Archive for the ‘Presentation Training’ Category
I worked as a mobile disc jockey during my college years.
My Decembers were spent spinning tunes at dozens of Christmas and holiday parties, which gave me a wonderful opportunity to see a wide variety of toasts. Years of careful observation taught me that there’s no one formula for creating a warm holiday toast that uplifts and encourages the attendees.
Some toasts were funny and filled people with mirth. Others were more heartfelt, making people feel part of something meaningful. Others yet were businesslike but appreciative, making people feel that their hard work wasn’t going unnoticed. Those varied styles demonstrate that there are many ways of delivering an effective holiday party toast.
In this post, you’ll learn ten things to do when delivering a Christmas or holiday party toast.
1. Keep It Short
No one wants to hear you ramble for 20 minutes when what they really want is to mingle with colleagues, eat, and drink. Try not to exceed three to five minutes.
2. Do It Early
Offer your toast once most people have arrived, but before people have had time to make their fourth trip to the bar. A bunch of drunk or pleasantly buzzed people can make for a rowdy audience.
3. Be Warm
Your primary job as the person offering the toast is to set a warm tone. Don’t worry if you’re not a “perfect” speaker—few people are—instead, focus on making every person in attendance feel like a valued and welcome guest. If you convey sincerity, odds are your toast will be successful.
4. Consider Beginning With a Story
Little puts an audience to sleep more than generalizations. We’ve all heard people begin toasts with something like: “I’d like to thank you all for coming. What a year we’ve had! We had a few ups and downs, but we all worked hard to ZZZZZZZZZZZ.” Instead, begin with a single moment that summed up your company’s year for you, such as in this brief anecdote:
“In February, we were all hit with some tough news – our biggest client was terminating its contract with our firm, resulting in a 40 percent drop in revenue. I was deeply worried at the time about what that would mean for all of us and spent that whole week in a daze. I couldn’t sleep one night, so I drove into work at 5:00 a.m. When I arrived, I was surprised to see Tracy Miller sitting at her desk. For those of you who don’t know Tracy, she works in accounts payable. I asked her what she was doing there so early, and she said, ‘Boss, I think I figured out a way to save some money to get us through this rough patch.’ I found her dedication remarkable—it almost brought me to tears—and it was at that very moment that I knew for the first time how we were going to make it: through you.”
5. Acknowledge Someone Unexpected (Optional)
As in the example above, some of the best toasts I’ve ever seen praise an unsung hero: an accounts payable clerk, a facilities worker, or a mailroom employee. That’s a particularly appealing device when the person offering the toast is a top executive, since it bestows appreciation onto people who typically go about their work without any fanfare.
6. Touch Upon The Year’s Successes
This isn’t the moment to deliver an annual report or a laundry list. But it’s a perfect time to acknowledge your company’s major successes during the year—briefly. Don’t spend more than one minute here.
7. Avoid Being a Downer
If your company struggled or went through a transition this year, it’s okay to acknowledge the elephant in the room. But this is a holiday party—so you’re not allowed to bring the audience down. Acknowledge a challenging circumstance briefly if you must, but do it through the prism of optimism, trust in your staff’s abilities, and a can-do spirit that will guide your future success.
8. Be Original (Optional)
Introduce a sense of fun to your toast by introducing an original element. For example, you might have a quiz in which attendees shout out the answers. Or you might do a “highlights of the year” section by summarizing each month in a single sentence (even better if you can make it rhyme). For any of these techniques (or if you decide to show a year-end highlight video), the same advice holds: Keep it short.
9. Express Gratitude and Acknowledge Significant Others
Offer gratitude for the work of the people in the room. But as anyone who works 70-hour weeks knows, the people who suffer most aren’t the employees themselves, but their spouses, partners, children, and families. A holiday party is a perfect moment to acknowledge and thank them for their sacrifice.
10. Offer A Toast
Finally, offer a toast. You can use a generic one (“To a happy, healthy, and prosperous year ahead”) or a more traditional one (“May you live as long as you like, and have all you like as long as you live”). At the beginning of your toast, raise your glass as a visual cue for the audience to do the same. To avoid awkwardness at the end of the toast, either offer a closing line (“Have fun tonight!”) or cue the DJ to start the music.
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Tags: Christmas Party Toast, Holiday Party Toast, How to Give a Toast, presentation training, Toast
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I recently received a question from John Kelley, a novelist whose debut book The Fallen Snow has gotten terrific reviews. He asks: “What does one do if a speaking engagement is shortened, perhaps dramatically, at the last minute?”
There’s little more disheartening than planning and practicing a presentation only to have your boss or a meeting organizer tell you at the last minute you need to chop it in half.
A few years ago, I experienced that firsthand. I was the third of three speakers scheduled to speak during a 50-minute conference breakout session. The previous two speakers both went long, and as I sat awaiting my turn, I watched helplessly as the minutes ticked away. What was supposed to be my twenty-minute section was quickly reduced to eight minutes.
Although it may be painful to have your talk cut at the last minute, it may offer you an advantage, too.
In my case, the two previous speakers had overstayed their welcome just a bit. My eight minutes, in contrast, went by quickly, so my talk came across to the audience as a content-packed burst of energy. As a result, I left my audience wanting more, always a more enviable position than staying too long and wearing them down.
So the first piece of advice I have for John is to remember that sometimes a shortened session can work in your favor. More tactically, though, here are five additional things to keep in mind:
1. Identify The “One Thing”
Before your talk, you should make a plan in case your time gets shortened. One easy way to do that is to identify the “one thing” you absolutely want the audience to know, even if your hour-long talk is shortened to five minutes. You should also think through various scenarios in advance (e.g. what to cut if you lose 15 or 30 minutes).
2. Don’t Rush
It’s a natural instinct: You have a lot of content but less time than you expected, so you increase your pace to make everything fit. It’s a bad idea. Your goal is still to share valuable information with the audience, and you’ll have a tougher time doing that if you don’t speak at a deliberate pace, with pauses, that allow audience members to absorb your information. Plus, your effectiveness will be hampered by a stressed, harried delivery.
3. Drop A Main Point, Not The Examples
Let’s say you want to make three main points during your talk. Some speakers facing a time crunch still opt to make their three points—but in order to make room, they cut all of their examples, case studies, anecdotes, and audience interactions (you know, the interesting stuff). It’s far better to lose a main point or two and supplement the one(s) that remain with the supporting content that makes them interesting.
4. Don’t Announce The Time Cut To Your Audience
Doing so screams “amateur!” and unnecessarily calls out the host, moderator, and/or other speakers. Just exhibit your grace under pressure, and the audience will probably notice.
5. Direct Them To Additional Resources
You may be able to direct the audience to information you weren’t able to cover in your shortened talk. Mention where they can find additional resources. In John’s case, let’s say he had been planning to read two sections of his novel during a book reading. He could say: “I’m only going to read one section today. But if you decide to read the book, I suggest you pay special attention to pages 152-159. You’ll see on those pages that I gave you more information about the main character’s childhood. I did that deliberately there, because…”
Hope that helps, John (and everyone else)! Thanks for reading the blog.
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Tags: presentation training, public speaking tips
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I occasionally write in the evenings at my family’s kitchen table. Sometimes, my wife pops in the room and asks me a question. I stop typing, look up, and say, “Sorry, what was that?”
That scene probably plays out in millions of homes all over the world each night. As one partner reads a book, performs a household repair, or prepares the children for bed, the other partner asks a question that barely gets heard.
The truth is we’re terrible multitaskers. You may have deceived yourself into believing that you’re somehow different—that you can easily focus on numerous tasks, giving each equal energy, simultaneously. But the brain science is rather unambiguous on this point: you can’t.
That has consequences for you each time you speak to an audience. That man who is checking his smartphone for incoming emails can’t also be giving you his full attention. That woman live-tweeting the event can’t also be giving you her full attention. So what’s a speaker to do in such a distracted age?
First, the science. Dr. John Medina, the director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research at Seattle Pacific University and the author of Brain Rules, writes:
“The brain cannot multitask. Multitasking, when it comes to paying attention, is a myth. The brain naturally focuses on concepts sequentially, one at a time…To put it bluntly, research shows that we can’t multitask. We are biologically incapable of processing information-rich inputs simultaneously…Studies show that a person who is interrupted takes 50 percent longer to accomplish a task. Not only that, he or she makes up to 50 percent more errors.”
Susan Weinschenk, a psychologist and author of 100 Things Every Presenter Needs To Know About People, agrees:
“The term multitasking is a misnomer. People can’t actually do more than one task at a time. Instead, we switch tasks…You make more errors when you switch than when you do one task at a time. If the tasks are complex, then those time and error penalties increase.”
As a presenter, what can you do to prevent your audience from multitasking by sneaking regular peeks at their cell phones and emails?
First, take a look at an earlier post I wrote on this topic, called “Five Ways To Handle Smartphone Distractions During a Speech.”
But I want to go beyond the advice I’ve offered in the past by suggesting that you consider introducing a “cell phone-free zone” or “wireless-free zone” for your next talk.
Now, I already hear many of you objecting to that idea, and you’re right that doing so isn’t permissible in many public speaking settings (if you’re pitching a product to a potential client, insisting they power down won’t win you many friends).
But think of these settings: a work meeting; an educational lecture; a hospital tour; an orientation course; a sensitivity training workshop. Those are just a few examples, but it gives you an idea of the times when you might be able to introduce a cell phone-free zone.
Since people sometimes freak out (internally, if not externally) when you take away their ability to check their phones, offer them a safety valve. Tell them you’ll have bathroom/cell phone breaks once every 60-90 minutes. And do explain why you’re requesting their compliance—not out of being power hungry, but out of a desire to have their full focus on the critical content they’re about to learn. You might even share some of the brain science about multitasking with them.
Finally, in settings in which people may be using their laptops or electronic devices to take notes, ask them to turn their wireless off. As the science shows, every “ping” from a new email serves as a distraction, no matter how momentary.
What do you think? Would you consider requesting a cell-free zone for your presentations? How would you react to a speaker who requested one from you? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section.
Tags: 100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know About People, Advanced Presentation Training Tips, Advanced Public Speaking Tips, Brain Rules, John Medina, Susan Weinschenk
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A few “ummms” really aren’t that bad.
Too often, media and presentation trainers make their clients overly self-aware, drilling them to eliminate every remaining vestige of verbal filler. Clients have told me about trainers who have the audience shout at them when they accidentally say an “ummm,” or (and I swear this is true), who throw crumpled-up pieces of paper at the speaker when they utter one.
There are several problems with this approach. First, a speaker who uses no verbal filler may appear to an audience as overly polished and slick. Second, an over-focus on “ummms” distracts many speakers from focusing on more important speaking issues, such as making a genuine audience connection and conveying heartfelt enthusiasm.
And according to Michael Erard, the author of Um…:Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean, “many of our norms for ‘good speaking’ do not parallel the biological imperatives of language itself.”
We barely perceive the “ummms” that are all around us in our everyday conversations. And that’s a good thing, since they’re so pervasive. As Erard writes:
“About 5 to 8 percent of the words that normal speakers say every day—from about 325 to 1,800 of them—will involve an “uh,” “um,” some other pause filler; a repeated sound, syllable, or word; a restarted sentence; or a repair, all of which is normal for the everyday speaking that underpins our lives and our society.”
Erard says that until devices for audio playback were invented, the rules of great oratory almost never mentioned “ummm” as a speaking problem. Rather, when we heard our own voices for the first time, we were shocked by our own linguistic imperfection and sought to eliminate any hesitation whatsoever.
But the body of research into speech disfluencies is clear. As Erard writes:
“Disfluency is utterly normal…our rules for what counts as ‘good speaking’ are resistant to the biological facts about it…the rules evolve while the disfluencies remain stable, and…trying to communicate without disfluencies may be more distracting (and hence more damaging to fluency) than it’s worth.”
To be clear, there are circumstances in which “ummm” can be problematic. While a few “ummms” aren’t really that bad, more than a few “ummms” usually are.
As an example of how “umms” can get in the way, one blogger compiled this clip of President Obama’s verbal filler—a whopping 236 “uhhhs” uttered during a single 2012 presidential debate.
Here’s the test: When you practice your speech, ask your test audience whether they were distracted by your “ummms.” If they were, you should work to reduce them; if they weren’t, that means your sporadic “ummms” didn’t get in the way of effective communication. You can still work to reduce them, but don’t focus so relentlessly on eliminating them entirely that doing so gets in the way of your audience connection and charisma.
If you’re an over-ummer, here’s an exercise that will help.
Tags: media training tips, Michael Erard, presentation training, public speaking tips, Um: Slips Stumbles and Verbal Blunders, verbal filler
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When I was a producer at NBC and MSNBC, I did a lot of pre-interviews over the phone. The purpose of these interviews was to gauge if the person with whom I was speaking was a good fit for a story or an on-air debate segment I was producing.
No matter how knowledgeable or charismatic a potential guest was, if he or she had a thick accent, I regretfully had to pass on them. If I had a hard time understanding them, I knew my audience would as well.
Many spokespeople have accents, and not all of them are so significant that they prevent the audience from understanding. Sometimes, accents are even considered charming. However, researchers at the University of Chicago found in a 2010 study that when people have to work harder to understand a heavy accent, they regard the speaker as less credible. The study concluded:
When people listen to accented speech, the difficulty they encounter reduces “processing fluency.” But instead of perceiving the statements as more difficult to understand, they perceive them as less truthful.
“There are some people out there who try to do accent elimination,” says Judy Ravin, president and founder of the Accent Reduction Institute. “I think that’s pretty impossible. I think that some people do take offense at that, and I have to say, for good reason. An accent is part of our unique cultural identity.”
Still, if you’re a spokesperson with an accent, how do you assess if it’s taking away from your message? Ravin says there are two simple ways:
- 1. You are consistently asked to repeat yourself.
- 2. You get the feeling your audience is nodding in agreement but not understanding your message. A good way to confirm this is to ask someone to echo something you’ve said. If they get it wrong, you’re probably not getting through.
Ravin offers these easy ways to practice your English pronunciation:
- 1. Speak slowly. Everybody’s pronunciation is better when they speak slower.
- 2. Read out loud and practice saying the last sound of each word. English grammar depends heavily on how words end, which sets it apart from many other languages.
- 3. Make sure your intonation goes down before a comma or a period as you’re practicing reading aloud. This signals to the listener the end of a sentence.
- 4. At minimum, nail down the most pervasive sounds in the English language: “th,” “v and w,” “r” and the letter “o.” The letter “o” has many different pronunciations, the most common being “ah” as in prophet or option. The least common is “oh” as in no.
- 5. Practice at least 15 minutes per day five days a week. You acquire these techniques experientially.
It’s worth repeating that Ravin stresses that accent reduction isn’t accent elimination. Rather, the idea is to teach the English language sounds that don’t exist in other languages. “The objective is to maintain the cultural identity but to add to your cultural repertoire of sounds…People will still have an accent — what they won’t have is a communication barrier.”
For more free resources on accent reduction, the Accent Reduction Institute has posted its “Five Essential Techniques for Clear Speech” here.
Christina Mozaffari is the vice president of Phillips Media Relations. She tweets at @PMRChristina.
Tags: accent, Advanced Public Speaking Tips, media training performance, media training tips, presentation training, public speaking, voice
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I recently read Billy Crystal’s funny new autobiography, Still Foolin Em’.
In one passage, Crystal recalls a night early in his stand-up comedy career on which Jack Rollins, the well-regarded producer who managed David Letterman and Robert Klein, came to see him perform. The two men went out to dinner afterward.
Rollins wasn’t impressed.
“We had settled into a booth in a quiet restaurant when Jack said, ‘I didn’t care for what you did tonight.’ I wanted to stab him with a fork. ‘Why,’ I spit out. ‘Listen,’ he said, ‘the audience loved it, and you can do very well with what I saw, but I have no idea what you think about anything. You didn’t leave a tip.’
‘A tip?’ I managed to ask.
‘Yes, a little extra something you leave with the audience: you…Don’t work so safe, don’t be afraid to bomb. Come back tomorrow and don’t use any of this material; we know it works. Just talk. Let me know how you feel about things. What it’s like to be a father, what it’s like to be married, how you feel about politics—put you in your material. Leave a tip.’”
It seems to me that advice also applies to public speaking, since audiences almost universally want a sense of who you are, what you’re about, and what you believe in.
Overly scripted or memorized speeches in particular fail on this count. Too often, a “perfect” speech scores high on precision but low on connection, undermining the entire effort.
How can you leave your audience a tip by putting you in your material? Here are a few ideas:
- In a speech advocating for a specific issue, address why you got involved in the cause.
- In a sales pitch, address your initial skepticism about the product before you had an “a ha” moment which allowed you to see the brilliance in it.
- In an informational speech, mention how the topic you’re discussing applied to you or someone you know in a real-life situation. (This video of an insurance specialist discussing his personal investment in his product is a terrific example).
Here’s the bottom line: Leave the audience a “tip,” and you’ll look mah-ve-lous.
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Tags: Billy Crystal, comedy, presentation training, public speaking
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No matter how experienced you are as a presenter, you will occasionally speak to an audience that just doesn’t respond as positively to you as you had hoped.
As an experienced speaker, my goal is to create a “magical” experience for the audience every time out. I want to pitch a perfect game, complete every pass, and block every shot. But every once in a while, I encounter an audience that responds to me politely but without much enthusiasm.
Years ago, I used to blame the audience for that: “What a crappy audience. Bunch of idiots.” But that was only my insecurity talking. As I’ve become more secure in my speaking abilities, I never blame the audience. Doing so doesn’t help me grow as a speaker. Analyzing what I could have done differently does.
So today, I’ll offer you 10 things to consider when your speech isn’t received with the enthusiasm you would have liked. I suggest you print this list and use it the next time your presentation doesn’t meet your standards.
1. Was The Event Marketed Properly? Did you look at the invitations, printed agendas, and marketing materials before they were printed and published? If not, is it possible that the audience had a different expectation for your talk than you did?
2. Did You Miss Something In Your Research? Did you conduct research about the group, their concerns, and their level of knowledge prior to your talk? If so, did you fail to uncover important information that might have changed the focus of your talk?
3. Were They Biased Against You Before You Even Started Talking? If you’re an environmental activist speaking to a pro-business group, you might meet resistance before you even say your first word. That doesn’t mean you can’t win them over, but it means you have to forge a genuine personal connection first. Is it possible that you didn’t consider any biases they may have had against you or your industry before speaking?
4. Did The Setting Create Interference? Did something in the room interfere with your communication? Were people seated too far apart from one another? Did the microphone carry your voice sufficiently? Were people able to see the visuals? Was the room temperature comfortable?
5. Did The Audience Members Know One Another? Did members of the audience know each other, or were they strangers? If they were strangers, should you have started with something that made them feel more comfortable with one another, such as an ice breaker or a brief breakout exercise? And if they did know one another, was there any tension among them (e.g. the engineering staff resents the marketing team)?
6. Did You Fail To Ease Them In? If you were making a persuasive speech or introducing change, did you jump to your conclusion too quickly before giving audience members the information and rationale they needed first? Did you inadequately address their concerns before moving on to your recommended step?
7. Could Your Presentation Have Been Organized Better? Is it possible that you tried to say too much and over-saturated the audience? Or that your thoughts weren’t organized in a way that helped the audience follow you? Or that you didn’t give the audience a sense of where you were going with the talk, leading them to give up and tune out? Or that you simply sequenced your information badly (e.g. started with a startling fact instead of easing them with a softer story)?
8. Were You Speaking at the Right Level of Complexity? Were you speaking at the wrong level of complexity for this audience? Was your speech too simple for an experienced group or too detailed for an inexperienced one?
9. Were Your Visuals Complementary, Not Competitive? Did you drown your audience with a sea of text on PowerPoint slides? Could you have used fewer slides—or better slides—to reinforce your points in a more visual manner? Would props, flip charts, or handouts have helped you make your points more effectively?
10. Was It You? Be honest with yourself: Did you really care about this presentation and the people in your audience? Did you have even the slightest whiff of condescension toward the audience? Did you communicate your interest in the audience, focusing solely on their needs and not your own impressive bona fides? Did you prepare as much as you should have for the presentation? Did you express the passion necessary to inspire other people to care about your topic?
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Tags: presentation training, public speaking
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Yesterday, I wrote about a six-hour seminar I attended earlier this month with well-known public speaker and visual display expert Edward Tufte.
Dr. Tufte clearly put a lot of thought and energy into his presentation, and I learned several things from him. But his presentation was far from perfect. One major problem? His failure to give adequate breaks and space them appropriately.
First, for context, his one-day seminar costs attendees $380 (roughly 300 people attended). I gladly paid that for the opportunity to learn from him, but I expect some things in return. One of them is that he remembers that people need to use a restroom occasionally. Another is that he remembers that many people like to eat before the mid-afternoon.
The session was scheduled from 10am to 4pm. Upon arriving, I learned that the lunch break would begin at 1:15pm—later than I prefer to eat. (Had the advanced materials mentioned the late lunch time, I would known to bring something to eat.) Worse, he broke for lunch even later than advertised, at 1:35pm.
By the time we waited in long lines at nearby restaurants, lunch wasn’t served until after 2pm. I suspect that’s too late for many people.
The morning session had another problem. He started the session at 10am and didn’t call for his first break until 12:45pm–almost three hours later! I could have left the session to have gone to the bathroom, of course, although I would have missed at least five minutes of the lecture due to the far-away location of the facilities. So now I was faced with a choice: use the bathroom but miss the content I paid to learn, or stay in the session but be increasingly distracted by my biological needs.
As speakers, we must be sensitive to an audience’s biological needs and attention spans—if we want them to be able to focus on and retain our material.
Based on her review of recent research, Susan Weinschenk, a Ph.D. psychologist and author of 100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know About People, recommends giving audiences a break for at least five minutes every hour to maximize their attention spans and ability to absorb information.
In my experience, depending on the circumstance, a speaker might be able to push that a little longer. For example, if we’re videotaping a trainee, offering feedback, and watching a few sample videos, 90 minutes can fly by.
But after training hundreds of groups over the past decade, I’ve reliably observed that a few audience members begin excusing themselves to use the bathroom somewhere between the 60- to 75-minute mark. Therefore, as a general rule, I’d rarely recommend going longer than 75 minutes before offering your audience a break, even if it’s just for a quick five or ten minute “bio” break. That critical break gives people a few minutes to rest their minds, absorb what you’ve said, and refocus when the presentation resumes.
What do you think? What’s the longest you like to sit in an audience without being able to take a break? And by what time do you want the speaker to break for lunch? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Edward Tufte photo credit: Aaron Fulkerson
Tags: 100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know About People, Edward Tufte, presentation training, public speaking, Susan Weinschenk
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