What the Olympics can teach us about public speaking

Gymnast overcoming adversityEvery two years we watch the many inspiring stories that come out of the Olympics.   In watching the Olympics, I’m always struck by how many similarities there are between top athletes and top speakers.  All participants demonstrate a grit, determination, and dedication to get out there and “strut their stuff.”

Determination and Persistence Pay Off

It takes preparation and practice, sometimes mixed with disappointment, to produce a champion.  After all, we’re human, and part of the human experience means that we falter from time to time.  But what makes a true champion is the determination and persistence to pick oneself up and commit to the hard work.

Don’t Give Up

You never know when a stumble will derail you, but keep going. When it seems like you can’t, have courage, and don’t give up.  At the Sochi Olympics, Japanese figure skater Mau Asada, finished a disastrous short program, only to go and give the long program performance of her life.

British gymnast Ellie Downie took a frightening fall on her head during a floor routine at the Rio Olympics.  Despite calls for her to sit out the following routines, she picked herself up and finished the vault exercises with shining colors, as her team came in third in the Olympics qualifications.

And then there is American swimmer, Michael Phelps, who retired from the Olympics, and, who, after a disappointing showing in the London Olympics, came back to swim the 400-meter relay in Rio.  He not only won a 19th gold medal, but catapulted his team to a first-place finish.  It wasn’t only skill, but practice and determination that helped him make a comeback.

Ten Essential Qualities

So, here is my list of ten essential qualities that all top performers share, whether in athletics or speaking.

  • It takes focus, dedication, and determination to triumph
  • Failure can lead to success. Skiers and snowboarders crash, gymnasts have accidents.  Wipe yourself off, and start again
  • Even if you’re rusty, there’s no time like the present to jump back in and start practicing
  • learn to take risks, as many successful athletes do. Leave your comfort zone and challenge yourself
  • Be courageous
  • Be authoritative
  • Don’t be a quitter; never give up
  • Go out there with focus and concentration
  • If you falter, you can recover and make a comeback
  • It takes practice, practice, practice

Remember, always hold your head high, go out there with confidence, and with the can-do attitude: “I have something to say that’s worth listening to!”

Five questions to ask when preparing a presentation

Planning a presentation?  Before you begin, here are five helpful questions to ask yourself. Answering these will help you more effectively target your presentation.

  • What do you have to say that will interest others?
    Everyone has something interesting to say: an experience, particular field of expertise, a hobby.
  • Who are you talking to?
    It’s important to know your audience, their educational level, and biases (if any).
  • Why is your audience there?
    Have they come for a specific purpose? It may be an awards dinner, a banquet, a political discussion, an educational forum, a sales presentation.
  • What is your purpose?
    Your goal can be to inform, educate, entertain, sell a product or service, or challenge your audience on a specific topic.
  • How much time do you have?
    The less time you have to speak, the more important it is to edit your presentation down to its core. If you feel you have been allotted too much time, try adding more examples to bolster your main points. Or open your presentation up for questions and answers. If in doubt, remember that it’s better to leave an audience wanting more than overstaying your welcome.

Photo: Domiriel via flickr

Summer 2016: Body Work for Public Speaking

Standing Woman_Black and White outfitHave you ever thought about how your body affects your public speaking?  How the way you move, hold yourself, and breathe all play a role in creating a powerful presence?

That’s the subject of a two-session “Body Basics for Public Speaking” mini-course I’m giving on two Tuesdays beginning July 26, at the 92nd Street Y.  Although the course is sold out, there’s still space in our Fall Public Speaking Course, where we will cover body language and more to turn your speaking from fear to fun!

Become an all-around confident public speaker: get more information or register for our class this fall at the 92Y. Still interested in Body Basics? You can always contact us for private or small group sessions, linda[at]kundellcommunications[dot]com.

How to Deliver the Perfect Wedding Toast

It’s that time of year again, and we thought it would be timely to re-post our popular hints for delivering a winning wedding toast.

You’ve been asked to give a wedding toast, but don’t know where to start.

In case you’re nervous about the prospect, remember that the bride and groom chose you because they trust you, and it’s their way of honoring you.  21477818_sImagine you are telling a story to a group of friends, because you are.

Common Complaints

The most common complaints about wedding toasts are lack of appropriateness and lack of taste. For instance, you don’t want to embarrass yourself in front of the wedding party by talking about how you and your best friend went out drinking.

Another common complaint is droning: going on and on, especially in a monotone voice, putting the audience to sleep. So, to help you craft the perfect toast—one that’s short and sweet, but memorable—here are some questions to ask yourself.

What is Your Purpose In Speaking?

Ask yourself what your goal is. It may be one or more of the following:

  • Pay tribute
  • Give advice
  • Entertain
  • Inspire 

What is Appropriate?

How well do you know the bride and groom? Find out ahead of time whether there’s a topic you should avoid.

  • How “in” should you be? Don’t tell inside jokes or stories if it’s a large wedding—other guests will feel left out.
  • If you don’t know someone well, stick with generalities.
  • Give advice or pick a nice (brief) reading.

Even if you’ve known the couple since you were children, some topics are off limits. If in doubt, consult with the bride or groom in advance.

Other Questions to Ask Yourself

  • Who else is in your audience? Don’t embarrass your best friend in front of the boss, or shock the bride’s elderly grandmother.
  • Is it a large affair or a small one? Smaller weddings are more intimate and guests are more likely to know each other and the couple’s inside jokes.
  • Who are you addressing? (This can be the newlyweds, their families, guests, or a combination of all three)

Once you’ve answered these questions, you’ll be well on your way to crafting a memorable toast.

Putting it Together

Some final advice: Don’t have too much alcohol to calm your nerves prior to the toast. It often doesn’t have the result you’re hoping for. You want to be able to exercise your best judgment.

Explain your relationship with the couple—quickly.

The more prepared you are, the more confident you’ll be. Write your toast early (a few weeks before the wedding is a good time to start) and practice. Here’s to a memorable wedding toast!

A Hairy Story

Let your face shine

Some people may see stars in their eyes, but others only see hair. That’s because it’s in their face and distracting the audience. Women with long hair, in particular, run the risk of hair-in-the-eyes.

Jessica Biel hair
Long tresses might be stylish, but they can distract and take away from your message.

Have you ever noticed how someone will continue to push the hair away from their face? Often they’re not even conscious of this movement, but it’s a distraction for the audience.

Don't be like Caroline
Hair in the face gets in the way. Wear long hair away from the face.

The audience wants to see your face and your expressions. Bangs covering your eye may look sexy in a picture, but on a platform or stage bangs that hang over your eyebrow only hide your eyes.

Good hair: Facial expressions and eye contact are easier when hair is styled away from the face or pulled back.

If your hair is long, be sure it’s pulled behind your ears or in a pony tail.  So, let your hair frame your face, not cover it.

 

Five tips for presentation success

Number 5 for blogYou have an important presentation to give and you’re ready to captivate your audience.  But, wait a minute!  Before you start, there are a number of common traps that can be avoided with a little advance work.

Here are some tips to help you take control and put your audience at ease.  They apply whether you’re giving an informal  presentation to a small group, or delivering a more formal address to a large audience.

  1. Do a Test Run

    This may seem like a no-brainer, but how many times have you seen a speaker get up to show their slides, Power Point presentation, or video, and the equipment malfunctioned?  By doing an initial run-through with the equipment – especially testing microphone levels — you can easily save yourself from those embarrassing moments.

  2. Scope out the Room

    Just as people, rooms have their own personality. Each room has its own acoustics and its own particular lighting.  Before your audience arrives, get to know the room.  Does the lighting level need adjusting?  Do a sound check to be certain you can be heard at the back of the room, and get up on the podium to see what it will feel like.  Then walk around the perimeters of the room to develop a “physical” memory of the room for yourself.  It will add to your comfort level.

  3. Pace Yourself

    Don’t be a “Motor Mouth.”  Your audience needs time to digest material.  Add interest to your presentation by deciding in advance where you would like to add dramatic pauses, where you would like to slow down, and where you feel it’s important to speed up. Remember, variety is the spice of life!

  4. Bring your Personality With You

    Too often speakers leave their real personality behind in an attempt to sound authoritative on the podium or chairing a meeting.  Try to be natural and incorporate your personality into your presentation.  That’s what makes you unique and adds interest to your material.

  5. Make Life Easy on Yourself

    Don’t fall for the misconception that you have to memorize your presentation.  While you should be familiar with your presentation so that you are not glued to the script, a script serves as your map and guidepost.  Some of the finest speakers around deliver from scripts.  And remember: There is a difference between reading and delivering!

 

What the Academy Awards can teach us

Academy Awards Oscar statueThis year’s Academy Awards was about glamour, glitz, political statements, and the craft of movie making.  But beyond that, it was a great opportunity to see a multitude of speaking styles in action.

Perhaps one of  the best speeches of the night was Leonardo Di Caprio’s acceptance as best actor.  He gave an impassioned, articulate speech that ranged from thanking his screen collaborators to bridging into the case for global warming when he noted that the film, “Revenant” had to go far south on location to find snow.

Other notable presenters included Eddie Redmayne, whose timing and delivery were impeccable.  And then there was Vice President Joe Biden, who spoke with more energy and passion than I’ve ever seen him deliver, when he talked about sexual abuse.  Louis Gossett Jr. presented a dignified introduction to the “In Memoriam” tribute, while Louis C.K. delivered a wry standup routine (albeit with a little too much hand movement) praising producers of short documentaries.

Some, such as Patricia Arquette, recited in an uninterested-sounding, dull monotone. while others rushed through their presentation, nervously rattling off names of people they wanted to thank.

Reading from a teleprompter, as the presenters did, provides challenges.  They get one run-through rehearsal, and that’s it.

So, what tips can we apply from the Academy Awards when we deliver a presentation?

  •  Whether delivering your presentation from a teleprompter, a script, or notes, always be sure the font size is large enough and legible. You don’t want to squint, trip over your words, or look like you’re reading.
  • Ladies, if you’re wearing new shoes or high heels for any presentation, rehearse in them. Walk in front of a mirror, and notice your stance.  And – this goes for men and women – if you’re wearing a new outfit that you’re not used to, do a dry run-through.  Practice walking at home, look in the mirror and notice how you look.  You want to get used to the way you feel.
  • If using a script, teleprompter, or  notes that you or someone else have written, always familiarize yourself with the text in advance. Practice makes perfect.  When you’re nervous you’re more apt to flub lines, especially if you haven’t studied them.
  • No matter what you’re saying or reading to an audience, find the meaning, and put the passion in it.

You can find many more examples of good – and not so good presentations and acceptances – from the Oscars online.  Use them as a learning tool for your next presentation.  And you, too, may shine like a star!