“We are in an age of unprecedented change, it’s a ‘revolutionary’ time to be alive! The question we need to be asking ourselves is - ‘Am I leading that change?’ I believe we all have a choice to step up into personal, professional and social leadership. We have a choice to become agents for change, amplifiers, thought leaders to upgrade our thinking and lead our very own revolutions.”

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Entries in presentation skills (38)


Speak On

When preparing for a big audience presentation, there are several things that can be done to give your speech a bit of "wow".

Here are 3 ideas you can use:

  • Obsess about your message
  • Design a process for the speech
  • Create a conversation
Let me explain...

Obsess about your message  
Anyone can tell you about the person who impressed them on stage but broke all the rules. They didn’t move from the lectern, they didn’t have a modulated voice and they jingled keys in their pocket whilst they spoke. They broke all the rules! AND YET, they were totally compelling…. Why? It's because they had something to say that you wanted to hear. Do not get up to speak until you have first spent some time thinking. Obviously this is what THOUGHT LEADERS is all about. Forgive me for the plug but we know how to teach you how to do that better than anyone on the planet.

Design a process for the speech  
Once you are clear about WHAT you want to say then start thinking through HOW you will say it. Don’t think about techniques like where you will stand and how loud you will speak but rather "What is the emotional or story journey that the audience will travel along?" Make sure that at least every 7 minutes there is a major energy shift. Highs and lows, ups and downs, fast and slow.

Create a conversation  
The best public speakers make you feel like they wrote the speech just for you. The key to making this happen is to be in conversation with your audience. Three ways you can do this:

  • Interview a few people before you turn up to understand what they are going through and use these examples in your speech
  • Ask rhetorical questions that demonstrate an understanding of their world
  • Start you presentation in the room and walk into the audience throughout your presentation

Work harder on speaking better in public and take your message to a new level.




When preparing for a recent keynote, I was thinking... "What five things can I do to be 10 times 'more betterer' for this presentation?"
This is what I came up with... 

1. Start with 'Why'
  • It's rude not to
  • You get more of what you want if you do
  • It’s what leaders do

2. Move around a bit

  • You are your message
  • Bring more of you to the stage
  • It’s live, so live it up!

3. Repeat yourself

  • Nobody is listening
  • They don’t care
  • You don’t matter

4. Draw a picture

  • Context is powerful
  • A picture is the ultimate frame 
  • Creates a Halo effect on rest of your material

5. Turn it up

  • Meet and match
  • We want to be inspired
  • If nothing changes, why did you bother?


Think about these five things when preparing for your next presentation to really amplify your speech, ten times over!


15 Questions

When speaking in public, there are 15 questions in the minds of your audience members that need to be answered before you deliver the content of your message. These questions are often unconscious, but answering them in advance means that people are more receptive to what you have to say and more likely to remember what you said.

The first set of questions are all about making your message a priority:
1. Why this message? I read a piece recently that suggested that there are 3,500 books being written every day, and the question is not "How will I find time to read them all?", but rather, "Of those I choose to read, which ones are worth my attention?" Sharing information any other way is much the same; the audience gives me an hour of their time, so I had better give them something worth listening to. (IMPORTANCE)
2. Why this message now? Almost every audience you will address will feel that they have a lot on, and that all of it is all-important. This is something you need to navigate every time you are attempting to gather people's attention around your idea or cause. They must give it a sense of urgency! (URGENCY)
3. Why are you the person to tell me this message? This is where you begin to build credibility around who you are and your message. If you get a great response to your first two pieces around the message and the urgency of it, you can spend less time on the third credibility piece. (CREDIBILITY)

The second set of questions are all about positioning who you are and what you do:
4. Who are you? The critical thing whenever you talk about yourself is to do so humbly. Make sure you own your success but be quick to share how you have learnt from mistakes and failures. (DISCLOSURE)
5. What do you do? Think like an engineer as you talk through what it is you do and how you go about doing it. See if you can elevate others. State the fact that you are surrounded by some seriously smart technical cookies. Then proceed to explain how person X's genius allows you to get Y done better than others. (PROCESS)
6. Why should I care? You need to link what you know to what people want. If you can link how what you propose helps the audience get what they are in business for - people get that you are delivering a message just for them - that addresses their real work challenges. This makes you super relevant. (BENEFIT)

The third set of questions are all about knocking down barriers and subconscious objections:
7. What's wrong with you? At some time in your life you will be the odd one - maybe you are short, maybe you are bald, maybe you are white and the audience is not. Be careful that you don't come from insecurity when framing out a what’s-wrong-with-you concern. (PERSONAL)
8. What’s wrong with them? Think through your audience and see if they have a professional bias or some such. Eg. Engineers over specify things (like bridges so they don't fall down), accountants analyse things. Frame their bias in a complimentary way and position the disruption or change that is instructing your thinking. Ask for thoughts - then position your message. (AUDIENCE)
9. What's wrong with your message? If a message is hard to swallow or you know something might be poorly received it’s useful to get that elephant out the front of the room and name it. (MESSAGE)

The fourth set of questions switch the smart cookies on to your talk:
10. What's it like? This question is basically addressing the need for referencing. This helps people to see that you are not passing off ideas as your own. Quote others, hold up books, references, shared experiences and use analogies to start your conversation. (ABSTRACT)
11. What's it about? This is a question that positions your message into a primary overarching context. Basically pick a word that sums up what you want to discuss and share it at the outset. Then, what you want to do is build a memorable phrase that anchors that word in a way that's easy to recall. (EXISTENTIAL)
12. What's in it for me? The ‘me’ in this case may be 'my group' or 'my division' or 'my family' and it’s not an unreasonable question for someone to ask. Take time to get really clear what the pay off is for your desired audience. (INTRAPERSONAL)

The last three questions are about action and driving change:
13. What's your point? Make sure that your point is clear and well articulated. Your three or so great points nest under your primary context, (question 11) and make it real. (CLARITY)
14. How is it unique? Make sure you can explain how your idea is unique - look for a point of difference. (DIFFERENTIATION)
15. So what should I do? Our final frame is the action frame. Pick three, five or seven simple actions that people can take. Make them practical as well as conceptual. (PRESCRIPTION)

If the message you deliver is relevant, thorough, elegant and unique - then they just might act on it.



Think before you speak - 7 questions you can ask yourself before your next speech

Before you open your mouth to speak, there are some questions you need to develop answers for, think of this as the pre-work for any speech.

7 Great Questions

1. The context
If you could summarise your speech in one word (x), what is it about?

2. The key points
What 3, 5 or 7 points are you hoping to make about that context (x)?

3. Importance
Why is context (x) important? This is all about answering the question, why this message?

4. Urgency
Now that you have established that (x) is important, you need to make it urgent. So, why do we need to care about (x) now? Note: You will see at this point we are not discussing your points, simply the big picture context of your speech. This can normally be summarised in one word.

5. Problems (common)
What common problem/challenge or aspiration does the audience have that needs to be fixed?

6. Problems (deeper)
What deeper problem do they have to fix that your speech addresses?

7. Prescriptions
What actions can the audience take after your presentation that will make a difference with (x)? (List 3 things the audience can do immediately to make a difference around (x))

Anyone can speak to drive business, they just need to learn the formula's.



The artful science of humour

Whenever I try to be funny, the audience doesn’t always laugh, or worse, they may laugh at stuff when I’m trying to be serious.

Over the years, I have learned to listen to what the room is laughing at and make sure I keep that part of what I was doing in my speeches. Many of my professional speaker friends record every talk they give. This would be a great way to capture the specific word sequence and structure of the sections that people find funny.

Humour really is an artful science; science, that there are formulas and steps you can follow; and it is an art in that there is a need for an intuitive sense of timing, and appropriateness is key.

But will they take you seriously if you use humour? In my opinion, some things are simply too important to not be laughed at. It’s almost as if the most serious messages are best delivered with a “lightness of being”.

Here are several ideas to help you be funnier when you speak:

Tell stories, not jokes
It’s much easier to use humorous stories to lighten things up than to deliver jokes that don’t offend. Most jokes will definitely offend. Situational comedy is nice and safe. Seinfeld built an Emmy award winning show based on funny situations.

Google for laughs
Jokes are risky but the punch-line often isn’t. A joke usually has a setup and a punch-line. Google ‘jokes on (the key topic)’ or idea in your stories, and you can often weave the punch-line into your stories as an off-hand comment, rather than fully set up the joke.

Use your audience
The people in your audience are often funnier than you will ever be. If you can get comfortable with a degree of audience participation and interaction, you can often lift the mood by bouncing humour around with your audience. This technique is kind of like flirting with the humour that exists in the room. Work with what you have available to you. If you are not naturally funny, then let them be. Over time, as you relax into this role, you may find yourself dropping small lighthearted comments into the humour provided. In this way, you can build on the work being done by the jokers in the room.

Make fun of yourself
Self-deprecation is the safest route to humour. Sarcasm is the riskiest. Shakespeare said it well when he said, ‘Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit’. It’s easy to poke fun at others but this is hardly ever a successful strategy for speakers. The ability to laugh at yourself is a fabulous signal that you are relaxed and not too nervous. It also shows you respect the room and are not cocky or overly confident. Obviously, the idea of making jokes at your own expense is culturally dependent. The British do it to excess, and as a result it will work in countries with a shared Commonwealth history. It also works in the US, but less so in some Asian cultures. Humility, though, is a universal value; if done right, this kind of humour may elevate your standing by showing great humility. Just make sure you don’t take it too far.



Presenter Evolution

As you start to watch different presenters and listen to what they say and how they say it, you might notice some distinct differences. For example, a sports person who just won gold in their chosen event might be sharing a story of how they did it. Or, a consultant on customer service might be sharing the steps you go through to improve your service experience for customers. A spiritual guide might simply sit in service doing what appears to be an off the cuff yet profound question and answer session, they are setting a state of energy in the room.

What follows are my thoughts on the evolution of speakers. It steps out, what is for me, an easy to follow process for taking your presentations to the next level. As it's not how we normally see things, each stage is ‘AND also’ not ‘then NEXT’. It's about incorporating the best of the early stages content into each next progressive level.

First Stage: You see this with kids at primary school. My 8 year old son will present a message from his point of view (I) and will deliver his message through narrative (story). Assuming you are interested in him and his stories, and of course I am, it's compelling. This stage is used to stimulate interest and is often best delivered with a semi theatrical style... ‘An amazing thing happened to me the other day...’

Second Stage: Teachers tend to come from this stage most of the time. They will set out a sequential process (steps) and deliver it with a training outcome approach (you). The idea is you acquire a new skill, a way of doing something. This stage is designed to impact the audience in some way and is very much delivered with an instructive show and tell style... ‘Here is something you may find useful...’

Third Stage: A great coach with an elite sports team will often present from this third stage. They use tone and shift the energy in a room. It's all about the energy or mood (state) they create. Often they challenge, confront, excite or inspire, depending on the outcome they are hoping to facilitate. It's very much about getting into the heads of the audience and connecting (engagement) with them in some significant way. This is the stage most change occurs from... ‘together we can create history here today, but you have to want it bad. Do you want it? I know one thing; physical pain disappears but the feeling of defeat lasts a lifetime...’

This evolution is key to getting better exponentially and to build your next learning on the foundations of your previous knowledge. It requires more continuous focus but I think is the determining factor between competence and mastery.



Are you an inspiring speaker or simply presenting?

For me, there is nothing quite as powerful as someone with an idea to share and the ability to share it. This is Thought Leadership and has been my obsession for 30 odd years. I believe that the tools to express your Thought Leadership are public speaking skills, the art of oration and the science of influence. The ability to get up in front of a group of people and share an idea in a way that is engaging, relevant and meaningful.

There are countless books on public speaking and they all talk about dramatic pause, or body language or share techniques for structuring and preparing a speech. At first this abundance of books on the topic of public speaking made me a little reluctant to write yet another one. So I started reading those I could lay my hands on and noticed something common to them all. They were written from a fear management perspective and offered templates and techniques for just getting by when you speak in public. It seemed to me they have been written for people who plan to speak once in their life for 15 minutes and never again. They seem to be coloured by the brush of ‘just get out of this without embarrassing yourself and we have succeeded.'

What has been fundamentally missing for me in all the work so far on public speaking and presentation skills was the ‘Inspired' approach. The challenge to step up and be truly world class. To be extraordinary, to be so damn good at speaking in public that you are invited, seduced and yes, maybe even paid to share your thoughts. Can you imagine that? What would you need to know to be able to do this ‘thing' called public speaking so brilliantly?

Well, before we get into that let me lift the game, raise the stakes and up the anti! (you can tell I've been a motivational speaker for a touch too long.) Let me suggest a bunch of reasons (seven) why speaking in public is inspirational and something you need to get very good at very quickly:

1. It is the new leadership imperative.
Followers require so much of their leaders. The post industrial age, hierarchical, authoritative leadership styles make way for empowered, flat organisations whose competitive advantage lies in their culture and great cultures are run by inspired leaders.
2. It is the ultimate personal development vehicle.
There is something phenomenally challenging about speaking in public. There is nowhere to hide, what you don't say says more than what you do and people form judgements very quickly about who you are and what you are saying. The more you develop YOU as a person, the more effective you are as a speaker.
3. It is leveraged influence.
One on one listening is great, but not easy to do at scale. If you are building a fast growth movement or organisation you need to quickly get everyone on the same page. Speaking in public is one of the truest ways to do this.
4. It is a new media.
News sources are biased. We don't trust the paper or TV to let us know what's going on, we trust the person in front of us. Speaking to large audiences is the new media. Unedited videos on say, You Tube, are now extending the reach, and it's the whole speech not just edited highlights on the six o'clock news.
5. It is a certainty filter.
Managing what you know to be true versus what you think might be true is hard to do well when you are only thinking about it. Speaking it out loud forces you to really consider what is true for you and what is just imagined. Speaking is the ultimate ‘light of day' test for your ideas. The minute you say something out loud to a crowd that rings untrue, you know with absolute certainty that it is not right. Of course, the positive opposite is also true.
6. It creates transformational moments.
Turning points in life both for you and those around you are often defined by the small acts of courage and moments of inspiration. Standing up for what you believe and putting it out there and open to ridicule is courageous. And when you do it often, breathes a little life into those who listen to lift, to elevate their perspective or shift their consciousness.
7. There is magic in a live shared experience.
Listening to your favourite artist on a CD or MP3 player is great, seeing them live at the stadium is something else. Public speaking is the show, you don't get the same experience reading the speech as hearing it and hearing it live versus recorded is another level again.

So, if you were not nervous about speaking in public before, you just might be now!


Manage Your State

Public speaking acts like a mirror; you see outside of you an amplified version of what is going on inside of you. Great speakers choose their state. A presenter who feels the audience was boring, was most likely bored themselves. A presenter who finds the audience is angry, was probably stirred up or frustrated.

That's not to say that you don't have bad days. Of course you do, we all do. The difference is that if your work that day is to present to a room full of people, you are required to get over it and get on with the presentation.

For me, the lighter side of life allows me to shift my state. In any situation, if I can see the funny side I can almost immediately get out of a funk or an unproductive emotional state and choose a better one. Do not give your power over to other people. I think that's a life lesson and one we learn on the road of speaking all the time.

State is also a case of preparation.
Things almost always go wrong and having done what you can to be in a productive and positive state means that these things don't affect you quite as much.

There are several things you can do to help manage your state more effectively;

Focus on the game plan.
A method and outline for what you are going to say, designed in advance, can often help you out when you feel less than inspired. I am often glad that I have a planned opening, I may not always use it, but its acts like a mood fall back.

Develop pre-speech rituals.
I clean my teeth before I speak no matter when I am speaking. I like to shower before a speech if it's possible. You may listen to a certain song on your Ipod. Michael Jordan wore his North Carolina shorts under his Chicago bulls uniform every time he played. The rituals act as triggers for state. Make your rituals mean something to you.

Eat right.
Protein, not carbohydrate food types will help you remain mentally alert. Watch your caffeine intake as it's a diuretic and makes you need to go to the toilet and get a dry mouth. Plan your day and force food down. When you are on adrenaline your body shuts down the hunger response and the last thing you want to do is eat. Fight this or else you will end up with a sugar crash and lose the mental energy required to stay in state.

Exercise on the day.
Excess nerves and mental run throughs all compound the amount of cortisol in your body. Cortisol is like the adrenal systems back up fuel. Too much cortisol though can make you angry, sad, afraid or guilty. These four emotions are state killers for a speaker. Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day advised the Groundhog ‘don't drive angry' - you don't speak angry either. Some vigorous exercise on the day of the speech helps take the excess stress hormones out of your system.

Be your own Barometer.
When delivering in a dynamic way, you try to read your room and adjust what you do accordingly. The problem with this is you can misread a room and assume things are going better or worse than they are. Don't assume you know what's going on with an audience. Stay a little detached and self-referring with your state. Remember, if you feel good, they will too.

Take care of yourself.
People often ask me if I choose my pre show music to match the demographic of the people in my room. That would be so clever. I don't. I choose music that lifts me and gets me ready.



Conference Presenter Basics

Are you planning to speak at a conference anytime soon? If so, here are a few basic things to remember...

Before you begin speaking...

  • SEND your information. Your photo, presentation title and blurb, AV requirements etc. DON'T wait for them to chase you! Be pro-active and make it easy for the organiser. Include YOUR name in the filename of every document you send.
  • Write an introduction. Email it to the organiser and also print it out and take it with you. Make it fun and focussed more on your message than on you.
  • Take your presentation slides. Take it on a USB, and again, include YOUR name in the filename of your presentation document. Not just the conference name. Make sure it is the ONLY file on the USB to avoid confusion.
  • ARRIVE in the conference room early.
  • FIND OUT what has happened before your presentation and what will be happening afterwards.

Things to remember when on the stage...

  • Don't say, I'll get to that in a few minutes, or I'll speak about that later in my talk.
  • Don't read your slides.
  • Don't use someone else's material without attribution.
  • Do make the organiser look good. If authentic, praise them from the stage.
  • Do acknowledge the time remaining signs held up at the back of the room (or elsewhere). A nod will do.

And finally,

Make sure you know the actual finish time and length of talk, so you finish then, no matter what!


Structure your speech to ensure an outcome

When speaking, to influence a room or suggest a specific course of action after your speech, the Drive Speech Structure works best. If you were selling a service, this would be the perfect structure to choose. This is a very linear speech and steps through six key stages:

1. Question
2. Problem
3. Cause
4. Substantiation
5. Implications
6. Invitation

First, you post your main idea (Contextual Mantra) as a question. You may, in a small group, allow for some discussion around this question in the audience. This can work well in a panel situation with each panelist responding to the question in a way that refines the topic. Your tone in this stage should be interesting and enquiring.

Then, spend a fair amount of time unpacking the problem that you will eventually present a solution to. Don’t rush this; many people are uncomfortable sitting in the problem stage for very long, but this is where the audience experiences the tension that precedes your welcome solution. Your tone in this stage should be compassionate and empathetic.

Next, you start to explain the causes of the problem defined in stage two. Here, you might draw diagrams and explain fundamental principles at play. This is a good time to move to a flip chart and turn on a ‘teaching’ style. For each defined problem, it is a good idea to have a few causes combine to create the problem. Your tone should be academic and a little detached.

After the causal stage, you step into a short period of ‘proving’. Substantiate your claims and link evidence to your shared perspectives. Your tone in this stage should be confident and certain.

This is the stage where you unpack the implications of change not occurring (or you not being taken up on the invitation). During this stage, you are making the issue a personal one for the audience. Explain to them how a denial of the problem will cause more damage in the long run. It’s about relevance and personal meaning. Be gentle and approachable when delivering this section.

The final stage of the Drive Structure is to make an invitation of some kind. This can be as overt as walking through the features and benefits of a product, or the details of an offer, through to a gentle suggestion that they get in touch with you. The better you have delivered the first four stages, the less you will need to push at the fifth.

P.S. Come and learn how to piece together this speech structure during my Drive Your Business Through Speaking Workshop on Friday 18 November.

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