New Year, New You

Do your own self-assessment

Hand WritingThis year, resolve to speak better and with more purpose. Start by writing down your 3 major strengths.  Then write down 3 major weaknesses.

Don’t let the negative overwhelm you. Divide and conquer: Choose one area of weakness to work on at a time. E.g. speaking too fast, managing nervousness, projecting better, presenting more effectively, organizing your thoughts. Then chart your progress.

Over the years, I’ve asked my public speaking clients about their major strengths and weaknesses. Here’s an overview of some of the most common self-assessed strengths and weaknesses:

Strengths Weaknesses
1. Knowledge of the subject 1. Nervousness
2. Articulate 2. Shaky or weak voice
3.  Good voice 3. Anxiety
4. Energy 4. Body language
  5. Poor delivery
  6. Lack of organization, losing train of thought

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.

A Speaker’s First Aid Kit

Photo Credit: Iain Croll
Photo Credit:
Iain Croll

You’ve prepared your presentation and you’re ready to go.  But, wait a minute!

What if you pop a button, or get an attack of dry mouth? What if you find out that your speech has to be adjusted at the last minute? Here’s my recommendation for a quick and easy speaking first aid kit to take with you.

  • Safety Pin in case of wardrobe malfunction.
  • Hard Candy to add moisture to your throat.
  • Bottled water close at hand– in case your host doesn’t provide. 
  • Pen and Paper or index cards (4×6 or 5×7) in case you have to make changes to your presentation.
  • Positive attitude that your presentation will be a success.

Do you have any personal favorites?

Five Simple Ways to Care for Your Voice in Winter

Winter’s cold, changing weather and dry indoor climates can put a lot of stress on your body, especially the respiratory system and your voice.  Here are five easy ways to care for your voice this winter:

Hard Candy
Hard Candy.
Photo: Adam Zivner
  • Drink lots of fluid, especially water
  • Use a humidifier
  • Stay away from caffeine and alcohol if you have to speak, as they dehydrate
  • Avoid milk products and chocolate, as they can lead to mucous congestion
  • Suck on hard candy for added moisture

Everyone’s system is different, so know how you react to different foods and environmental conditions.

How do you protect your voice in the winter?  Please feel free to share any tips or hints below.