Friday, April 30, 2010

How to design the ultimate TED talk...or nearly so



Here's a fun video from TED.com that compiles web statistics and comments rating videos of TED talks to come up with a tongue-in-cheek set of guidelines for emulating the most popular and highly rated talks, with tips and quips on everything from popular topics and themes, words to use or avoid, colors, sources to cite (not the New York Times, as it turns out), visuals and how to use them, timing and more.  Enjoy this light-hearted look at public speaking that hits home on many issues.

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Microphone manners

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who's campaigning to keep that post, is the latest politician to let an inopportune remark collide with an open microphone -- and anytime politicians are out campaigning, this kind of accident might occur.

I sometimes joke that I have two kinds of clients, those who need to be pushed toward the mic and those who must be pulled away from it.  But in fact, there's a dreaded third category: Those who forget microphones, their proximity and whether they're switched off. 

The problem's more likely to happen with lavalier mics, which are small and attached to your clothes so they're wearable...which can lead to situations like Brown's, in which he got into a car and forgot his mic was still on, or those where speakers who've just had their mics attached walk into the restroom before speaking...and broadcast to the crowd.  But you also might get caught when you're at the lectern before a talk, trying to figure out how the slides will work; in that situation, adjust the lectern mic so it's directed away from you, lest the crowd hear all the audio-visual arrangements before you begin.

You may not be running for anything, but do take the time to learn how to turn your microphone on and off, and put it in the off position whenever you are not addressing the crowd. It's a smart speaker habit to cultivate.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

April's top ten tips and issues

Had a busy month? No time to stop and smell the flowers? Pause now and catch up on April's top tips and issues from the blog:

  1. Say no to a chance to speak?  Absolutely--if it's not going to work. This month's top post offers 7 times you should turn down a speaking gig.
  2. Learn from your audience via Twitter: I pulled a bunch of tweets from one observer of a conference--a well-known NPR staffer on Twitter--to illustrate what your audience can tell you. All I really need to know about public speaking I learned from Andy Carvin is the result, and this month's top post.
  3. How social media remixes public speaking looked at what's changing for speakers and the audience, and what you need to keep in mind when speaking these days.
  4. Should you be able to come up with a message quickly?  I don't think so, and this popular post on why crafting a message should take some time explains why. You can apply it to many situations, not just formal speeches.
  5. How to lose your starting advantage as a speaker looks at the need for a strong start from a new perspective: the don'ts, rather than the do's.
  6. Are you in your message house?  We talk a lot about crafting messages, but here's a simple strategy for making a message "house" to put your key points in context.
  7. Still struggling with ums?  Based on recurring questions on Facebook, I've pulled a series of posts on "ums" to create the all-in-one on ums -- a post that drew lots of comments, especially from those who advocate eradicating ums entirely, or trying to.
  8. Speaker quest: In search of the shared experience used an impromptu conference thrown together with speakers stranded by the Icelandic volcano to share tips on how speakers can bring the crowd together by acknowledging situations larger than the group.
  9. Working on a short talk or timing in general?  The TED website now lets you search for its popular talks by length, so you can practice your speech timing with them.
  10. This collection of readers' shared speaking tips rounds out this month's top 10.  Be sure to leave your own best tip in the comments!
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Monday, April 26, 2010

Make a "message house" to give your key points context

Sometimes, when trainees are developing a three-point message, they struggle with how to introduce it--you don't just want to plunge into your three points without context or a short introduction, but you also don't want to load up the intro with too much detail.  Here's a great post by Marc Fest of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation that solves the problem neatly: Put your three key points into a "message house" so you can easily see how to introduce them and put them in context. Here's his example:
It's a nice visual and an easy way to remember that you do need some context--and need to stay within the "house" if you're going to stick to your message.  Let me know if this tactic works for you, and check Marc's post for a downloadable Word document you can use to plan your next message house.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

All I really need to know about public speaking I learned from @acarvin


Regular readers know I've recommended Twitter--specifically the tweets of audience members during presentations and conferences--as a great way to get tips and hints about improving your speaking, straight from the audience (even if it's not your audience).  Audience members who live-tweet are quick to share their pet peeves and constructive feedback about speakers, meeting rooms and related matters. One of the live-tweet gurus, NPR social media senior strategist Andy Carvin, often shares the kind of feedback speakers and conference organizers should pay attention to.  This week, Carvin spoke at and live-tweeted the 140 Characters Conference in New York City; in addition to rapid-fire tweets about the content, he included these hints from which speakers can benefit:

If you're a speaker without a placard in front of you, make your own or mention where you're from periodically to help the audience (and later, video viewers or audio listeners) keep track, as in, "At NPR, we approach it this way..."  And organizers, listen up on this one. Speakers need to be identified!


Audience members always notice when you slip from the schedule, more so if things are running late. When you don't keep time--whether you're the speaker, the organizer or the moderator--you run the risk of losing people's attention (or their physical presence as they vote with their feet).


Like most audience members, Carvin wants the chance to ask questions--particularly at conferences where the topic is Twitter or other social networking interactive tools.  That's an even bigger challenge at this conference, because panels are short to begin with, no more than 15 to 20 minutes total.  But there's no better way for a panel to turn the audience's mind off the topic and onto the clock than pushing your time limits or using time that could be shared with the audience.

Likewise, if a speaker does something novel--involving an audience member, throwing out the need for PowerPoint, or both--it'll grab attention.  Would you try this?



When I saw this tweet, my reaction was, "I'd like to hear that discussed, too." It's an excellent example of the kind of live-tweet that a good moderator might work in, if she were monitoring Twitter during the panel.

Nice warning to the panel and the moderator here.  Again, if they were monitoring the live-stream, this comment should have provoked some change to get the audience engaged.

When the audience can't hear (nor the live-streaming cameras), you've got to wonder what's the point of convening all these people.  Make sure you can be heard and your questioners can be heard.  It's another situation where speakers should take charge, if the moderators or organizers don't.


You can follow Carvin on Twitter here.  Better yet, find out who's live-tweeting your next meeting or conference -- and what happened last year -- to check what they notice about speakers. 

Related posts:  Tweet your way to better speaking (with my all-time-favorite tweet from an audience member: "Sweet merciful Shiva! Professor, please stop resting your papers on the microphone. You're killing us.")

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The all-in-one on ums

You can call it a first aid, fix-it-up kit if you want, but I get enough repeated questions about ums, uhs and other unintended speech disfluencies that I'm packing up all The Eloquent Woman's wisdom on ums and putting it here in one place for you.  It's interesting that ums have come up twice this month on the "Talk to Me Tuesday" chat on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook.  Here are some of the questions and comments readers have about ums:
  • Kelli Stevens Levey asked, "ummm, how do we stop saying "umm" and "uh" when speaking? If I think about trying to avoid it, I seem to do it even more!"
  • Sheila Shukoski Kronberg added: "Ditto to Kelli's request! I do the same thing."
  • Rosetta Cooks-Bookman agreed: "I struggle with this as well. Being in a leadership role, it's important to exude confidence in your decisions/answers. I try to deliver a clear prsentation in meetings and Q&A sessions. The"umm" often finds a way to slip in :( "
  • Kathryn Susanne Wells Zukowski wanted to know "How to stop saying ah, um...to take up space while thinking. Is it totally that I am not prepared? Sometimes we have to speak imprompt and they come up."
First off, know that ums, uhs, ahs, and all other speech disfluencies, as they're called, are normal--they make up around 10 percent of everyone's speech.  They're just a verbal pause so you can think of what you want to say, and you can combat them with these options:

  1. Planning your message and making sure it's memorable to you is important--if you know what you want to say and have organized it in a way that's easy to remember, ums won't occur so often.  Here's how to craft a basic message, and here are tips for making it memorable.
  2. When it comes to memorable, resist the urge to tell a joke.  Turns out jokes pose a particular memory challenge, and you can read more about that here.
  3. Next, you can teach yourself to replace "ums" with what I call time-buying phrases--words that add some content, but allow you a few more seconds to think until you can get back to your point.  Here's my list of what to say (instead of um) when you don't know what to say. It's a handy list to use for Q&A and extemporaneous remarks, too.
  4. One more thing: Make sure you're not immobilizing your hands when you speak, and that they are free to gesture.  Speakers whose hands are clenched together or gripping the lectern or hidden in their pockets are more likely to stumble verbally.  Read about the science behind stumbles and how gesturing can be part of your campaign against ums.
  5. Recognize they're normal.  We interviewed with Michael Erard, author of an entire book on ums, notes that we didn't start getting self-conscious about scrubbing ums out of our speech until we were able to record our voices.  Find out just when "um" became a dirty word.
I heartily recommend Erard's great book, Um. . .: Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean. It's a fascinating examination of a word all speakers use.  Once you know more about ums and why you do them--as well as the alternatives above--you won't flinch so much when they come out of your mouth.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Speaker quest: In search of the shared experience

Photo: TED/Robert Leslie
"Who's stranded?" asked TED's June Cohen of the audience of more than 100 people pictured at right. That's because they were attending TEDxVolcano, a speaking conference thrown together--with the quick blessings of TED--when a few conferences' worth of speakers found themselves stranded in London in the aftermath of the Icelandic volcano this week.

The conference and the audience show-of-hands poll are a great reminder for speakers: There's no better way to connect with a group than to reflect and call attention to its shared experiences.  The experience may be caused by forces at work within the venue, the conference at which you're speaking or--as with the volcano--forces beyond anyone's control. If you, as the speaker, can marshall that shared experience and energy and feed it back to the crowd, you'll have a more dynamic and successful speech or presentation.  Here are some examples of how I've seen that done:
  • Acknowledge what's top of mind:  I worked for a membership organization whose president had to open its annual conference not long after the U.S. invaded Iraq.  We'd heard that some members couldn't attend the conference because their National Guard units had been activated, and others shared their fears for children or spouses in the military; at the same time, it was important to avoid taking political sides for this speaker.  So we had her open the session by asking members to stand if they were veterans...active military or National Guards...or had a spouse, child or other relative being deployed, pausing between each group's mention.  A good third of the audience was on its feet by the end, allowing them to feel acknowledged and letting the full audience see who was affected by the week's larger events.
  • Use the backchannel:  You (or a Twitter moderator helping you) should keep an eye on the Twitter backchannel during your speech, and in the sessions just prior to it, to get a sense of how the meeting or conference shared experience is shaping up.  Being able to work in a reference to what's happening in real time, positive or negative, will tell your audience you're paying attention--and they'll be more likely to return the favor.
  • Create interactive shared experiences during your presentation:  Asking your audience to do something together while you're presenting can create a shared experience and make your talk more memorable.  Ask them to work with their seatmates on a problem for a few minutes.  Pass around a prop or sample they can examine close up.  Whisper something to one person and have the audience pass it around the room, then see what comes out on the other side.
How have you created or used a shared experience with your audience?  Leave your examples in the comments.

Friday, April 16, 2010

How to lose your starting advantage as a speaker

Speakers hold a great set of advantages as they begin speaking.  Your audience's attention may never be higher than at this moment, and it's possible to craft a strong, fast start that takes advantage of--and hangs onto--that attention throughout your talk.  More often, though, speakers lose or give away their advantages as soon as they start speaking.  Here are the missteps to avoid at the very beginning of your speech or presentation:
  1. Extensive thanks, credits and glad-to-be-heres:  Speaking anxiety prompts many speakers to back into their remarks by thanking the hosts and explaining that they are pleased to be present--remarks that are just as redundant as wearing a nametag when you are the speaker.  We know you're glad to be here, otherwise you wouldn't be speaking, and you can thank the hosts personally later. Talk to your audience first.
  2. Telling a joke or showing a cartoon, especially one not related to your remarks:  Aside from taking precious time away from your remarks--the reason we're listening to you--the off-topic joke or cartoon benefit the speaker more than the audience, by delaying the advent of what they're fearing most: Having to speak on their own.  And since jokes are especially hard to remember for most people, you risk stumbling at your most visible moments.
  3. Announcing you are not going to follow the time constraints:  I don't care how you sugar-coat it ("I have so much to share" or "This group deserves the full story").  If you start your talk by announcing that you know you only have five minutes but you're likely to go over, you've just disrespected the time of everyone in the room.  Keep in mind that audiences like to anticipate that they'll have time to contribute, ask questions or rebut your remarks.  When you tell us you're going to exceed your limits, you set my teeth on edge right away.
What other disastrous--but avoidable--starts have you heard from speakers? Share them in the comments.

Related posts:   Attention! Why speakers need a strong, fast start

The science behind joke-tellers' memory problems

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Practice speech timing with TEDTalks by length

At TED (short for technology-education-design), the talks are just 3, 6, 9, 12 or 18 minutes in length--that's it.  And while the TED.com website includes all sorts of features for these amazing speeches, from transcriptions and translations to video and subtitles, this week it added another great tool for speakers: The ability to search TED talks by their length. 

If you plan to be a frequent speaker, developing the skill of speaking within set time frames should be on your training list.  You may want to start by checking out the 3-minute speeches to see just how much can be fit into three minutes to good effect...then tackle one of your topics that way.  Move on to the 6- or 9-minute talks to see what the speakers added in those frames, then adjust your talk accordingly.  By the time you reach the 18-minute talks, I guarantee you'll find them ample.  (If only more speakers capped themselves at 18 minutes or below, the world would have more appreciative audiences.)

Don't have a topic of your own yet? Go ahead and practice with these speeches, and use them to practice pacing, cadence, tone and timing.  TED makes it easy with all its many tools, including this very welcome one.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Talk to Me Tuesday: What's your public speaking question?

Over on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook, it's "Talk to Me Tuesday" -- the day when you're encouraged to ask your public speaking and presentation questions, or share a recent success or challenge in your speaking.  Please join today's conversation!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Our contest winner reports from Haiti

If you've wondered what happened to Stephanie Benoit, the winner of last year's Step Up Your Speaking contest and online coaching series from The Eloquent Woman, wonder no more. She's been posting videos from a trip to Haiti with her uncle to make a documentary about conditions there.  And you'll see, I think, that she's putting what she learned on The Eloquent Woman to use.  Stephanie describes her trip in this pre-arrival video:



And here she is reporting in her first hours on the ground in Haiti:



You'll find a few more live reports from Stephanie on her YouTube channel, where you also can see all of her video posts from the "Step Up Your Speaking" 15 weeks of online coaching. See the entire series here.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Readers share their best speaking tips. What's yours?

(Note: I've updated this post to include more entries.) Over at The Eloquent Woman on Facebook, I asked fans to share their best piece of speaking advice, so we could make a useful list for all to share.  Here are more than a dozen tips, ideas and encouragement for you from your fellow speakers:
  1. Cass Andra said "take.your.time."
  2. Tarkessa Frazier urged "Never compromise yourself."
  3. Jacki Hudson French advises "know your audience."
  4. Gina Pera thinks you should "Get over your own ego concerns and serve the audience."
  5. Marian Lacy Alderson got practical, saying "don't eat chocolate 30 minutes before you speak in public - makes your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth."
  6. Veronica Brown added, "to Gina's point --- Public speaking, like hosting a party, is dependent on the speaker/host attending more to the needs of others than her own."
  7. Marti J. Sladek reminds you to "Relax: There is no such thing as a large audience or mass communication because each person receives your message one-on-one."
  8. Annette Long says "Smile....it will lighten up the atmosphere......."
  9. Dana Bristol-Smith offered "If you are excited and enthusiastic about what you are sharing, let your body and face show it. Though don't fake it! A fake smile and over the top enthusiasm is a turnoff."
  10. Renee Ast quoted Lou Holtz for inspiration: "Ability is what you are capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it."
  11. Akkana Peck urged: "Practice!"
  12. Beth Schachter suggested, "If you need a venue in which to improve your speaking skills, join a local Toastmasters club. The organization gives you the opportunity to hone your skill at delivering prepared talks as well as impromptu speeches."
  13. Rob Kall said you should "weave your talk around a few stories. They make the best mnemonics and the brain evolved to tell and hear stories."
  14. Leanne Chukoskie made me smile when she wrote: "Think of that thing that makes you want to share (or smile). There is nothing like an authentic speaker or an authentic smile!"
I know this list can go past 14 items.What's your best piece of speaking advice? Add to our list in the comments.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Say it in your own voice, girlfriend!


Kate Peters, voice coach and author of the Kate's Voice blog, asked me to write about finding your voice.  It's a topic I've spent a lot of time considering, but even I was surprised with what I contributed.  You can read the post, "Say it in your own voice, girlfriend!"  and here's what Kate had to say about it:
I asked Denise Graveline, author of the fine blog, “The Eloquent Woman,” to tackle the topic of “finding your voice” as a woman speaker. Her thoughtful consideration of the topic gives us an appreciation for women’s unique talents and fears related to presenting. Her advice is this: to find your voice, you must start with who you are and use your feminine advantage. Here’s how.
I like it well enough that I've made a permanent page for it here...and, as there's always more to say, I welcome your thoughts in the comments.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Why crafting a message should take some time

I keep running into speakers in a rush.  Specifically, they're assuming something must be wrong if they can't come up with a message--the core plan or outline for their content--right away.  They might be assuming that words should spring to their lips in an impromptu speaking situation, or agonizing over why it's taking so long to figure out what they want to say.  Either way, they hear a clock ticking.

Likewise, I meet other trainers from time to time who say, "I can give her a message in five minutes."  Really? Should they? would be my question. Let me advocate a more thoughtful process for planning your speaking content, presentation or speech.  Here's why:
  • You should be working ahead anyway:  Often, the rush to be ready belies an overall lack of preparation.  Speakers who don't take the time to plan their talks in advance are those most likely to say, afterward, "Oh, I forgot to include..." or "I wish I'd added..."  Planning a message ahead of time gives you time to tweak, edit and reconsider, so use that time to advantage.
  • You need to imagine audience questions:  What the audience wants, can absorb or is interested in should be the primary driver for your effort to engage them as a speaker.  If you don't take the time to test your message or content plan for your assumptions about the audience--and its likely assumptions about your topic--you may be unpleasantly surprised come question time.  Take the time to look at your plan and hear it as an audience member might, then come up with the questions you want, expect and fear to see how those might alter your content.
  • Your topic may demand it:  I do a lot of work training scientists and engineers, whose complex concepts often require a lot of unpacking before they can be understood by a more generally educated audience.  The more detail you're trying to summarize, the more work it will take.  Or, as Albert Einstein said, "You don't really understand something until you can explain it to your grandmother," an oft-misquoted aphorism that suggests your understanding of your topic will improve if you can explain it with simplicity and clarity.  That takes time.
  • You need that time to become familiar with it.  Working and reworking your message is a form of rehearsing.  Only by editing and considering it at some length can you know it well.  (Practice also is important, once you have it where you want it.)
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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The presenter's shadow rebels



Thanks to MAKE magazine, you can enjoy this April Fool's trick: a presentation in which the presenter's shadow appears to have a mind of its own. I guarantee the audience was glued to the screen for this!  And seriously, you might consider whether this kind of trick can help refocus your audience, with the help of a partner, er, cooperative shadow. Enjoy!

Virginia Woolf on finding your voice

I'm in London this week, and went to the British Library to soak up some inspiration.  Virginia Woolf's one of my favorite authors, and I stopped in front of this handwritten manuscript page from her novel Mrs. Dalloway. The library added this note from her diary entry of July 26, 1922, while she was writing this book: 
There's no doubt in my mind that I have found out how to begin to say something in my own voice; and that interests me so that I feel I can go ahead without praise.
She put her finger on two important concepts, whether you write or speak: saying what you have to say in your own voice, and forging ahead even without encouragement, because you believe in what you're doing. Have you found your speaking voice? What's it like?  (Photo from the British Library online gallery)

Monday, April 5, 2010

7 times you should turn down a speaking gig

It might seem counterproductive to turn down speaking requests--after all, they give you a chance to promote yourself, your cause, your company or your career.  But in these cases, I'd advise you to at least take a second look or turn down the opportunity outright.  (Organizers and program chairs, listen up, lest you make these offers to your would-be speakers.)
  1. When there are too many people on one panel:   Panels of more than three people are fraught with peril for the speaker and the audience.  You've got to allow extra time for introductions and Q&A, and, knowing they have diminished time, many speakers will simply talk past the limit.  (I once had an organizer ask me to join a panel of 8, and each of us were to get 2.5 minutes to speak. No way!)  If you're tempted:  Ask yourself what value you can add in such a short time slot.
  2. When the format's prescribed too tightly:   If you prefer being able to walk around the room instead of stand behind a lectern, take questions at the top rather than the bottom of the presentation, or any other variation on the standard, be sure the organizers know that and can accommodate it. If the format's already determined for you, think through whether it really meets your needs and lets you shine.
  3. When there's not enough time to prepare:  On a few occasions--including one of my best talks--I've been asked to step in at the very last moment, and I have. (To find out how to pull this off, read "Speaker on Ice: When you need to wing it.")  I'm more concerned when the call comes in advance, but only just barely (say, 3 days before or 2 days before).  Typically, that means another speaker has cancelled, or the organizers didn't plan far enough in advance.  Do you want to give up your preparation time?  Think twice before you say yes.
  4. When the subject changes without notice:  This is a clear sign that the organizers aren't taking good care of their speaker.  I've had a few speaking invitations pegged to a specific topic, then found out it had changed after I accepted--without hearing directly from the organizers.  Be sure you take the time to reevaluate if changes are made, and feel free to say "I think you'll need to find another speaker."
  5. When the preliminary negotiations go on for longer than your talk:  You should expect to spend time talking to the organizers about how the talk will go, audiovisual equipment needs and the audience in advance. But if the logistics, location, topic, length and other basics keep changing and changing yet again, you may find it's a sign that the group's too disorganized--and disrespectful of your time.  Again, feel free to say "I think you'll need to find another speaker."
  6. When it's not your area of expertise:  Be honest and say so.  You may be a good speaker and liked by the group, but don't stretch past your knowledge base.
  7. When your schedule gets in the way of success:  You may have a clear calendar on the morning of your talk--but if you're traveling all night right before you go on, and jet lag's a problem for you, say no.  Don't pile on when you know you'll be tired, rushed or otherwise not at your best.
Related posts:  Practices for panelists: 7 paths to success

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