The Importance Of Breaking The Pattern

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on September 23, 2014 – 5:02 am

Humans evolved with a keen ability to detect motion and change in the environment. That was a particularly helpful trait for our ancestors, who were (hopefully) able to use their peripheral vision to detect large animals preparing to attack.

Although most of us are no longer fending off animal attacks, the evolutionary gift we inherited from our ancestors remains with us. We’re good at detecting change.

We’re not as good, however, with sameness. We acclimate quickly. Therefore, in order to maintain or regain an audience’s attention, speakers must frequently “break the pattern.” As Dr. Susan Weinschenk advises in 100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know About People, “Because people habituate to stimuli, it helps to keep things at least a little unpredictable.”

Break The Pattern PPT iStockPhoto

You can break the pattern in many different ways:

  • After sharing a few facts, tell a story
  • If you’ve been using PowerPoint, turn it off and move toward your audience
  • If you’ve been standing to the right of your audience, move to its left
  • If you’ve been speaking in a quiet tone, add volume to emphasize a key point
  • If you’ve been lecturing, pause and ask for a volunteer
  • Ask the audience a question, real or rhetorical
  • If you’ve been speaking, show a video or distribute a handout

Breaking the pattern should never feel gratuitous to the audience—and it won’t, if your pattern-changers occur at logical points during your talk, such as in between key points.

An unofficial trick of the trade is to mindful of “The Ten-Minute Rule,” which maintains that you should break your pattern at least once every ten minutes, the amount of time at which many audience members begin to lose their focus. Although ten minutes isn’t a fixed number (some people’s attention will begin to drift after four seconds, others after forty minutes), the rule serves as a useful reminder to break the pattern often.

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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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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.

Want to learn more about public speaking and PowerPoint? Check out our recommended reading list!

 


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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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What These 1990s Songs Teach You About Public Speaking

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on June 18, 2014 – 6:02 am

In the 1990s, we were rico suave and too legit to quit. We lived la vida loca and smelled like teen spirit. We wore gold-colored hammer pants and flannel. We went to Lollapalooza and the Lilith Fair. We listened to grunge, Britpop, and hip hop.

Nostalgia for the 90s has never been greater. In this post, you’ll find public speaking lessons based on 13 huge hits from the 1990s—from superstars like Paula Abdul and Guns N’ Roses to one-hit wonders like Chumbawamba. 

I hope you enjoy this post! If you do, please help this blog grow by sharing this post through your social networks and signing up for our free weekly newsletter. You can opt out at any time. And now, on with the 90s! 

Backstreet Boys I Want It That Way

 

Sir Mix-a-Lot, “Baby Got Back” (1992)

Great speakers often provide the person introducing them with a pre-written and attention-grabbing introduction. When they hit the stage after being introduced, they seize the audience’s attention from the first word by using a compelling opening. Sir Mix-a-Lot did exactly that by having two white women introduce his song by criticizing the size of a black woman’s butt—and then rebutting them with an attention-grabbing opening that has survived more than two decades: “I like big butts and I cannot lie.” One other note: the attention-grabber was tied directly to his message, which was about the unrealistic expectations magazines like Cosmo put on a woman’s shape.

Note: After posting this story, Sir Mix-A-Lot responded on Twitter:

Sir Mix a Lot Tweet

 

Backstreet Boys, “I Want It That Way” (1999)

According to a fascinating piece of research, boy bands use the word “you” more than any other word. Perhaps the boys of ‘N Sync, 98 Degrees, and Hanson were onto something. By using the pronoun “you,” they directed their message straight into the hearts of their mostly younger, female fans. The word “you” has that power, and great speakers use it often to deliver their personal-sounding messages to each individual audience member. As an example, this Backstreet Boys classic uses the word “you” or “your” no fewer than 20 times—and “you” is the first word in the song.

 

 

Alanis Morissette, “Ironic” (1996)

Okay, so none of the incidents described in Morissette’s “Ironic” are actually ironic. But her rapid-fire series of mini vignettes (a man terrified of flying who conquered his fear, boarded a plane, and crashed; the old man who won the lottery and died the next day; meeting the man of your dreams only to find that he’s married) offers a terrific template for speakers. The “short vignettes” opening can be an effective starter. As an example, a physician might open by describing the ailments suffered by three patients, with each mini anecdote receiving no more than 10-15 seconds of detail.

 

 

Whitney Houston, “I Will Always Love You” (1993)

Whitney Houston’s record label hated the idea of a 45-second a cappella introduction to this song, but her instincts to keep it were right. According to Rolling Stone,after 14 weeks at the top of the Billboard charts, it set the record for the longest run at Number One on the charts.” Her unique intro stood out from almost all of the other pop music on the charts at the time—her moments of breathy silence in between lyrics broke the pattern—and that’s a lesson all speakers should remember. Speakers can break the pattern by pausing, blacking out presentation slides after using them for a few minutes, or distributing a handout to the audience (among many other ways).

 

 

Guns N’ Roses, “November Rain” (1992)

As a general rule, it’s better to speak for too short than too long. But if a great movie can hold your attention for two-and-a-half hours, shouldn’t a great speaker be able to hold your attention for longer than the typical 50-minute conference breakout session? Guns N’ Roses pushed back against the typical constraints of pop radio, which restricts most songs to about four minutes. In 1992, their nine-minute hit “November Rain” made it to number three on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, becoming the “longest song in history to enter the top ten of that chart,” according to Wikipedia—and proving that longer can be better if the song—or speech—is good enough.

 

 

TLC, “Waterfalls” (1995)

TLC’s terrific mid-90s hit song (and award-winning video) delivered a straightforward, unambiguous, and easy to act-upon call to action: “Don’t go chasing waterfalls / please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to.” Similarly, speakers (depending on the purpose of the speech) should offer a simple and direct call to action. How important is a call to action? In one study, the “jerks” who received a direct call to action acted more charitably than the “saints” who didn’t. 

 

 

 

Spice Girls, “Wannabe” (1997)

Like TLC, the Spice Girls offer a formula for a successful call to action: “I’ll tell you what I want, what I really really want.” If your audience doesn’t understand the next steps they’re supposed to take after hearing you speak, they won’t take any. Some research suggests that asking for a small and easily accomplished call to action is a good way to begin, since a small action often leads to bigger future actions. 

 

 

Elton John, “Candle in the Wind 1997” (1997)

When Princess Diana died in a car accident in 1997, Elton John repurposed his 1970s hit “Candle In The Wind.” Whereas the original was about Marilyn Monroe, Elton John changed the lyrics to become about “England’s Rose.” This is relevant for speakers who tend to deliver similar information to different audiences. With minor but important tweaks and modifications, “generic” presentations can become immediately relevant to the specific audience to which the speakers are presenting. The heart of your presentation may be the same—but the audience will feel that you’ve created it just for them. 

 

 

Los del Rio, “Macarena” (1995)

Let’s face it: this was a terrible song with a video to match. But the men of Los del Rio were onto something when they followed in the footsteps of other artists who wrote songs that became popular dances (e.g. “The Twist,” “The Hand Jive,” “Da Butt,” “Vogue,” “Conga,” “The Electric Slide”). These songs became staples at weddings and proms because they involved the audience in a meaningful way. The analogy to public speaking is obvious.

 

 

Extreme, “More Than Words” (1991)

In their gorgeous ballad, Extreme pointed out that there is a difference between verbal communication and body language: “More than words / is all you have to do to make it real / then you wouldn’t have to say that you love me / ‘cause I’d already know.” As Extreme pointed out, words are only one way to deliver a message—and they’re often not enough on their own. To be truly effective, words need to be fully connected to the body language associated with them. In some cases, that means that your tone is as important—or even more important—than the words you choose. And great speakers have the ability to use their faces and bodies to communicate certain key points without any words at all.

 

 

R. Kelly, “I Believe I Can Fly” (1997)

Given his history, R. Kelly may seem like an odd choice to deliver such an inspirational ballad. But his song about positive self-talk is a great internal monologue for all speakers to remember before hitting the stage: “If I can see it, then I can do it / If I just believe it, there’s nothing to it / I believe I can fly.” Many speakers say they benefit from that type of “positive visualization” by visualizing the audience’s enthusiastic response to them before they walk onto the stage and begin their speech.

 

 

Chumbawamba, “Tubthumping” (1998)

Despite your positive visualization, there’s still a chance you might bomb your presentation. That’s where this song comes in: “I get knocked down / But I get up again / You’re never gonna keep me down.” With its pick-yourself-up-and-try-again lyrics, it’s a good reminder that most of us are going to deliver a dud once in a while. But your next audience won’t know that you didn’t succeed with your last audience, so it’s important not to bring that imperfect history into your new talk. Every presentation offers an opportunity to succeed anew—if you don’t self-sabotage it with your negative self-talk.

 

 

Paula Abdul, “Opposites Attract” (1990)

The video for Paula Abdul’s hit “Opposites Attract” featured MC Skat Kat, an animated cat that performed choreographed dance moves with her. The video was so popular that it won a Grammy Award. It’s a good reminder to speakers that in order to stand out, visuals need to be more engaging than bullets and words on a screen. Get creative—use compelling images, relevant multimedia elements, well-designed handouts, or anything else you can think of that will bring your main points to life in a more memorable manner than audiences are used to.

 

 

If you enjoyed this post, check out our tips from 1980s pop music here! And don’t forget to sign up for our weekly newsletter here.

 

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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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