Monday, December 21, 2009

Spice up ordinary speaking tasks

You've got to give a toast...cut a ribbon...thank all the event sponsors...introduce the speaker...make the "housekeeping" announcements...get people to sit down so the program can start. But don't make the mistake of treating these ordinary speaking tasks as plain-vanilla chores. Instead, use these ways to spice up your next speaking task:
  • Add some personal touches: One reason Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm made it to our list of today's top women speakers was her ability at this event to thank a lot of sponsors and partners with a personal touch--she made the crowd feel she knew each one, or wanted to meet them if she didn't know them. Don't just reel off those sponsor names: Add a short line about each one that comes from you, not from their press releases; if you're in a group where the sponsors are well-known, use their first names; or simply make the thank-you original and varied for each one ("We couldn't have done this without you, Jim...Sharon, your support means so much coming from a longtime member"). Keep it short but put a genuine, heartfelt touch into these remarks and they'll be even more appreciated.
  • Move into the audience: Grab a handheld microphone and walk around the luncheon tables to urge people to take their seats. Or walk around the crowd to make the housekeeping announcements, or to call attention to the sponsors' tables. You'll absolutely have the audience's attention when you're up close, and you'll add some visual spice to the speaking agenda.
  • Replace the ribbon and move that bus: If you have input into the event, suggest something new. At a ribbon-cutting, get the crowd involved by making a "ribbon" of people who'll be working at the new facility, with linked hands, or start a parade through the new door. Then use that as the cue for your remarks.
  • Use humor...with care and originality: Tempted to use humor? Be careful. Speakers often use humor to jazz up the ordinary speaking task--but keep in mind that jokes are among the toughest things for speakers to remember, and so may fall flat. Keep your humor task-oriented. For example, when making the housekeeping announcements--such as the order of events, or the date of the next committee meeting--plan a funny construct or comment you can work into each one. (I won't soon forget the long-ago flight attendant who, as we headed toward 30,000 feet in the air, announced that anyone found smoking in the non-smoking section would be asked to leave the plane immediately.)

An athlete decides to get a speaking coach

Picture this: You're an Olympic medalist and world-champion sprinter whose moves on the track are fast, smooth and polished by years of long practice. And now you want a coach...for public speaking? That's what Olympian Lauryn Williams decided after participating in a ceremony where she and other athletes received awards for their public service. In her blog post, "I want to be like Nancy Lieberman when I grow up," Williams shares her nervousness about speaking:
Speaking has been the little demon in my closet for my whole career and despite me pumping myself up because I wanted to do well, Monday was no different. I was to give a 2-3 minute talk accepting my award and explaining what inspires me to give. Sounds easy enough right???? WRONG!!! ....I didn't know what I could say that was going to be as appealing to the crowd and I was the only female. I certainly couldn't be outdone by 3 guys!!
Then Nancy Lieberman, the first woman to play professional basketball--who played with men, because a women's league didn't exist at the time--stepped up to speak. Williams was inspired:
I am vowing to make my improvement in this area a focal point this year. It was really encouraging when once things were finished two women came to me and said, “Your speech was great! If you had not told us how nervous you were or that you were going to be quick you would have nailed it right on the head.” I know I have some work to do as my job will require me to speak and I am up to the challenge of fine tuning my delivery...
It's a great lesson for all would-be speakers to take from a top athlete: When you need to improve a skill, see a coach. I'm available for Lauryn, or for you and your colleagues. In 2009, stay tuned for new Eloquent Woman workshops and resources, or contact me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz to find out more about training and coaching. (Photo of Williams with young fans from her blog.)

Related posts: What to ask the trainer

A checklist to prepare the whole speaker

Can public speaking come naturally to you?

Memo to boss: 6 reasons I need training

Become a fan of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook