Why You Should Prepare A “Just In Case” Closing

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on September 10, 2014 – 4:22 am

A couple of our clients recently faced a similar situation. They were both pitching an idea to an important audience (a board of directors and an influential community group) and didn’t know how the audience would react to their recommendations.

In an ideal world, they would have been able to get a sense of their audience’s sentiments prior to speaking, but that wasn’t a reliable option in these cases.

As they practiced their talks, it became clear to us that they’d need to create two versions of their closings—one if their audiences supported their pitch, and another if their audiences were more skeptical.

That “just in case” closing was an important tool for both speakers to have at the ready, and it prevented both speakers from being caught off guard or closing with a discordant ending.

orator in public

As an example, here’s the “supportive” closing, which would be delivered after the Q&A period:

“For all of the reasons we’ve discussed today, I am confident that this proposal is the best option to help us achieve our core goals. Not only will this vendor’s software keep better track of our donors, but the software’s sophistication has led to increased fundraising—in some cases, dramatically so—for similar not-for-profit groups. As a next step, I will schedule a meeting with the vendor to get some hard numbers, after which I will report back to you with my recommended approach.”

Here’s an example of the “just in case” closing:

“After surveying the options available to our organization, I remain confident that this vendor is the best choice to help us accomplish our core goals. But your questions make clear that we need more information before making any commitments. As a next step, I will schedule a meeting with the vendor to get some of those answers, after which I will report back to you with their responses and my recommended next steps.”

Those two closings aren’t dramatically different—but if you delivered the first one to a group that challenged your recommendation, you would risk looking tone-deaf. Therefore, consider creating a “just in case” closing if you believe there’s a chance that your audience may not be ready to fully embrace your idea.

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Should You Really Use A Restroom Before A Speech?

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on August 24, 2014 – 9:36 pm

Most speakers I know use the restroom before delivering a presentation. Doing so seems rather obvious—why would anyone want to be uncomfortable during a speech?

British Prime Minister David Cameron reportedly disagrees. Before big speeches, Mr. Cameron occasionally avoids the restroom. He claims that the discomfort of a full bladder gives him energy and keeps him focused.

David_Cameron_(28_January_2011)

According to The Guardian:

“Cameron, it is said, used his tried-and-tested “full-bladder technique” to achieve maximum focus and clarity of thought throughout the grueling nine-hour session in Brussels. During the formal dinner and subsequent horse-trading into the early hours, the prime minister remained intentionally ‘desperate for a pee’.

Cameron has reportedly used the technique before, notably during his ‘no notes’ conference speeches during the early years of his party leadership. He heard about it when watching a Michael Cockerell documentary about the late Conservative politician Enoch Powell a decade beforehand. Powell – best known for his infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in 1968 – remarked that he always performed an important speech on a full bladder: ‘You should do nothing to decrease the tension before making a big speech. If anything, you should seek to increase it.’

Perhaps the technique works for Cameron. But The Guardian points to a study that found that an “extreme urge to void [urinate] is associated with impaired cognition.”

I’m not sure I’ll be adding this technique to my suggested tips for speakers any time soon—but I don’t begrudge Cameron using this tactic if it works for him. In part, that’s because I have an odd—and admittedly outdated and cheesy—ritual of my own. As I’m being introduced before a big presentation, I play the theme song to Rocky in my mind. It pumps me up and allows me to walk to the stage with energy and purpose. 

That leads to a question: Have you ever used an odd method of pumping yourself up for a talk? What works for you? Leave your response in the comments section below.

Photo credit: World Economic Forum / Moritz Hager

 


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Yes or No: Should You Memorize Your Presentations?

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on August 14, 2014 – 6:02 am

Imagine you’re on a first date.

You ask your date what he or she does for a living, and your date responds by speaking for the next three minutes with a perfect monologue that was clearly rehearsed and memorized.

You’d think that’s a little weird, right?

That leads to a follow-up question: Why is that weird? In part, it’s because the memorization robs any spontaneity from the moment, which creates a feeling that your date is being inauthentic. At the very least, it’s clear that your date isn’t truly experiencing the date in the moment with you.

That leads to a third and final question: When people memorize their presentations word-for-word, is that any less strange?

man remembering, man trying to remember, man forgetting, man memorizing

Before answering that question, let me offer a narrow disclaimer. A small number of people are able to both memorize a presentation and deliver it with an authentic audience connection. But that’s a rare gift that few people can pull off well. (And yes, stage actors memorize their lines, but the exchange between actor and audience is different than the exchange between speaker and audience.)

Why Do People Memorize?

People often memorize their presentations because they think doing so conveys a sense of polish to the audience. In some cases, that’s true. Seasoned speakers who deliver the same presentation day after day can often deliver it without notes. But seasoned speakers know that in most situations, it’s far better to internalize content (allowing the specific words to come to them in the moment, which more closely resembles real-life conversation) than it is to memorize content (which is reminiscent of a stage play, in which the audience has no speaking role).

In other cases, they think it gives them a sense of control. But audiences generally don’t respond well to tightly wound speakers—they prefer speakers who show a piece of themselves, something comic Billy Crystal calls “leaving a tip.”

The Problem With Memorization

I can almost always tell when one of our trainees has memorized their presentation. So can the audience. It’s easy to spot that they’re searching for their next words—and they’re so busy wracking their brains for the next line that they’re no longer present with the people in the room.

Plus, for the vast majority of speakers, the cost-benefit ratio of memorizing their script is all wrong. Whereas the audience won’t deduct points from speakers who occasionally glance at their notes, they will deduct points from speakers who seem overly rehearsed—or who forget their next line and go blank.

There’s nothing wrong with using notes. Ideally, you’ll reduce them to just a few bullets that serve as memory triggers. When you need to look at one, all you need to do is pause, look down, see your next bullet, look back up, and begin speaking again.

Save memorization for Broadway actors and speaking circuit pros. For the vast majority of the presentations you’ll ever deliver, no one will mind if you glance at notes once in a while. 

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The Eight Causes Of Public Speaking Fear

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on August 13, 2014 – 6:02 am

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from Gary Genard’s new book, “Fearless Speaking: Beat Your Anxiety, Build Your Confidence, Change Your Life,” which I reviewed here.

Please complete the sections below concerning the eight causes of speech anxiety. Answer the questions honestly and candidly. Your answers will help you know whether you have speaking fear, and identify the type of fear response(s) you experience. Knowing this information will help you zero in on the fear reduction technique best suited to your situation.

Feel free to answer, “Yes” to more than one of the eight causes. But once you’ve completed the entire exercise, go back and circle the name of the response that is strongest for you.

Fearless Speaking Cover

1. Learned Response

Are you still influenced by a negative public speaking or performance situation that happened to you in the past? Did something “teach” you that public appearances are unpleasant, risky, or even dangerous? Have you been afraid to get up in front of others since then?

2. Anticipatory Anxiety

Does the thought of giving a speech or presentation cause you excessive anxiety beforehand? Do you worry constantly about the upcoming speaking situation, lose sleep, have no appetite, or fixate on what’s coming?

3. Mindreading

Do you believe you know what your audience is thinking? Can you “hear” them in your own mind challenging and criticizing you? Are you certain that their facial expressions reveal their true feelings toward you?

4. Fear of Appearing Nervous

Is your greatest fear that everyone will see how nervous you are? In other words, do you think, “If I appear truly nervous, everyone will realize I don’t know what I’m talking about!” Is this your big concern?

Gary Genard Headshot

5. Fear of Going Blank

Are you afraid that nervousness and anxiety will make you forget everything you’re supposed to say? Do you picture yourself having a brain freeze? Are you convinced you’ll be unable to say anything or that you’ll forget key parts of your message?

6. Lack of Skills

Are you convinced that you simply lack talent as a public speaker and shouldn’t be up there? Are you afraid that you’ll be “found out” and your secret will no longer be safe?

7. Physical Reaction

Is your biggest problem the physical responses you have when you speak in front of others? Is your principal complaint dry mouth, pounding heart, gastrointestinal distress, racing pulse, sweating, shaky voice, gasping for breath, or other symptoms?

8. Performance Orientation

Is your principal concern that you have to be an excellent speaker? Do you compare yourself to other speakers, telling yourself you have to come up to their level? Is your skill in performance your major concern?

Well done! Now that you’ve identified possible anxiety responses, you can focus on the technique best suited to deal with that particular response.

Editor’s note: To learn the specific techniques that will help you address your primary source of public speaking fear, check out Gary’s book, Fearless Speaking: Beat Your Anxiety, Build Your Confidence, Change Your Life.

 


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Just Do It: Put The Clicker Down

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on August 7, 2014 – 6:02 am

When we conduct our presentation training sessions, almost every speaker begins their presentation with a PowerPoint remote in their hand. By doing so, they send a signal to their audience right from the start: Boring PowerPoint show about to begin!

The vast majority of presentations shouldn’t open with a slide. The opening moments are a critical opportunity to forge a connection with your audience, which is best accomplished by speaking directly to your audience, not by clicking to a boring agenda slide.

That being the case, there’s no need to keep the remote in your hand at the beginning of a presentation. If you’re using PowerPoint, you can pick up the remote when you’re about to click to your first slide, which may not occur until several minutes into your talk. And if there are long gaps between slides, you should put the clicker down during those gaps as well.

 

PowerPoint Clicker

This may seem like a small point, but it’s not.

Before our clients deliver their second practice speech, I ask them to put the clicker down. That small act often changes everything about their performance. They often move closer to the audience (they’re not tied to the screen), gesture more (they don’t have an object in their hand), and use the pronoun “you” more (they’re suddenly having a conversation with the audience, not presenting a slide). Simply putting the clicker down is a small move that offers almost magical powers.

My favorite clicker

Please don’t interpret this post as being anti-clicker. Remote controls allow speakers to move away from their computers and advance slides more subtly. I carry one in my backpack every day just so I always have one handy whenever I speak.

My only suggestion is that you don’t begin or end your presentation with one in your hand or hold it in your hand during long gaps without a new slide. Just place the clicker on a table or slide it into your pocket. 

If you don’t already use one, I really like the Targus Laser Presentation Remote, pictured above. All you do is plug a small connector into your laptop’s USB port, and the remote instantly works. And since it’s less than $25, you won’t be too upset if you accidentally leave it behind.

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How To Never Attend A Boring Presentation Again

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on July 30, 2014 – 6:02 am

I recently attended the bat mitzvah of a good friend’s daughter.

My friend made a few remarks at the reception—and during his comments, he mentioned that he was nervous to speak given that I, a presentation trainer, was in the audience. “I had a nightmare that Brad wrote a story for his blog that had the five biggest mistakes from my speech,” he quipped.

It turns out that he had nothing to worry about. He did a terrific job and infused his speech with good humor (one highlight came when he told the 13-year-old boys interested in courting his beautiful daughter, “Gentlemen, I look forward to getting to know you over the next few years.”).

But he’s right that I’m always watching other speakers—not necessarily to be critical, but to learn from them. And that means that I almost never attend a boring presentation.

Boring Seminar

Clients leaving our training sessions often remark that they’ll never watch a presentation the same way again. Instead, they’ll pay closer attention to every speaker they watch, noting why the good parts worked and why the bad parts didn’t. They no longer play the role of passive audience member; instead, they remain actively engaged from start to finish.

The next time you attend a “boring” presentation, conduct a mental exercise and ask yourself these types of questions: If I had to present the same information, what would I do differently? Would I have used a more compelling open, a better-designed PowerPoint slide, a group activity, or something else? Would I have abandoned the lectern, conveyed more enthusiasm, or engaged the audience with a topic for discussion?

If you approach attending “boring” presentations in that manner, you’ll never be bored again. But you will learn—and you will improve as a speaker.

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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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  • 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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