have the experience to identify and embrace tomorrow’s trends before everyone else.”

Here’s another example. Don’t simply state that you have 18 offices around the world. Instead, infuse that fact with meaning, and say:

“We’re a global events planning company. We can help you plan top-notch events in New York and Los Angeles, but also in Mexico City, Berlin, Mumbai, Johannesburg, and 12 other major international cities. And if you want to plan an event in a city outside of those 18 locations, our closest regional office can successfully plan it for you from there, as we did in 145 cities last year alone.”

As you practice for your next presentation, pay close attention to the moments when you’re verging on becoming a context-free, facts-only presenter. Then, repeat this mantra: “I am not a Wikipedia page!” and add meaning to those facts.

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The Most Popular TED Talk Of All Time

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on July 21, 2014 – 12:02 am

Sir Ken Robinson—an English education expert—delivered the most popular TED Talk ever in 2006.

In the eight years since, his talk called “How Schools Kill Creativity” has accumulated more than 27 million views. That’s about the same number of people who watched last year’s Grammy Awards, meaning that Ken Robinson—a relative unknown who stood on a stage in front of a few hundred people—has attracted the same number of views as performances by Justin Timberlake, Rihanna, Elton John, Sting, and Jay-Z. Not bad for a speech about education.

Whether or not Mr. Robinson’s speech is the best TED Talk of all time is subjective—but however you answer that question, it’s clear that he delivered a terrific talk.

This post identifies five reasons Robinson’s speech succeeded—and what you can learn from it.

1. His Theme Was Unambiguous

Mr. Robinson delivered his thesis statement early in his talk by saying, “My contention is that creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.” Everything that followed supported that theme—his stories, statistics, quotes, and other personal observations.

2. He Supported His Theme With Compelling Stories

Robinson is a master storyteller. His story about Gillian Lynn, who choreographed Cats and The Phantom of the Opera, is likely to stick with me for a long time. As a child, Robinson explained, Lynn was sent to a childhood specialist to diagnose her inability to sit still. The brilliant doctor turned on the radio, observed the young Ms. Lynn, and left the room to offer her mother his diagnosis: “Gillian isn’t sick. She’s a dancer.” His story roused my emotions, both anger (for the children who are misdiagnosed) and hope (that misunderstood children will be understood more completely).

3. He Concluded His Talk With Context

During the body of his talk, Robinson effectively made the case for creativity in education. He could have ended his talk successfully by simply reiterating that point, perhaps through an illustrative anecdote (the Gillian Lynn story could have served as a memorable close). Instead, he set his aims even higher, tying his talk into every other TED Talk that the live audience had seen or was about to see: “What TED celebrates is the gift of the human imagination. We have to be careful now that we use this gift wisely and that we avert some of the scenarios we’ve talked about.” 

Ken Robinson TED

4. His Tone Was Conversational

Public speaking coaches always advise their trainees to appear “conversational.” Robinson demonstrated perfectly what a conversational and relaxed tone looks like. I’ve written before about mirror neurons, which can allow speakers who exhibit a certain tone to create that same tone and feeling within their audiences. It’s easy to imagine oneself being put at ease immediately through Robinson’s easy demeanor.

5. He Used Humor As a Vehicle

Robinson is funny. At first, I wondered whether his humor—which occasionally veered slightly off message—bordered on overkill. But as I continued reflecting on his speech, I realized why it worked so well. A talk about a topic like education can easily become strident. Robinson used humor as a vehicle to open up the audience, create a personal bond, and convey his message without making anyone feel defensive. He has the ease of an experienced stand-up comedian—which most speakers do not—and he used that gift to sell his vision to an increasingly receptive audience.

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What These 1990s Songs Teach You About Public Speaking

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on June 18, 2014 – 6:02 am

In the 1990s, we were rico suave and too legit to quit. We lived la vida loca and smelled like teen spirit. We wore gold-colored hammer pants and flannel. We went to Lollapalooza and the Lilith Fair. We listened to grunge, Britpop, and hip hop.

Nostalgia for the 90s has never been greater. In this post, you’ll find public speaking lessons based on 13 huge hits from the 1990s—from superstars like Paula Abdul and Guns N’ Roses to one-hit wonders like Chumbawamba. 

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Backstreet Boys I Want It That Way

 

Sir Mix-a-Lot, “Baby Got Back” (1992)

Great speakers often provide the person introducing them with a pre-written and attention-grabbing introduction. When they hit the stage after being introduced, they seize the audience’s attention from the first word by using a compelling opening. Sir Mix-a-Lot did exactly that by having two white women introduce his song by criticizing the size of a black woman’s butt—and then rebutting them with an attention-grabbing opening that has survived more than two decades: “I like big butts and I cannot lie.” One other note: the attention-grabber was tied directly to his message, which was about the unrealistic expectations magazines like Cosmo put on a woman’s shape.

Note: After posting this story, Sir Mix-A-Lot responded on Twitter:

Sir Mix a Lot Tweet

 

Backstreet Boys, “I Want It That Way” (1999)

According to a fascinating piece of research, boy bands use the word “you” more than any other word. Perhaps the boys of ‘N Sync, 98 Degrees, and Hanson were onto something. By using the pronoun “you,” they directed their message straight into the hearts of their mostly younger, female fans. The word “you” has that power, and great speakers use it often to deliver their personal-sounding messages to each individual audience member. As an example, this Backstreet Boys classic uses the word “you” or “your” no fewer than 20 times—and “you” is the first word in the song.

 

 

Alanis Morissette, “Ironic” (1996)

Okay, so none of the incidents described in Morissette’s “Ironic” are actually ironic. But her rapid-fire series of mini vignettes (a man terrified of flying who conquered his fear, boarded a plane, and crashed; the old man who won the lottery and died the next day; meeting the man of your dreams only to find that he’s married) offers a terrific template for speakers. The “short vignettes” opening can be an effective starter. As an example, a physician might open by describing the ailments suffered by three patients, with each mini anecdote receiving no more than 10-15 seconds of detail.

 

 

Whitney Houston, “I Will Always Love You” (1993)

Whitney Houston’s record label hated the idea of a 45-second a cappella introduction to this song, but her instincts to keep it were right. According to Rolling Stone,after 14 weeks at the top of the Billboard charts, it set the record for the longest run at Number One on the charts.” Her unique intro stood out from almost all of the other pop music on the charts at the time—her moments of breathy silence in between lyrics broke the pattern—and that’s a lesson all speakers should remember. Speakers can break the pattern by pausing, blacking out presentation slides after using them for a few minutes, or distributing a handout to the audience (among many other ways).

 

 

Guns N’ Roses, “November Rain” (1992)

As a general rule, it’s better to speak for too short than too long. But if a great movie can hold your attention for two-and-a-half hours, shouldn’t a great speaker be able to hold your attention for longer than the typical 50-minute conference breakout session? Guns N’ Roses pushed back against the typical constraints of pop radio, which restricts most songs to about four minutes. In 1992, their nine-minute hit “November Rain” made it to number three on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, becoming the “longest song in history to enter the top ten of that chart,” according to Wikipedia—and proving that longer can be better if the song—or speech—is good enough.

 

 

TLC, “Waterfalls” (1995)

TLC’s terrific mid-90s hit song (and award-winning video) delivered a straightforward, unambiguous, and easy to act-upon call to action: “Don’t go chasing waterfalls / please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to.” Similarly, speakers (depending on the purpose of the speech) should offer a simple and direct call to action. How important is a call to action? In one study, the “jerks” who received a direct call to action acted more charitably than the “saints” who didn’t. 

 

 

 

Spice Girls, “Wannabe” (1997)

Like TLC, the Spice Girls offer a formula for a successful call to action: “I’ll tell you what I want, what I really really want.” If your audience doesn’t understand the next steps they’re supposed to take after hearing you speak, they won’t take any. Some research suggests that asking for a small and easily accomplished call to action is a good way to begin, since a small action often leads to bigger future actions. 

 

 

Elton John, “Candle in the Wind 1997” (1997)

When Princess Diana died in a car accident in 1997, Elton John repurposed his 1970s hit “Candle In The Wind.” Whereas the original was about Marilyn Monroe, Elton John changed the lyrics to become about “England’s Rose.” This is relevant for speakers who tend to deliver similar information to different audiences. With minor but important tweaks and modifications, “generic” presentations can become immediately relevant to the specific audience to which the speakers are presenting. The heart of your presentation may be the same—but the audience will feel that you’ve created it just for them. 

 

 

Los del Rio, “Macarena” (1995)

Let’s face it: this was a terrible song with a video to match. But the men of Los del Rio were onto something when they followed in the footsteps of other artists who wrote songs that became popular dances (e.g. “The Twist,” “The Hand Jive,” “Da Butt,” “Vogue,” “Conga,” “The Electric Slide”). These songs became staples at weddings and proms because they involved the audience in a meaningful way. The analogy to public speaking is obvious.

 

 

Extreme, “More Than Words” (1991)

In their gorgeous ballad, Extreme pointed out that there is a difference between verbal communication and body language: “More than words / is all you have to do to make it real / then you wouldn’t have to say that you love me / ‘cause I’d already know.” As Extreme pointed out, words are only one way to deliver a message—and they’re often not enough on their own. To be truly effective, words need to be fully connected to the body language associated with them. In some cases, that means that your tone is as important—or even more important—than the words you choose. And great speakers have the ability to use their faces and bodies to communicate certain key points without any words at all.

 

 

R. Kelly, “I Believe I Can Fly” (1997)

Given his history, R. Kelly may seem like an odd choice to deliver such an inspirational ballad. But his song about positive self-talk is a great internal monologue for all speakers to remember before hitting the stage: “If I can see it, then I can do it / If I just believe it, there’s nothing to it / I believe I can fly.” Many speakers say they benefit from that type of “positive visualization” by visualizing the audience’s enthusiastic response to them before they walk onto the stage and begin their speech.

 

 

Chumbawamba, “Tubthumping” (1998)

Despite your positive visualization, there’s still a chance you might bomb your presentation. That’s where this song comes in: “I get knocked down / But I get up again / You’re never gonna keep me down.” With its pick-yourself-up-and-try-again lyrics, it’s a good reminder that most of us are going to deliver a dud once in a while. But your next audience won’t know that you didn’t succeed with your last audience, so it’s important not to bring that imperfect history into your new talk. Every presentation offers an opportunity to succeed anew—if you don’t self-sabotage it with your negative self-talk.

 

 

Paula Abdul, “Opposites Attract” (1990)

The video for Paula Abdul’s hit “Opposites Attract” featured MC Skat Kat, an animated cat that performed choreographed dance moves with her. The video was so popular that it won a Grammy Award. It’s a good reminder to speakers that in order to stand out, visuals need to be more engaging than bullets and words on a screen. Get creative—use compelling images, relevant multimedia elements, well-designed handouts, or anything else you can think of that will bring your main points to life in a more memorable manner than audiences are used to.

 

 

If you enjoyed this post, check out our tips from 1980s pop music here! And don’t forget to sign up for our weekly newsletter here.

 


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Beware Of These Deceitful “Tee-Up” Phrases

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on June 10, 2014 – 6:33 pm

No offense, but I got to be honest, I need to be real.

Those types of phrases—known as “tee-ups” and “performatives”—can be signs of deceit, dishonesty, or uncertainty.

I’ve written about this topic before, but this recent interview from NPR’s “On Point” expands upon my original post and offers great examples from the world of social media, The Real Housewives of Atlanta and The Tonight Show, among many others.  

If you’re a language geek like I am, you’re in for a treat. Thanks to friend of the blog Deborah Brody for sharing this clip.

Want to learn more about public speaking? Check out our recommended reading list!

 


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For How Many Seconds Should You Make Eye Contact?

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on June 9, 2014 – 12:02 am

If you read a few public speaking books, you’ll probably come across conflicting advice about how long you should maintain eye contact with an audience member before moving on to someone else.

Here are a few examples from writers whose insight I respect:

In You Are The Message, Roger Ailes writes: “As you move from small group to small group—or from individual to individual—in the audience, linger for a few seconds.”

On his website “Six Minutes,” public speaking blogger Andrew Dlugan recommends that speakers “Sustain eye contact with someone for a few seconds, then move on.”

In 100 Things Every Presenter Needs To Know About People, Susan Weinschenk gets slightly more specific: “Spend 2 to 3 seconds looking at one person, then move to another person.”

In Presentation Skills 201, William R. Steele agrees: “Look at someone just long enough that you both feel the connection (two or three seconds) and then move on.

Businesspeople Spying on Each Other

Presentations That Persuade and Motivate, published by the Harvard Business Press, recommends doubling that time: “Make eye contact for five or six seconds with people in the front, left and right, and the back.”

In Speak With Confidence, Dianna Booher dispenses with that approach, advising speakers to focus not on seconds, but on sentences: “Delivering one or two sentences to each person establishes a bond of intimacy with individual listeners.” 

Jerry Weissman’s The Power Presenter has similar advice, but recommends less time-per-person: “Deliver one phrase to that person. Pause. Move to another person and deliver one phrase to that person.”

Who’s Right?

All of the writers above offered similar advice, but with meaningful variations. A few of them noted that although a specific number of seconds (or words) could serve as a helpful general guideline, the  specific amount of time was less important than what happens during the eye contact—a genuine connection between speaker and audience member. I agree with that.

In my experience, giving speakers a specific timeline to follow gets them too far inside their heads. Instead of focusing on being truly in the moment during their presentations, they suddenly find themselves doing mental math: “One second—two-seconds—three seconds—okay, I need to look at a new person now.

The most useful guideline I can offer is this: You shouldn’t say a word unless you’re looking someone in the eye and making a connection with that person. (If there’s any “rule” beyond that, it should be that you don’t dart your eyes so quickly from person to person that you fail to make a connection.) That’s all you have to remember. Don’t talk to the wall, the floor, the ceiling, your notes, your laptop, or the screen projecting your PowerPoint slides. By remembering to speak into someone’s eyes, every word, phrase, sentence, and paragraph you utter will help you forge a meaningful connection.

If, after all of that, you’re still seeking a numerical formula, remember this excellent piece of advice from Andrew Dlugan: “There’s no magic minimum or maximum; you’ll just know.”

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One Of My Favorite Challenges As A Presentation Trainer

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on June 2, 2014 – 12:02 am

One of my favorite challenges is to help a client take a seemingly boring topic and turn it into a riveting presentation.

I recently faced such a challenge when one of our clients was tasked with speaking about her organization’s new expense processing system. Her job was to lead her colleagues through the new software program and show them how to enter their expenses.

Like most people tasked with such a presentation, she planned to give a talk that flowed something like this: “First, you click this button and enter that number here. Then, you click this button and enter that number here. Next, you click this button and enter that number here.”

That approach wasn’t likely to grab her audience—but by brainstorming together, we discovered a much better way to present that information.

Expense Report

First, it’s important to note that this woman’s colleagues weren’t exactly thrilled to be attending this training session about expense reports. So this speaker already had a challenging task in front of her.

To try to find something more interesting in her presentation, I asked her how much time it took employees to enter expenses in the old system. “About one day each month,” she replied. How about now, I asked? “About two hours per month.” And how many employees are using this system? “About 500,” she replied.

With some quick math, we determined that the new program saved the organization about 3,000 hours per month—a staggering 36,000 hours per year. That’s the equivalent of 18 full-time jobs. Assuming each person filing expenses earned $65,000 in salary and benefits, that represented an annual savings of almost $1.2 million.

An annual savings of 36,000 hours per year and $1.2 million is a huge headline!

Suddenly, she had a much more compelling open with a clear audience benefit: This will not only save you time, but you will be helping our nonprofit organization spend its resources on the people we serve, not on burdensome paperwork.

With that headline serving as her framing statement, the detail she proceeded to offer suddenly fit within a larger context that mattered to the audience. Even better, she further streamlined her presentation by killing some of the less important slides and creating a well-designed takeaway document that allowed her to eliminate several details from her talk. 

Finally, and to her enormous credit, she added her own spin and delivered her revised opening brilliantly, proving that even “boring” topics can usually be made more interesting with enough creative thought.

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Fairy Tales And Famous Speeches (As Told By PowerPoint)

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on May 28, 2014 – 6:02 am

As you know by now, I’m not a PowerPoint basher.

PowerPoint has its place. Used well, it can make entire presentations more memorable and specific points stickier. But there are times, of course, when the use of PowerPoint can interfere with the story the speaker is trying to tell. In this post, you’ll see two funny examples of PowerPoint gone awry.

Example One: Cinderella as PowerPoint

The first example comes from Dublin-based presentation expert Rowan Manahan, who delivered Cinderella as a PowerPoint presentation. In this case, the PowerPoint slides enhanced his presentation, but only because they were part of the joke.

Although Manahan has the rare ability to use PowerPoint for comedic effect similar to how late-night talk show hosts use video, most speakers kill their narrative by burying it with too many similarly loaded slides. 

 

Example Two: The Gettysburg Address

The second example, a famous one from Google Director of Research Peter Norvig, looks at what would have happened if Abraham Lincoln had used PowerPoint to deliver his Gettysburg Address. It’s a sharp way to make the point that far too many speakers diminish their impact with completely unnecessary and counterproductive slides.

His complete six-slide PowerPoint presentation is below, and is being used with permission.

 Gettysburg 1

 Gettysburg 2

Gettysburg 3

Gettysburg 4

Gettysburg 5

Gettysburg 6

 

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A Public Speaking Must: Loosen Your Grip

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on May 22, 2014 – 6:02 am

While watching singing competition shows, you can often see the contrast between great performers and mediocre ones.

You can almost see the mediocre performers thinking while they’re performing: I need to walk over there now; I need to smile into the camera now; now’s the part where I pick up the guitar; now’s the time when I high five members of the audience.

The great performers make all of those same moves—but you can’t see them thinking about them. The singers are so graceful—so “in the moment”—that each move feels natural, not overly choreographed.

That same dynamic also occurs on the golf course. One of our clients recently told me that when she approaches the tee, she wants to “whack the shit out of the ball.” But over time, she’s learned to loosen her grip and let her club do the work for her instead. Looser grips result in more accurate shots.

Those singing competitions and golf grips provide a critical lesson for public speakers.  

Golf Tee

Like the mediocre performer, you should think about everything you want to accomplish in advance: I want to show this visual, then summarize our project proposal, then open up a discussion, then close with a witticism I recently heard.

But unlike the mediocre performer, you should no longer be thinking so intently about what you have to do moment-by-moment once you’ve started speaking. If you are, the audience will probably see you thinking too hard—which will diminish the connection you’re supposed to be forging with them.

The best way to avoid that problem is to loosen your grip.

You’ve done your planning. Trust that all of the practice and preparation you put into your presentation will do the work for you. Trust that you’ve developed the muscle memory you’ll need to perform well. 

Loosen your grip. When you hit the stage, focus less on the paint-by-numbers steps you need to follow, and focus more on developing a genuine connection (more about that here) with your audience.

Want to learn more about public speaking? Check out our recommended reading list!

 

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    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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