The Sit-Down Presentation: Can it Be Effective?

One question I get asked regularly is about sitting down to present. If there are only a few people in the room, if it’s an informal setting or if it’s a board meeting and all the board is sitting,  I want to send out a casual message. I don’t want to be too authoritative – then can I present sitting down?

Often the real reason people want to present while sitting down is that something happens in their head when they sit: it no longer feels like a presentation or a speech, but rather a conversation. And so they don’t get nervous.

Anything to avoid that horrible feeling of adrenaline coursing through your system, right?

And that becomes a circular argument for sitting down – if I don’t get nervous then I present better and if I’m presenting better doesn’t it make sense to sit down?

A recent study comparing students who sat and students who were given standing desks sheds a little light on this question. It turns out that the standing students were able to focus better and longer than the sitting ones. So you think better on your feet.

Now there’s a reason for speakers to stand. You think better. That reason alone should nullify all the other arguments for sitting.

But if it doesn’t, then here’s a more reasoned one. Think about what you’re giving up when you sit. Authority is naturally taken by the person standing in a room full of seated people. If you sit down, you give up the authority and let other people take it or at least share it. The result is that it’s much harder for a speaker to hold the floor if he is seated during the presentation.

I worked with a CEO once that I persuaded to try the following experiment. He had issues with people deferring to his authority too much, and he was working with me on developing a more collegial style of communications. Just for fun, I suggested that he use a body language trick to change the authority dynamic in the room when he was meeting with his direct reports.

I suggested to him that they would naturally defer to him by keeping their head lower than his. He was skeptical, but offered to watch out for it. Specifically, I instructed him to start lowering his head in his next meeting, very slowly, by leaning back in his chair and sliding down surreptitiously.

When I chatted with him after the meeting, he was still laughing about it. He had become a believer in the power of body language, because as he lowered his head (very, very slowly) he saw each of his direct reports do the same thing, keeping their heads lower than his. By the end of the meeting, everyone was nearly under the table.

Here’s the kicker. No one was aware of what was going on. The CEO couldn’t believe it, but he had seen it (indeed, controlled it) himself.

Authority is very precisely determined by relative height. Standing up takes authority naturally without having to be pushy. Sitting down gives it up.

I usually recommend people to do the opposite – i.e., start out seated, and then seize the moment and the authority when you’re ready to speak by standing up. It’s a natural, effortless sign that you’re ready to go.

Why would you do otherwise?

Many times working with clients I’ve seen the moment when a client gets the new way of thinking about his or her topic that I’m suggesting – it’s usually when they stand up. They’re taking charge. They get it. They’re ready to run with the idea.

Now I’ll be doubly pleased because I know that they’ll think better on their feet. And it’s my excuse to keep standing.

So you can sit down to present. But now you know how much you’re giving up.

About the Author:

Dr. Nick Morgan is one of America’s top communication theorists and presentation skill coaches. In his blog he covers modern communications from a variety of angles, including the latest developments in communication research, the basic principles and rules of good communication and the good and bad speakers of the day. For more information about his coaching services or books, visit www.publicwords.com

3 Tips for Handling Hostile Questions During Presentations

Chances are that you’ve seen the following happen more than once: A colleague builds a beautiful case to support his recommendation. Then comes the relentless questioner who pummels him with questions that seem to have nothing to do with the core case, and the colleague limps to a close as if he’d been attacked by war planes rather than stung by a B-B gun.

If you haven’t experienced this in real life, you’ve certainly seen it on TV press conferences.

People ask hostile questions for any number of reasons:

  • They disagree with what you have said or have wrong information.
  • You have not established credibility with them.
  • They’ve misunderstood you.
  • They think they are “saving the day” for everyone else or their entire organization.
  • Their personality makes them always look for the cloud in every silver lining.
  • They are angry with someone else and are taking it out on you—consciously or unconsciously.

Whatever the reason, your presentation success and credibility often rides on your ability to remain unruffled and walk away from the situation on a positive note with an air of confidence. Here are three tips that can help you do just that.

Rephrase a Legitimate Question… Minus the Hot Words and Hostile Tone

If the question is, “Why are you demanding that we submit these forms with an approval signature? I think that’s totally unreasonable,” try rephrasing it to emphasize its validity, and then respond:

“Why do we think the forms should have an approval signature? Well, first of all, the approval signature allows us to. . . .”

Don’t feel that you have to refute an opposing view in great detail, particularly if the hostile view is not well supported itself. Simply comment: “No, I don’t think that’s the case.” No elaboration is necessary.

Your answer will sound authoritative and final and will make the asker appear rude and argumentative if he or she rephrases and continues.

1) Upgrade the Tone

Avoid matching hostility with hostility; try to maintain a congenial tone and body language. The audience almost always will side (or at least respect and empathize) with the person who remains calm and courteous.  Keep in mind that how you answer questions will be remembered more clearly and for much longer than what you say.

2) Acknowledge and Accept Feelings

Try to determine possible reasons for any hostility. By acknowledging and legitimizing the feelings of the asker, you may defuse the hostility and help the other person receive your answer in a more open manner.

Examples: “It sounds as though you’ve been through some difficult delays with this supplier” or “I don’t blame you for feeling as you do, given the situation you describe. I’m just glad that has been the exception rather than the rule in working with this audit group.”

3) State Your Own Experience and Opinion

People can argue with your statistics, data, surveys, and facts indefinitely. But they cannot argue with your experience. It’s yours, not theirs.

After you’ve listened and acknowledged their opinion and feelings, feel free to end by stating your own in a non-confrontational way. “My experience has been different. Based on X, Y, and Z, it’s my opinion that ABC approach will work in our situation.”  Then break eye contact and move ahead.

Your audience will take their final cues from you.  Make them positive.

About the Author:

Booher Consultants, a communications training firm, works with business leaders and organizations to increase effectiveness through better oral, written, interpersonal, and enterprise-wide communication. Founder Dianna Booher is the author of 46 books, published in 26 languages. Recent titles include Creating Personal Presence: Look, Talk, Think, and Act Like a Leader and Communicate With Confidence! The Revised and Expanded Edition. For more information, visit www.Booher.com
Copyright © Booher Consultants; article used with permission.

Leaders: Use Story to Create the Future

Lou Gerstner, the IBM CEO who led Big Blue out of the wilderness, said, “I tell Wall Street stories about IBM’s future because facts about the future do not exist.” What sets competitors apart today are not the scientific skills of dueling algorithms, but the aesthetic talents of storytelling: imagination, insight and creativity. With enough data, any executive can read a cross-section of the now; only a few, like Lou Gerstner, can author the future.

Story is more than a communications tool, more than a sales tool; it is a decision-making tool. I mentor my clients in all three uses of story-in-business: to bond, to persuade, to envision. Each of the three has three dimensions.

TO BOND: Use story to:

1) Speak in a human voice that creates empathy between employer and employee, building engagement in the work.

2) Inspire teamwork within and across corporate divisions.

3) Enhance the flow of communication up, down and across the corporation’s pyramid of power.

TO PERSUADE: Use story to:

1) Create positive brand awareness in the public’s mind.

2) Forge new markets within that public.

3) Sell. The modern business wraps its identity in the meaningful emotional web of story to capture the customer’s awareness and persuade sales. Compare the engaged storytelling of Siemens’ highly effective branding campaign, Answers, with the syrupy, eye-fatiguing montages of Cisco’s failed and abandoned campaign, The Human Network.

TO ENVISION: Shape knowledge and feeling into the form of story to:

1) Broaden and deepen an executive’s wisdom,

2) So he or she can make effective decisions based on both hard and soft data, and

3) Lead implementation of this strategy the way a great author guides the reader through a novel. Executive genius is a kind of literary genius.

The story a leader tells becomes corporate strategy, a map to the future others can follow to a success-filled climax.

The higher up the pyramid of power an executive ascends, the broader and deeper her vision. The more distant her horizon, the more all-inclusive her wisdom. The more complete her story, the more impactful her decisions.

Reliance on data, coupled with an inability to express oneself in story leads to disengaged employees, bland marketing, failed deal making and, most critically, bad decisions. In 2013, Siemens fired its CEO Peter Loescher because, as the German press put it, “He had no story.” Imagining corporate life like an author actually makes decisions all the more logical, all the more insightful.

A leader sees possible futures; his decisions create the future. When you use your imagination to envision the world in story form, you can sense how your corporation’s desire will rub against the world’s antagonisms before this friction sets events on fire. Story gives you foresight to see the consequences of future events long before they happen. A leader prepares for change no matter how illogical its cause. In fact, sensitivity to irrational change is quintessentially rational … if you wish to lead.

Until recently we’ve only been able to speculate about persuasive effects of storytelling. But throughout the last decades, neuroscience has researched the relationship between story and the human mind, and results repeatedly show that our attitudes, hopes and values are story driven. Fiction changes beliefs far faster than logical argument. Lawyers understand this.

Evidence has its place, but a trial tells two stories—one of which the jury believes.

Therefore, this caveat: Although we tend to watch PowerPoint presentations with skepticism, when a story absorbs us, we drop our intellectual guard. The mind-molding power of story may blind us in ways only facts can prevent. Therefore, a business leader has an ethical obligation to only use story in service of what he deeply believes to be a positive, human value.

A powerfully told tale always seems like a gift. But a story is actually a delivery system for the teller’s theme and purpose. A story sneaks a message into the fortified citadel of the human mind and can be an instrument for good or ill. Like fire, it can warm a civilization or burn it down.

Story is morally neutral. It can express profound truth or propaganda. The two greatest political storytellers of the 20th Century were Winston Churchill and Adolph Hitler. Because storytelling is a form of persuasive jujitsu, and because the world is full of black- belt storytellers, the corporate leader has to train both his offensive and defensive moves. Like a magician’s sleight of hand, storytellers use empathy and curiosity to distract critical thinking.

So while you work to master storytelling for the corporate good, it’s equally important that you learn to see the pitch coming so you steel yourself against the power of “Once upon a time …”

Want to find out more about why story works in business?

• Read Robert McKee’s FREE white paper on how to incorporate story into your business. Click here to access the full white paper.

• Join Robert McKee for his STORY-IN-BUSINESS seminar on September 26 in New York City. This exclusive, one-day event shows businesspeople how to create and use stories to persuade, inspire and engage employees and customers. As a PresentationXpert reader, save $50 when you use promo code SIB50Off to register!

About the Author:

Robert McKee is “the world’s best-known and most respected screenwriting lecturer,” according to the Harvard Business Review. He has been helping writers tell powerful stories for more than 25 years through his legendary STORY Seminar and his award-winning book, STORY: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting. More than 100,000 students have completed his courses, including numerous Academy Award, Emmy Award, Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winners. Now Robert McKee is helping business leaders from companies like Microsoft, HP, Siemens, Mercedes-Benz, Time Warner, The Boldt Company and others use story to more effectively persuade and engage their various stakeholders. Find out more about Robert McKee, his STORY seminars and additional resources to support writers by visiting McKeeStory.com.

How to Thrive in a Challenging Speaking Situation

Not long ago I had the pleasure of working with Carolyne Stayton, the Executive Director of Transition US. Transition US is a resource and catalyst for building resilient communities across the United States that are able to withstand severe energy, climate, or economic shocks while creating a better quality of life in the process.

Carolyne was scheduled to give a speech at the Bioneers conference in Marin County, CA, and she needed help with her preparation. Bioneers is a non-profit educational organization that highlights breakthrough solutions for restoring people and planet. Since 1990, Bioneers has acted as a fertile hub of social and scientific innovators with nature-inspired approaches for the world’s most pressing environmental and social challenges.

Carolyn’s topic was “Resilient Communities: Mobilizing and Equipping Local Citizen Action.” Here’s how she began her speech:

I’d like to begin by using the analogy of  “the story.”  In our climate story, we are entering the chapter where the dragon has arrived. He’s breathing fire and scorching our crops. He’s melting the ice and causing tornadoes where they’ve never been seen before. He’s flooding our rivers, our cities, and our towns. And he’s madly extracting oil from our fragile landscapes.

So where did this dragon come from?  He came from our decades of wonton consumerism. He came from our explosive carbon lifestyle. And he came from our blatant disregard for the laws of nature. This sounds like a pretty bleak chapter in the story, doesn’t it? It sounds like a story you want to put down and not finish.

But I’ve got good news for you. We are also at the point in the story where the hero arrives to save the day. And the best news of all is this: the hero is YOU!  My purpose here today is to give you the information, tools, and resources you need to confront the dragon head on, to slay him. To sauté him.  And to serve him up at a pot luck supper!”

The night before Carolyn was scheduled to give her speech, she sent me an email. She said she had the jitters and needed a last minute pep talk. I sent her a list of some things to do to further prepare her body and mind. Among them was to limit caffeine, drink plenty of water, sit quietly and breathe deeply, and visualize success before her talk.

Two days later I received another email from Carolyn. Here’s what she wrote:

Thank you so much for the last minute tips and for all of the wisdom you imparted. They really helped me.  Among other things, I was very conscious of my breath all through Saturday. I stayed away from caffeine and I did drink lots of water. But I do have a story for you.

Fifteen minutes before my presentation, I was sitting on a bench in the sun, feeling my heart and connecting right through my legs and feet to the earth. Unbeknownst to me, my water bottle had tipped and had poured all over my notes AND the back of my skirt. Basically I was sitting in a puddle!

I had to wring my skirt out, walk onto the stage, and stand before the audience with a skirt clinging to the back of my legs and wet underwear! My practice and work on the presentation saved me. But instead of being nicely grounded in my heart, I was definitely more in my head.  Apparently no one else noticed!  So to add to your book of what not to do (fig leaf, etc.) feel free to add “don’t pour water on your butt”! Geez. Without your help, having the water incident happen would have absolutely immobilized me. Fortunately, I delivered adequately and from some comments, very well.  Thanks from the bottom of my heart.

There is a lesson here. Even when you are prepared, confident, centered, and in control, things happen out of the blue. Good speakers take these unwelcome incidents in stride and roll with them, keeping perspective, going back to the long hours of preparation and planning, and moving on as if nothing had happened.

So the next time you’re ready to present and suddenly realize that you’ve just sat in a puddle of water, or that you forgot your slides at your office across town, or that your room set up is not what you expected, or anything else that could possibly happen, relax and rely on your practice, wisdom, and expertise to pull you through.

When you’re prepared and confident, you can thrive in even the most challenging speaking situations.

About the Author:

Angela DeFinis is the founder and president of DeFinis Communications, a presentation skills training company that offers a curriculum of professional public speaking programs and services for Fortune 1,000 companies in all industries. Specializing in Executive Speech Coaching, DeFinis Communications helps business leaders find solutions to their presentation challenges so they can successfully compete in a demanding marketplace. Visit her web site at www.definiscommunications.com

 

 

 

Secrets to Practicing Your Presentation When You Have No Time

By Michelle Mazur

By far, the most popular post on my site is 8 Steps for Practicing a Presentation. To me that means you are looking for help on how to practice a presentation so you can execute a successful speech. We know we have to practice, but practice seems like an abstract, daunting task. The biggest objection I hear from clients about practicing a presentation is…I don’t have time to practice. I understand the problem. I don’t have time to practice my presentations either…and frankly I am the type of presenter who does not enjoy practicing at all. My little hater comes out in full force! Let’s go through step-by-step and discuss some strategies that will save you time.Step One: Divvy Up Your Presentation into Bite-Size Chunks.

If you are doing a 30-, 60- or even 90-minute speech, you do NOT have to practice your presentation all at once. Repeat you do NOT have to rehearse your entire presentation in one sitting. Break-up your presentation in small bite-size chunks. Divide it up by introduction, each main point, and your conclusion. If it is a longer presentation, break the body of the speech down into its sub-points.Think of this as portion control for practicing your speech. It makes practice less daunting.

Step Two: Find small chunks of time.

Now that you know that you don’t have to practice the presentation all at once, start finding pockets of time for small presentation practice sessions. This means driving in your car is a great time to practice. 10 minutes between calls – practice. Taking a shower – forget singing – try practicing.

There’s all kinds of time to rehearse when you don’t have to find a huge chunk of time!

Step Three: Don’t always start from the beginning.

You need to know your introduction well!  However, don’t always start your rehearsals at the beginning. Every time you are practicing think about what you need to go over the most. In which part of the presentation is the information most difficult for you?  Which part of the speech have you not practiced yet? Start there!

Step Four: Practice does not always have to be out loud.

Practicing your speech out loud is a must. However, you don’t always have to practice out loud. Visualization is a form of practicing. Going through the speech in your head is a way to rehearse. Even if you just want to write the speech out – guess what you are practicing.

Step Five: Do one complete run through with tech.

You have to find the time to do at least ONE complete run through with your tech (microphone, PowerPoint, media, whatever). This insures that you are staying within the time limits, your transitions are good and that all your technology is in working order.

About the Author:

Dr. Michelle Mazur is a public speaking coach, communication expert and author of the Relationally Speaking blog.

4 Presentation Strategies for a C-Level Audience

By Rick Gilbert

When I joined Hewlett-Packard as a quality assurance training manager 20 years ago, I had zero business experience. I had been a college instructor, a consultant, and a psychologist, but I had never read an annual report or laid eyes on a spreadsheet. I didn’t know the difference between ROI and an IOU.

After six months on the job, I secured a brief meeting with the general manager and his team. I urgently needed their support for a quality training program I was launching. I strode confidently into the meeting clueless about who was going to be there and their job titles or hidden agendas. I may as well have been blindfolded; I was in the dark.

I helped myself to a pastry, and took a seat at the table—my first two mistakes. I had prepared 50 overhead slides (before the days of PowerPoint) for my 20-minute presentation, which amounted to 49 more slides than anyone wanted to see. I opened the presentation with a long story to warm up the audience. (Note to self: Senior executives do not need or want “warming up.”)

The general manager ended the meeting after just seven minutes, and I failed to get support for that critical training program. While riding the elevator down to my office after the meeting, I was haunted by a nagging question: “What just happened?” It was 20 years before I would answer that question.

Different presentation rules

If you are in middle management, ambiguity and chaos are daily realities. Additionally, you must gain approval from the people at the top to get things done. Resources are limited. To make matters worse, colleagues in finance, IT, and marketing are after the same resources. You know what works in team meetings at your peer level: stories, PowerPoint slides, one-way communication with minimal Q&A, and no interruptions.

You realize that the rules for presenting to top-level leaders are different, but what are they? If you solved this mystery, you’d be more likely to receive the project funding and support that you need.

To uncover these rules, I’ve interviewed 50 executives during the past 10 years. These leaders shared how to effectively present to the C-suite: know the people and big picture, make the bottom line your first line, deliver with confidence, and facilitate through improvisation. I only regret that I didn’t know these strategies years ago.

Know the people and big picture

Find answers to the following questions before the presentation: Who will be in the meeting? What are their titles? What are their agendas, and how do they feel about each other? Who will support you and who will oppose you? Typically, you will have a sponsor—for example, the director of human resources. That person can tell you what to expect, and can get the meeting back on track if it derails.

C-level leaders are a unique audience. They are bright, competitive, and analytical. They never have enough time in any given day, must meet their numbers, and have little job security.

An executive stays in his position for an average of 23 months. One study shows that if a company’s stock price increases after its CEO has filled the role for one year, 75 percent of new CEOs keep their jobs. If the stock price goes down, 83 percent do not keep their jobs. The C-suite is often a revolving door.

Additionally, it’s important to understand the expenses accrued from a top-level meeting. Assembling five C-level leaders from a $5 billion company costs shareholders $30,000 per hour. CEOs report that 67 percent of the meetings they attend with subordinates are total failures—resulting in a huge productivity loss for the company.

Make the bottom line your first line

“You have 30 seconds to get my attention and tell me what you are here for. If you don’t, I’m on my smartphone, and you’ve lost me,” says Steve Blank, founder and former CEO of Epiphany.

The first rule of content development for a C-suite presentation is to position the bottom line as your first line. Immediately tell the audience why you are there and what you want. If you want money, include ROI calculations so the executives will know what they’ll get for their investment in your training project.

Skip the storytelling that works so well at your peer-level team meetings. Executives simply don’t have time for it. Get right to the point, and do so with data.

Be careful with PowerPoint. Using PowerPoint in an executive meeting is a sure way to run your career into the ditch and lose support for your program. The C-suite wants a discussion, not a slide-driven lecture. In fact, Ned Barnholt, chairman of KLA-Tencor, says he doesn’t have confidence in a speaker who can’t talk without slides.

To increase your credibility with a C-level audience, decrease the number of presentation slides. When you are finished with the slides, ensure that the screen is blank—this will refocus the attention back on you.

Deliver with confidence

Strategy and content trump delivery style every time at senior meetings. Your delivery pales in comparison with the importance of your content.

However, executives have no time for poor presenters. They are looking for a confident, energetic, committed presenter, but not a slick, motivational, inflated presentation. Polish your basic delivery skills: practice eye contact, vocal projection, and gestures.

Stand tall and be expansive. Not only will such body posture show executives you’re a horse worth betting on, but it also affects your biology. A recent Harvard University study shows that physically filling space has positive effects on one’s hormones: The stress hormone cortisol decreases 25 percent while testosterone increases 17 percent.

Facilitate through improvisation

According to one CEO, “Eighty percent of your success at the top is your facilitation skills. Only 20 percent is your content.”

Facilitation includes listening and improvising. Listening means not only paraphrasing what people are saying to confirm your understanding, but also “reading the room.” As you present, watch the reactions of your executive audience. Be willing to address what you observe happening, and if necessary, take action to correct it. In a word, improvise.

Below are the most common facilitation challenges and the solutions.

  • Time cut. Be prepared with a shorter, five-minute version of your presentation.
  • Disengaged executives. When people start checking their email, reconfirm that the topic is still important.
  • Decision maker leaves. Before this person gets out the door, ask her what to do next, such as wait until she returns or move forward with the decision.
  • Topic change. Be prepared to improvise the agenda and change directions.
  • Side talk. Refocus the audience on the agenda. Request help from your sponsor or the most senior person.
  • Energetic discussion. When executives are fully engaged and throwing out new ideas, capture what is said and then reconfirm after the meeting.

Lessons learned

Years ago, when I sat at the table during my first executive presentation, I implied a peer relationship with the leaders. And when I ate one of the group’s snacks, I was driving nails into my own coffin. I was a “dead man walking” before showing my first slide—and I didn’t even know it.

Learn from my mistakes. Remember that you are a guest at the C-level meeting, not a member of this high-powered club. Know who is there, and their relationships with one another. Have a sponsor to help you out of any possible meeting train wrecks. Keep your questions focused and immediate and the PowerPoint slides to a bare minimum. Finally, constantly listen and improvise.

Had I known any of this at my first meeting with the general manager, I may have received support for that critical training program. With these tools, now you can improve your chances of success.

About the Author:

Rick Gilbert is the founder and chairman of PowerSpeaking Inc., a speech communications company  that has worked with Silicon Valley companies since 1985.  He also is creator of the award-winning program Speaking Up: Presenting to Executives,  and author of Speaking Up: Surviving Executive Presentations. Reprinted from ASTD.org

 

 

Are You a Communicator or a Public Speaker?

By Nancy Duarte

It’s rare for me to read a book on presentations and learn something but I did in the book, Habitudes for Communicators: The Art of Engaging Communication from Tim Elmore. Elmore uses sticky metaphors that help you remember his concepts. His chapter heads are metaphorical like “Windows and Mirrors”, “the Faded Flag” and “The Thomas Nast Principle.”

He has great insights throughout the book. For example, in “Windows and Mirrors” he proposes that there’s a gap between communicators and public speakers:

A Public Speaker:                                                                                                                

1) Puts the Message Before the People

2) Asks: What Do I Have?

3) Emphasizes Techniques

4) Focus is on Content of the Words

5) Polished (Image Conscious)

6) Goal: Complete the Message

Communicator:

1) Puts the People Before the Message

2) Asks: What Do They Need?

3) Emphasizes Atmosphere

4) Focus is Change in the Listeners

5) Personal (Impact Conscious)

6) Goal: Complete the People

At the end of each chapter is a quiz, but Elmore’s also put those questions into an online assessment to rank yourself to see how you’re doing as a communicator. He asks questions like “I tend to focus on being simple more than comprehensive.” It shoots out a score when you’re done. This book is full of fresh insights that I haven’t seen in any other presentation book, so it’s worth picking up.

About the Author:

Nancy Duarte is the CEO of presentations firm Duarte Design, whose clients include many innovative Fortune 1000 companies in diverse industries. Duarte worked with Al Gore to develop the presentation that became the Academy Award-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth, and supports many conferences, including TED and PopTech. For more information about her company, visit www.duarte.com

Do You Have a Speaking Tic? These Tips Can Help

By Nick Morgan

Some people say “like” and “you know” so often that you want to strangle them. Others say “um” often and enthusiastically. Some people swallow nervously and spasmodically. Some people let their voice swing up in pitch at the end of every sentence as if they were always asking questions. For some, it’s happy feet – wandering around the stage as if they really loved walking and couldn’t wait to get off the platform.

I’ve seen a thousand tics over my years as a speech coach, and I’ve had a thousand people come up to me and point out someone else’s tic, usually in whispered tones, along with, “Can’t you fix them?”

Here’s the thing about tics. Of course, we’re better off without them, but they’re not really a problem unless an audience notices them, and they get in the way of comprehension.

Then we do have a problem, Houston. And it’s time to get out the taser and fix it. A few shocks later, and your tic is gone.

Just kidding. There are several relatively painless ways to fix a tic. My favorite is to get someone, a friend, to count the tics over some specified period of time, like a speech, and then charge the offender an agreed-upon sum for each offense. Usually a dollar is enough to get the malefactor’s attention. And you’d be astonished how quickly the tic goes away after you’ve had to pay up a couple of times.

Another method is to video the speaker and point out the tics. That’s usually enough for the speaker to want to stop, and wanting to stop is usually enough to allow them to do so.

If you’re one of those people who says ‘like’ or ‘you know’ or ‘um’ and you’re aware of it, then self-monitoring may be the simplest way to fix the problem. Notice yourself in a relatively low-stress situation – say, a conversation – and just stop talking when the urge to “um” comes over you. Don’t stop forever, just long enough to let a little pause in your conversation flow rather than the tic. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you can train yourself to do without the likes or you knows or ums. They just go away.

So let’s all calm down about tics and start quietly eliminating them on our own. I’ll have less to do as a coach, but that’s OK.

About the Author:

Dr. Nick Morgan is one of America’s top communication theorists and coaches. In his blog he covers modern communications from a variety of angles, including the latest developments in communication research, the basic principles and rules of good communication, and the good and bad speakers of the day. His passion is to connect the latest brain research with timeless insights into persuasive speaking in order to further our understanding of how people connect with one another. For more information on his company, visit www.publicwords.com

There Are No Mistakes: How Jazz Can Help Presenters

By Nick Morgan

If you’re a public speaker you live some intense moments of your life in the limelight, on stage, in front of an audience – and you know what it is to make mistakes. We all react differently to them. For some of us, mistakes are so terrifying a prospect that it takes all the joy out of the moment. And we agonize about them for hours – weeks – years – afterwards. For others, mistakes are merely the cost of doing business. And for still others, mistakes are opportunities.

Stefon Harris, an accomplished jazz performer on the vibraphone, gives a spirited explanation of what mistakes mean to jazz performers in a recent TED.com talk. I highly recommend the talk both for some great music and a wonderful insight into the nature of error. Stefon says, “There are no mistakes,” in jazz, and I think those of us who live in the public speaking world should embrace his attitude. There are no mistakes.

I spent years as an actor, and doing Improv, and while actors believe in mistakes (fluffing lines, missing an entrance, botching a cue), Improv people don’t. Everything that happens in Improv is simply grist for the mill. As soon as you let go of the idea of right and wrong, you start loosening up and getting good at Improv. The attitude again is liberating for public speakers.

The audience doesn’t know what you haven’t said. So don’t obsess about getting every word or phrase exactly right according to some text, or to some idea of perfection. Just deliver your message as best you can, with passion, to the audience in front of you. In the end, it’s about the audience, not about you anyway.

Stefon’s other insights from the improvisational world of jazz:

1. It’s all about the present. Everyone tells us to be in the moment – our yoga teachers, our life coaches, even the Dalai Lama. Stefon says jazz musicians have to be in the moment because there’s so much going on, you can’t possibly worry about the past or stress about the future.

Speakers take note, and focus on the moment.

2. Leading is about influence – and influence is about listening. Stefon demonstrates the difference between coming into a session and insisting on your musical ideas no matter what anyone else says, and listening. If you listen, then you’re inclined to pull ideas from the people around you, and they’re far more likely to follow your lead when the time comes. With enthusiasm. Audiences need the same treatment.

3. Good music comes from awareness and acceptance. You’ve got to be aware of your fellow musicians, and your audience, and accept what comes at you, so that you can turn it into music. The same attitude helps public speakers deal with the inevitable differences in the setting, the audience, and the moment.

4. No micromanaging. If you are rigid and uncompromising, your fellow musicians will get turned off. If you let everyone else have their say, you’ll be listened to more respectfully when your turn comes. In the same way, speakers need to work with each audience, and treat it with the respect that unique collection of individuals deserves.

Of course public speakers have a road map in their heads (and Power Point slides on their computers) about where they want their speeches to go. But if we can relax a little about the precise road we take, and allow the moment to dictate direction to us, then just like a jazz musician, we can find serendipity in each unique occasion.

About the Author:

Dr. Nick Morgan is one of America’s top communication theorists and coaches. In his blog he covers modern communications from a variety of angles, including the latest developments in communication research, the basic principles and rules of good communication, and the good and bad speakers of the day. His passion is to connect the latest brain research with timeless insights into persuasive speaking in order to further our understanding of how people connect with one another. For more information on his company, visit www.publicwords.com

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