Archive for January, 2009

Public Speaking: The Humor Factor

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

dreamstime_1166078[1]If you are a naturally funny person, I envy you!  Those who can use humor and wit when public speaking have a tremendous advantage.  People LOVE to laugh, and they will forgive many sins if you can make them do so.

Here is an example.  A speaker is introduced to the audience, and on her way to the podium, she trips on the mic cord and falls to the ground.  She’s not hurt.  Immediately she jumps back to her feet, pauses, looks directly into the audience and says . . . “Hows that for a power opener?” The audience laughs and cheers for her.  In four words, she won them over.  Ah, the power of humor.

Another example: My good friend Malik at unconventional magic is a stellar corporate presenter.  I remember watching him perform.  There were three things on his table.  He picked up the first item and accidentally dropped it, as he bent to retrieve it, he bumped the table and the second item fell off.  He paused, looked at the audience and then . . .  whhhhack, he intentionally slapped the remaining item off his table and said “I might as well bat a thousand”.  The audience roared.  He won them over in an instant.  Yes, the power of humor!

In my power of persuasion training I talk about on of the six pillars of persuasion as related by the genious Dr. Cialdini in his amazing book Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion. Likeability is one of the pillars, and my experience shows that humor can build instant likeability with your audience.

Here are some tips on using humor in your public speaking:

1) Unless you are at a comedy/night club, nix anything that COULD BE construed as offensive.  If you have to wonder whether it is offensive, then drop it.

2) The humor in public speaking should not be stand-alone.  It must fall within the context of what’s happening (see examples above) or in the context of your theme.

3) Any extemporaneous humor gets a disproportionately strong laugh, because it projects that you are in the “here and now”.  

4) If you are like me, comedically challenged, then record your presentations to see where you got laughs.  If you are repeating the presentation, remember the lines, and cultivate them every time you  use them.

5) My humor in public speaking guideline is NEVER EMBARRASS anyone besides yourself.  Most people hate the spotlight because they don’t want to be humiliated before their peers.  Get a laugh at nobody’s expense or at your own expense, but never at the expense of an audience member.  Treat your audience as honored guests and they will return the favor.

Share your ideas and stories about humor in the context of public speaking here!

More on public speaking and humor.

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Public Speaking: Layout and Floor Plan

Friday, January 30th, 2009

In our recent blog about rude audiences, we referred to the fact that the speaker disseminated information rather than communicating and connecting with the audience.  This helped cultivate an environment conducive to chitter chatter.  Upon reflection, more variables come into play.  

The first is seating.  While technically this was not a “seating” issue because much of the audience was standing, the same guidelines apply:  the denser the population the more they pay attention.  Scattered audiences have scattered attention spans.  This certainly contributed to the five private conversations that broke out while the speaker was presenting.

The second is room layout and floor plan.  Given the choice, It is always better to have a room that is slightly too small rather than too big. It it makes the event seem like it was a sell-out.  “They packed the room!” will be the reviews.  In addition, you avoid the scattered population problem.  Finally, the speaker has more relative presence; so both she and her message are less likely to get lost in the room.

The third variable is speaker positioning in the room.  Most rooms are rectangular, and in such cases the speaker is best positioned on a short end.  The “less square” the room, the more important this becomes.  Presenting from the the long side of a “flattened” rectangle will destroy your impact on the audience.  It dilutes your focus, voice and eye contact and INVITES the temptation for your audience members begin talking amongst themselves.  Most audience members will resist the temptation to speak aloud; instead they will engage in their own internal dialogue.  For example: “I better get working on my 3rd quarter presentation for next week, I wonder if Bob has started his?”  Some rude or ignorant members will simply startup a conversation.

Looking at our rude audience scenario, my bet is that had these layout issues been addressed in advanced, there may have been only one or no private conversations ensuing while the Chamber Officer was presenting . . . rather than five.

When you are public speaking, command your battlefield by controlling your layout and floor plan whenever possible.  Always keep in mind, a wider and more dispersed audience requires far more presentational skill on your part than does a narrow and densely populated audience.

In short: how and where they sit/stand will be a significant factor in how much they feel that they “liked” your presentation.  As always, it’s all in the nuances.

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Public Speaking: Handling Blunders

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

What to do when things go wrong public speaking?  We all make mistakes – especially those of us who take calculated risks.  Sometimes we fall flat on our face when we present.

As promised in my last blog, I will share with you my experience of going out on a limb and crashing to the ground.

I was public speaking at a networking event: our Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting.  I was asked to talk a bit about the power of persuasion; so I thought it would be fun to do three effects that illustrate how we can influence others.  In my experience, I hit these demonstrations 98% of the time, and they are impressive because they really depend on the interaction between me and my audience members.  

The first demo, which was an optical perception effect always works – no problem.  But the second, which I was influencing another person to “randomly” select a color, completely failed.  I understand why it happened, and I’m confident it won’t happen again . . . but, there I was before 80 of my peers with a demo gone awry.

It was quiet.  How do I handle this?

1) I reminded the audience that this was not a “trick” but real psychology at play.  

2) Then, I used the fact that I missed to INCREASE the intensity level.  I said to the audience, “now, there can be no option for failure on my next demonstration; in fact, if I fail I will breakdance right here at the center of the dance floor, because nobody is leaving here without being entertained.”  This broke the tension and created laughter.

Ultimately the final and most “impossible” demo worked (thank God).  I received an enthusiastic applause and as Shakespeare says “all is well that ends well.”

At the end of my presentation, a potential Chamber Member and national speaker approached me and asked to buy my CD on the Power of Persuasion.  That felt good.

Here is what I learned: Taking risks is important if you are going to grow, but putting the riskier material in the middle makes a great deal of sense.  Put your solid material at the beginning and end because that is what people remember most.

Whenever you fall on your face, get up, and if necessary make a quick acknowledgement, then move on as if nothing happened.   A blunder shows the audience that you are human, but how you handle it can make you even stronger than if the blunder had never occurred.  Use it to your advantage.

Handling public speaking blunders is never easy, just try to make it LOOK easy by keeping your composure and you’re audience will appreciate your poise.

p.s. Yes, had I missed the second demo, I would have doffed the coat and tie and provided old-school break dancing entertainment.

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Public Speaking: Rude Audience

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

Is it rude to carry on a conversation while a speaker is formally addressing the audience?

Tonight I attended a chamber of commerce annual meeting.  About eighty people comprised the audience. While an officer was publicly addressing the group regarding new member introductions, past and upcoming events and member recognition, I did what I always do . . . look around the room.

Here is what I observed: FIVE private on-going conversations overtly being conducted.  Surprised?  I was. Sure, you usually see a couple of people whispering . . .  but FIVE conversations?

Here is what happened:  The speaker, though professional and organized, simply disseminated information from behind the podium. In our last blog we talked about the difference between disseminating information and communicating/connecting with the audience.  What I usually see when a speaker disseminates instead of communicates is that audience members QUIETLY tune out.  If you look, you will see it in their eyes.  However, in this case, some tuned out and tuned right into their own conversations.  In my humble opinion that is rude.

I was a speaker at this event; so I knew I would have my work cut out for me.  I had brought a wireless headset mic and my own amplifier – just in case.  Generally, for eighty people I would not use a mic, but after seeing the chitter-chatter that the preceding speaker had to deal with, I plugged right in.  Volume always helps.

After I was introduced and received applause, I noticed there were three people near the front engrossed in their own conversation.  Only yawns are more contagious that chit-chat.  I knew that if left unchecked that distraction would lead to others, and I would end up with the same five groups of private conversations.

I’m not about to hush other adults as if they were children.  At the same time, I’m not going to let anyone distract the rest of my audience, and thusly diminish the impact of my message.

Here is the technique I always use to solve the problem of “chit-chats”: I present directly to them until the first looks up at me and quickly shuts up.  In an instant the others fall silent as well.  The longer it takes them to realize I’m presenting right to them, the more the rest of the audience starts to focus on them, and the more impact the technique has.

The bonus to this technique is that others will understand that it’s not okay to have an extended conversation while I’m presenting.

In this particular case it was a bit awkward, as I’ve never had a conversation ensue directly after being introduced. I used my technique for about two minutes, which FEELS like an eternity.  That’s how long it took this woman to look up and notice.  Once she did – problem solved.

On to the presentation where I try a new demonstration based on the psychology of persuasion and it unexpectedly FAILS.  When you take the risk, sometimes you fall flat on your face, and this was one of those rare occasions.  In my next blog, I will share what happened and how I handled it.

For now, you have a powerful technique for handling rude audience members when public speaking.

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Public Speaking: Connect With Your Audience

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

Undoubtedly, you’ve attended networking events at which a sponsor was afforded five minutes to speak publicly about his company.  How often do you remember what the sponsor says?  In most cases it’s not that you don’t remember, it’s that you were not listening in the first place.  Not your fault.

I recently attended a Chamber event honoring high-achieving high school students.  The sponsor stood behind the podium and disseminated his information about his company.  That’s all he did.  He transmitted, but few received.  He did not connect with and communicate to his target audience.  How do I know?  I observed the audience members’ roaming eyes.  What this meant for him was that he squandered a paid opportunity to be memorable.  Lack of public speaking skills = waste of time and money.

He did, however, have a nice idea for giveaways.  They were matchbox cars sporting his logo, and inside one of the boxes was a $20 bill.  At the end of the presentation, you can bet everyone was looking inside their boxes.

Here are two simple things he could have done to have greatly enhanced memorability through public speaking:

1) Step out from behind the podium and into the audience.  This would have recaptured the attention of the audience. They would have LOOKED at him.

2) Announce at the open that one of the the audience members would be randomly selected at the end of his presentation.  All the person would have to do to win a crisp $20 bill would be to answer a SIMPLE question about his company.  Now they would have LISTENED to him; not really for the $20, but more because they wouldn’t want to be publicly embarrassed by not being able to answer a SIMPLE question.

When public speaking at a networking event, little things mean a lot.  Most people simply transmit information to very few tuned-in receivers.  But, by mastering public speaking skills, you can connect with and communicate to an audience that will REMEMBER you and your company.  Isn’t that what it’s all about?

Share your comments and questions here . . .

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Public Speaking: Lights! Camera! Action!

Monday, January 26th, 2009

If you are truly serious about improving your public speaking, then consider video taping yourself.  You’ll be amazed at how well you do some things, and you’ll find areas for improvement that you never imagined.

After many years of teaching advanced public speaking skills, I still watch the videos of my presentations and I ALWAYS find areas for improvement and little things that make me laugh.

Video recording has an extra bonus for those of us who perform the same presentation multiple times.  I wish I were a naturally funny person, because adding humor does wonders for your presentation. However, even though I’m not a comedian, I still get lucky with a funny line here or there.  When I critique my presentations, I’ll always make note when the audience laughs.  I write that line down and use it again.  After a while, it appears that I actually have some wit.

Those who are serious about public speaking will find great benefit to recording their presentations.  If video is too cumbersome for you, consider a digital audio recorder with a lavaliere mic – small investment with a big return.

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Public Speaking: Advanced Tip – Connectors

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

What one mistake do even the best public speakers tend to make?

Clearly, they don’t pace, fidget or say “uhmm”, and they do project their voice, make meaningful eye contact and use purposeful movement.  They’ve mastered the basics; so how can they improve?

In my experience even the best public speakers make this minor mistake: connectors.  When they finish a statement, they start the next with one of the following words: so, now, or okay.  While there is nothing wrong with an occasional use of these connectors, most speakers use them almost every time after a pause.

It’s a nuance that I learned from a top Toastmaster who analyzed my speaking.  She pointed out that I had overused these connectors.  Before this enlightenment, I had no idea I was doing this.  Are you?  If you’re just becoming comfortable with public speaking, don’t worry too much about this.  If you are an advanced speaker, chances are this is one area in which you may be able to improve.  The only way to know whether you use connectors is to record your presentation, or ask someone in the audience to take note of them for you.

How to stop?  The same way you stopped umming and ahhing.  Avoid using connectors in your everyday conversation and they will automatically disappear from your more formal presentations.

Advanced tips for public speakers are always welcome here.  Please share yours.

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Public Speaking: First Impressions

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

We’ve all heard it before: “you have fifteen seconds to make your lasting first impression”. I’ve heard some experts say it’s only five seconds.  When you are public speaking, a first impression is vital if you want to earn their attention.

Before you utter a word, the audience beings forming their judgment.  While this is not a “dress for success” blog, a good guideline is to dress just a step above your audience.  Some experts say that you want to dress just like your audience so that they identify with you. Certainly, there are occasions in which the presenter needs to create a “team” perception and avoid an “authoritative” aura; but in most cases, it is a sign of respect to dress a step up.  

While the audience typically recognizes that they assess the way one dresses, they are often unaware of the fact that they subconsciously assess how one moves. Walking up to front and center at a moderate pace, then pausing for a few seconds will project that you are confident and comfortable with the audience. 

Now everyone is listening.  It’s time for your power opener. Avoid the common opener: “thank you, today I’m gunna talk about . . .” ; instead use one of these proven techniques that we teach in our public speaking training course:

Opening techniques: (Practical and powerful):


1)    Pose a question to the entire audience:  “How many of you are on schedule to retire worry free at your target retirement age?”  Please raise your hand if you are.

2)    Pose a question to an individual in the audience:  “Diane, have you developed your retirement plan on your own or do you work with a financial planning consultant?”

3)    Imagine:  I’d like everyone here to imagine the feeling of freedom and empowerment you would have if you knew that at your target age you could retire and maintain your current life style – worry free.

4)    Startling fact:  67% of Americans retiring in the next two decades are depending on Social Security benefits that are unlikely to materialize.

In a nutshell:  Dress one step up, walk moderately to front and center, pause, use a power opener and you will make a positive first impression when public speaking.

Also, please share you thoughts and experiences so that we may all learn!

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Power of Persuasion: Honey vs. Vinegar

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

honeyWhen it comes to the power of persuasion the question may be honey vs. vinegar, but the answer may be honey THEN vinegar.

Win/win is always the goal, but what to do when soft technique and win/win strategies don’t work? Sometimes simply walking away is the best option, and other times you may wish to pursue more aggressive measures.  In the end, much of persuasion is based on the fact that people respond to incentives.  Most people happily respond to positive incentives, but there is a “darker” side to persuasion that may be the final option for certain people:  negative consequences that impact them directly.

Here is an example:  My wife and I enjoyed a weekend in Boston.  Before we left, I called the hotel and asked for information regarding parking.  I spoke to Josh, who said parking was an extra $30.  I asked, when I could arrive and whether I could leave my car there after check out.  He replied “arrive anytime in the morning and after checkout you can leave your car there into the evening at at no extra charge”.  

I always take notes when getting information over the phone; so I recorded the time, date, name and number.

Upon checkout, the parking fee was $45, plus I had to leave the garage within an hour or I would be charged and additional $15.  I explained the details of my call to the manager.  She said Josh was mistaken, and she apologized.  They outsource that service and she would check into it.  But she still wanted to charge me the the extra $30 because those fees were associated with a different company that handles their parking.

After the softer and gentler persuasion techniques failed to get the desired results, I simply acknowledged that her hands were tied in this situation and that I would pay the difference, but I wanted the name and STREET mailing address of the Director of Customer Relations, the CEO, and the Chairman of the Board.  I explained that I needed the street address so I could mail my correspondence certified return receipt.  I also asked for her card.

I was very NICE to her, agreeing that she was bound by the policy; which could only be addressed by the hotel’s executives.  She said that she would get the names, but returned with a full refund and parking voucher.

What happened?  From her perspective, the work associated with making me happy was not worth it. But then, the hassle of dealing with three letters to her executives became larger than the effort to make me happy.  She responded to incentive.  

The key here, was that I never backed her into a corner.  I never made it a competition or yelling match. I simply provided and incentive and I focused on the policy as the issue.  It was never personal.

Most situations are easily solved with positive incentives, but on occasion it becomes necessary to use negative ones.  Just remember, avoid arguing or blaming the individual, even if it is his/her fault. Instead focus on the issue.  This way, when they see the negative consequences of their actions, they don’t feel embarrassed to back out.

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Public Speaking: Guidelines NOT Rules

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

Never say ummm, stand in a fixed position with arms at sides for first 15 seconds of presentation, use open gestures, don’t pace, don’t fidget, speak loudly . . . and the list of “rules” goes on and on.

In the Target Intellect Blog on Public Speaking, we share a great deal of helpful tips on presenting with impact.  In this blog entry, I’d like to clarify that these tips are merely guidelines; not rules.

A close friend of mine and I made the distinction of rules vs. guidelines when learning professional entertainment skills.  In some cases a magical effect that seemed to break many of the fundamental “rules” of good entertainment, still knocked the socks of the audience.  In those cases, we through the rules out the window and only worried about audience reaction.

A few weeks ago I witnessed a sales trainer who truly connected with her audience.  Her energy and enthusiasm were incredible.  I also noticed that she failed to use enough pauses, she spoke too fast, she said “um” a great deal, BUT despite all the pecadillos, the audience LOVED her.  Why?  She genuinely cared about the audience and established rapport with them through her passion and sincerity.

Granted, not many presenters can carry off the “what you see is what you get” approach and earn rave reviews as she did.  But there is a small lesson to keep in mind.  When reading the professional blogs about any discipline, there are very few golden rules, most are simply excellent guidelines.

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