Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The top 10 speaker tips and ideas from June

It's commencement season (which prompts a lot of outdoor speaking). Graduate into July with these tips and ideas, representing the most popular posts as selected by readers:

  1. Gentle self-promotion: Is it OK to toot your own horn? looked at one area where women sometimes hesitate to speak up: when it's about themselves.  Tips and ideas are included to help.
  2. Can you boost your memory by practicing out loud?  The latest post in our "speaking science" series shares research about how the brain is prompted by speech to recall things--but only under certain circumstances. Check out the post for details.
  3. So, do you start sentences with so? kicked up lots of reaction. This post takes the time to discern between and among different uses of "so" at the start of a sentence, and what some of the ramifications are for speakers.
  4. Want to engage an audience?  Making the audience a part of your keynote can enrich your content, engage the audience and hold its attention.  Two solid examples demonstrate how.
  5. Face-to-face tools to help speakers shares three new tools, for web conferencing, for video chat (perhaps to rehearse with a pal) and for prepping yourself for negotiations.  Check out these options to strengthen your preparations and speaking.
  6. New challenges for speakers at conferences are tantalizing options to try.  "Battledecks" is a new one that pits a speaker against random slides, against which you have to give an extemporaneous presentation.  This post describes it, and solicits you for information: Have you tried this?
  7. The best way to be boring is to leave nothing out.  These "thoughts for the thorough" may be able to help you sift, sort and plan your way to a clearer and more engaging presentation.
  8. Need to speak at an anniversary?  Putting words in your mouth: Anniversary speeches and toasts gives you online tools and references you can use to spark ideas, share engaging content and themes, and avoid overlapping with other speakers.
  9. How do you take notes for speeches?  I've got three new technology options that can help you mark source documents, find and share quotes, and make and save notes.
  10. Meeting skills:  Listen better by losing the fidgets shares some options for when you're not talking, so you can keep tabs on others in the room.
Want more? Sign up for the free monthly newsletter, Step Up Your Speaking, which focuses on one speaking skill or isse each month;  join The Eloquent Woman on Facebook, a vibrant community that gets to discuss these topics before they appear on the blog; or contact me about your public speaking training and coaching needs.  Thanks for reading and participating!

How women's voices (on GPS) are viewed

You could look at it this way:  Thanks to global positioning systems (GPS), women's voices are being heard by more people than ever.  But a recent New York Times article on GPS--specifically, the woman's voice in the author's GPS--made me think back to the client who called me about public speaking and presentation coaching because her male supervisors and board told her her presentations weren't "sexy enough," one of the reasons I started this blog.  Let's just say I was disappointed, but not surprised.

The article describes women's voices with a collection of well-worn and established attitudes, slurs and suggestions. Here, in quotes from the article's narrative or the sources it cites, are the adjectives and stereotypes it includes:

  • like a graceful hostess — unflappable, efficient and with just enough sex appeal to give some sizzle to my protracted absence from my wife.
  • my charming companion had somehow been switched to a stern English schoolmarm.
  • so turned off by the preinstalled female navigatrix that they switched her for a man’s voice, because “we find the women too judgmental.”
  • Female voices are still used for warnings in many airplane cockpits and have earned the slang term Bitching Betty among pilots.
  • “When the key dimension is competence, the male voice is better,” said Clifford I. Nass, a communication professor at Stanford University and a consultant to many car companies. “When the key dimension is likability, the female voice is better.”
  • “The main reason you have female voices in cars is not the technical qualifications like hearability,” said Dr. Nass. “It’s that finding a female voice that is pleasing to almost everyone is infinitely easier than finding a male voice.”
  • Unlike my wife, my GPS voice is completely subservient. She gives me something I want and doesn’t ask anything in return. All I have to do is plug her in every now and then and she’s happy.
I welcome your reactions, insights and experiences about women's voices and the reactions to them. Please share them in the comments.

Want more? Sign up for the free monthly newsletter, Step Up Your Speaking, which focuses on one speaking skill or isse each month;  join The Eloquent Woman on Facebook, a vibrant community that gets to discuss these topics before they appear on the blog; or contact me about your public speaking training and coaching needs.  Thanks for reading and participating!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Blog carnival reminder: How do you start up again in public speaking?

Just a reminder that submissions are due tomorrow, June 30, by midnight Eastern Time, for my blog carnival on how you can start up again in public speaking after a hiatus.  If you're a blogger, post to your blog and send me a link; if you have a story to share, but no blog, you can share in the comments or on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook.  Go here for the details.  I hope to hear your story, tips and ideas!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Watch TEDxOilSpill live today--for free

TEDxOilSpill, a daylong series of noted speakers addressing issues raised by the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, is happening right now in Washington, DC, with additional events in other locations.

You can follow the live streaming video of the event, or, on Twitter, search for and follow the hashtag #tedxoilspill.  Share your impressions of the speakers and the event in the comments!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The demise of the valedictorian?

This New York Times article, reporting on the demise of the valedictorian at high school graduations, kicked up some consternation on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook.  The article notes that high schools in the U.S. are increasingly naming multiple "valedictorians" and skipping the traditional speech in favor of skits or other recognition.  That seems okay with some of the honorees. Says one valedictorian of seven at his school: “I wouldn’t know what to do with 10 minutes on the podium."

Facebook readers reacted this way:
  • Robin Ferrier noted, "At my high school, anyone with a GPA over a 4.0 was considered a valedictorian, but only the person with the highest GPA gave the speech."
  • Vallerie Fletcher wondered, "What is the difference between the traditional Val and the Salutatorian?"  The valedictorian was traditionally the first-ranked student and the speech generally was what we think of as a commencement address; salutatorian went to the second-place student, who gave a "salutory" or welcoming speech.
  • C Blaise Mitsutama noted, "To me, it's sad when honors lose their meaning. Maybe we should have more than one MVP in sports."
  • Vicky Teinaki said, "For the record, the 'valedictorian does speech' thing is very US centric. In NZ it was the role of the head boy and girl (or in my case, two girls as it was a girls' school) to do the speech at graduation. Valedictorian (or dux as it was known here) was a surprise until the night, and they didn't have to say anything, just accept the award."  Sounds like a good system.  Wikipedia tells us "The title of class valedictorian is common in educational institutions in the Philippines, Canada and the United States, while its equivalent in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Iceland, and Scotland is dux."
  • Andrea J Wenger suggested, "If 7 people are interviewing for a job, and they're all well qualified, the job doesn't go to all 7 candidates. What are we teaching our young people when we homogenize honors this way? Why even bother having a 'aledictorian' if it's shared between so many people?"
Were you a valedictorian or salutatorian? What do you think of the new trend?  Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.  And for an historic look at the speaker stress for the valedictorian, read about Lady Bird Johnson--later a frequent and accomplished speaker--who willed herself to come in third in her high school class rather than have to take either speaking role.  For inspiration, check out this video of a valedictorian with autism, who gives a winning valedictory address.

Want more tips? Sign up for The Eloquent Woman's free monthly newsletter, Step Up Your Speaking

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Friday, June 25, 2010

Suss out your speaker stress response

Every so often, I get the feeling that I'm slogging along all by myself--no one cares, no one wants to help me, or worse, I just can't ask for help.  I feel utterly alone, but I don't seek out other people. And I get really emotional, unable to make choices quickly and sure it won't make a difference if I do.

None of that's comfortable for me--in fact, it's the opposite of the way I approach my work and life. I'm more analytical, decisive and extroverted; I'm most likely to get energy from having other people around me.  So what's going on?  What I described above is how I respond to times of great stress.

I didn't know that, honestly--I learned it when I went through a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator assessment.  The last paragraph in the assessment essentially says, "In times of great stress, you will...."  And my reaction was, "Wow, that's stress? I just thought it was true." I think a lot of us blame public speaking for making us stressed, without figuring out how we can suss it out and fix it.

MBTI is based on a typology from Carl Jung, and my stress response (and yours) comes from what's called "the inferior function," that part of your personality that lies hidden most of the time and comes out when you're especially tired, stressed or ill.  Your preference, when stressed, is to revert to the parts of your personality that aren't dominant--in other words, you almost automatically don't play to your strengths, but switch to those aspects of your personality with which you're less familiar and comfortable. (Talk about having the rug pulled out from under you as a speaker--if you're stressed, you won't be able to count on those things you do best. Yikes!)

In a previous workplace, a team member of mine used to stress out each year over a recurring major project that involved presenting his assessment to the team. Everyone knew this was coming, and the tasks were essentially the same each year.  He was convinced he would fail and be exposed as a failure, and confided this to me.  Because we'd all gone through an MBTI assessment together and were comfortable talking about it, I asked him what his type was, and we looked up the stress description. Sure enough, it matched exactly what he was feeling at the time. 

The trick for him (and for me, once I caught on) is to recognize those uncomfortable feelings as stress, figure out what's likely to trigger it, and find ways to address the stress and get back to your real comfort zone.  I suspect many speakers who are feeling stress about a major presentation or speech find their inferior function on the rise, without realizing it.  Because there are 16 different personality types outlined in the MBTI, I can't generalize about the reactions here: They're far too varied, ranging from negativity and sleeplessness to feeling easily distracted or as if your values are under attack.  It's also important to note that you don't want to eradicate these reactions (as if you could)--they represent an important part of what makes up your personality.  I've found personally that if I can recognize those feelings as my personal stress alarm bell, I can take steps--extra sleep, exercise, delegating or putting off tasks, taking time to do something pleasant--to reduce the stress and banish the discomfort.  You also can use MBTI insights to learn your presenting style, and much more.

How can you find out more about your stress response through the MBTI?
  • Check out the Myers-Briggs Foundation website for more authoritative information, including the "Be Wary" that helps you evaluate whether information on the web about MBTI is authoritative.  For example, sites that suggest personality types are good or bad, or that claim to tell you exactly how you can make choices based on them ("Find the right mate") aren't legitimate representations of this assessment.
  • Ask your organization's human resources office if it can offer certified Myers-Briggs assessments for you or your team.  Get an assessment and have it interpreted for you from a certified pro.  I recommend getting an entire team assessed, if you can--it can allow the group to understand one another better, including how each person presents and processes ideas.  (Keep in mind, if your team works together on presentations, each one of you may have a different inherent style  and approach that you can identify ahead of time--this makes for smoother presentations.)
  • In the Grip: Understanding Type, Stress, and the Inferior Function offers far more detail on the inferior function.
Have you used MBTI for learning more about your speaker stress? Share your experiences in the comments.

Related posts:   Factor in your speaking personality type

Get a better handle on your speaker self

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

How do you take notes for speeches you're writing? New tools I like

Speeches don't just hatch themselves. More often, you do what journalists call "collecting string," saving a quote here, a fact there.  You dog-ear a page or put things in a file. The note-taking may take place over many months or a 24-hour period in an emergency (and when you have to wing it at the last minute, as I did, there's no time for notes).  Maybe you lose your notes, or forget to include one, but the main idea here is to build the speech from a wide range of potentially relevant material.  These are the facts, quotes, examples and stories that will flesh out your key message points, making them move from outline and keywords to full-blown speech.

These days, I'm making and keeping notes differently for my speeches, and wondering how you keep notes for your speeches and presentations.  Here are the new tools I like best for taking and keeping speech notes:
  1. The Amazon Kindle:  You know I like the Kindle to serve as my speech text or talking points holder. But I also use it for notes.  You can dog-ear pages you are reading; highlight specific passages; look up words using the built-in dictionary; add notes using the built-in keyboard; search for, buy and download additional references right to the device; email PDFs and Word documents to it to review and clip; and even have it read things to you as you're putting your speech together. (Now if it could just make coffee!) On a recent plane ride, I sat next to a woman preparing a sermon, dog-earing book pages and writing in the margins. When I showed her how to do the same things on the Kindle, she was hooked.  Amazon just dropped the Kindle price to $189. Now is a great time to check it out.
  2. Evernote:  I've been experimenting with this relatively new note-taking service, which offers desktop and mobile versions so you can use it anywhere.  You can keep photos, video, audio, text, web pages and more in Evernote. No time to take notes? Take a picture of something, even a page of text, with the mobile app on your phone and save it to a notebook.  Everything you put into Evernote is completely searchable, which is what sold me on it, and if you're going to keep a lot of notes in it, you can pay for premium service (the basic service is free).  Working on a panel or with a co-presenter? You can give that person access to a particular notebook, so you can both refer to it.  Thinking out loud or practicing lines extemporaneously? Save them as a voice memo to capture those priceless phrases.  If you want to archive your existing speeches, just scan them into Evernote.
  3. Qwotebook has some clever features that will help writers and speechwriters of all kinds. Just out of its beta test phase, Qwotebook's a social network where you can collect quotations: your own, things you overhear, or famous quotes you find.  Clicking on the name of the person quoted will take you to a collection of their quotes. I'm starting to play with it to pull together hard-to-find quotes, to collect good quotes from speeches I write for clients, and to share special collections of quotes with others.  I suspect it also will be a good source for very current quotes--just troll the main stream of quotes from everyone and sample what looks interesting.
Let me know what you do to take and collect notes for speeches and presentations, in the comments. Are you using any new tools you'd like to share?

Related posts: Speaker on ice: When you have to wing it (in which you learn how I managed to give a talk about episiotomies at a luncheon--possibly the funniest speech I've ever given), with tips on giving a good impromptu speech.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

From my public speaking inbox: 5 tips, tricks and things to try

Lately, there's been a river of resources flowing into my inbox on public speaking topics. Here are some that are catching my eye.  Let me know if you've tried these:

  1. PowerPoint 2010 lets you use your mouse as a pointer, so there's no need to brandish two devices.  Check out the steps involved in this post from the How-to Geek.
  2. 17 memory tricks you need to know sounds like one we could all use, and not just for public speaking. Here's the article from Manage Your Life.
  3. You can view presentations or attend a presentation broadcast on your mobile phone -- the former is a nice trick for practicing in odd moments.  The PowerPoint blog shares how, here.
  4. Do you have a SlideShare strategy?  Or are you just not sure how to use it?  Check out this article from Social Media Snippets, with ideas and resources.  As a reminder, you can upload your presentations to SlideShare using a special tab on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook.
  5. More tips for dealing with a conference backchannel on Twitter, from Tim Nekritz, based on a recent conference experience, with a hat tip to Joe Bonner for pointing me to this.
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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Kindle for speakers: Lower price starts now

Now you can get an Amazon Kindle for just $189, thanks to a significant price drop this week. I use a Kindle when I speak from notes--no paper shuffling for me. Check out this post on features of the Kindle that work for public speakers, and let me know if you're using a Kindle for this purpose.

Monday, June 21, 2010

How to give a commencement speech and include the audience

Founder of the Webby Awards, filmmaker and Aspen Institute fellow Tiffany Shlain -- one of Newsweek's “Women Shaping the 21st Century -- explains on Huffington Post how she prepared for and delivered the commencement speech at the University of California at Berkeley this year.  She describes all the questions that ran through her head, including this one, which struck me particularly, as it's the day after Father's Day in the U.S. as I write this:
And what would my father have said when I told him the news? He would have loved this. Then the tears flowed. This was the first big thing that had happened since he passed away and I really wanted to share the news with him. He was like a big satellite dish when it came to receiving good news. He would usually say, "Really?! Get out of town!" Then he would use the Yiddish phrase "You've warmed the cockles of my heart." He would end with his arms opening wide and give me a big hug ... It made whatever it took to get there worth it.
Here's what was brilliant about Shlain's speech: She found a way to use film to engage the graduating seniors and include them in her talk:
What a great opportunity to try an experiment: let's ask the graduates what they think the future will hold. We had five camera crews at the event filming graduates before and after the ceremony. What we ended up with was better than we expected. Bursting with anticipation and hope and optimism about making the world a better place, these graduates delivered.
Here's a sampler of what the grads said:

And here's the speech Shlain gave before a crowd of 11,500--the largest ever at Berkeley:

Share your reactions to her experience and her speech in the comments.

Meeting skills: Listen better by losing the fidgets.

We know that gesturing--or at least making sure your hands aren't immobilized--helps you avoid verbal stumbles and produce smoother speech.  Now here's an article suggesting you do the opposite when it's your turn to listen: Stop fidgeting so you can focus.  It's just one of several ways the author (a confessed pen-clicker) has found to help him listen, and appear to be listening, when others are speaking.  Check out these tips on how to listen to audience questions to add to your skill base, then observe how and what you do in your next meeting.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Putting words in your mouth: Anniversary speeches & toasts

Anniversaries--whether they celebrate individuals, companies or groups--have a way of coming around with alarming regularity, particularly if you're being asked to give remarks on these special occasions.  If there's more than one speaker, the chances your content will overlap are high--after all, there are only so many ways to describe the excellent history of a marriage, membership group, historic site or event.  What to do?

Reboot your brain and use some handy online tools instead, and be the speaker who doesn't talk specifically about that special couple, organization or Where We Stand Today. Instead, focus on the numbers--20, 35, 70, 150 years in the anniversary, or the actual date, month or day--and find out what else was happening then. Make that the focus of your remarks.  For example, if you were honoring these types of anniversaries today, you could:
  • Connect the anniversary date to something special on the same day in history, and let it suggest a theme: "Bob and Jeannette were married 20 years ago, on June 16, 1990. Back in 1884 on the very same day, the first roller coaster in America opened. Clearly, if you want to start an exciting ride, June 16 is the date to do it. Here's to another 20 years of excitement!"  Check out History Channel's "This day in history" site for more ideas.
  • Use the year and your topical theme:  Let's say your company or organization or local chapter got going in 1960 and is having its 40th anniversary this year.  Dial up Wikipedia, enter "1960" in the search and get to "events of 1960."   Then cherry-pick events based on your company's topics--for example, science and technology.  You might include the start of the CERN particle accelerator in Geneva, the launch of the first U.S. weather satellite, a nuclear submarine completing the first underwater circumnavigation of the globe.  (It'll work fine if you don't limit yourself to things strictly in your group or company history, but include related events.)  You could do the same with movies, sports, politics, world affairs, war, music and more.
  • Sprinkle in unrelated-to-your-topic events, too:  Sure, you have a roomful of aficionados.  Even they might want to know (in addition to the serious fare) that the nonprofit was founded in the same year that Twiggy burst on the modeling scene or the era when ice cream cones became a firm trend. Don't forget that for every deep fan of your topic, there's a spouse/cousin/aunt/volunteer who's not focused on that, but can appreciate a wider lens on the anniversary.
  • Generate some laughs and a sense of shared experiences.  Chase's Calendar of Events, a reference staple, offers a free online today-in-history timeline. With the June 16, 1960 focus, above, you might use this, as written on its website: "50 years ago, in 1960, the thriller Psycho premiered and millions of filmgoers began avoiding the shower."   Get the full complement of Chase's treasure trove (book and/or CD) and find out whether your anniversary event falls during National Hot Dog Week or the anniversary of the pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock.
A good public speaking coach can help you brainstorm and shape creative remarks for any occasion, with plenty of input from you. Do you encounter other special occasions when you want words put in your mouth--that is, help to get your thinking starting on shaping your remarks?  Leave them in the comments, on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook or email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Can you speak on the "Battledecks?"

Here's a speaking competition for the courageous: Battledecks, a competition in which you have to extemporize a coherent presentation while you see slides chosen for you for the first time--and they don't always seem to go together.  Of course, it's also timed, with judges, an audience, and no doubt, a lot of laugh moments.  Some call it "PowerPoint Karaoke," but I'm not sure that's apt (after all, in karaoke, you already know the song).  I've asked some folks who are participating or have participated in Battledecks to share their experiences in guest posts; there's one coming up at the American Library Association meeting, but Battledecks can happen at any gathering.  Have you tried this?  Tell us what it was like...

Monday, June 14, 2010

Gentle self-promotion: Is it OK to "toot your own horn?"

Sometimes speaking up means speaking about yourself.  But can you avoid the tag "shameless" if you're promoting yourself? In "The Toot-Your-Own-Horn Gender Bias," investment adviser Whitney Johnson looks at how self-promotion backfires for women, and puts it this way:
Point to your accomplishments — you're self-promoting. Don't point — get fired. It's a conundrum. Historically, our society has encouraged women to be the support behind achieving men. Unfortunately, as women have moved into the professional ranks, we are hard-pressed to change this paradigm. Further, when women follow the lead of successful men, we do so with limited success.
Johnson suggests some good tactics you can use in meetings and even in formal speeches and presentations to promote yourself gently, but effectively--and avoid that backlash, including:
  • Working in your "I did this" remarks as part of a team credit that lets you start with "we," while enumerating "'she did x, he did y, and I did z.' Society is comfortable with women who acknowledge others," Johnson notes.
  • Keep your own list and validate your accomplishments to yourself.
  • Get in the habit of sharing your accomplishments, so it feels less awkward to you. Share your news at lunch with a colleague or friend on a regular basis, for example.
  • Get help from your manager, who can do much to recognize you and call attention to your accomplishments in front of the team and where it counts, in your review.  (A nice touch would be getting your manager to introduce you before you present, working in some accomplishments of note.)
To learn the art of gently promoting yourself in public speaking situations, check out my list of tips for those times when you have to introduce yourself, and see how many you can apply to everyday meetings for this purpose.  What do you do to (gently) toot your own horn? What reactions do you get?

A hat tip to Daria Steigman for pointing me to Johnson's post.

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Friday, June 11, 2010

Blog carnival: How do you start up again in public speaking?

You've already got experience speaking...maybe even lots of experience. But it's been a while since you last spoke, and for some reason, you're reluctant or nervous about starting up again. Perhaps it's the size of the group or the style of speech that's the challenge, something you haven't tackled in a while.

If this sounds like you, you're not alone.  Trainees and readers bring this question up on a regular basis.  They want to know how to make the transition, what to practice--knowing that they already know the basics--and how to prepare.  The nerves feel different to them, so should the solution be different?

To find out, I'm convening what's known as a "blog carnival," and asking for two kinds of responses:
  1. From bloggers who write about public speaking (whether you are a speaker or a trainer), I invite you to create a post on your own blog about this topic with your best advice for speakers who want to start up again.  Send me a link at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz to your post no later than midnight Eastern Time on June 30, 2010, to be included in the carnival.  Feel free to pass this along to other bloggers you think can contribute. 
  2. From readers who don't have a blog, post your thoughts and experiences in the comments here or on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook.  Again, post your suggestions and tips by June 30 to be included in the roundup.  Be sure to identify yourself as either a speaker or as a coach or trainer.
I'll pull together a summary post linking to the collection of thoughts, tips and inspiration that result.  I'm looking forward to your insights!

Related posts:  5 ways to renew your speaking skills

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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Face-to-face tools to help speakers

These days, your "face time" may still put a computer screen between you and your audience--but whether you're meeting in person or on the Web, check out these tools and helps for your next face off:
  • Web conferencing gets even easier:  Lifehacker's post on the 5 best web-based conferencing tools includes WebEx, TinyChat, GoToMeeting, Dimdim and Adobe ConnectNow; readers ranked WebEx highest.
  • Want to practice a presentation with a pal?  Now you can use video chat in Gmail--which adds tools to make it easy to get the video program you both will need.
  • Negotiating an important issue?  The Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School (I'm a proud alum) offers a clearinghouse where you can purchase case studies to help you prepare for a wide range of negotiations.  Here's a description of one on salvaging a contract deal.  You can use these to rehearse your negotiation skills with others, before you go face-to-face for the real thing.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

So, do you start sentences with so? If so...

The word "so" brings out strong feelings, it turns out.  A public radio host who interviews scientists, when asked what they should do differently, sees it as a repetitive distraction. He says, "Stop starting every discussion with the word ‘so.’ You ask a scientist, 'Why is the sky blue?' and they say 'So...'."  On The Eloquent Woman on Facebook, Carolyn Bledsoe chalks it up to a mental pause, a replacement for "um." She said, "the more sophisticated speaker have stopped saying ums, ers, and ahs. Instead they have started using 'and,' 'so,' 'then.' When evaluating these speakers, I remind them of sentences that became paragraphs because of these words. Instead of a period, they now need pauses."  Maria Elena Poulos came to the defense of "so," saying, "SO used correctly in a sentence or presentation can be most can connect the speaker with a direct point."   And many of us wince when we hear the sing-song so that sounds like a Valley Girl attempt to advance the narrative: "So then I said he should leave. So he did..."

Who's right here?  Is "so" really the new "um" -- and is that wrong?  Turns out, they all may be right.  "So" has many uses, according to this analysis in the New York Times.  And, as with any term of art, you need to think through your intent in using "so" to make sure it's working for you and not against you:
  • As a logical connective word, which is how software engineers in Silicon Valley began using it (and, many believe, how it came to dominate the start of a sentence).  It suggests authority, and indicates an explanation is coming, which is why scientists may be using it.
  • As an empathetic connection, indicating that you've chosen what you're about to say because it's relevant to your listener, as in, "So it might be helpful to know that...."
  • As a pause to think.  If so, it's acting like an "um"--which, by the way, is a normal part of speech.  But repeating one time-buying phrase like "so" over and over causes your audience to start counting (and it's too short to buy much time to think).
To understand more about "so," check out my "all in one on ums" post, which offers more on how to replace it with time-buying phrases and why we "um" in the first place.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Thoughts for the thorough: When you leave nothing out

The best way to be boring is to leave nothing out.

Voltaire said that, and he's been dead since 1778. Since then, information has exploded in terms of quantity--and some speakers seem intent on capturing all of it on just the one slide or within the confines of one speech.  "I'm being thorough!" I hear them plead. "My peers will think less of me if I miss a critical fact--or any fact."

It may be that you're unsure of how to summarize, reluctant to choose because you might be wrong or just plain convinced that your audience needs to know everything you know.  But no matter how you approach the task of planning your content, the over-comprehensive approach is a surefire way to drown your listeners rather than refresh them, when all they wanted was to get a drink from the fountain of knowledge that is you.  Put another way, when you choose to avoid being selective about your content, you risk letting audience members walk away with no facts if they're overwhelmed with your encyclopedic approach.  Far from impressing, this tactic may depress your listeners if they can't keep up with the open floodgates.

If you slow down and think about it, you'll never have enough time or slide space to cover everything you know--and no one will sit still for that long. Going faster, cramming more onto a slide and saying things like, "I'm sure you all understand this" are not substitutes for clarity.

So what to do?  Using a content-planning approach takes extra time up front, but pays off in ensuring that you can cover a lot of ground in an understandable way. That's why I encourage you to develop a message and work to make it memorable for you and your audience--a three-point message is just an outline, a content planning tool that helps you identify themes under which you can summarize similar points rather than list them indvidually.  Audiences have been responding well to presentations that revolve around three points for centuries--they're the core of oral storytelling traditions, reflected in the fairy tales and tall tales that are handed down even today.  Planning a message lets you get quickly to the major "headlines" among your points, to answer those "so what?" and "what's in it for me?" questions that are going through your audience's minds.

And what of the facts you leave out?  Let your audience bring them up in questions, so you can reaffirm them and expand your remarks--or so you can be invited back to talk about the things that didn't fit in today's focused presentation. Leave them wanting more, rather than less.

Related posts:  Speakers: 7 reasons I want you to talk less

Making the audience part of your keynote

Friday, June 4, 2010

Speaking science: Boost your memory by talking out loud

A good memory can be a great gift, whether you’re a new speaker trying to remember your core message or recall the punch line of a joke. Looking for a way to plant those key points firmly in your head? Say them out loud.

When psychologist Colin MacLeod and his colleagues tested the memories of their University of Waterloo students with lists of words, they found that the students were more likely to remember words that they had spoken aloud compared to words they had read silently. Even mouthing the words—without a sound—made them more memorable.

The memory boost happened when the students spoke nonsense words like slass and manty, and the researchers saw no signs of “lazy reading” where the students paid less attention to the silently read words. So why would speaking or mouthing make a word stick in the brain?

MacLeod and the others say that the act of producing a word is important. Producing a word by speaking or mouthing makes it 10 to 20% more likely that the word will be remembered even weeks later, they discovered.

The researchers think that producing the word makes it distinctive, giving it a special tag that the brain can consult when it tries to recall whether it’s seen the word before. But it’s a trick that only works if your brain is comparing produced words to unproduced words. When the scientists asked one group of students to read aloud all of the words in a list, they were no better at remembering any of the words than those who read silently.

Practicing parts of your speech aloud and other parts silently could help you highlight the important bits and make them easier to remember. But is there a tipping point? I asked MacLeod how much of a speech you could practice aloud before the spoken words lose their distinction. Half a speech? No more than three or four key words per minute?

“We actually tried this,” he said. “We had 25% or 75% of the words read aloud and the rest silent, the thinking being that fewer words might be even more distinctive. But although there was a bit of a difference, it wasn’t reliable statistically, so the best I can say is that as long as some but not all of the material is aloud, you’ll get a production effect.”

MacLeod said he hasn’t pitted “aloud” versus “mouthed” yet, to find out whether one type of production boosts memory more than the other. But an experiment by one of his colleagues suggests that the quieter the spoken word, the less memorable it might be. “Yelling is even better,” MacLeod joked, “so maybe the louder the better!”

In the right setting, you might use the production effect to help your audience walk away a memorable message. The call and response style used in churches, political rallies and even rock concerts is one way to make your audience into producers as well. “Here, of course, you’d be turning heard words to spoken words instead of read to spoken,” MacLeod said, “but I think it should work.”

Voice coach and trainer Kate Peters has collected a number of other reasons why speakers should take the time to read out loud.  Let me know if you're trying this tactic and how it's working for you.

(Editor's note:  This post was contributed by freelance writer Becky Ham reports and writes for The Eloquent Woman on the science behind public speaking.)

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Thursday, June 3, 2010

Today: Step Up Your Speaking newsletter tackles speaking up in meetings

The Eloquent Woman's free monthly newsletter, Step Up Your Speaking, focuses this month on speaking up in meetings--from research on getting and taking turns to ways to interrupt effectively and open a meeting.  Plus, you'll learn how to handle meetings where you can't see the group (think webinars and conference calls).  Every month, the newsletter covers one issue in depth. Sign up for the newsletter and don't miss another issue!  It comes out later this morning...

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Making the audience part of your keynote

Some speakers fear what the audience knows, figuring that smartypants or showoff in the back row is going to nail them on a forgotten detail or challenge their basic thesis. (Academics, does this sound familiar?) It's the single biggest reason I hear from trainees about why they think they need to overprepare, and it builds lots of pre-presentation anxiety.  But if you take that assumption--that you'll have audience members who know things you don't that are relevant to the topic--and make use of it in a positive way, you can turn that situation to your advantage and take all the stress out of that anticipation.  The trick: Letting the audience members show what they know.

I'm not talking here about other tactics like taking a poll of the audience.  This is all about using your audience's expert knowledge before you ever get to question and answer time.

You can stack the deck in your favor by doing some audience research:  Which organizations and companies will be represented in your audience? What are the specialist roles audience members play? (In a group of communicators, are there PR and marketing and government relations specialists, for example?  Among scientists, are they industry, government or academic researchers? and so on.)  Then, include some examples from those organizations or specialities in your presentation...and encourage the participants with links to those examples to share more details.

This approach can net you not only instant engagement--who doesn't like to see someone else show off their work?--but extra knowledge. In this post on her keynote at a nonprofit forum on social media, consultant Beth Kanter recalls how she shared this video, a Lady Gaga takeoff promoting the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, during the talk:

She chose to put examples in her keynote from organizations she knew would be in the audience and notes that it made all the difference in engaging them--and in helping the entire group, including herself, learn more than they would otherwise:
....making the audience part of the slide deck and inviting commentary surfaces the wisdom and knowledge in the room. Take for example the SFSPCA Facebook Page, a stellar example of engaging fans that David discovered for me. There was also a wonderful blog, “Litter Did You Know” and the above video about “Lady Meow Meow.” But the real story was when the SFSPCA staff shared during the keynote was that these regular videos are produced by volunteers.
Beth calls this a "conversational keynote," but I think it's compelling. That's a powerful fact, following a powerful video: I can imagine other audience members thinking, "Wow, they must've had some budget to pull that off," then finding out, straight from the source and not the speaker, that it was a volunteer effort. Surprise, education and engagement, all rolled into one, for the win!

I had a similar experience with a keynote on social media I did for Washington's chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators, where I started the keynote with audience questions and included examples from attendees' companies in my presentation.  When the talk turned to knowing whether your employees want a social network for internal communications, this Marriott communicator shared important insights, noting it's important to survey first, and thoroughly, before deciding:

That's a piece of inside information that made our discussions all the more pertinent and informed.

This takes some planning.  But wouldn't you rather spend your prep time thinking of ways to surprise and delight your audience with examples featuring them, and channeling their expertise, than worrying about who's going to nail you on slide 15?  Give this tactic a try and report back on your progress.

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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

How do you get a winning beginning?

When it comes to starting a speech or presentation, how do you go about getting a winning beginning?  Do you dive right in with extemporaneous remarks, made up on the spot?  Plan carefully?   Tell a joke? Get sidetracked by nerves, the audience settling down, or your own thoughts?

I'm looking for your experiences and ideas on starting a speech, as it's among the most important parts of any presentation.  Attention from the audience is highest at this point--and so's the pressure to perform well.  What are your tactics, ideas, and challenges?  Leave them in the comments so we can crowdsource a useful list for all to share.