Wednesday, September 2, 2009

checklist: works in meetings, too

Thanks and a hat tip to Matthew Homann, whose very good blog for lawyers, the [non]billable hour picked up on my checklist for the whole speaker and discerned, correctly, that it works for more than just a formal speech or presentation. He said the list:
...isn't just for presenters. Instead, it is the perfect preparation for nearly every client meeting, negotiation and court appearance....Before your next high-stakes meeting, answer each question, first replacing "Audience" with Client, Judge or even Opposing Counsel. I suspect you'll gain answers that make asking the questions worthwhile.
It's a great point for speakers in any situation or profession: The ways you prepare for a big audience and formal speech aren't, at base, any different from how you should prepare for a small-group work meeting--even one-on-one--or a formal presentation in a different setting.

Related posts: A checklist for the whole speaker

Speaking science: Gesture to speak better

Coyote and Roadrunner were the original action heroes. You’ve got the falling anvils, the rocket cars, the exploding kegs of TNT, and anything else Coyote could order up from Acme to catch that beep-and-run bird. I admit that I’ve always had a soft spot for Coyote, but maybe it was Roadrunner who had the best strategy: keep moving.

When some people speak, they grip the podium as a way to steady themselves and their speech. Some people can’t keep their hands off the laser pointer, and others force their arms down to their sides lest their hands fly up and hide their words in a nervous flutter. But if you’re looking for a way to get your words out with a minimum of “ums” and awkward pauses, gesturing could be just the help you’re looking for, researchers say.

Psychologist Frances Rauscher and her colleagues asked Columbia University students to watch a few minutes of a classic Coyote and Roadrunner cartoon, and then describe the epic battle to a listener. Some the students were allowed to gesture while telling the story, while others were asked to keep their hands still. They discovered that students with immobile hands had a difficult time coming up with the words to describe spatial details from the story—such as where Roadrunner was when Coyote tipped a boulder over the cliff, and how Roadrunner sprinted out of harm’s way.

When the hands were forced into silence, the students’ stories were less fluent and filled with pauses and stumbles when it came to these spatial details. Gesturing didn’t seem to affect speech related to other parts of the story, but the researchers still saw the experiment as an example of how gestures can help the brain access the right words at the right time.

Scientists aren’t quite sure about how and where gestures and speech connect to each other in the circuitry of the brain, but plenty of research suggests that how you gesture (or don’t) can affect how you produce (or don’t) speech. In another study, another group of Columbia scientists watched a series of polished professional lecturers and undergraduates speaking, and noticed that both types of speakers rarely came down with a case of the “um, ah and er” when they gestured.

The common-sense idea, says lead researcher Nicolas Christenfeld, holds that gesturing is just “people groping for words by waving their hands.” But his study and others suggest that gestures are more often connected with fluent speech, rather than a sign of flailing around for the next phrase.

University of Alberta psychologist Elena Nicoladis saw this in action when she watched bilingual children gesturing as they told the same story twice, in both of their languages. She and her colleagues expected that the children would lean heavily on gesture to convey meanings that might be lost when they spoke in their “weaker” language.

But in fact, the gestures flowed more steadily when they told the story in their native language. Instead of gesturing to give meaning to their tale, Nicoladis believes the children may have been using gesture to help them recall the story and pick out the right words to tell it. "If you're in a situation where it's important to get the language out and you're having difficulty, it may help to start making gestures,” she says.

The next time you’re preparing for a speech, watch what your hands do as you talk. Do the words come a little easier when you go hands-free?

Editor's note: This launches a new series on The Eloquent Woman blog that will examine "speaking science," research from a wide range of disciplines that can help speakers better understand how, and why, certain techniques, environments and factors work for or against them. Science writer Becky Ham filed this report, and will be a regular contributor to the blog on this topic.

I'm delighted that this post is among those chosen as one of the best public speaking blog tips of the week on Andrew Dlugan's great Six Minutes blog. See his roundup here.

Related posts: How gestures contribute to your message

The origins of eloquence in a gesture

Be powerful with body language

week 1: let the coaching begin

Here's my first post in the 15 Weeks to Step Up Your Speaking program, in which I'll be coaching Stephanie Benoit as she works on her top three priorities--building confidence, making eye contact and connections with the audience, and preparing appropriately (but not overpreparing) for her public presentations.

Stephanie has chosen three priorities that may be working together to contribute to and reinforce her fear of public speaking. That's thoughtful on her part, and her choices for this coaching may be the most important factor in her eventual success. We'll find out more as we go through the next 15 weeks, but I've asked her to think more about the "why" behind each of her priorities--why they are issues for her, or what's prompting them. And sometimes, just realizing that your practices are reinforcing a negative result is helpful in changing your behavior.

Next week, our program calls for us to work on developing a message. I've asked Stephanie to think about what she wants to say so we can work together on coming up with a message; that process will help her with the planning aspects she wants to address. And please: Send an encouraging note or comment here on on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook to share your perspective, cheer Stephanie on, or offer constructive comments as we go forward.

Related posts: The 15 Weeks to Step Up Your Speaking contest, and what we'll cover

Stephanie Benoit: "Not just a contest to me"

Recorded on a Flip MinoHD Camcorder

week 1: Stephanie's speaking priorities

We'll be focusing on Stephanie Benoit's top three priorities during our 15-week Step Up Your Speaking online coaching sessions, and in week 1, I've asked Stephanie to share with me (and you) her three areas of focus and what she wants to accomplish, via the video above. Her three areas are:

  1. Building up her confidence as a speaker: You may think Stephanie looks confident in her video above--I do--but confidence is all about how you feel inside.
  2. Eye contact and connecting with the audience: Stephanie's observed how great speakers are in tune with their audiences and able to make them feel their words are targeted right to individuals in the audience. She also sees eye contact as a key to accomplishing that connection and wants to improve that skill.
  3. Better planning: "Sometimes, I plan to plan, which can be more busy than productive," Stephanie says. She recognizes some planning is good and wants to be ready with a message she can use -- but doesn't want to be rethinking it over and over.

Now it's my turn. Time to work on a video for Stephanie to help her think about these priorities and how we can approach them over the next 15 weeks. I'll post that this week, so we'll both be ready for week 2! In the meantime, please share your constructive thoughts and encouragement for Stephanie in the comments on on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook. I'm also sharing some reading for Stephanie (and you) on the topics she outlined, to get her started.

Related posts to read this week: Do you overprepare for speeches?

A jitters quiz for public speakers from Dr. Joyce Brothers

When the speaker needs to catch her breath: Breathing to help with stress

Inspiration from a famous fearful speaker: Lady Bird Johnson