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.

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 yourpersonality-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.

The Speaking Style of Bill Gates

Bill Gates_WikipediaA recent article in Forbes  lauded the speaking style of Bill Gates, and how he has been able to communicate complex ideas in an understandable way.

Gates knew it would be nearly impossible to encourage stakeholders to take action—or donate their wealth—if he failed to grab their attention and to persuade them to sacrifice for the greater good.

Among the takeaways to help you “grab attention”and “persuade”:

  • Use the “Rule of Three,” and keep your presentation to three major points.
  • Use visuals.  You don’t have to employ fancy graphics; a simple line drawing or chart can do the trick.
  • Use a creative attention-grabber that will surprise the audience.  It can be a prop, an anecdote, a short video, etc.

And here’s my own two cents: Wherever possible, strive to banish buzz words, corporate speak, and jargon from your presentations.  In other words, do as Bill Gates does, and keep it simple.

Presentation Planning: Five Questions to Ask

Before you begin planning your presentation, 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?Number 5 for blog
    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: Russ Morris via flickr

Is Perfection Killing your Public Speaking?

Speech Bubble_oopsIn one of my public speaking classes we had a spirited discussion about perfectionism and how the quest to be perfect can derail your public speaking.

One student reported that she was so nervous after stumbling on a word – which was basically inaudible to most present – that she fixated on that one moment for the rest of her presentation. That’s not unusual. Another expressed disappointment with herself because she was nervous in her final presentation. Yet another student said he was haunted by the prospect that he couldn’t live up to his family’s lofty expectations for him.  perfectionism and how the quest to be perfect can derail your public speaking.

What did they all have in common? The quest for the perfect can lead us to magnify our mistakes in our mind. It can also lead to closing up for fear that you’ll make a mistake or be less than perfect.

Perfection is rarely human, and sometimes we set the bar for ourselves too high. We have to meet unrealistic expectations, and, in doing so, set ourselves up for failure. To paraphrase Samuel Beckett, “Fail. Then fail better.”

Don’t hold back; rather, punch through the barriers you’ve set for yourself. If you stumble on a word momentarily, don’t let it be a roadblock on your path to good public speaking. Like a little pebble in a path, kick it aside and continue on. Resist the urge to fixate on it and turn it into an insurmountable boulder. Your audience will have long forgotten about it, and most of all, will usually appreciate you for having that most treasured of qualities: fallibility.