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

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!

 

Stop Speeding.

Canada_Stop_sign.svgI recently went to an off-Broadway show in previews, presented by one of New York’s better theatre companies.  One of the leads was speaking so fast that you just couldn’t get his words straight.  At certain points in the play his breakneck speed was forcing the other actors to up their pace in order to keep up with him.    Bottom line: the audience lost a number of good lines.

Following the show, one of the people in my party complained to a theatre staff member that it was difficult to follow the dialogue.  Then, another theatre-goer voiced the same concern.  The staff member acknowledged that there was a problem.

Speeding can often be a result of nervousness.  It can also reflect that your mind is jumping ahead of your mouth. Maybe we should issue speeding tickets for people who chatter too fast.

Are you a speeder? If speaking too fast is your problem, imagine a speeding car.  Visualize a “Slow” and “Stop” sign ahead.  Just as with a car, slow down your pace.   It will feel uncomfortable at first.  But once you get used to speaking at a slower pace, you will find that people will follow you with greater ease.  And, best of all, you will be in control of the speed!

Ten Speaker Tips From the Opera Stage

Speaking Advice from a famous Artist’s Manager: Ken Benson

Ken Benson

Ken Benson recently presented a master class to opera students at Hunter College.  Mr. Benson is a respected expert in the opera world and a long-time artistic manger.  Mr. Benson was with Columbia Artists Management for 25 years and serves as the in-house consultant to Masters’ students of Vocal Arts at the famed Juilliard School of Music.  Some of the advice he gave young singers applies equally well to speakers.

1)      Don’t be perfect, be expressive.

2)      Know your special qualities and strengths.

3)      Know when something fits you personality-wise.

4)      The first phrase (or sentence) is the most important.

5)      It’s not the quantity (or how long your presentation is), but the quality.

6)      It’s all about how you use words.

7)      Make the speech or presentation your own.

8)      Be genuine and authentic.

9)      Take the audience with you, and create a transformative experience.

10)   Be prepared.

Originally posted August 1, 2014.

Personalize Your Presentations

How do you spice up a presentation? Add a personal experience, anecdote, observation or a quote that appeals to you. Then apply it to the situation at hand. This will help capture your audience’s attention and help them identify with you.

Some examples:

  • “Fishing is the biggest participant sport in the world.” So, today I would like your participation as we go fishing for-….
  • “If winning isn’t everything, why do they keep score?”- Vince Lombardi. Today we would like to tell you why we should win your business.
  • The much loved film, March of the Penguins: “What can we learn from penguins? The importance of a group and working together. The film depicted how penguins huddle in a group, working together to protect themselves from the elements, and promoting the greater good. Like the penguins, teamwork helps promote the greater good.”
  • Studs Terkel said, “Unless there is memory of the past, there is no present.” I’d like to start off with a little history…

Think about anecdotes in your everyday life that you could use in your own speaking. What anecdotes have worked for you?

Preparing a Power Point Presentation

Powerpoint cover slide for one of our  courses
Powerpoint cover slide for one of our courses

As we all know, there is nothing more dull than a poor Power Point presentation. So, here are some hints on how to liven up your presentation.

First, ask yourself  about the audience.  Here are some questions I posed to myself for a client presentation in front of an audience of about 100 people:

What do I know about the audience?

  • Why is the audience there? This audience was participating in an annual meeting, so some  members were more vested in what I had to report than others.
  • What is your purpose? Mine was to demonstrate the value of my public relations program.
  • Are you part of a larger program or the main attraction? My presentation  was part of an overall meeting with other presenters preceding and following mine.

Given the above, I knew that I had to make my presentation engaging as well as informative.

My solution:

  • Grab audience attention by starting with a video clip or visual. The combination audio/visual speaks action.
  • Build suspense. Rather than start at the beginning of the report , I used an excerpt and said, “We’ll tell you more about it later.” This creates a sense of anticipation
  • Spice up the slides with visuals and colorful charts. There were a lot of statistics to report. To add interest, I used visuals and colorful charts.
  • Minimize slide content. To keep the pace moving, limit the text on each page to no more than three major points, avoiding long explanations.

Originally posted August 10, 2010.