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. 



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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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.

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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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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.

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Public Speaking Tip: Start With The Chorus, Not The Verse

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on May 1, 2014 – 4:02 am

The Beatles reached the top of the pop charts in 1964 with their hit song “She Loves You.”

Most pop songs of that era—and every subsequent era—started with the verse and built to the chorus. That formula was such a typical pop song construction that the band Genesis released an album and song in 1981 called ABACAB. As guitarist Mike Rutherford explained, the band used the letters to represent different parts of the band’s songs.

“A” represented the verse. “B” represented the chorus. “C” represented the bridge.

Listen to pop songs on the radio today, and you’ll hear that most of them still conform to a similar formula. As an example, Miley Cyrus’s recent hit “Wrecking Ball” uses a “A-B-A-B-C-A-B” formula.

But “She Loves You” was different. It flipped the typical formula and started with the chorus, or “B,” the giant hook that grabbed the audience immediately.

That leads to a question: Are there times when you should begin your presentations with the chorus instead of the verse?

As The Beatles would say, yeah, yeah, yeah. You shouldn’t do it for every speech, but flipping the formula occasionally to begin with your chorus is a great tool to add to your toolbox.

Beatles She Loves You

Doing so is more common than you might think. Consider the prosecutor who opens a trial with this statement:

“By the end of this trial, I intend to prove that the defendant is guilty of murder.”

That opening salvo is the chorus. The evidence the prosecutor introduces during the trial is the verse. Here’s another example of beginning with the chorus from a more typical workplace setting:

“Good morning. We’ve made our choice. Our recommendation is Mega Corporation. You asked us to choose which of three companies should become our main supplier, and after careful review, it wasn’t even close. Mega Corporation is our runaway winner. For the next half hour, we’ll explain why.” 

That may not seem like much, but that same presentation is usually delivered with a careful comparison of the three companies, with the final recommendation coming at the end. Verse first, then the chorus.

Flipping the script is one powerful way to grab your audience’s attention from the start. Consider the typical structure of the presentation you’re about to give—and then decide whether you want to keep the “A” first or flip the script and begin with your “B”  instead.

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How To Greet Tough Questions Without Defensiveness

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on April 17, 2014 – 5:34 am

If you react to a challenging question with defensiveness, your reaction will communicate volumes to your audience, which will speculate about its cause. They’ll conclude that your defensive behavior occurred for a reason—you have an unpleasant demeanor, you’re easily threatened, or the accusation being leveled against you is true.

But since defensive reactions are natural, advice that simply says “Don’t be defensive!” leaves most people without the tools they need to avoid them. Therefore, it may require you to redefine what a challenging question is—and is not.

Many people perceive challenging questions as unfriendly acts from audience members who are positioned against them and have incentive to make them look bad. Certainly, that happens. But in far more cases—the overwhelming majority—they’re questions from people whose genuine objections are centered around true concerns, rooted in a misunderstanding, or based on a previous experience that has nothing to do with you.

That question is out of line

That being the case, wouldn’t it be healthier for you to redefine challenging questions as opportunities to learn from their objections so that that you can offer effective responses? Wouldn’t it be even worse if a skeptical audience didn’t ask you challenging questions, preventing you from addressing their concerns at all?

When you respond to their questions, you’re actually offering two (hopefully complementary) responses: one through your words, and the other through the manner in which you deliver those words. Responding to objections using the right words is obviously preferable—but in many cases, your tone may be more important than the words you choose.

A Personal Experience

That point was seared into my memory a few years ago when I was hired to train a group of 100 military officials. As you might imagine, addressing that room was particularly intimidating, and I was more nervous than usual before beginning my presentation.

About two minutes into my opening, one of the attendees raised her hand and said, “I don’t think that’s right.” She then proceeded to tell the room why my opening point was wrong.

My internal reaction was immediate and powerful. My adrenaline—already surging—sent my heart racing even faster. In my mind, I was thinking that just two minutes into my presentation, her comment would undermine my credibility for the entire day. My internal monologue was full of self-doubt (and a few four-letter words). I was panicking.

Businessman Panic

But as profound as my physiological reaction was, I was fortunate enough to remember to change my internal monologue. I forced myself to change my “four-letter word” reaction to “Okay, I can handle this.” And then I reminded myself of the two words that allowed me to deliver an effective response: “Be open!”

I walked ever-so-slightly in her direction (physical proximity often softens the tone of a question or comment) and gave her my full attention. As soon as she completed her comment and the eyes of the room turned to me to gauge my reaction, I thanked her, turned to the rest of the group, and said, “I know that other people in this room probably have a similar view, and I’m glad she brought that up. Let’s talk about that.” My open and nondefensive reaction changed the mood in the room, resolved the tension that built up during her comment, and enhanced my credibility with the audience.

My handling of that situation didn’t come naturally for me, and it may not for you, either. I had to work hard to quickly replace my instinctive four-letter internal monologue with the essential phrase, “Be open!” When confronted with a similar situation, work hard to remember those two magic words.

Have you had a “four-letter word” moment during a presentation? Please share your story in the comments section below!

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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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