Sunday, July 12, 2009

Your top priority: "More interactive"

Another reader priority for improving her speaking, from the discussion board on our Facebook page, sounds like this:
I want to give presentations that encourage people to ask questions. My audience usually says that everything is explained well and they don't have any questions but I would like for the presentations to become more interactive.

I've got a few questions for you to ask yourself to assess how to address this problem:

  • Have you left them nothing to ask? If you're too exhaustive in covering your topic, your audience may have nothing left to say. In that case, think about focusing your talk on just one aspect of your topic--or one broad enough that you can't exhaust the topic, leaving room for questions.
  • Have you asked them about their questions first? Opening with questions is a great, dynamic way to energize an audience (and it helps you learn what they want to know). This isn't foolproof, but with popular topics, can help you get the questions on the floor early.
  • Are you inserting audience involvement throughout your presentation? You may need to think about incorporating a warm-up exercise that involves the audience; pause to ask questions during key moments of your presentation; and wind up with an ample Q-and-A session. Using all those steps in one talk gives your audience a strong signal that you want their involvement...and, over the course of your presentation, lets them warm up to those opportunities.
  • Is your topic addressing what they want to know? Your speech may give me new and complete information, and fill in blanks for me. But if it doesn't make me curious, address my issues or questions or relate to me, I'm less likely to want to engage or know more from you. Again, thinking about your focus--an unusual angle or a special emphasis--can make all the difference.

Enter our contest to work on your top 3 speaking priorities; find the contest entry details here.

Your priorities: "Dynamic, memorable"

Here's another public-speaking priority shared in the discussion board on the Eloquent Woman's Facebook page:
I want to be more dynamic and memorable when I speak. I tend to stick to the facts. I'd like to be more entertaining and humorous, without getting off topic or sounding unprofessional.
Sounds like this reader is ready to branch out from the basics and into the sphere of speakers with an impact...a goal to which we all should aspire. The good news: You don't need to be a superheroine of speaking to become dynamic and memorable. And, even better, there's no need to drift from your points or get unprofessional to be entertaining and humorous in your speech or presentation. Here are some tips to get you started:
  • Get energized by joining the audience: Our tips for speakers who've lost the audience also work well for those who haven't--but want to reinvigorate their approach to speaking. They offer a mix of physical movement in the room, gestures and engaging the audience to enliven any talk or presentation.
  • Make one change at a time. Give every improvement a tryout, then add more enhancements to your speeches once you're comfortable with the first change. You might start by opening a talk with audience questions...then figure out where to add humor...then layer in gestures...or practice how to react to the audience in ways that are more energetic or engaged.
  • Plan your humor. The best way to keep humor professional? Plan it enough so that it's relaxed and real, but appropriate. (Hint: You'll need to rehearse jokes in particular, as they're tougher to recall for most speakers.) Always keep in mind that humor that makes others uncomfortable isn't funny to the audience--whether those who are the subjects of it, or those observing. Check out all our tips on humor, from pratfalls that work to pitfalls, here.
  • Lose your safety nets. I'm working on a post about this to come, but if you lose your prepared text, your place behind the lectern or your serious tone, you'll gain an audience that sees you as increasingly dynamic and entertaining. Be the surprise they're hoping for!

Related posts: Enter our contest 15 Weeks to Step Up Your Speaking to work on your priorities

Your top priorities: "I need to enunciate"

On the Eloquent Woman Facebook page, I've started a discussion to ask readers to share their top priorities for improving their public speaking. Enunciation and clarity are noted by two readers. In the study of phonetics, enunciation actually means the act of speaking, and to do it well involves clarity and concise speaking. What better target could a speaker have?

I wasn't surprised that these readers mentioned pacing in the same set of concerns, because pacing often can help you achieve better clarity and enunciation. Here are some tips to get you moving toward better enunciation, clarity and pacing:
  • Practice with a text: While my goal as a coach is to get you off the page and into the extemporaneous as a speaker, this is one area where practicing from a written text can help you improve. First, read through a text while recording yourself on audio or video. Play back your reading with the text in hand, marking areas where you hear slurs, combined words, stumbles or just too-fast reading.
  • Adjust the text: Once you've heard and identified your stumble areas, mark the text to alert yourself to the need for pauses, and underscore specific letters or syllables you need to pronounce more clearly. If need be, prepare a version of the text with phonetic spellings for hard-to-say words--or, rewrite the text to work around words difficult for you. (In my journalism days, I once had to rewrite a radio script because the on-air announcer popped her P's...a real problem when the script described "pickpockets" and "purses." We went with "robbers" and "handbags" instead.)
  • Know your problem words. Use these exercises--and any public speaking experience--to note specific words or phrases that trip you up, and repeat the adjustment exercise, above, until you find the right solution.
  • Slow down! For many speakers, words running together are a symptom of too-fast speaking. Stop yourself mid-phrase, if need be, to make sure your audience can hear you clearly. (You can say, "I want to make sure I don't rush through this, so you can hear how important this point is," and then re-deliver your line--or pause and ask, "Did everyone hear that?" with a repeat, slower than the first delivery.)

If enunciation and clarity are among your top priorities, I hope you'll take the time to enter our contest, 15 Weeks to Step Up Your Public Speaking, by midnight ET July 31, 2009, and join our Facebook fans using the link above right. You'll get the chance to win free coaching around your top 3 speaking priorities, plus a Flip Mino HD camcorder.

Related posts: When the speaker needs to catch her breath

7 reasons I want you to talk less