Archives For Christopher Witt

Don't confuse your audienceOne of the cardinal rules of public speaking is Never Confuse Your Audience.

There are a number of reasons why you shouldn’t confuse your audience.

First, if you confuse an audience, you lose them.

People will do their best — for a while, at least — to follow your logic, to ferret out your main point, to understand what you’re getting at.

But when they can’t make sense of what you’re saying, they’ll tune you out. They’ll stop listening. And you’ll have to do something dramatic to win back their attention.

Second, if you confuse an audience, you risk making them mad.

They’ll resent you for making them feel stupid or for wasting their time. And then there’s almost nothing you can do to win back their goodwill.

Third, if you confuse an audience, they’ll oppose you and whatever you’re proposing.

When you lose their attention and their goodwill, you lose their respect as well as their willingness to cooperate with you.

Fourth, if you confuse an audience unintentionally, you’re inept, but if you confuse them intentionally, you’re ethically challenged.

But intentionally confusing an audience can be an effective rhetorical strategy.

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Peggy Noonan's bookIn her excellent book, On Speaking Well, Peggy Noonan states,

“No speech is big without big policy to talk about. Trying to write a great speech without having great policy to work with, to assert and argue for, would be like trying to write a great play about nothing.”

In my book, Real Leaders Don’t Do PowerPoint, I assert, Picture of book

“A speech develops one idea. But it’s got to be a good idea–a policy, a direction, an insight, a prescription. Something that provides clarity and meaning, something that’s both intellectually and emotionally engaging. It’s got to be what I call a Big Idea.”

The speech by Mitch Landrieu, the mayor of New Orleans, explaining why the city was removing statues commemorating its Confederate past is a recent example of a big speech developing a big policy (in Noonan’s words) or a great speech developing a big idea (in my words).

Less recent but even more powerful examples of speeches (from American history) that advanced and advocated big ideas include Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address, Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, Johnson’s Voting Rights Act Address, and Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream Speech.

I still agree with everything I wrote about a speech needing a “Big Idea.”

But I now add the word juicy.

John Lemieux

Juicy–in surfer jargon–describes a wave that has power and speed and a clean face. It can lift and propel you forward.

(The opposite of juicy is mushy, a description of a wave that passes you by, no matter how large it is, without moving you along.)

A great speech promotes an idea that is both big (broad and deep in its implications) and juicy (capable of moving people to action).

That’s because the goal of a speech is always the same: action, action, action.

 

Photo used with permission by John Lemieux at Flickr.

 

It’s impossible to be neutral while evaluating a speech, especially a political speech.

A speech doesn’t simply report facts or make an objective assessment of things as they are.

A speech expresses the speaker’s values, vision, character.

Any speech worth listening to takes a stand. It develops an idea. It promotes an agenda.

A speech, if it is to have any impact at all, provokes a response from the audience. Consent or dissent. Cooperation or opposition. Support or resistance.

And that’s how it should be.

A speech shouldn’t be neutral.

It’s true for political speeches. And it’s true for corporate speeches.

(One of the reasons why so many corporate speeches are bland, boring, and instantly forgettable is because business speakers try so hard to avoid controversy of any sort.)

And people’s reactions to a speech reveal their values, vision, character.

For example, I think the speech by Mitch Landrieu, the mayor of New Orleans, explaining why the city was removing the city’s Confederate monuments, is one of the best political speeches I’ve heard in months.

I found it thoughtful, courageous, and morally exigent.

Landrieu’s speech was well written. It asserted a thesis and defended it with logic, evidence, and passion. It employed several powerful rhetorical devices. It was clear, without being simplistic.

And it was well delivered.

I like Landrieu’s speech not simply because he articulated my beliefs and values, but also because he expanded my moral vision.

You know from his speech exactly where Landrieu stands on race. And the fact that I consider it such a good speech says a lot about where I stand on race as well.

In a similar vein, I hated President Trump’s speech, announcing his decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris agreement on climate change. And, again, my reaction reveals my values. As it should.

CharismaIn public speaking and leadership development circles, the phrase “executive presence” is all the rage. But what is it? And does it matter?

No one quite agrees on what executive presence means.

It’s been called “the wow factor,” which merely substitutes one ill-defined concept for another.

It’s been likened to gravitas, charisma, and dynamism, which are equally fuzzy concepts.

It’s assumed that you’ll recognize it when you see it.

People with executive presence are described as having the ability to

  • Quickly gain people’s attention and respect
  • Exude confidence, poise, and calm under fire
  • Influence and inspire others as much by who they are as by what they  say and do

Everyone agrees that executive presence is a desirable quality in a leader.

And every leader or inspiring leaders wants it.

Forbes cites a study that concludes “executive presence counts for 26% of what it takes to get promoted.”

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Behavior is more important than attitudeThere’s a lot of talk in business circles about the importance of attitude at work.

And it’s assumed that having the right attitude—a positive attitude—is essential to success.

Most coaches—like most self-help advice and motivational speakers—focus on changing people’s attitude.

As a business coach, I find it helpful to address people’s behavior, not their attitude.

Three Reasons Why Behavior Matters More than Attitude

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Transitions are the bridgeThe beginnings and endings of a speech are, of course, essential. But the transitions — how you get from one section or one idea to another — are equally important. And they are frequently overlooked.

Your speech’s opening — the first minute or few minutes (depending on the length of your speech) — has to accomplish several goals:

  • To gain your audience’s attention and interest
  • To introduce your main idea
  • To give an overview of your speech — what you’ll be addressing and how you’ll handle Q&A

If you lose your audience at the start, you’re in trouble. So you’ve got to make good use of your opening words.

Check out How to Start a Speech.

Your speech’s conclusion also has several goals:

  • To recap and drive home your main points
  • To motivate the audience to put your ideas into action
  • To give the audience a satisfying sense of completion

The last few moments of your speech are, often, what your audience will remember most. So you don’t want to end with a whimper.

Check out How to End a Speech.

That said, transitions are equally important. And they are often overlooked.

In some ways, I blame the misuse of PowerPoint for this lack of attention to transitions.

PowerPoint allows you to create slides that are totally unrelated to each other.

You can project one slide, talk about it, and say “next slide.” Nothing requires you to tell the audience how you got from the idea on one slide to the next idea.

When I coach people who are preparing a PowerPoint presentation, I ask them not to use a laser pointer and not to say, “next slide.”

If you have to use a laser pointer, your slides are too complex. If you say, “next slide,” you’re not connecting your ideas; you’re presenting unorganized information, not a coherent idea.

When you’re giving a more formal speech without using PowerPoint, you still need to tie things together.

It’s fine to outline your speech and to present your speech from that outline, if and only if you explicitly explain how the points of your outline are connected.

Transitions are the connective tissue of a speech. They are the bridge that leads your audience from one part of your speech to the next.

Transitions show how you get from the introduction to the main body of your speech

Transitions show how the three to five main points of the speech’s body are connected.

And transitions show how those main points lead inevitably to the speech’s conclusion.

Transitions are one of the most important elements of any speech.

Photo used by permission of RYAN MCGUIRE OF BELLS DESIGN at gratisography.com.

 

The first commitment when giving a speech is to tell the truth. Maybe not the truth in its entirety or a big, world-transforming truth. Maybe just the truth as we know it.

Of course, this rule has been violated throughout history.

In every age, people have mounted podiums and pulpits to spread lies, misinformation, and half-truths. They’ve done so to justify unjust wars, to provoke religious intolerance, to promote discrimination and oppression, to rouse the masses to unthinking violence, to condone unconscionable acts.

Sadly, all too many leaders today — in politics, religion, business — show a less than whole-hearted commitment to the truth.

The disregard of truth in public speaking seems to have gotten worse these days. When confronted with irrefutable facts that contradict their assertions, there are those who simply shrug it off or — worse — double down on what they’ve said as if repeating an error makes it right.

Deceit in public discourse harms both the speaker and the audience and — in the long run — harms public speaking itself.

All the more reason, in my opinion, to speak the truth. To get the facts right. To use reason and logic in piecing together an argument. To choose our words with care, seeking clarity and accuracy. To value being right over winning.

How to Rehearse a Team PresentationOne way to make sure that your team makes a coherent and winning presentation is to rehearse them using what is sometimes called a wall walk.

Team presentations are tricky things, with advantages and disadvantages.

In the plus column, team presentations can draw on the expertise of different individuals, each person speaking about what he or she knows best.

In the minus column, team presentations can be disjointed.

To make the best use of a rehearsal, of course, you need to pull your presentation together — to develop your overall strategy, your message, and your PowerPoint slides.

Check out How To Plan a Technical Presentation.

Once you’ve created, edited, and revised your team presentation, you’re ready to go.

To Rehearse a Team Presentation

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DNA of a SpeechA great speech isn’t about you.

A great speech is about your audience and how your idea or information can help them.

But who you are–your outlook, beliefs, values, interests, temperament–determines every thought, every image, every word, every tone and nuance of the speech you give.

And that’s how it should be.

A great speech is not and never should be impersonal, detached, objective.

A great speech is highly personal, it takes a stand, and it is as true as you can make it.

If anyone else could say exactly what you have to say about a particular subject, you’re doing something wrong.

Photo courtesy of Caroline Davis at flickr.com.

Give Better SpeechesThe best way to become a better speaker–to learn how to give better public speeches and presentations–is to make more mistakes.

It’s counterintuitive, I know.

You would think that reducing or eliminating mistakes would make you a better speaker. But you’d be wrong…for three reasons.

Reason #1: The Willingness to Make Mistakes Allows You to Practice, to Learn, to Improve.

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