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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.

persuasionWe can’t reason people out of beliefs, opinions, judgments, prejudices, and behaviors that they didn’t reason themselves into.

We can’t change people’s ways of thinking and acting simply by giving them new information and leading them step by step through a logical process of analysis and understanding.

We can’t, in short, persuade people to change by logic and reasoning.

There are two main reasons for this.

First, we form our basic beliefs and behavior patterns as children, when our ability to reason is underdeveloped, if not entirely lacking. For the most part we adopt, without thinking, the beliefs and behaviors of those around us.

When we question our beliefs and behaviors later in life—if we question them at all—we’re still inclined to give them credence. Reinforced by habit, they “feel” right, natural, proper.

And second, we aren’t rational beings. At least, rationality isn’t our primary way of understanding and relating to the world.

The process of reasoning—gathering and assessing information, questioning assumptions, forming opinions, analyzing them and revising them when necessary—doesn’t come naturally to us. It’s a skill we have to learn.

Reasoning takes time and effort. And in a world that comes at us like a Mack truck, at a thousand miles an hour, with horns blaring, demanding an immediate response, we tend not to reflect but to react.

We don’t say, “Whoa, hold your horses. Give me some time to think this through.” We don’t, in short, reason our way through each new situation. We fall back on our tried and true ways of understanding the world and of coping with its incessant and clamorous demands.

I’m not arguing in favor of abandoning reason and logic.

I am proposing that if persuasion is our goal—if we want to change how people think and feel and act—we have to develop strategies and techniques that build on something more than reason and logic.

The question, of course, is how? Any suggestions?

What makes a speech bad?A bad speech can be bad in two ways.

It all depends on how you define bad.

Bad can mean of inferior quality, or defective, failing to measure up to standards, unpleasing, or unable to perform as required.

Think of a bad wine, or a bad movie, or a bad performance.

A bad speech, using this definition of bad, is ineffective. It fails to accomplish its objective.

A speech can be bad for any number of reasons:

  • It lacks unity and cohesion.
  • It fails to address the needs and concerns of the audience.
  • It is confusing, illogical, or boring.
  • It relies on poorly designed visual aids or fails to use them when appropriate.
  • It is poorly staged and delivered.

Bad can also mean morally deficient, repugnant, evil, wrong.

We often shy away from using bad in this sense, afraid of sounding judgmental or ceding the term to preachers and pundits who see evil everywhere they look.

But I think that some ideas—many ideas—are bad and deserve to be labelled as such.

If an idea can be bad—immoral, reprehensible, worthy of censure—a speech that advocates it is, by extension, bad.

I hate to go there, but Hitler is the best example of what I mean.

His speeches were good in the sense that they achieved their objective. And they were bad—demonstratively and monstrously evil—because the ideas they advocated so effectively were bad.

To judge a speech in this sense—to weight its moral worth—requires us to clarify our values and the way we determine right and wrong.

When I think of a bad speech, in this sense, I think of one that distorts the truth, plays on an audience’s prejudices, focuses their attention on trivialities, justifies injustice, and targets the weak and vulnerable.

What do you think makes a bad speech bad?

© Abdone | Dreamstime Stock PhotosVirtual meetings—by telephone or web services—have become commonplace in business these days.

On the plus side, they allow people to participate from anyplace in the world as long as they have a phone or an internet connection. And they cut down travel time and expenses.

On the minus side, they make communication more difficult. Most of the time you can’t see other people, making it harder to know who is going to speak when, and eliminating the ability to read people’s body language. And distractions—checking email, for example, or cleaning off your desk—become more tempting.

Whether you like them or not, virtual meetings are here to stay.

Here’s How to Make the Most of Virtual Meetings

  1. Plan
    Send out an agenda in advance with all the other required information (date and time, dial-in number, pass codes, etc.).
  1. Start on Time
    Identify all the participants at the beginning.
  1. Work through the Agenda
    Clearly state which item you are addressing, and address each item in the order on your agenda.
  1. Reduce Distractions
    Ask people for their attention throughout the meeting. Don’t waste their time. Don’t prolong discussions. Keep the discussion focused and moving along.
  1. Identify Yourself before Talking
  2. Make Yourself Heard
    If you’re using a phone, call in from a quiet place. Mute your phone when you’re not speaking. If you’re in a conference room with a speaker phone, speak directly into the phone and loudly.
  1. Be Extra Communicative
    Because other participants won’t be able to see your body language and facial expressions, you have to work harder to communicate what you mean, what you want, what you feel.
  1. Conclude on Time
    Take a few minutes to review the accomplishments of the meeting, to discuss action items, and to thank people for their time and participation.

Someday technology may improve–it’s not there yet–so that virtual meetings become as free and easy as face-to-face meetings. In the meantime, use these guidelines to make the most of them.

What’s your experience with virtual meetings? What helps you make the most of them?

You may also be interested in Technical Presentations at a Business Meeting.

Photo courtesy of © Abdone | Dreamstime Stock Photos.

Political rhetoric has become ugly, stupid, and brutish.

We can, of course, blame the politicians. Some more than others.

But politicians only say what they’re saying because people turn out to hear them, applaud them, support them, give them money, vote for them.

I grieve over the sorry state of political rhetoric. But I worry more about what our willingness to tolerate it, even celebrate it, says about the kind of people we have become.

Is this what we want? Is rage our only response to loss, change, and injustice? Is greatness to be found only in strength and the willingness to use violence to get what we want? What good do we expect to come from contempt, divisiveness, and bigotry?

I don’t know if, as people say, we get the kind of leaders that we deserve. But I believe that we get the kind of speakers and speeches that we’re willing to listen to.

One way — not the only way, but one way — to change the nature of political rhetoric is to change our response to it: to be a kinder, wiser, more discerning audience.

Donald Trump Public SpeakingYou can learn a lot of dos and don’ts about public speaking from observing Donald Trump in action. Not all of it is good, mind you, or worth imitating.

But it’s easy to pick up public speaking dos and don’ts from Trump because he is overblown in all that he does, even — or especially — in his public speaking.

I’ve grouped these public speaking dos and don’ts under three skills that Donald Trump exemplifies, sometimes to the extreme.

1. Donald Trump embodies his message.

You can’t separate who Trump is — a billionaire businessman with anger issues — from what he stands for and what he says. And that’s a good thing: what you see is what you get.

DO member that you are the message.

Everything that you are — your personality, reputation, experience, values, appearance, voice — shapes how people hear and whether they believe what you say. Don’t hide off in the semi-darkness, ceding center stage to your PowerPoint slides. Let everyone see you, front and center. Look them in the eye. And expect them to look back at you.

DON’T make make yourself the center of the speech.

The speech isn’t — or shouldn’t be — about you. It’s about the audience and how your idea can help them in some way if they adopt, support, or implement it.

DON’T be boring.

The only sin worse than boring an audience is confusing them.

If you’re not boring in real life but you are boring when giving a speech, you’re probably nervous. Don’t try to be exciting. You’ll probably only make yourself more nervous. Work, instead, on being confident. (Check out How to Develop Confidence Speaking.)

If you’re not excited about your message and about sharing it with your audience, don’t speak.

2. Donald Trump realizes the power of emotions.

Trump has mastered the rhetoric of rage. He is,himself, always in a rage or on the verge of flying off into a rage. And he gives his audiences permission to feel their rage, their anger over what they believe has been taken from them.

DO tap into your audience’s emotions.

You can convince people, by evidence and logic, of the rightness of what you’re proposing. But when you want to move them to take action, you have to engage their emotions. (There’s a reason why “motion” is 85% of “emotion.”)

DON’T rely on a single emotion, especially a negative one.

Rage will always get people’s attention. It will fire some of them up, but it will turn others away. And rage won’t sustain lasting action. Winston Churchill recommended appealing to pride, hope love, and — occasionally — fear.

3. Donald Trump uses lessons learned from reality TV.

Trump has hosted The Apprentice for 14 seasons. He approaches his speaking engagements — his appearances — the way he stages his TV show in three ways. First, he orchestrates the event, carefully selecting the venue and the audience. Second, he stirs up conflict. And finally, he speaks from a rehearsed “soft script,” from talking points, not from a written speech, which gives him the appearance of telling it like he sees it.

DO pay attention to the event.

Good speakers know their audiences — who they are, what matters to them, what they know and need to know, what they want and what they dislike, what problems they face. And they know the event — the reason people are gathering, where the meeting is held, how the room is set up. Exceptional speakers take part in shaping the event.

DON’T shy away from conflict.

Good speeches are, in part, about conflict. They propose one idea or advocate one course of action in opposition to another. Instead of downplaying the differences between your idea and another, between your product or service and that of a competitor, highlight it. Conflict is never boring.

DO prepare.

If you stand in front of an audience without being prepared and simply say whatever comes to mind, you will certainly be perceived as unscripted and, perhaps, as sincere. But you’ll also make a fool of yourself. You may not need a fully written script, but you do need a fully developed outline. And you need to practice it out loud a few times. (Check out The Benefits of Rehearsing a Speech or Presentation.)

Have I missed something? What do you think can be learned about public speaking dos and don’ts from Donald Trump?

See also Seven Rules for More Powerful Speaking.

How to prepare an oral proposalAn oral proposal for large contracts — government and commercial — goes by many names: a pitch, a sales presentation, an interview, or an orals.

Because a lot of money — millions, sometimes billions of dollars — is at stake, an oral proposal is one step — one of the final steps — in a long process. They are typically preceded by several conversations and exchanges of information and, of course, by a formal written proposal.

Your goal, when preparing and presenting an oral proposal is to win the contract.

You do so by showing the customer how your people, processes, tools and technology will provide better value than the competition: how you will give them more of what they want (features and benefits) and less of what they don’t want (costs, delays, risks, etc.)

Preparing a winning oral proposal is a complex process. It involves many players and considerations.

The Most Important Issues to Address when Preparing an Oral Proposal

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Business presentationsTechnical presentations, especially in a business meeting, are difficult to pull off.

On the one hand, a technical presentation addresses an issue or topic of some complexity, in a field that has its unique knowledge base, processes, methodologies, and jargon.

On the other hand, a business meeting isn’t a technical or scientific conference. The attendees are from different fields. They have different backgrounds, educations, and responsibilities. And they do not necessarily share your knowledge or speak your language.

You might be called upon, for example, to speak about a highly technical issue to people in upper management, marketing and sales, regulatory, finance, and operations. You don’t want to simplify your content to the extent that it’s no longer technically valid or meaningful. But you have to avoid confusing them by presuming too much knowledge or presenting too much detail.

So what can you do?

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