Here's a great public speaking tip: One of your best public speaking tools isn't about vocal production at all—it's silence. (Discover all of the essential vocal tools of public speaking from my free cheat sheet, "5 Key Tools of Vocal Dynamics.")
Used well, silence can have the power of a thunderclap. It allows dramatic tension to build, like a thunder cloud before that storm breaks. It creates anticipation. It gives audiences time to process what you just said. It lends a shape to your speech it wouldn't have otherwise.
And it does a few other things as well.
Yet too often, this vital speaking tool isn't understood or employed. And more: a speaker's neglect of silence can be a dead giveaway that he or she is terrified of the public speaking situation. Let's look at three advantages you'll gain by using this technique that actors and accomplished presenters use frequently and well.
- Silence allows your audience to absorb critical information. When you say something important, your listeners must be given a pause to process what you've just told them. If they're to retain this critical part of your message, they need to "fix" it in their consciousness. Public speaking takes place in real time. If you hurry past important information, it will be lost in your audience's need to simply keep up with your speaking pace. Silence in the form of a strategic pause is absolutely required at these times.
- Silence is necessary at each of your transitions. Every speech needs shape, though too few presentations have one. Audiences need to take a "mental breath" at regular intervals during your talk, and that means every few minutes. Think of it as hitting the refresh button. A natural place for this to occur is when you transition between main points. Use a pause (coupled with some change in your voice) to give listeners a heads-up that something new and worth listening to is coming up. Their attention will be renewed.
- Silence demonstrates confidence. Audiences can usually tell if you're a nervous or confident speaker. Many nonverbal communication signs are give-aways, and among them is when you talk nonstop, too quickly, without a single interval of silence. On the other hand, if you use silence in the ways discussed above, you'll demonstrate that you are in control. After all, the presentation is yours to deliver at the pace you want to deliver it. Doing so is a tip-off that you're a confident and skilled speaker.
Key takeaways from this blog:
- Here's an important paradox: silence is one of your best vocal tools.
- Silence can add anticipation and drama to your speeches.
- Audiences can absorb information better if you give them time to do so.
- For effective transitions, alert audiences of a new point by pausing.
- Pace your presentation effectively using silence, and you'll appear confident.
Looking for more ways to be a more dynamic and confident speaker? To improve your focus and presence, download my essential cheat sheet: "10 Ways to Stay Fully Focused when Speaking."
Can you tell what someone is thinking just by their stance, gestures, and facial expressions?
That's the premise of numerous books and articles on body language. And in many ways, it's true: we telegraph our feelings and intentions physically. (Learn how to use nonverbal communication skillfully from my free cheat sheet, "5 Secrets of Powerful Body Language.")
Those message, of course, are in addition to—and sometimes contrary to—what we're actually saying. This phenomenon applies to all aspects of human behavior, but nowhere is it more noticeable than in public speaking and presentations.
The Tiger Woods Phenomenon
I was thinking of all of this recently when I read an article in the Wall Street Journal on Tiger Woods's body language. The piece, "Reading Tiger's Body Language" by Geoff Foster, is a look at how Tiger displays his emotions while competing in tournaments. Millions of golf fans will have the opportunity to test this theory for themselves this weekend, as they watch the PGA Championship.
What should they look for? Mr. Foster provides a primer of examples of this golfer's "swagger," "flubs," and "disgust." After watching 220 shots in six of this year's tournaments, he has identified seven body language tip-offs: The Vocal Commands, The Lean, The Club Held High, The Quick-Tee Snatch, The Stare-Down, The Distractions, and The Temper. Taken together, they inform us that Tiger "hardly ever hit[s] a bad shot (or a really good shot) without tipping off the home viewers."
Body Language and the Big Three Items of Public Speaking
Does all of this apply to the speeches and presentations you and your colleagues give? Not only is the answer to this question a definitive "yes," it applies by an order of magnitude more than the insights that can be gained by watching Tiger Woods play golf.
That's because a golf pro's job isn't to communicate thoughts and feelings, it's to play great golf. A speaker's task is to get ideas across to an audience, and the body is an absolutely essential tool to do so. (For more ways to speak for leadership, down my cheat sheet, "Leadership Skills: The 5 Essential Speaking Techniques.")
We rarely think in these terms. For most of us, the mind that conceives an idea, the voice that delivers it, and the PowerPoint or other visual tool that displays it constitute The Big Three items of effective public speaking. If considered at all, the body is thought of as something awkward that brings on self-consciousness and the thought, "I don't know what to do with my hands!"
Like golf fans, however, your audience is gleaning critically important information not only from your physical habits while speaking, but whether you use your body to reinforce your message. Far from keeping your body language out of your message, then, you must find physical expression for what you're saying. In practical terms, that means investing yourself emotionally in your material so that your body creates an amplifying gesture at just the right moment. Do that, and your speech will come to life in the moment of performance.
For more on body language and public speaking, listen to my recent appearance on the Matt Townsend show, where Matt and I discuss this intriguing and important topic.
Want to boost your presence and charisma? Then you'd better learn how to use body language! Discover how to move audiences not only through what you say, but how you look, move, and gesture. Download my cheat sheet below with six simple skills-building exercises for more dynamic and effective presentations.
 Geoff Foster, “Reading Tiger’s Body Language,” Wall Street Journal, 6 August 2013.
Image credit: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/photo_14142026_ponte-vedra-beach-fl-may-08-tiger-woods-at-the-players-championship-pga-tour-on-practice-day-may-08-.html'>robwilson39 / 123RF Stock Photo</a>
By Jeannie Lindheim and Gary Genard
When it comes to promoting your business, landing a job, inspiring followers, or gaining visibility for yourself or your organization, the one attribute you need is good communication skills. Frequently, this means proficiency in public speaking. (For maximum effectiveness and influence when speaking in public, download Dr. Genard's free eBook "12 Easy Ways to Achieve Presence and Charisma.")
The good news is that you don't need to suddenly become an "excellent" speaker. Your task is to deliver a message to people who will benefit from hearing it, and to enjoy yourself while doing it. It really is simpler than you might imagine.
In that spirit, here are 14 easy ways you can kick-start your public speaking and presentations. Some of them come straight from theatrical techniques for business training, and all of them inhabit the world of more effective speaking. Getting familiar with these tips and practicing them will help you become more dynamic and comfortable. And that means you'll be a better speaker. But don't take our word: try them, and you just might achieve a dramatic difference in your on-stage presence and impact.
- Pretend you're talking to just one person. You're not really standing in front of an audience and talking to everyone (even though you are.) Pretend that you are talking to one person, each in turn as you speak to that individual, then another. The art of conversationality is what you're looking for. Talking to one person makes it all more personal for your listeners.
- Make an entrance. Actors excite their audiences by the energy and powerful focus they bring on stage with them. Why shouldn't you? Your speech begins when you enter the room, not when you open your mouth. Have fun with your entrance! Become familar with the body language messages you may be broadcasting. And learn the 5 body language errors that will sink your presentation. There are many creative ways to make an effective entrance. Without overdoing it, and considering the audience and the situation, come up with a few that you can have fun with.
- Talk about something you are passionate about. You don't have to be the world's foremost expert on your topic (though you should know enough about it for the purposes of your speech). But what you should have an abundance of is passion for your topic. Have you noticed how hard it is not to listen to someone who's speaking passionately about something? Your audiences will respond exactly the same way.
- Save time for Q & A. In Dr. Genard's book How to Give a Speech, he calls Q & A "The Forgotten Avenue to Audience Persuasion." That's because anybody can deliver a presentation if it's prepared beforehand and they've practiced it enough. But the speaker who can handle himself with poise, expertise, and conciseness in a Q & A session is the one who will not only persuade an audience, but look good doing it. To turn that idea around, become familiar with the 7 danger zones of Q & A so you know how to handle yourself effectively.
- Work with a speech coach. A speech coach can help you with a myriad of factors in dynamic public speaking. These include organization, presence, tone, body language, engaging with audiences and keeping listeners interested, using PowerPoint, responding to challenges, vocal expressiveness, and other important delivery skills. It's impossible for you to experience from inside yourself how you look and sound. Actors don’t work without a director, and golf pros always use a coach. You as a speaker need a gifted "third eye" to see how you come across.
- Keep your movement limited. It's a good idea to move when you have a transition, and before your next main point, not on it. Actors know, for instance, not to muddy a dramatic moment by splitting the audience's focus between what they're doing and what they're saying. Only move on stage when you have to, which means make your movement purposeful. Take a step toward an audience member asking a question, for instance, or approach the slide screen to point out something there. A speech coach can help you with the staging of your talk as well as the other considerations mentioned above.
- Less is more. You've heard this phrase applied to many areas of human activity, and on-stage performance is one where it applies most clearly. Many speakers meander through their topic, or give their audiences far too much information. As the French philosopher Voltaire said, "The easiest way to bore someone is to tell them all you know." We would say more on this subject but, well, less is more.
- Have fun. Now there's a radical concept in public speaking! Be excited and enthusiastic about what you're talking about, and your passion will be contagious. It's also true that if you are obviously enjoying yourself, your listeners will enjoy themselves too. You may be talking about the mating habits of penguins, but if you show enough enthusiasm, we'll think we have to know this subject too!
- Organize and develop your talk. The delivery of information may or may not be interesting; but information in service of a clear purpose and actionable objective can be engrossing. Use a grabber: an opening line that hooks your audience. Familiarize yourself with the 12 foolproof ways to open a speech. Think about the shape of your presentation and where the climax should come. Put your thoughts and ideas together in a way that will help your audience retain them. Showing that you have a disciplined and perceptive mind can make all the difference to your credibility and influence.
- Use vocal variety. As actors performing voice-overs, we learned the 3 P’s: pitch, pause, and punch. You can make your vocal delivery a beautiful mountain range or a flat plateau. Here are 4 ways to achieve vocal power. If you use the 3-Ps you will invite your listeners into an engaging discussion. And if you speak in a monotone they will be thinking about their laundry or what they'll be having for supper tonight.
- Make it conversational. People want to be talked to, not talked at. Every good speaker sounds the same when delivering a formal talk or chatting one-on-one over coffee. What the listener or audience hears is the real person, so that their personality and motives come through clearly. Too many speakers give a Speech (with a capital "S") or a Presentation (with a capital "P"). Those kinds of performances sound stilted and artificial. Ask your friends to listen to you when you present, or have yourself videotaped. And then be honest with yourself as to whether you sound like you're simply talking or proclaiming.
- Tell stories. Who doesn't love a good story? No one! “Once upon a time…” opened up magical worlds when you were a child. Today when you present, one of the most effective things you can say to your audience is "Imagine . . ." Stores grab and hold peoples' attention because they are about human beings, with all their problems, foibles, and glories. Stories can build suspense or achieve other powerful and dramatic effects. If you find that you tend to speak hypothetically or with too many generalities, bring in stories and your talk AND your audience will come to life. Here are 4 classic formats for organizing a presentation, including stories.
- Be vulnerable. Share something about yourself that the audience will be interested in. It can be a personal anecdote, or a connection to your subject matter. Speakers sometimes think it's not appropriate to bring themselves into a discussion, but that couldn't be further from the truth. To wear an invisible suit of armor to protect yourself in the "scary" environment of a public speech will just make you look impregnable. Audiences don't find it easy to relate to such speakers. Let them see the real you, because the chances are good that they'll like what they experience.
- Give your audience one or two gems. What do you want your listeners to take away from your talk? Be clear in terms of what you want them to retain, and what they must retain. Audiences won't remember the facts and figures you throw at them; but they'll remember how you made them feel. An emotional response is a legitimate take-away on its own for your listeners. Presenters often load down audiences with a ton of information. A sparkling jewel left in their lap is a much nicer gift.
Jeannie Lindheim is the author of Trusting the Moment: Unlocking Your Creativity and Imagination. (Satya House, 2011). Find it at www.trustingthemoment.com. Dr. Gary Genard is the founder and president of Public Speaking International in Boston. He is the author of How to Give a Speech, available in paperback or in a Kindle edition at Amazon.com.
What's your most important tool of influence in speeches and presentations?
Let's dispense with some usual suspects that aren't even in the running: Your content. PowerPoint. A lectern or microphone. Your reputation, or fame. (Being charismatic does help. To learn more, download our free ebook, "12 Easy Ways to Achieve Presence and Charisma.")
You'll "get warmer" if you think in terms of you rather than anything external—for you yourself are the premier influencer in your presentations by far. What exactly accomplishes this influence? Is it your voice? Your gestures? How about the way you occupy space and relate to people and objects? Eye contact? Facial expressions? Your posture and the way you stand and move?
How to Enrich Your Presentations
You've probably guessed by now that all of those items in the last paragraph constitute body language. It's the element of your presentation that tells an audience what you intend, how you feel about your topic and them, what has meaning in the context of what you're saying, and how committed and passionate you are.
Yes, content matters. But it doesn't matter enough. Think of the presentations and speeches you've seen recently. Chances are the subject matter, and sometimes even the data, was known before the speaker began. But what about these questions: "Is this person credible on this topic?" "Can I trust him or her?" "Why does this matter to me and how and why should I use this information?" — These are some of the things each of us asks about presenters, and it's body language that's ideally suited to provide answers.
Body language, then, is a powerful communication tool. Yet because of its power, you as speaker can undermine your message and your own credibility by weak or inappropriate body language. Following, then, are 5 ways you can weaken what you're saying through ineffective use of this important public speaking tool.
1. "Muddying" Your Entrance. The first part of your message has to do entirely with yourself, as you show your audience that you are the appropriate messenger to deliver it. You're about to give a performance, and you should allow the audience a moment of expectancy in preparing to receive it. Your body language, that is, should separate the "take a look at me and get ready," from "now I'm about to begin. (Once you do begin, be sure you grab your audience with one of the 12 foolproof ways to open a speech.)
Here's why this matters: No matter how fulsome an introduction you may have received, your audience isn't really there for you until you're standing in front of them, ready to start. Their thoughts are still with the person who introduced you, or the remark their friend sitting next to them just made. To be sure your listeners really are ready to listen to you, walk to your spot and look at the audience silently for a moment. Smile, nod. You'll feel the audience's attention gather up and deliver itself to you. Now start to speak.
Nervousness makes many a presenter begin speaking before they've arrived at the place they'll be speaking from, or starting before everyone is ready. One of the most powerful ways you can influence an audience is by grabbing their attention with the first thing you say. If they're not ready to hear it, you've just basically helped destroy your message.
2. A Defensive or Uncertain Stance. Once in place, do you stand as though you're at ease in front of an audience (as you must be), or does your stance broadcast your self-consciousness? If you're unsure of what this means, think about the speakers you've seen who assume a weak or defensive stance: the hands in the "steeple" position or clasped tightly; the "hand-washer"; or the speaker who twirls his or her wedding ring, or other examples that seem to say, "I'm not comfortable up here." For a reminder, on the other hand, of how visual input impacts an audience's receptiveness, discover Bill Clinton's secret of success as a speaker.
Nothing is as common or as undermining in terms of stance as the fig leaf position. It could also be called the "I-don't-know-what-to-do-with-my-hands" position. It looks like this:
Mostly, speakers do something with their hands. Very few have the poise and courage to simply stand with hands at one's side—which is actually the neutral position from which gestures can arise quite naturally. Watch this video to see an extraordinary level of physical ease displayed by TED speaker Amy Lockwood.
Keeping your hands at your sides with this level of discipline guarantees that your audience will listen to what you're saying, rather than being distracted by what you're doing. If they are distracted in that way, then you've helped dilute their focus and in effect destroyed your impact. Practice instead being comfortable with this level of stillness to keep your critical message front and center.
3. Moving on Key Points. Did you know that movement can help your audience make sense of what you're saying and retain key points afterwards? Many speakers use movement (when they're not standing stock-still) that is random: either wandering aimlessly as they speak, or pacing back and forth tiger-like because of adrenaline and, presumably, the need to find a slow-moving gazelle before dinnertime.
Such movement lacks purpose. To move purposefully, on the other hand, means to tie your position on a stage or at one end of the room with the content of your talk. Let's say you have three main points: doesn't it make sense to deliver each of them in a different spot? It may only be a step or two, but it makes clear that you are about to discuss a different point. Or perhaps you're giving a chronological narrative; if so, you should move from the audience's left to their right, since we read from left to right, and we see a timeline that way as well.
Contrast this with what happens when you move while you're moving into a key point. The audience is distracted by your movement (see above), and they're probably paying more attention to that than your key point. Worse is something nervous speakers sometimes do: retreating as they're saying something important. Why back off an important idea as you're expressing it? Your listeners will be thoroughly confused. Once again, you'll have helped destroy your own key message.
4. Lack of Vocal Expressiveness. There are many reasons people gather to hear a speaker rather than merely reading the content of a presentation. One of the most important has to do with voice. The human voice is an infinitely variable tool of communication, which means it is one of your most powerful body language tools. Your listeners are not only adept at grasping meaning through your vocal variety, they depend upon your skill with your voice to do so.
That's because information is never enough on its own. Facts, figures, charts and other raw information cannot transcend itself—it fulfills its job of providing data, but it can't do more than that. It is up to you as presenter to give your audience more: to place information in context, to flesh out, to explain, to give the significance of what is being shown, and to tell them why it should matter to them.
You need vocal expressiveness to do so. The voice is physical, which means it is an essential part of body language. Compare in your head the next monotonous speaker you hear with Martin Luther King, Jr., Shirley MacLaine, Barack Obama, or Ellen DeGeneres. If you're weak in this area, work with a tape recorder (or your smart phone) to improve, especially in terms of pitch variety and vocal color. To deprive your message of this vital element of communication is to undermine the importance of what you're saying. Click here for some more ways you can use the world's most powerful tool for persuading audiences.
5. Inappropriate Gestures. Many problems in terms of weak gestures are caused by sheer nervousness. Your hand and arm movements should support or amplify what you're saying. Gestures that are overly repetitive, inappropriate, or simply odd will destroy your effectiveness in no time flat.
Do you rub your belly at random moments? Kick the podium? Slap your hand on the tabletop so that your most important points are drowned out? Point to questioners as if you're jabbing them in the chest? I've had clients or trainees that did every one of these things. And you can bet the people listening were instantly jolted out of the stream of attention they were floating along on! Hamlet told a visiting theatrical troupe to "Suit the action to the word, the word to the action." It's princely advice we all should follow.
Key takeaways from this blog:
- You are the most important tool of influence when you present.
- You can undermine your own message through weak body language.
- Set yourself and let your audience get ready before you speak.
- Take a strong stance, and move just before you make a key point.
- Vocal expressiveness gives audiences clues information can't provide.
The last article in this space discussed Shakespeare's famous line: "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players" in terms of business presentations.
That's because his observation is as true for public speaking and business speaking as it is for theatrical performance. (For help in becoming a more exciting and influential presenter, download our cheat sheet, "4 Characteristics of an Influential Speaker.")
As a former actor, I've always been interested in how the techniques of theatrical performance can and should be put to use by business speakers. These simple yet powerful skills can help engage audiences and transform routine presentations into memorable ones. And they can create a "Wow!" moment in the business professional who uses them for the first time.
At Public Speaking International, we specialize in business training techniques rooted in theatrical performance. My last blog discussed six of those techniques: stage presence and authenticity, diaphragmatic breathing, focused relaxation, being present in the moment, improvisation, and beats and intentions.
This article examines 5 more techniques that work in everything from team building and presentations, thinking on one's feet, reacting to challenges, responding to the need for change, and negotiating Q & A. Here they are:
Takeaways from this blog:
- Vocal Dynamics. Want to learn how to influence others when you speak? To get people to trust you? To hook listeners’ attention and keep them engaged every minute of your talk? To inspire them with your vision and leadership? If these things are important to you, learn how to use your voice. It’s the most subtle communication tool you own. Not everyone can be a great orator, but each of us can improve our vocal skills for speaking successfully. To illustrate, try this simple experiment: Think of something truly exciting that happened to you, that you personally experienced. It doesn't matter how long ago this took place. Write it down. Now imagine you're relating this story to someone you know well, or even a few friends. First, read it--literally--reading each word off the page as though you were reading a newspaper. Now close your eyes, and for a moment familiarize yourself with the particulars of the story. With your eyes still closed, picture a special person in your life you are telling this story to, someone who has never heard it before. Your vocal dynamics should not only be different, they should be radically so. How many presentations have you heard from speakers who sounded like you did when you were "reading the newspaper"?
- Body Expressiveness. Standing and moving with authority can make the difference between a mediocre presentation and a memorable one. Powerful speakers look the part as well as sound it. There’s no way around it: good nonverbal communication is essential for successful speaking. To put that much more strongly, you can't create the influence you're looking for without using movement to support and amplify what you say. Virtually every speaker, professional or otherwise, can benefit by "getting out of your head and into your body.”
- Role-Playing and Simulations. Facing a high-stakes presentation, interview, sales pitch, or client meeting? Participating in campaign debates or media appearances? Need to prepare for a crisis response or challenging Q & A? For these situations and others, role-playing and simulations are essential. Theater professionals know how to set up role-playing scenarios as close as possible to the real thing, if not in particulars, then certainly to more closely achieve your purpose. You’ll be ready, set, and good to go, having taken that challenging speaking situation out for a test drive.
- Storytelling. Delivering information is one thing . . . telling a story is another. If you want to connect with listeners and get them to tune in to what you’re saying, tell a story. Stories are filled with drama and they’re all about people, which is why everyone responds positively to them. You’ll learn how to “find your true voice” through personal stories, and to use anecdotes that show your connection to your material. It’s a powerful technique for letting audiences know how committed you are to your message and your listeners. Remember the story of "Little Red Riding Hood?" or the Trojan Horse? I thought so.
- Using Language. The greatest writer who ever lived was a dramatist, and there’s no one like Shakespeare for teaching us about the power of language. So get in the enviable habit of reading some of the Bard's plays--or much better, seeing them in person on stage. He’ll help bring your imagination to life where the language of your own speeches and presentations is concerned. You’ll learn to speak with more color and impact, and you’ll discover how the sounds of words are related to their meaning. Vivid and powerful language can make a presentation sing! Work with Shakespeare, Churchill, Lincoln, and others who used language well so that you can learn to give that kind of performance when the curtain goes up.
- Your voice can help raise your presentation from everyday to extraordinary.
- You can't be a powerful speaker without adequate movement.
- Role playing can help you take your speech or presentation for a test drive.
- Delivering information usually isn't engaging; telling a story almost always is.
- The greatest speakers in the world knew how to write for the ear.
Dr. Genard's previous blogs related to this topic:
"All the world's a stage," William Shakespeare said, "so you'd better learn how to act to nail that PowerPoint presentation." I made that last part up of course. Shakespeare actually said the much less interesting, ". . . And all the men and women merely players."
I'm sure if the Bard were still alive, however, he'd say something about the intersection of performance, public speaking and business presentations. (For help in ramping up your on-your-feet skills for dynamic presentations, download our cheat sheet, "5 Ways to Captivate an Audience.")
As a former actor, I've always been fascinated by the powerful techniques of theatrical performance that are at the beck and call of every business speaker. These skills are simple; yet they can be transformative in terms of engaging and persuading audiences. And they usually create "Wow!" moments in business professionals who are exposed to them for the first time.
In fact, the company I founded, Public Speaking International, specializes in business training techniques rooted in the theater. After all, actors understand better than anyone in the world how to move audiences. The exact same approach can be used by business people to deliver effective, even extraordinary speeches and presentations. By marrying proven theatrical techniques with subject knowledge and experience, business speakers offer their listeners the best of both worlds: leadership presence combined with performance excellence.
Here are some of the theater-based techniques featured in PSI’s executive coaching and corporate workshops, discussed in terms of your ability to deliver successful speeches and presentations:
- Stage Presence and Authenticity. The most important of all business training techniques based in the theater. When you speak in situations that matter (and shouldn’t they all be?), what makes you successful is the fullness of your communication. In speaking powerfully you draw upon all of your means of expression: physical presence, voice, gestures, and story, along with the rest of your content. You must not think your job as a speaker is to convey information. It’s never that. Instead, it’s to give audiences the complete you joined with your urgent message. To speak successfully, you need to know the techniques of effective performance. There's no way around this basic equation.
- Diaphragmatic Breathing. Most of us breathe shallowly. To project a strong presence, however (and to reach the back of a large room), diaphragmatic breathing is necessary. This type of “belly breathing” produces full, resonant sound that has the voice of authority. It’s the ideal method of breathing for persuasive and influential speaking.
- Focused Relaxation (for Thinking on Your Feet). Being relaxed is nice, but not if you have all the strength of a cooked noodle! Focused relaxation, on the other hand, combines calmness with strength. Actors need to stay loose but poised, ready to respond with power while making it all look easy. Like an animal about to spring, they know not to waste an ounce of energy. When your energy is that focused, you can think on your feet and respond effectively to what audiences are giving you.
- Being Present in the Moment. Presence is an overused label. In terms of the stage, presence means being “there” for one’s fellow actors. Contrary to popular belief, not every stage performance is exactly the same. By paying close attention and being completely in the moment, the actor can react with full concentration. The result is a performance that’s much more attuned to what the others on stage are giving you. Every business audience wants you to be equally tuned in to what they're looking for.
- Improvisation. Few tools of the theater are as enjoyable as improv. At PSI, we use this tool to help professionals think quickly and act appropriately. For team-building and responding to questions and challenges from clients and prospects, there’s no substitute for training that includes improvisation. You never know what’s coming your way when you speak. Knowing how to improvise can take you from merely surviving to thriving in important speaking situations.
- Beats and Intentions. This is one of the most interesting applications of theater techniques to the business world. Actors pay close attention to the motives and intentions that drive a character’s behavior. There are intentions for the entire play, a single scene, and for “beats” within each scene. Learning this tool allows you to more easily decide exactly what you want from others. When you’re this clear on your purpose, you own a powerful strategic tool for getting audiences to think, feel, and do what you want them to.
In our next blog, we'll examine more theater-based techniques for business training, including vocal dynamics, body language, role-playing, storytelling, and using language powerfully. See you after intermission . . . .
Takeaways from this blog:
- Theatrical techniques are custom-made for powerful business presentations.
- Simple techniques can be combined with subject knowledge for true leadership.
- All your means of expression constitute what's known as "stage presence."
- Proper breathing and focus help you stay fully present for your audience.
- Knowing how to think on your feet will help you thrive in high-stakes situations.
- An actor's method of using intentions can help you stay true to your purpose.
Dr. Genard's previous blogs related to this topic:
You've finally been invited to pitch to that audience of decision-makers. It's what you've been waiting for: a high-stakes, high-reward appearance. You've put together a killer-app presentation that should knock their socks off. (To learn how to motivate and inspire a group like that, download our cheat sheet, "5 Ways to Captivate an Audience.")
There's just one problem: you have no idea how to start the thing out with a bang. You're wondering, in other words, how to open a speech strongly and professionally.
You know that's something you need to do. You're just not sure how . . . or for that matter, exactly why.
When it comes to influening listeners in speeches and presentations, two concepts explain why your beginning and ending need to be particularly strong. This article will discuss both concepts, and then provide some powerful tools for your opening gambit: your speech Introduction. Part Two in a separate piece will deal with the other end of your presentation: your Conclusion.
Why You Need to Start and End Strongly
The two concepts are primacy and recency. “Primacy” states that people remember most vividly what they hear at the beginning of a speech; and “recency” says those same people will strongly recall what you say at the end. In terms of public speaking, of course, this translates into your Introduction and Conclusion.
Here are three reasons why your Introduction needs to be engaging and interesting immediately:
(1) Audiences make value judgments about you, your organization, and your message in the first 30-60 seconds of your presentation. After this point, you’ll be able to change those opinions about as easily as you can change a hamster into a ham sandwich.
(2) Your opening sets the entire tone of your presentation (including whether you'll be interesting or not).
(3) The first minute is when you introduce your message and tell the audience why they need to hear it.
Your audience, in other words, needs to be both fully engaged and predisposed favorably toward you and your message. Neither will happen unless you can grab their attention sufficiently that they’re ready, willing, and able to listen to you spin your verbal magic!
You Can Be Creative, Can't You?
Achieving this objective takes thought, a bit of imagination, and yes, a little creativity. The good news is that since you know your topic well and you're psyched up for the big game (it's an audience of decision-makers, remember?) you should be well positioned to succeed.
Primacy won’t have much of a chance to operate, for instance, if you use the dreary “Today, I would like to talk about . . .” approach in your opening. This is a dreadfully boring way to begin, and I invite you to remove it from your public speaking toolbox permanently.
A few minutes of focused thinking should be all you need to come up with an opening that leads intelligently into your topic without sounding like everyone else's presentation in your line of business.
And remember to avoid "introducing your Introduction," thus: “Let me start out with a story…” or, “I heard a very funny joke the other day…” Just tell us the story, the joke, or the in-the-know reference that will delight these listeners. By signaling your effect beforehand, you water its potency down to a thin drizzle.
As a springboard to launching your presentation with verve and originality, here are a dozen devices that can be used as grabbers or speech hooks:
- Startling statement
- Personal anecdote or experience
- Expert opinion
- Sound effect
- Physical object
- Testimony or success story
You could literally think of dozens more from your own expertise and experience or that of your audience. Remember, the best grabbers engage an audience immediately, both intellectually and emotionally. Coming up with the best one involves some work on your part. But the rewards if you’re successful more than justify the effort.
Want some examples? Here are some of the best, all illustrating grabbers listed above:
Jesus, Sermon on the Mount: "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Startling statement.)
Bill Clinton, 1993 speech in Memphis to ministers (after having heard himself introduced as "Bishop Clinton"): "You know, in the last ten months, I've been called a lot of things, but nobody's called me a bishop yet. When I was about nine years old, my beloved and now departed grandmother, who was a very wise woman, looked at me and she said, 'You know, I believe you could be a preacher if you were just a little better boy.'" (Humor)
Jane Fonda in "Life's Third Act," a recent TED talk: "There have been many revolutions over the last century, but perhaps none as significant as the longevity revolution. We are living on average today 34 years longer than our great-grandparents did. Think about that: that's an entire second adult lifetime that's been added to our lifespan." (Statistic.)
Patrick Buchanan, 1995 speech announcing his presidential run: "Three years ago when I came to New Hampshire, I went up to the North Country on one of my first visits. I went up to the James River paper mill. It was a bad day, just before Christmas, and many of the workers at the plant had just been laid off. They were sullen and they were angry and they didn't want to talk to anyone. So as I walked down that line of workers, I will never forget: Men shook my hand and looked away. Then one of them, with his head down, finally looked up, and with tears in his eyes said, 'Save our jobs.' When I got back to Manchester that night, I read a story in the Union Leader about the United States Export-Import Bank funding a new paper mill in Mexico. What are we doing to our own people? (Story)
Key takeaways from this blog:
- "Primacy" states that people remember best what they hear first.
- "Recency" means people also strongly recall the end of a speech.
- The best way to open a speech is to use a strong grabber or hook.
- Choose a grabber based on your subject knowledge and the audience's.
- Be creative, since you want your presentation to stand out from the rest!
Dr. Genard's previous blogs related to this topic:
Want to be a dynamic speaker or presenter? Then you'd better learn body language!
Listen, there's a lot of paint-by-number body language advice out there, especially concerning reading what you're seeing. Follow those tips if you want to stay confused and in the weeds. ("She just tucked her hair behind her ear. What does it mean?")
If on the other hand you want to understand how true leaders move when they speak in public, you have to take a different approach. At Public Speaking International, we tell our executive speech coaching clients to forget the how-to advice. How many leaders do you know who hold themselves and move in specific ways because someone told them they ought to do so?
You should understand this general rule instead: do what you find natural in terms of movement and gestures. Make it strong, limited, and controlled . . . but make it natural. (For powerful tips on using nonverbal communication effectively, download our Learning Guide "How to Use Body Language and Gestures as a Speaker.")
In terms of prescriptions, it's more helpful to learn how to avoid the errors that will brand you as an amateur. This article discusses five of those errors. Avoid them at all costs if you want your speech or presentation to be the stuff of history, rather than sly grins and rolling eyes (now there's an easily read gesture!).
1. Splitting Your Focus: Appropriately enough given its title, this error involves poor eye contact. You've seen this again and again: the speaker splits his or her attention between the audience and their notes (or alternatively, the PowerPoint screen). It looks like this: A few words delivered to the audience, then a quick glance down at the page or the screen, some more words to the listeners, back to the page, another remark to the by-now suffering audience, then another glance tossed toward the screen, etc.
Why is this speaker doing this? Is her name written on her 3 x 5 cards? Does he need to remind himself of his title and the company he works for? The answer is self-consciousness. Audiences are often strangers, and one's notes (or the PowerPoint screen) is a familiar life preserver—one that speaker will hang on to for dear life! But your greeting is THE section of your presentation where you open a communication channel with your audience. Give them 100% of your eye contact as you talk straight to them. You're saying things you don't need to look down to discover. So don't.
2. Weak or Unbalanced Stance: Take a look at this photograph from October 2005:
The gentleman on the left is former Sen. Arlen Specter. But who is that in the right of the photo? If you guessed Harriet Miers, you hereby receive the Fairly Recent American History Award. As you no doubt recall, Ms. Miers is the former White House Counsel who President George W. Bush nominated for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. The nomination was withdrawn quickly, however. Could it be because of Ms. Miers's stance in this photo?
Compare the two newsmakers in the shot: Sen. Specter, feet planted firmly on the floor, hands at sides, ready to wage political warfare for party and country. What might we say about Ms. Miers stance? Clearly, it's weak and literally unbalanced. If you stand like this, you'll never make it to the Supreme Court! Okay . . . I know that did the trick to dissaude you from looking like this when you speak.
3. Closed Gestures. Self-consciousness often causes us to "close" our gestures when presenting. Few activities equal public speaking in our minds in terms of leaving us exposed and vulnerable (it's actually a great opportunity, but I did say "in our minds," didn't I?). So what do we do to protect ourselves?
We begin to close shop. This often involves holding our arms and hands somewhere in the region of our breastbone, and gesturing weakly. What it's really doing from the audience's point of view is giving them example after example of you or me clasping our hands or otherwise creating a literal barrier between us and our listeners.
The most notorious of the closed gestures is the "fig leaf" position, meaning the speaker places his or her hands in front of, er, the place that he or she would most like to . . . Well, let's just say they put their hands where those fig leafs appear in old illustrations and on ancient statues. Now, in the spirit of venturing across the political aisle, here are two individuals giving us a lovely rendition of the fig leaf position as they wait to speak:
Fig Leaf Position
4. Poor Use of Space: You may be the CEO of a multinational corporation; or you may be the administrative assistant of that CEO, tasked with reporting on where the company should hold this year's annual retreat. In terms of public speaking, you are equally a leader. Leaders command the space that is due them. They use the space that is rightly theirs, employing their physical position in relation to their audience, the points they are making, their visual aids, and the segment of their talk they are currently delivering (their clincher, for instance, should be given "down center" as we say in the theater).
Shy or reluctant speakers, on the other hand, don't command either space or their audience's attention. They may even try to diminish their presence by folding in on themselves until they occupy a tiny invisible space--just as though there's a force field past which they aren't allowed to venture.
5. The Tiger in the Cage Syndrome: Finally, let us learn a lesson from the world of bad motivational speakers. Too many of these speakers stride the length of the stage, gesturing wildly in an attempt to substitute excitement for value. You've seen them; and you've heard them as they shout something desperate like "Give it up!" to make you believe there really is something of worth going on in the room.
Most of all, avoid the back-and-forth-back-and-forth-back-and-forth marathon that such speakers inflict on captive audiences. My goodness, I'm exhausted just thinking about it. But don't go overboard on the other side of the ship, remaining stock still in an example of the Block of Wood Syndrome. This is especially dangerous if you're speaking behind a lectern, since that structure, thinking you are made of wood as it is, will try to absorb you.
In terms of what we reveal in our nonverbal communication rather than what we say, you could do worse than remembering what a lifelong student of human behavior had to say on this point:
"Though we may lie with our lips, betrayal oozes out of us at every pore."
That's Sigmund Freud.
Takeaways from this blog:
- Body language is an essential tool of all dynamic public speaking.
- Avoid the "rules" for recognizing others' motives through their body language.
- Effective speakers stay grounded and focused in terms of eye contact and stance.
- Leaders command space by their physical relationship with their audience.
Dr. Genard's previous blogs on this topic:
Imagine: You're on the phone with a decision-maker you've been trying to reach forever. You've finally succeeded, and now you're making your pitch. . . . But something's wrong. That other person somehow seems, well, distant. They're grunting in reply to what you're saying. But is that a mouse-click you're hearing? And, yes, you can repeatedly hear the telltale sound of papers being turned over and shuffled.
You come to the dreaded conclusion you were trying to avoid: your decision-maker is multitasking.
As you hang up knowing your pitch didn't succeed, you wish you could get rid of every distraction that siphoned off the other person's attention and interest.
Why do you think it's any difference for your audiences when you speak?
From unproductive self-talk ("They don't look interested!") to worrying you'll forget your main points, to obsessing over the point you wanted to make a few minutes ago, too many of us do or think too much when speaking. And if there's ever a time when we need to unlearn that five-balls-in-the-air skill that's become ubiquitous to modern life, public speaking is it!
Focus, Focus, Focus . . . It's More Important Than Your Location
At Public Speaking International, we work with clients to help them achieve remarkable focus as speakers. We understand that speaking appearances are routinely anxiety-provoking, often creating a high degree of self-consciousness. Such a response can interfere with and even destroy your devotion to your audience and message: the guiding lights of your performance. (To prepare a presentation with maximum focus and efficiency, download our cheat sheet, "How to Prepare a Speech in 15 Minutes.")
When you stand outside yourself and judge your performance, you're splitting your focus. Your awareness suddenly exists in two places at once: your own head (awareness directed inward), and your audience (awareness directed outward). Essentially, you're performing two tasks at the same time, one concerned with your listeners and the other concerned with yourself. You're multitasking.
The Magic of Doing One Thing at a Time
I thought of the dangers of multitasking for public speaking recently when I read Tony Schwartz's essay, "The Magic of Doing One Thing at a Time." Schwartz mostly discusses the hazards of technology that lure us into a multitasked universe.
More devices and more tools increase the distraction level. And when you consider that 60% of workplace distractions come from email and social networking, and 14% of workers say they will tune out a meeting to tweet or update their status on a social network, this is serious.
Think about all those "labor-saving devices" that have proven, so far, to be anything but helpmates that save us time. Similar seductions exist for splitting our attention even without technology, however.
That's what I thought when I read Schwartz's piece, in which he makes some excellent points about resisting multitasking in order to increase our productivity, renew ourselves, and avoid "living in the gray zone."
Well, that's a good way to describe multitasking speakers! I thought. So here's a modest three-part assignment for speaking effectively for your important audiences and listeners:
- Pay attention to your breathing. Breathe diaphragmatically to develop a powerful, resonant voice that carries. Also learn to control your exhalation. The most important word or phrase usually comes at the end of a sentence, and you need to have sufficient air to punch it enough so that your listeners "get it." Focus on breathing productively and you'll stay in the moment, sure of getting your important points across.
- Notice but don't latch onto intrusive thoughts. Avoid two dangerous paths: engaging unwilling thoughts, or fighting them off. As human beings, we'll always be distracted by unwelcome thoughts when we need to concentrate on something else. Self-consciousness about ourselves as a speaker, for instance, may occur frequently. Learn to "notice" that you're having such a thought then let it continue on its way. Bring your attention back to your critical point and the audience's need to hear it.
- Discover mindfulness. A Buddhist term, "mindfulness" means being fully present in the moment. As speakers, we like to think that we are, but the truth is we often aren't. Only when you and your audience share the moment-by-moment unfolding of your narrative will true influence, even transformation, take place. The more you learn to be mindful in everyday situations, the more easily it will happen in high-stakes speaking situations. Read Thich Nhat Hanh's wonderful book The Miracle of Mindfulness to learn more.
Do these things as a speaker, and you will serve the task at hand powerfully and effectively. Your audiences demand nothing less, and few tactics will help you more in staying out of the gray zone and coming across in living color.
Watch Dr. Genard's video, "How to Connect with Your Audience":
Read more of Dr. Genard's theater-based techniques in his groundbreaking book How to Give a Speech.
Takeaways from this blog:
- The multitasking you're so proud of will actually undermine your speeches and presentations.
- Controlled diaphragmatic breathing is your key to a resonant voice.
- It's not only technology that seduces us into multitasking.
- Learn mindfulness in everyday situations. You'll be a more disciplined and powerful speaker.
Dr. Genard's previous blogs on this topic:
Want to create magic when you speak? Let's go there. (Click here to download our cheat sheet, "5 Ways to Captivate an Audience.")
You'll first have to step with me into the Way Back machine. We'll set the dial for 800 B.C., and the Way Back positioning system (the WPS) for the Eastern Mediterranean . . . .
Johannes Gutenberg vs. the Cyclops
We're here to witness the episode of Odysseus and the Cyclops from the Odyssey. As you'll recall, as Odysseus and his men return from Troy, they run into a nasty character named Polyphemus: a gigantic cyclops with a taste for men. One by one, he dashes the Greeks' brains out and devoures them. But clever Odysseus gets the monster drunk, drives a sharpened stake into his single eye, and leads his men to escape by clinging to the wool underneath the cyclops's sheep. (Blinded, Polyphemus feels each sheep as it leaves his cave.)
Of all the stories in the Odyssey, Odysseus and the cyclops remains the most remembered. Imagine how thrilling this tale must have been as it was read (and probably sung) by a bard in ancient Greece. And that is when a change took place, around 800 B.C.: Shortly after Homer lived, the Western world was introduced to the written rather than the oral word. We went, that is, from a world of orality to one of literacy.
Audiences at speeches and presentations have been paying the price ever since.
The Chasm Every Speaker Faces
Since Homer's time, in stories, plays, books, and essays, we've become increasingly trapped in a bookish world. "Trapped" because the literary approach, although deeply rich, is not as immediate as the world of orality. Authors and essayists live by the pen. Bards, actors, singers, and public speakers all live in, and for, the world of oral performance. Audiences listen (and watch) in real time, which is the only time these performers have to reach them.
Yet how do we prepare our speeches and presentations? . . . We write them down—whether on a yellow legal pad, keyboard, iPad, or PowerPoint slides. We are comfortable in this world because it is what our schools teach us. We inhabit the inner salons of our literary preparation, then try to leap over the chasm between that world and the oral world where our presentation lives or dies.
Do As I Say, Not As I Write
It may seem self-evident that a speech's words need to be conceived to be heard rather than read. But how many of us truly listen to the sound of words in our own ears so that they'll reach the ears of our listeners? And not only the words! What about rhythm, cadence, the music of language, the sound-sense of terms and phrases? What about conciseness and impact? How effectively, we can ask ourselves, do we use silence? Do we employ that particular speaking tool at all?
When it comes to speeches and presentations, speaking for the ear rather than the eye is the forest we don't see for the trees. The great science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke once said, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." So is public speaking that lives fully and lustily in the world of oral performance.
Read more of Dr. Genard's theater-based techniques in his groundbreaking book How to Give a Speech. Learn the approach that has helped thousands of business professionals worldwide! Find the paperback and Kindle editions here.
Takeaways from this blog:
- Speaking is fundamentally different from writing as a form of communication.
- Written language can take its time; spoken language must be immediate and visceral.
- An oral presentation demands words conceived for in-person audiences listening in real time.
- Not only words but the rhythm and music of language are important.
Dr. Genard's previous blogs on this topic: