Posts Tagged ‘public speaking’
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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TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) talks have chalked up more than one billion views since becoming available online in 2006.
I watch the talks as frequently as possible and try to select topics I’d normally not be interested in. Great TED speakers regularly take a topic of limited interest to me and bring it to life, making me care about something I never imagined I would.
One such example came from Swedish statistician Hans Rosling. In February 2006, he delivered a talk that sought to debunk several myths about the developing world. The video has been viewed more than five million times.
The best part of his presentation comes right at the beginning, so do yourself a favor and watch the first five minutes.
What I love about the first five minutes of this talk is that Mr. Rosling succeeded despite failing to adhere to several public speaking best practices (he turned his back to the audience, stumbled over a few of his words, hunched over his laptop at various points, and made a lame joke about Tintin that the audience didn’t seem to get).
But none of those speaking taboos got in the way for the audience. His creative presentation of data and passionate delivery—akin to that of an energetic sports play-by-play announcer—easily overrode his imperfections.
Even more impressive, Rosling’s foundation created the software that animated his graphics in such a visually compelling manner.
His presentation serves as a good reminder that if you’re truly passionate about your work and have made an effort to present it cleverly, the audience will forgive a lack of precision in your verbal delivery of the material. If anything, those “glitches” can even become endearing.
The remainder of Rosling’s speech wasn’t as strong as the beginning. He lacked a clear organizing structure for his talk (a title such as “Five Myths About The Third World” would have helped); his talk bordered on “death by data;” and his verbal tic of ending many points with “eh?”—akin to ending every sentence with “okay?”—became a bit distracting.
But his first five minutes are a masterpiece that prove that statistics, presented well, can be as fascinating as any tale shared by a master storyteller.
Tags: Hans Rosling, presentation training, public speaking, TED Talk
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Most communications experts advise that you should never drown your audience in data. They maintain that audiences are unable to remember raw numbers unless you wrap them in context and meaning first.
They’re right—mostly. But there’s one important exception to the rule I’ve never addressed on this blog.
Before sharing that exception to the rule, it’s worth reviewing the usual best practices advice for conveying statistical information. As a brilliant example, Brian Williams opened the NBC Nightly News with this attention-grabbing statement last month: “The last time the leaders of Iran and the United States spoke to each other directly, half the current population of this country had not yet been born.”
Instead of relying on raw population growth numbers, he synthesized his point into a much more memorable sound bite.
In The Media Training Bible, I offered another example: “If your car company is introducing an updated model, you’d be proud to announce that the improved version gets four miles more per gallon. But you’d get even more traction if you said, ‘That’s enough to get from Maine to Miami once per year—without spending an extra penny on gas.’”
Both of those examples avoid the problem of drowning your audience with the types of numbers that are likely to be forgotten before your interview or presentation even ends.
The Exception To The Rule
Sometimes, drowning your audience with a rapid-fire series of statistics is exactly the right thing to do. Your goal in those moments isn’t to help the audience remember each specific number—you know they won’t—but to create a larger and maybe even dramatic impression.
Imagine a speaker delivering the following information while building to a powerful crescendo—until the very end, when the speaker finishes the last phrase in a virtual whisper:
“Almost one in every 100 adults between the ages of 15 and 49 worldwide has HIV. In Sub-Saharan Africa, nearly 1 in every 20 adults is living with the disease. The numbers of people living with HIV in Southern Africa alone are stunning. Namibia, 190,000 people. Swaziland, 190,000. Botswana, 300,000. Lesotho, 320,000. South Africa, 5.6 million.”
Few members of an audience will remember those specific numbers. But if the speaker’s main goal is to leave the audience with an unmistakable impression of the severity of the HIV crisis, the rapid succession of numbers will succeed in conveying it.
Use this approach no more than once per presentation (unless you bookend your speech in the open and close with it.). If you’d like to use additional statistics during your talk, use the “best practice” version described at the beginning of this article.
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*Source: World Health Organization
Tags: advanced media training technique, Advanced Presentation Training Tips, media training tips, presentation training, public speaking, statistics
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When should you take questions from an audience? Should you wait until the end of your talk, take them throughout your presentation, or refuse to take them altogether?
Depending on the speaking situation, all five of these approaches can work—but in most cases, you’ll likely choose the same one or two options.
In this post, you’ll learn the five times to take audience questions.
1. Take Questions Throughout Your Talk
This is the most appealing option for many business presentations, training seminars, and other informal formats. By taking questions throughout your talk, you help audience members remain engaged and offer them a chance to clarify any unclear points. It also allows you to learn which topics are of greatest concern to them, giving you the opportunity to spend additional time in those areas.
Many speakers fear that too many questions can derail their talks or prevent them from getting through their material. They’re right, but good speakers learn how to manage their presentations by gracefully cutting off additional questions, reclaiming the floor, and redirecting less relevant questions to a hallway discussion following their talks.
This option is best for smaller groups, as it can become challenging to take questions throughout your talk when speaking to larger ones.
2. Take Questions At The End
Some speakers prefer to take questions at the end of their talks, since doing so allows them to get through their prepared material first. In some cases, that’s sound thinking. For example, it might be okay to hold questions until the end if you need to build a sequential case that leads to your powerful conclusion. The same is true if you’re delivering a more formal keynote address or speaking to a particularly large group.
But don’t choose this option solely to ensure that you have enough time to get through your prepared remarks. It’s usually better to prepare less material to make sure you have sufficient time for audience questions.
3. Take Questions In “Chunks”
This option is a hybrid of the first two. I occasionally “chunk” audience questions during my keynote speeches. For example, if I have three main topics to cover during a one-hour talk, I’ll occasionally pause after each of the three topics to take questions. When one section ends, I might say, “Before moving on, I’d like to take two or three questions.”
4. Take Questions In Writing
This is my least favorite option. It takes the spontaneity out of the Q&A period and may even look like the speaker (or moderator) is screening out the most difficult questions. Of course, there are times when you might be willing to risk that in order to maintain control—but you should answer some of the more difficult questions to avoid being accused of ducking them.
5. Take No Questions At All
Not every presentation requires questions. Speakers delivering a large keynote addresses—think TED Talks, for example—often don’t take questions. But don’t avoid questions just because you’re uncomfortable with them. If the format of your speech typically allows for questions, you’re usually better off taking them instead of refusing them and looking evasive as a result.
Want more free public speaking tips? Check out our 25 Most Essential Public Speaking Tips.
Tags: audience, presentation training, public speaking, Q&A
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As a presentation trainer, audiences expect me to be a darn good public speaker.
So I’m guessing that one audience had high hopes for me a couple of years ago when I was invited to speak at an industry conference.
Everything was going well until an audience member challenged one of my points. Instead of taking my own good advice by answering his question and moving on, I began to debate him. The moment I did, I lost control of my own presentation. And in so doing, I elevated the audience member to the role of co-speaker.
My presentation was an advanced media training lecture, so I brought up one of the most challenging questions media spokespersons face: the “guarantee” question. I maintained that it’s okay to answer a “guarantee” question by using the word guarantee, but to guarantee only the process, not a result. Here’s an example:
Question: “More than $125,000 of the donations you received last year were used for expensive dinners and first-class travel, not for the programs you promised to apply them to. Can you guarantee your donors that not even a dime of their money will ever be misused again?”
Answer: “Here’s what I can guarantee: We will put into place every available safeguard to prevent this from ever happening again. For example, we’re hiring an expert in fraud prevention to oversee our accounting department, and we are investing in the most sophisticated fraud-detection software on the market. Our donors expect their money to be used wisely, and so do I.”
The audience member disagreed with that advice, insisting that the word “guarantee” was unnecessary and could set the spokesperson up for trouble (indeed, that may be true in some cases, but certainly not in all cases).
After I explained my position, I asked if I had answered his question sufficiently. He said he still disagreed. And that’s where I made my mistake, by continuing the conversation and turning it into an extended, minutes-long debate. As I made my case to that one audience member, I could feel the rest of the audience beginning to squirm. I had lost control.
What I should have done
When the audience member said he still disagreed, I should have retaken the floor by saying something along these lines:
(To the group) “This is a healthy discussion, and every PR practitioner in this room should consider for themselves which approach they’re most comfortable with before answering a “guarantee” question. For the reasons I’ve explained, I believe using the word “guarantee” is the best approach in many situations. (To the man) Thank you very much for raising your point. I’d be happy to continue the conversation with you following the session. (To the group) Okay, moving on…:
In the moment, I forgot a basic tenet of good public speaking: The “win” doesn’t come from winning an extended debate with a single audience member, but from respecting the needs of the entire audience. As a result, a few members of the audience probably left the speech wondering why I had allowed the session to escape my grasp.
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Tags: presentation training, public speaking
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