Archive for the ‘Speeches’ Category

Project your voice to gain authority

Monday, July 16th, 2012

Last week I sat up the back of a rehearsal of speakers in a science oratory contest.  I was struck by how relatively much harder it was for the light voices of the young female contestants to project authority in a large lecture theatre.  Microphones helped but didn’t remove the disparity.

Despite the light voices evident,  female voices are deepening.  In the US the average female voice deepened by 23 hertz from 1945 to 1993. 23 hertz is about a semitone in music. Don’t ask me how they know this!  It is thought that pitch deepening has coincided with women having to be more authoritative to advance in a career.  There is also interesting evidence that as our bodies get larger, our vocal cords lengthen  and thus  our voices deepen.

Why do we invest so much authority in  a deeper voice?  One obvious reason is that deeper pitches are easier to hear, so a deep voice will project across other people talking.  The evolutionary psychologists, who have a view on everything these days, believe that a deep voice signals more testosterone and thus more dominance!

There are plenty of tips available on how to deepen your voice. Take care that you don’t strain your vocal cords, but   improvements in your breathing technique can make a big difference. There are some good simple techniques in Tips on Talking.

Some  psychological barriers to a stronger voice are connected with the value we place on what we have to say and how we feel about risking disagreement. If your voice is too quiet or too high, think carefully about your self-perception when speaking.  If you value your message, you will speak up more strongly. If you prepare well so you are ready to handle disagreement, you will state your views more confidently.

Use the Four Ps:

  1. Posture: Push your shoulders back, so your lungs can expand and so you can feel confident
  2. Pronounce the whole of each word, so each syllable is articulated clearly.  This will create a stronger message
  3. Pace yourself, so you are speaking more slowly and giving  yourself time to breathe
  4. Pinpoint someone in the audience who is quite a distance away. Imagine you are speaking directly to them

Good luck with the husky voice, it can bring all sorts of benefits.

The simple answer to building audience engagement

Monday, June 11th, 2012

Last online canadian pharmacy week a client mentioned that while people think she is a confident speaker, she often feels she is just giving a monologue.  She wanted to know how to build audience engagement in a way that suits sophisticated business environment.  It’s a darn unfair thing to say, but if you are boring yourself, you are likely to be boring your audience!

The generic answer to the problem is: Change what you are doing.  If what’s going on feels too much like a one- way communication, you don’t have much to lose.  This doesn’t mean you have to suddenly leap about the place or share your deepest soul-searching – just create a positive change.

Often  just a small, low risk change will revive your audience (and you), whereas uniformity quickly disengages them.  When you change what you are doing, you are altering  the audience’s emotional ‘state’ and thus their learning.

Five easy tips for increasing audience engagement:

  1. Change your tone, or pace of voice
  2. Switch from abstract ideas or technical detail,  by using an anecdote.  Tell the story that lies behind the figures, the diagram, the recommendation.
  3. Vary your PowerPoint slides so that they build in something  unexpected
  4. Shift the focus of communication to the audience and away from you.  Do that by giving them something to discuss or share with the audience.
  5. Use analogy or metaphor. This enables the audience to see the content in a completely different context.

These are just five suggestions.  You could easily find 25 more by just asking  yourself the question: ‘Now want could I do to make this more engaging?’

Interestingly, while it will often take more time to prepare for better audience engagement, whatever option you choose will generally make the presentation a lot easier to deliver. Another rule of thumb is that if you are having fun, the audience is probably finding the presentation worthwhile.

There are some other interesting tips on building audience engagement at: Tips on Talking.   A relevant book that we have recommended before is:  ‘Made to Stick’, by Chip and Dan Heath.

How to inspire people by tapping into their dreams

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

This morning I had a stimulating conversation with a person who had led an award winning hospitality business.

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 I asked him what he believed was the key to excellent customer service. He replied that in NZ tourism, everyone has a dream they are trying to live – after all,  noone comes here by accident!  His approach is that if you can help that person fulfill that dream with your customer service, the rest will follow.

I went away thinking that the principle applies to more than customer service.

When I go into a dress shop, I  dream of buying an outfit that magically makes me look divine….well!

When I receive a business email, I have a small dream that the email  makes it clear what I have to do about it.

Take presentations for example: Your audience must have some sort of dream in relation to your topic, or they wouldn’t be there.  Figure out how you can help them with that dream and inspiration will follow.   I looked back over recent presentation rehearsals we had worked on. One was in telecommunications – the company presenting to health professionals in rural environments.   Presumably  her audience’s dream would be about how modern telecommunications could improve access to health for rural people, or overcome some barrier in running their medical service.  So the presentation could be about those possibilities.  Another was with an economics consultancy. The presenter could tap into an audience dream about understanding some important aspect of economics – now wouldn’t that be nice?  Or the dream might be about reaching a new understanding  about  an economics concept that sheds light on a key current event.

This form of inspiration means that you don’t have to ‘be inspiring’ yourself – all you have to do is to enable your audience to be inspired themselves. There’s lots more to it than that, but this seems like a very productive starting point. There are more tips on the attractive Seelemonslive blog

I suspect the concept applies to more than presenting.  How what ways does your role enable people to fulfill a dream or two?

Slides as handouts? Two into one won’t go

Sunday, August 28th, 2011

Imagine you are sitting in an audience.  There’s quite a complicated presentation going on and you are attempting to follow it.  The presenter is using a lot of slides with several sentences on every slide.

What do you do?  Keep listening to the speaker and ignore the slides completely, or attempt to read the slides whilst the speaker keeps talking?  Neither option works.  Either you try to ignore the distraction of the slides and listen – hard to do.  Or you can chose the opposite – while you struggle to read the slide, the speaker has moved on to a new topic.

Don’t try to use slides as hand-outs for the audience to take away.  They are attending a face-to-face communication, not reading a book. Reading and listening are two completely different forms of communications, using different mental processes.  Audiences can’t read slides and listen at the same time. In fact, If you have too much on the slides, they are very hard to read on their own, even without the complication of listening.

I’ve talked previously about how brief good slide content must be.  Basically – hardly any words.  Let’s face it: If the slides were any use to someone who hadn’t attended the presentation, they probably didn’t communicate well during it!

Garr Reynolds at Presentation Zen has a good example of using speaker notes plus slides for a reasonable compromise on the slide+hand-out front.

Using stories to get your message across

Monday, April 4th, 2011

Two contrasting events happened in Communicate this week that put the power of stories firmly in mind:  I was working with a group of auditors and discussing options for presenting technical auditing issues in an engaging way.  Back in the office I picked up an email asking for presentation help for a guy described as a bright guy, very theatrical in his style who enjoys theory and concepts but is too abstract and jumps around ideas too much for people to follow. Obviously he needs to build some stronger audience engagement.

In both cases story telling is the answer.  All humans enjoy stories and a good story can turn knowledge into something that really connects with us and can stimulate us to understand and to act. Even something as technical as auditing has human story behind it – stories as to why that rule was developed, what happened when the rule was broken and so on. 

Often when I ask people about the best presenter at a recent  conference, the answer relates to story telling – the presenter told a story that the listener could relate to and use as the basis for future action.

An example?  A new team leader hearing a presenter talk about the issue of sometimes having to make an unpopular decision as a leader. The presenter told about her son falling over that very morning and getting a bad gravel graze.  The mother had to inflict pain on the boy to clean out the graze so it could heal well.  Who knows how true that small story was, but it lingered with the listener and gave her the confidence to act on some difficult issues she was facing. 

Don’t get stuck on the idea that your life is too mundane for stories.  You don’t have to have chopped off your arm with a multi-tool to escape from being trapped under a rock!  Often the most powerful and long-lasting stories are built from very simple accessible material – as in the grazed knee example.   With this type of story, an audience can think: ‘Ah ha! Yes, I get that.  This is familiar’,  then they have the basis for understanding or action.   

 A while ago I worked with a group young army recruitment personnel.  Some of them had coped with some very dramatic situations during their overseas service, but the most compelling story came from a woman who talked about how joining the army had enabled her to find a route out of a  very negative and limited background. The audience could relate to the story and use it as a message for action.  So, just look at your ordinary daily life for compelling content.  If you want an example, take a look at Carmen Agra Deedy telling the story of taking her mother to the shopping mall. Okay, she’s a brilliant story teller and has really worked on this one, but the source of the content is very simple:

So look around your life for some real stories, then when you have some ideas or concepts that are difficult to get across, ask yourself: ‘What else  in my life is similar to this concept or has the same kinds of elements? Who knows how your life might be compelling for someone else.

Some other useful resources:

Get with it when you prepare slides for a presentation

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

This presentation uses a very funky approach to slides whilst giving you some great pointers on preparing your presentation. Take a look and let me know what you think!

Posture makes perfect

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

Psychologists have long believed that how you stand makes a huge difference to how you feel about yourself and your situation.  The Power of Posture, Economist  January 13, is  an interesting article reporting on research that supports that belief.  Scientists at North Western University, Illinois  found that research participants who sat in an expansive posture had a stronger sense of their own power than those who sat in  a constricted position. The expansive sitters were also more likely to choose the more active option in situations  such as speaking first in a debate, deciding to leave a plane crash to seek help, and joining a fight for justice.

Interestingly, the expansive participants’ higher levels of self-confidence occurred regardless of the status of their position.

‘Expansive’ posture?  Just like your mother always said – of course! Head up, shoulders back, legs spread wide (oh dear!) and arms reaching outwards. It’s all about enhancing your appearance of size.

Constricted posture?  Shoulders hunched, hands under your thighs, legs together. The word ‘fetal’ comes to mind!

If you want to build on this prompt, take a look at: Ten ways to instantly build self-confidence

Caring is not just for customers

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

The recent earthquake in Christchurch  showed us that fundamental core value of caring is alive and well.  Neighbours rallied around to help each other setting up BBQs, sharing with each other and making the most of a very difficult  situation.  Organisations donated generously in both cash and goods

And yet we so often read ,or experience, situations when caring seems to have been forgotten.

Caring translates into all our dealings with people not just those closest to us.

  • When we deliver a presentation we should ‘care’ about our audience
  • When we work with clients and customers we should ‘care’ about them
  • As managers and leaders we should care about our staff.

 Yet unfortunatelyoften we get too busy ,or just plain forget to use that core value in almost all of us.

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Roger Steare recently spoke at a meeting  and he talked passionately about the need to get back to using our core values at work. We care about the things that matter close to us -our families (and/or animals!)  and yet so often at work the culture dulls what we know is intrinsically right -the universals that make us civilised.  The too tight job description so we don’t ‘go the extra mile’.  The rules that stifle common sense

Perhaps it’s time to take stock and not wait for a disaster to bring out the best in us .We all do care  it’s now time to show it