Learn from, but don't imitate another speaker.The worst piece of advice anyone can give you—about speaking, at least—begins with the phrase, “Here’s what I would do, if I were you…”

You can learn from watching and analyzing masterful speakers. But don’t imitate them.

Some of my favorite speakers—people I consider masters of the craft—are casual and conversational. Some are heady and professorial. Some have a dry wit. Some use no humor at all. Some have a flat, almost deadpan delivery. Some are animated, bordering on melodramatic.

The only thing they have in common is this: they are completely, distinctly, unapologetically themselves.

Bob Newhart, the comedian known for his deadpan delivery and for playing the “straight man” surrounded by bizarre cast members and even more bizarre events, told an interviewer about one of his most frustrating professional experiences. A guest director for the long-running Bob Newhart Show kept pressing him to speed up his delivery and show more emotion. Finally, in exasperation he said, “Look, I do Bob Newhart That’s what I do. And that’s all I do.”

Study speakers you admire. Analyze how they look and sound in front of an audience. Join Toastmasters. Take a public speaking course. Maybe even work with a coach. But never do anyone other than yourself.

Your task is to work out how to bring your best self to your speeches and presentations.

Conflict, high stakes, passion

Great speeches are born in conflict. They address matters of consequence, when the stakes are high. They are delivered with passion and they rouse passion in the audience.

The ingredients of a great speech are conflict, high stakes, passion.

Think about the great speeches throughout history.

All the great (American) speeches I can think of off the top of my head are born in or arise from some deeply rooted conflict.

Conflict = the clash of opposing ideas, visions, policies, ideologies, systems, or ways of life.

(Conflict does not require, mind you, violence or hatred or contempt.)

  • Patrick Henry’s “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” opposed British rule.
  • Sojourner Truth’s “And Ain’t I a Woman” opposed male domination.
  • Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” opposed both slavery and the dissolution the country.
  • FDR’s “A Date which Will Live in Infamy” opposed the Japanese empire and its aggression.
  • Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” opposed racism.
  • Harvey Milk’s “My Name is Harvey Milk and I’m Here to Recruit you” opposed homophobia.

But conflict, by itself,  isn’t enough.

You can vehemently attack argyle socks, for example, but I’d be hard pressed to think of anyone who’d be interested or give your speech a second’s notice.

The central conflict of a speech has to be about something that matters. The stakes have to be high.

Political independence (Patrick Henry), women’s equality (Sojourner Truth), the abolition of slavery (Lincoln), waging war against an aggressor (FDR), racial equality (King), and social justice for gays and lesbians (Milk) — these are issues that matter. The forces arrayed against them (at the time) — the opposing powers — were menacing. Much was at stake.

Where there are conflict and high stakes, there is passion. In the speaker and in the audience.

There are, of course, great speeches from other countries. Wilberforce’s speeches opposing the slave trade. Zola’s courtroom speech. Churchill’s wartime speeches. And most recently, the Dutch Foreign Minister’s speech about the downing of Flight MH17. They all come to mind. And each in its own way reinforces my belief that great speeches are made up of conflict, high stakes, and passion.

What do you think? What speeches would you add to my very partial list?

Don't speak without a reasonPeople are giving too many speeches these days. Way too many. And it’s gotta stop.

Don’t get me wrong. I love speeches–good ones, anyway–and I believe that speeches are a great way to influence and inspire audiences. But people, especially leaders, are giving too many speeches and, by doing so, lessening their impact.

Here are 7 Reasons NOT to Give a Speech

1. You don’t have anything to say.

If you don’t have something intelligent, insightful, or helpful to say to a particular audience — or anything they haven’t heard before and already know — it would be better to say nothing at all.

2. It’s not the right time.

When do you address a pressing issue, a crisis, or a traumatic event? Do you speak when emotions are at a fever pitch, when wounds are fresh, or do you wait a while? And when it is too late? It takes wisdom to know when to speak and when to keep silent.

3. It’s not the right audience.

Don’t waste your time, consideration, and effort speaking to people who have no investment in you or your message, or who are clearly hostile and closed-minded. “Know your audience” is one of the most universally applicable pieces of advice when it comes to speaking. A corollary is, “Know which audiences aren’t your audience.”

4. It’s not the right event.

Most speakers underestimate the impact of the event in determining the success of their speeches. Before you agree to give a speech, find out 1) the schedule (when you’ll speak and what happens before, during, and after your speech, 2) the sponsoring organization, 3) the venue, 4) the room layout, and 5) physical factors (e.g. microphones, lighting, stage). I’ve been there, I know: some events are so poorly organized or present a different image from what you want to be associated with. If so, just say “no.”

5. You’re not the right person.

Just as some audiences aren’t right for you, you aren’t right for some audiences. Your unique values, interests, approach, personality, reputation, and style always come across in your speaking. (If they don’t, you’re doing something very, very wrong.) If you haven’t figured this out by now, I don’t know how to break it to you: not everyone will like you or trust you or be receptive to what you say. Vive la difference! Let someone else speak to them.

6. You don’t have the time.

Preparing a speech (a good one, anyway) requires time. Time to research your topic and your audience. Time to ponder. Time to craft your message and refine it. Time to rehearse it. If you don’t take the time, you’ll give a crappy speech or, at the very least, an utterly forgettable speech. Better not to give a speech at all than to give one that serves no purpose.

7. You don’t care.

If you aren’t passionate about the topic you’re asked to address, either find a way to turn the topic to something you do care about or decline to speak about it. How can you expect an audience to care about what you say when you don’t care?

Giving a speech is both an honor and an obligation, an opportunity to say and do something worthwhile. Use it wisely. You’ll have a greater impact if you speak less frequently and if speak only when you are the right person with the right message for the right audience at the right time.

Short speeches have advantages over long speechesA short speech isn’t necessarily a good speech, but a short speech has several advantages over a long speech.

First, a short speech is more likely to hold your audience’s attention.

Because today’s audiences have the attention span of a gnat, the longer you speak — even if you’re presenting brilliant, exciting ideas — the greater your odds of losing their interest.

Say what you have to say as concisely as possible and stop talking.

Second, a short speech forces you to say what you mean…and nothing more.

The only way to keep your speech short is to develop a razor-sharp focus: develop one, and only one, idea. If you can’t sum up the central idea of your speech in under 15 words, you haven’t defined it precisely enough.

  • Cut out opening pleasantries like “I’m happy to be here today” or “I don’t have a lot of time so I’ll get right down to it.”
  • Eliminate anything — an idea, example, phrase, or word — that isn’t essential.
  • If you’re using PowerPoint, get rid of the cover slide and any slide that lacks a visual element (a chart, graph, picture, illustration).
  • Stop pussy-footing around. Don’t hem and haw. Don’t add conditional phrases and disclaimers. Take a stand. Show your colors. Boldly assert what you believe.

How long should a speech be? Just long enough to accomplish your goal and not so long that you lose your audience’s interest and goodwill.

I used to advise, “Never give a speech longer than 20 minutes.” Now I think 10 to 12 minutes is long enough. Five to six minutes might even be better.

Evaluate a speechTo become a better public speaker, become a more discerning, informed, and insightful listener.

After listening to a speech, don’t simply say you liked it or you didn’t like it. Become more critical, not in a negative way but in an inquisitive way.

Ask yourself what the speaker did or did not do that caused you to feel the way you did.

10 Questions to Ask to Evaluate (and to Learn from) a Speech

Continue Reading…

Three Presentations PMs needProject managers — like most leaders — get things done by getting other people to do them.

A project manager’s responsibilities include overall management, but he or she is seldom directly involved with the activities that actually produce the end result. PMs oversee any associated products and services, project tools and techniques to help ensure good practices. In addition, they are responsible for recruiting and building project teams, and making projections about the project’s risks and uncertainties.

Project managers are strategists and communicators.

They give presentations at various times and for different reasons to customers and clients, to upper management, and to team members.

The Three Presentations Every Project Manager Needs

  1. Promote
    Program Managers make presentations to promote an idea, service, product, trend, development, or organization. They provide information and insight about that idea, etc.  in order to attract people’s attention, to gain their interest, and to build support. The goal of a promotional presentation is to motivate the listeners to take some action that will advance the PM’s goal.
  2. Propose
    Program Managers make presentations to seek the buy-in, support, or approval of relevant stakeholders for a particular project. PMs require authorization to act from their own leaders (internally) and/or from prospective clients. The goal of a proposal presentation (sometimes called an oral proposal) is simple: to get those in authority to say “yes” to what’s being proposed.
  3. Update
    Program Managers make presentations to communicate information about a project’s current status — its progress, problems, and opportunities — to relevant parties and to recommend next steps. The goal of a project update (also called a status report) is to keep people informed and to gain their input and approval for necessary changes.

What other presentations do you think Project Managers need?

“Every word [in a speech] that is unnecessary only pours over the side of a brimming mind.” — Cicero

The best way to maintain your audience’s attention and to drive home your main point is to keep your speech brief and focused.

Brief, as in the shorter the better.

Focused, as in concerned with one, and only one idea.

Eliminate unnecessary words, phrases, stories, facts, opinions.

What is unnecessary? Anything that does not help you attain your goal. Anything that does not

  • Clarify and substantiate your central idea
  • Establish your credibility and likability
  • Motivate your audience through their emotions and imaginations to take action
  • Make your speech more entertaining, engaging, memorable

It hurts, I know, to make cuts in anything you’re worked hard to create. But do it anyway.

Be ruthless about eliminating all this is inessential in your speech. Your audience will thank you for it.

Photo Voice, which seeks “to create participatory photography programs that achieve meaningful improvements in the lives of participants,” defines public advocacy as:

Seeking to affect a change in public opinion or attitude and through doing so to prompt a change in behavior that will bring benefits for a community or group. Public advocacy can also increase pressure on decision-makers to take action or make policy change.

Over the years I’ve worked with any number of organizations involved in public advocacy, helping them create and implement a communications strategy and a message to further their causes.

I enjoy working with public advocacy groups. I’m often humbled by their dedication.

Because leaders speak — or should speak — primarily to influence audiences and to inspire them to take action, leaders can learn a lot from public advocates.

Three Public Speaking Lessons for Leaders from Public Advocates:

1. Speak about what matters to you.

Social advocates and real leaders speak about issues that they themselves deeply believe and care about.

Conviction and caring are the foundation of any compelling speech.

How can you convince others to care unless you first care…and care deeply. You don’t have to cry or shout or beat your chest, but you do need to let your passion show.

2. Tell stories.

Stories engage an audience’s imaginations and emotions. They make a cause personal and real and specific. They have the power to change people’s mindsets and, more importantly, to move them to action.

Find a story that illustrates the problem you’re addressing and the cause you’re advocating. Refine that story. And tell it again and again and again.

3. Take a stand.

As an advocate — whether you’re speaking for a cause or for a business — it’s not your role to be impartial. Yes, you have to be fair and factual and honest. But your job is stake out a position and to defend and promote it in every way you can.

Don’t be timid or shy. Leave no doubt in your audience’s minds what you want of them and why.

Real leaders, like public advocates, address issues that matter both to themselves and to a wider world. They seek to benefit that wider world. And they throw themselves heart and mind and soul into that effort.

Try it and see how it works for you.

Bad Advice about SpeakingThere are a lot of myths, misconceptions, and flat-out bad advice about public speaking.

Here’s my list of the Top Nine Myths and Bad Advice about Public Speaking

  1. It’s not what you say that matters, but how you say it.
    Delivery is important. An articulate, powerful, and charismatic delivery can make a mundane message seem more important than it is. And a really bad delivery can kill the best message. But it is the message that counts. It’s what will change people’s thoughts and behavior. It’s what they’ll remember.
  2. To develop confidence, look over the heads of your audience or imagine them in their underwear.
    There are better ways to develop confidence when giving a speech. (Check out “The Three Best Ways to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking.”) Looking people in the eye helps make a connection with them and gains their trust, which in turn will make you more confident. Imagining people in their underwear is disrespectful, and you never want to disrespect your audience.
  3. Start your speech with a joke.
    Never start your speech with a joke…unless you’re a professional comedian and the audience is already warmed up. Your odds of bombing are astronomical. (Check out Should You Tell Jokes or Use Humor in a Speech?) Humor — which is different from telling jokes — is almost always appropriate.
  4. End your presentation with Q&A.
    You can save Q&A to the end of your speech. But after you’ve answered the last question, don’t simply thank the audience and sit down. Take another half-minute or minute to end your speech: recap your main point and give your audience reason to act on it.
  5. Use PowerPoint because most people are visual learners.
    Making people read words is something entirely different from showing them images. As a matter of fact, people can’t read and listen at the same time. You have two alternatives. Use visuals (not words) on your slides: pictures, graphs, charts, and the like. Or tell stories and uses the type of words that engage people’s imaginations, where they create their own visual images.
  6. Some people are natural born speakers, some aren’t.
    Giving a speech is a skill, like learning how to read or ride a bike. Some people seem to have more of an aptitude than others (for speaking, reading, or riding a bike). But with guidance and practice most (not all, but most) people can learn how to give a good speech.
  7. There’s never any need to write out a speech.
    Writing out your speech or, at least, writing out parts of your speech can make it more powerful, compelling, and memorable. It will force you to clarify your thoughts and to hone your message. (Check out Should You Write Out a Speech?)
  8. Rehearsing a speech is a waste of time.
    Never give a speech or presentation without first rehearsing it. At least once, stand up and talk through your speech out loud. Do not think that thinking it through in your mind is enough. You have to get your mouth around your message before you stand in front of an audience. (Check out How to Rehearse a Speech.)
  9. Watching a videotape of yourself speaking is the best way to improve.
    Most speech coaches swear by videotaping their clients. I find that, at best, it makes people aware of their bad habits and allows them to improve them…temporarily. At worst, it makes people even more self-conscious and hyper-critical. I recommend practicing in front of a supportive audience. (Consider joining a Toastmasters club.) You can also work with a speech coach who will help you create a message you believe in and the confidence to deliver it.

Continue Reading…

To give better speeches, become a more thoughtful personIf you speak often and if you want your speeches to have an impact consistently, there two things you can do.

The first thing you can do to give more compelling speeches consistently is to become a more compelling person.

A speech is, after all, an expression- – an extension — of who you are.

  • A speech boils down – concentrates — the essence of your character, values, outlook.
  • A speech builds on (and, hopefully, improves) the way you typically express yourself, the wording and phrasing you use every day.
  • A speech reveals your true self, what matters to you, whether you intend to or not.

So the first and best way to give a compelling speech — not just once, but again and again — is to become the type of person who compels people’s’ interest. Become the type of person worth listening to: better informed, more thoughtful, kinder and wiser.

The second thing you can do to give more compelling speeches consistently is to develop and follow a process.

A speech is, in another sense, a project.

So treat your speech preparation the way you’d approach any other project: follow a process. Continue Reading…

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