Posts Tagged ‘public speaking’
When you’re giving a speech, is it okay to embellish your humorous anecdotes to make sure they don’t land with a thud?
James C. Humes, author of the popular public speaking book Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln, says yes. He argues that humor, when delivered in the third person, can take the audience out of the moment. He writes:
“When you start by saying ‘this salesman’ or ‘this psychiatrist,’ you have already signaled the audience that this is a joke—something that didn’t really happen—and you have already lost them. Lead them by the hand into your story by saying, for example: ‘An old woman in the town I grew up in’ or ‘A lawyer I know once had a client walk in…’”
Humes believes that such stretches of the truth can be considered “humor license,” similar to the “dramatic license” audiences grant to stage actors. During a speech, Humes writes, “You’re not under oath…don’t worry about stretching the truth.”
But is he right? Is stretching the truth during a humorous anecdote a reasonable use of “license,” or is it simply a lie that could threaten a speaker’s credibility?
If “lie” seems like a strong word, consider this piece of advice from Humes: “Once you repeat it a few times in your own style, you begin to believe that it really did happen.”
A quick anecdote (and I swear, this one is true). During my presentations, I used to tell a story about “a client in Georgia.” The client didn’t really exist—it was a composite of several different clients. But after my presentations, a few people came up to me and asked me who that client was. It made me feel dishonest. Since then, I’ve made it clear to audiences that the “client” is a fictional example. And you know what? The story hasn’t lost any of its zip.
Humes is a former speechwriter for five presidents. The men he served—Eisenhower, Nixon, and Ford among them—served in an era that allowed more license for humorous anecdotes. Today’s politicians have their speeches fact checked, blogged and tweeted about, and dissected for accuracy by opposition researchers. The license Humes recommends may not be fully dead, but it’s dying. And it could come with a great risk to people’s reputations as straight shooters.
My suggestion? Know your audience. Assess whether “humor license” would be well-received or place your reputation in the hands of nefarious opponents and journalists looking for a sexy headline. And don’t take it at face value that audiences will automatically grant you humor license.
Tags: humor, James Humes, presentation training, public speaking, Speak Like Churchill Stand Like Lincoln
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We all know our voice is an important tool in communicating — and now a new study says it could also make a difference in your salary.
Your voice telegraphs not only your energy, enthusiasm, and authority but, when used properly, can also be a powerful signal that something you’re about to say or have just said is important. So can you do anything about what you actually sound like? And should you?
A study from Duke University and the University of California San Diego, reported on by the Wall Street Journal, says that answer is a resounding “yes.”
The study analyzed speech samples from 792 CEOs from the Standard and Poor’s 1500 stock index based on their vocal pitch. Researchers found that CEOs with deeper voices managed larger companies and made more money, in some cases to the tune of $187,000 more. Previous voice studies have even shown that voters preferred candidates with deeper voices.
So what does this mean for you? Well, there may not be much you can do to have a deeper voice — but there are some steps you can take to improve your vocal delivery. Here are three tips:
- 1. Learn to Breathe Correctly. Take a deep breath. If your chest expands, you aren’t breathing correctly. Try it again, but as you breathe in, push your stomach out. Make sure your chest doesn’t move. Now begin talking and expending that air you’ve taken in. Your stomach should be moving in. That’s “diaphragmatic breathing,” and the benefits are enormous for the spoken word. Breathing properly makes your voice fuller, more resonant, and less nasal — and it gives you better breath control, meaning you won’t have to gasp for air as often.
- 2. End Your Sentences as Statements, Not Questions. Be careful to avoid vocal “upticks,” which occur when your pitch gets higher at the end of every sentence. An uptick makes you sound as if you’re seeing permission rather than making a statement — and too many of them will diminish your credibility.
- 3. Vary Your Volume to Suit Your Purpose. Speaking loudly adds energy and excitement to your delivery, while speaking softly increases intimacy and drama. But don’t do one or the other. Do both, choosing the right moments based on your content.
One more note about this study: It only applied to male CEOs. A separate, smaller study by Quantified Impressions released earlier this month analyzed the voices of female CEOs. Researchers found that the same pattern didn’t hold for women as it did for men, finding that “The voices of 10 top female executives are closer in pitch to the average for all women.” Instead, the study said:
“Female leaders stand out for the “vocal energy,” or variations in loudness, they use to drive home their points. An energetic voice comes across as authentic, inspiring trust.”
Christina Mozaffari is the Washington, D.C. Vice President of Phillips Media Relations. Follow her on Twitter at @PMRChristina.
Tags: media training performance, media training tips, presentation training, public speaking, voice
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Yesterday, I reviewed Joe Navarro’s excellent book What Every BODY Is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People.
Today, I’m going to highlight five things I learned about body language from his book. The excerpts I’ve selected will offer you some fascinating insights into what the eyes, shoulders, hands, thumbs, and legs communicate to others, often without our knowledge.
And thank you, Joe, for generously granting me permission to use these excerpts,
“When we like something we see, our pupils dilate; when we don’t, they constrict. We have no conscious control over our pupils, and they respond both to external stimuli (for example, changes in light) and internal stimuli (such as thoughts) in fractions of a second.”
“When we become aroused, are surprised, or are suddenly confronted, our eyes open up—not only do they widen, but the pupils also quickly dilate to let in the maximum amount of available light, thus sending the maximum amount of visual information to the brain…Once we have a moment to process the information and if it is perceived negatively…in a fraction of a second the pupils will constrict.”
“Any decrease in the size of the eyes, whether through squinting or pupillary constriction, is a form of subconscious blocking behavior. And all blocking behaviors are indicative of concern, dislike, disagreement, or the perception of a potential threat.”
“We use shoulder shrugs to indicate lack of knowledge or doubt. Look for both shoulders to rise; when only one side rises, the message is dubious.”
“Partial shoulder shrugs indicate lack of commitment or insecurity.”
“If you see a person’s shoulders only partially rise or if only one shoulder rises, chance are the individual is not limbically committed to what he or she is saying and is probably being evasive or even deceptive.”
“Hand steepling may well be the most powerful high-confidence tell. It involves touching the spread fingertips of both hands, in a gesture similar to “praying hands,” but the fingers are not interlocked and the palms may not be touching.”
“I see women steepling under the table or very low, undermining the confidence they genuinely possess. I hope that as they recognize the power of the steeple as an indicator of self-assurance, competence, and confidence—traits most individuals would want to be recognized as possessing—more women will embrace this gesture and display it above the table.”
“Often seen with high-status individuals, the thumb sticking out of the pocket is a high-confidence display.”
“When individuals carry their thumbs high, it is a sign that they think highly of themselves and/or are confident in their thoughts or present circumstances. Thumbs up is another example of a gravity-defying gesture, a type of nonverbal behavior normally associated with comfort and high confidence.”
“Feelings of low confidence can be evidenced when a person (usually a male) puts his hands in his pocket and lets the fingers hang out on the side…this signal says, ‘I am very unsure of myself.’”
“Leg crossing is a particularly accurate barometer of how comfortable we feel around another person…We normally cross our legs when we feel comfortable. The sudden presence of someone we don’t like will cause us to uncross our legs.”
“When people sit side-by-side, the direction of their leg crosses becomes significant.”
“Here’s an interesting feature of leg crossing. We usually do it subconsciously in favor of the person we like the most.”
Tags: body language, Joe Navarro, public speaking, What Every BODY Is Saying
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I’ve written close to 1,000 posts since beginning this blog. Many of the posts containing the most critical public speaking tips have gotten buried, so I wanted to post them all in one easy-to-find place.
So, with no further introduction, here are the 25 links I consider to be the most important for public speakers everywhere. I hope you find them useful!
YOUR OPENING AND CLOSING
THE MOST IMPORTANT BODY LANGUAGE ELEMENTS
YOUR SPEECH DELIVERY
If you found these links helpful, please check out my book, The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview.
And don’t forget to sign up for our mailing list by adding your email address to the box on the upper right of the blog!
Tags: presentation training, public speaking
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You finish your presentation. You turn to the audience and ask, “So, do you have any questions?”
No one responds. Audience members feel uncomfortable with the unfilled silence. People begin awkwardly squirming in their seats.
You finally end their misery by saying, “Well, if no one has any questions, thank you very much for your time today,” and quietly walk off the stage. And then you crawl inside your own head, interpreting their silence as a sign that you were unable to capture the audience’s attention.
That may be a bad assumption.
First, let me admit it. If I ask an audience whether they have any questions and no one does, I’m disappointed. I’ll occasionally crack a joke, pretending I’m addressing the wait staff by requesting a few jumbo-sized pots of coffee for the clearly caffeine-deprived attendees. But I recently realized that those “jokes” are a bad idea, since they make clear my disappointment in the audience’s failure to pose a question.
That joke is passive-aggressive.
I came to that realization when my wife and I attended a child birthing class a few months ago. The instructor was terrific, but the information she was dispensing was rather intense (“If the cord is wrapped around the baby’s neck, we may have to do an emergency C-section.”)
When she paused to ask if we had any questions, none of the 12 couples did. But it was clear that we were all listening and that we valued the information she was providing. Our lack of questions didn’t signify that we weren’t interested. If anything, it meant the opposite. We simply needed some time to process the information.
Sure, a lack of questions can also indicate audience boredom or a speaker who’s communicating at an inappropriately advanced level. But those audiences usually reflect that in their body language through signals such as heads resting in palms, tapping, or fidgeting.
So the next time an audience doesn’t ask questions, try to figure out whether it’s because you’re succeeding or flopping before automatically assuming that your presentation is a disaster. And instead of making a joke such as my caffeine one, be kinder to the audience by saying something such as, “I know. That’s a lot of information to take it at once, isn’t it? I want you to know I’ll be available to you as you reflect on what we discussed today.”
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Tags: presentation training, public speaking
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What you say in your interviews and speeches is incredibly important, but how you say it can make all the difference.
When you listen to many of the most successful television and radio personalities, pay attention to how they alter their tempo or speak a little louder or softer when they want to emphasize a point. That change in their voice or pacing draws you in, signaling that what they just said—or what they are about to say—is something important you’ll want to remember.
You should apply these same techniques in your interviews and presentations.
A great example of this was radio broadcaster Paul Harvey. For nearly 40 years, he worked the airwaves with his signature lilt, dramatic pauses, and of course, boldly announced “the rest… of the story.” When I was in college, I worked at a local radio station that aired Mr. Harvey’s commentaries twice daily, and to this day, I still recall his dramatic, distinct style. So imagine my delight when, while watching the Super Bowl, a commercial for Ram trucks used a portion of Mr. Harvey’s 1978 speech to the Future Farmers of America convention, called, “So God Made a Farmer.”
While his words were important and the pictures were poignant, they wouldn’t have resonated half as much without Mr. Harvey’s unique delivery. (Ed note: The ad itself received mixed reviews – if you don’t agree with the ad’s content, focus on Harvey’s delivery.)
Mr. Harvey was, of course, incredibly distinct, and I don’t suggest you try to imitate him. But do listen and think about how effective it was when he used those dramatic pauses, or sped up a bit to show his passion. Then, use that example to find your own communication style.
PUBLIC SPEAKING EXERCISE
You can practice changing up your pace and voice at home using a method commonly used with television and radio reporters reading their scripts. Here’s how:
Take the first few paragraphs of a newspaper story. Highlight or underline the words you think you should emphasize in the paragraphs. Mark places that would make sense to pause for dramatic purposes. Then, read it aloud. For example:
A local student is now the NATION’S SPELLING BEE CHAMPION. /// 14-year-old JOHN SMITH, from Brooklyn, spelled more than 40 WORDS PERFECTLY in the competition, beating out HUNDREDS of students from across the country.
Once you’ve mastered this technique and honed your personal style, you’ll be able to emphasize your most important messages in interviews and speeches not only with your carefully formed words but also with your voice.
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Tags: communications skills, media training tips, Paul Harvey, presentation training, public speaking, voice
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In November 2011, Texas Governor Rick Perry’s presidential campaign effectively ended after he went blank during a debate for an excruciatingly painful 47 seconds.
Although that moment became rather infamous (I rated it the worst gaffe of Election 2012), Mr. Perry is far from alone.
Arizona governor Jan Brewer suffered a similar fate during a gubernatorial debate in 2010, when she went blank for 13 seconds. It was even worse for Jeanine Pirro, a candidate who briefly ran for Hillary Clinton’s New York Senate seat in 2005 but who quickly withdrew after misplacing a page of her announcement speech and going silent for 32 seconds.
The truth is that most of us have suffered a similar—if less high profile—brain freeze. So what should you do if you’re caught in an interview, debate, or speech, and you lose your place?
First, after a few seconds, fight the temptation to continue trying to think of the thought that’s eluded your grasp. It’s gone.
Second, consider transitioning to surer ground—confidently—by saying something more general about the specific topic. For example, Governor Perry could have said:
“You know, I’m forgetting the name of the third department and will put that up on our website, but the more important point is that we need to shrink the size of government. We simply can’t continue to afford a federal bureaucracy that is doing the job states are supposed to be doing.”
That wouldn’t have been poetry, and Mr. Perry would have still suffered bad press. But a few seconds of awkwardness would have been vastly preferable to 47 seconds of pain.
Third, if you’ve gone really blank, transition to anything else, even if it’s not directly related to the topic. You can use a line such as, “But the key point I want to make today is…” Again, that’s not perfect, but if done with confidence, the audience may not even notice your inelegance.
Fourth, in some settings, the best approach is simply to admit the gaffe and laugh at your imperfection. That’s what Florida Senator Marco Rubio did when he misplaced a page of his speech last year, and it was barely noticed by the national press.
Fifth, don’t memorize your script beforehand! Little does more to throw off speakers than when they attempt to memorize their speeches and then forget a word along the way. It’s far preferable to deliver your words with bullet points in front of you to serve as memory triggers instead of relying on memory alone.
My new book is now available! Read more about The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview.
A version of this post originally ran on Political Wire.
Tags: media training tips, presentation training, public speaking
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I recently attended a book reading, during which a member of the audience posed a simple question to the author: “What inspired you to write this book?”
At least I thought it was a simple question. But the author’s long, unfocused, and hesitant answer made clear to the audience that he had never before considered the question.
That author is far from alone. Too often, writers—who are immersed in the smallest details of their characters’ lives for years—are unable to zoom out and offer succinct responses to broad (and entirely predictable) questions from the media and the public.
The ten questions below are intended to help you prepare for the queries you’ll most likely face during book readings, speeches, and media interviews.
Practice your responses to these questions in advance, keeping each of your answers to no longer than one minute. And when possible, include a brief anecdote in your responses, as author Michael Wallis did masterfully during this media appearance.
1. What inspired you to write this book? This question (or its relative, “Why did you write this book?”) is one of your best opportunities to sell your book. Take the time necessary to create a tight response—and avoid the fate of Ted Kennedy, whose blown answer to the straightforward question “Why are you running for president?” doomed his 1980 presidential bid.
2. Can you tell me about the book? This open-ended question is a wonderful gift that offers you an easy opportunity to enthrall your audience. Don’t squander it by reciting the copy on the back of your book jacket—infuse your answer with life by describing not only the “what” of your book, but the “why” that places it into a larger context. (Read more about the “why + what” here.)
3. What did you learn when writing the book?
4. What surprised you the most?
5. What does the title mean? Some titles are self-explanatory. But be prepared to discuss your book’s title if its meaning is less obvious (e.g. “What Color is Your Parachute?”).
6. What did the subject(s) of the book think of it? Audiences love “behind-the-scenes” details that didn’t make it into your book. This question is a great opportunity to peel back the curtain and allow them to feel like insiders.
7. What are the subject(s) doing now? Or, for certain types of books (such as history titles), “What ended up happening?”
8. Did the book make you like the subject(s) more or less? Also anticipate similar questions, such as, Did you find yourself more or less sympathetic toward the subject(s)? Do you understand the subject(s) better now?
9. Was the character inspired by a real person? If so, who?
10. What do you think happened to the characters after the book ended? Some authors refuse to answer this question because they want their book to leave some unanswered questions. That’s fine—but instead of simply refusing the question, deflect it and then say something about the characters you are willing to share. Also, be ready for the related question, “Do you miss the characters?”
Brad Phillips is the author of the new book, The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview.
(Photo Credit: Joe Mabel, Wikimedia Commons)
Tags: book reading, media training tips, presentation training, public speaking
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