Archives For Miscellaneous

What is an accent?When giving a speech or a presentation, having an accent that makes audiences work too hard to understand what you’re saying is a problem.

Strong accents are even more of a problem when you’re making a virtual presentation—in a conference call or a webinar—and your audience can’t see you.

That’s when accent reduction coaching can be helpful.

People sometimes ask me, knowing that I’m a speech coach, if I can help them reduce their accents. I can’t. But I can refer them to an accent reduction coach whom I trust: Laura Darius. (She’s based in San Diego, but she works with clients internationally.)

Because I have a lot of questions myself about accent reduction—what it is, why it matters, who can benefit from it—I interviewed Laura. Here’s what we talked about…


CW: It seems that everyone has an accent of some sort. How do you define an accent?

LD: Having an accent means you’re using the sounds and rhythm of your native language to speak another language.

For example, a French person can speak English with a French accent and an American person can speak French with an American accent.

People who are not born in the U.S. and learn English after the age of 9 will speak English using the native sounds and rhythm of their own language. Since their native sounds don’t match the sounds or rhythm of American English, there will be some lack of clarity when speaking English.

CW: Is there anything wrong with having an accent?

LD: An accent is only a problem if people misunderstand you or can’t understand you at all.

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Who makes better presenters?You might think that extroverts, who are generally more at ease talking to groups of people, would have the advantage. But, it isn’t so.

I believe — feel free to disagree — we’re born one way or the other (introvert or extrovert) and our basic makeup doesn’t change much over the years.

The Difference between Extroverts and Introverts

Here is how I think of extroverts and introverts.

Extroverts are generally outward-facing. Their attention, interest, and energy are engaged — primarily — in and by the exterior world: the stuff that is “out there,” people, things, activities. They enjoy interacting with people, sometimes large numbers of people, and they get a charge out of doing so.

Extroverts tend to think out loud. It’s not that they think before they speak. They speak while they are thinking. What you hear isn’t necessarily their final thought on the matter at hand; it’s their thought process. Ask extroverts for their opinion, and they’re likely to open their mouths and begin speaking.

Introverts are, for the most part, inward-facing.Their attention, interest, and energy are engaged in and by their inner world: their thoughts, fantasies, and feelings. They prefer interacting with a few people at a time and especially with people they already know and trust. They recharge by seeking alone time.

Introverts tend to think before they talk. When you as their opinion, they don’t say anything. Not, at least, until they’ve had time to think it over.

Extroverts tend to think that introverts are slow or, at worst, stupid. They must not know anything, because they’re not saying anything.

Introverts tend to think that extroverts are glib and fickle. They talk all the time, and they say one thing at one time and something else at a later time.

(The world of work is organized in favor of extroverts. The way business conduct meetings, brain storming sessions, and presentations plays to the strength of extroverts, people who speak confidently and quickly in group settings. But that’s another issue.)

Why Aren’t Extroverts By Their Very Nature Better Presenters than Introverts?

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Speech coaches and trainers often perpetuate myths and misconceptions about presentations and public speaking.

I begin with the assumption that giving a speech is both an art and a skill.

Public speaking an art in that it requires a certain amount of creativity.

You have to come up with (i.e. create) a good idea to begin with. You have to put it together in a logical and persuasive structure. You have to use words and phrases and, sometimes, stories in a clear and evocative manner. And you have to deliver your speech with at least a modicum of drama.

Public speaking, like any art, is also a skill.

It has its own somewhat complex, somewhat variable set of requirements, rules, guidelines, and principles to learn, practice, and master. To give a speech — a good one, at least — you have to be able to plan and create one, explain your idea clearly in a limited amount of time, connect with an audience, begin and end a speech, overcome fear and project confidence in front of an audience, answer questions, and think on your feet.

Public speaking isn’t as complex or demanding a skill as, say, performing brain surgery or rocket science. But then again it’s not as simple or easy as riding a bike.

Beginning with that assumption — public speaking is both an art and a skill — I’ve developed my list of…

5 Things Speech Coaches and Trainers Won’t Tell You about Public Speaking

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Influence is the ability to bring about some change in people’s thoughts, feelings, attitudes, perceptions, values, actions, or behavior.

Whenever you give a speech you are, essentially, trying to influence your audience.

The purpose of a speech is, after all, to change how your audience feels, thinks, or acts. (If you’re happy with the way they are and what they’re doing, for God’s sake don’t give them a speech. Leave them alone.)

How to Make Yourself More Influential when Giving a Speech

First, be the kind of person who inspires trust.

Who you are as a person — your character, experience, reputation, values — is, in large measure, the message you communicate.

Put yourself and your vision, your hopes and dreams on the line. Make yourself vulnerable. Invite, rather than command compliance.

Second, align yourself and the change you’re proposing with their deepest held values.

You’re not going to change what people care about most, and you shouldn’t try. Instead, show them how what you want them to feel, think, or do affirms, protects, or advances their loves, values, dreams.

Third, challenge them to be more or better than they are.

Making people feel guilty or inadequate or wrong won’t incline them to change their ways. If anything, it will make them resent and resist you.

But at the same time you don’t want them to remain complacent, satisfied with their status quo. Not if you want them to change. So ask them to go beyond, to grow bigger than, to love better than who or where they are already are.

Chris Witt Speaking to the UK Speechwriters Guild

Chris Witt Speaking to the UK Speechwriters Guild

Ask any author.

One of the hardest parts of being an author is selling your book.

Yes, writing it was taxing and time consuming. But selling it can be even more challenging.

Selling your book means bringing it to people’s attention, making them interested in it, and finally moving them to buy it.

Other people—with some prompting on your part—will make your book available. They may even take people’s money in exchange (and give you a percentage of their take). But they won’t publicize it and they won’t market it, unless you give them a lot—and I mean a lot—of money. They won’t make people want to buy it. They won’t, in short, sell your book.

That’s your job.

There are many ways to make people aware of your book, to make them want it, refer it to others, and buy it.

Here are some of the most effective strategies:

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Promote yourselfDo you want to win the recognition and respect that you deserve? To get noticed and taken seriously when new opportunities arise? To have your ideas and contributions valued?

And do you want to do so in a way that is both authentic and respectful?

To promote yourself without being shameless or self-centered…

1. Take responsibility.
You can’t control how people think or feel about you. But you can take responsibility for the impression you make – your reputation – and correct it if it’s distorted or add to it if it’s incomplete.

2. Be yourself.
Being someone other than you are in order to get noticed is counterproductive. You’ll feel like a fraud. And other people will have misgivings about you, which is the opposite of what you want.

3. Do something notable.
Simply doing what’s required, meeting expectations, and showing up won’t get you noticed. And it shouldn’t. You have two options: 1) excel at what you do or 2) exceed expectations and your job description…consistently.

4. Help others.
Be interested in people and their welfare. Introduce them to people, ideas, or resources they will find valuable. Notice their successes and make those successes known to others.

5. Avoid extremes.
Bragging about yourself and your accomplishments turns people off. Downplaying your value and contributions does yourself and others a disservice.

6. Listen more or talk more, depending…
If you talk a lot around others, listen more. Pay attention to them, and they’ll give you their attention. If you listen to others a lot, speak up. Make your thoughts and feelings known. Don’t expect people to read your mind.

7. Tell your story.
Give examples of what you do and of its value. Don’t say, for example, “I’m good at leading meetings.” Talk about a time you lead a meeting well, and describe the (positive) outcome.

8. Practice.
Respectful self-promotion takes practice. Try it and see how it works. Try it again, differently, and make adjustments, if necessary. Allow yourself to fail…and try again.

Don’t be pushy or obnoxious. Don’t talk on and on about yourself. The world already has enough narcissists.

Be the best you that you can be. Develop and use your skills to be of service to others. Let your actions speak for you. And don’t be afraid — at the right time and in the right way — to speak up for yourself.

The ending of a speech — its conclusion — is its most important element.

A speech’s conclusion is even more important than its opening, because it’s what people remember most.

Ending a speech is, also, challenging.

I struggled for years trying to come up with powerful ways to end my speeches. And I often failed. Usually I just sat down. It was as if I had said everything I wanted to say and I ran out of steam.

Don’t let that happen to you.

5 Most Common Mistakes When Ending a Speech

Mistake #1:Popping the Ending on Your Audience

You gotta warn the audience that you’re coming to a conclusion. Doing so regains their attention (which sometimes wanders, even during a great speech) and prepares them emotionally.

It’s not hard to do. A simple, “In conclusion” or “Finally” or “Let me wrap up by…” will usually do.

Warning: Once you signal your intention to conclude, you have to finish talking relatively quickly.

Mistake #2: Ending with Q&A

You can schedule Q&A toward the end of your talk. That’s often a natural place for it. But don’t use your Q&A as your conclusion. (The last question you answer is usually the weakest. And you don’t want to have your audience leaving on a weak note.)

Conclude after you’ve answered the final question. Take a little more time to drive your main points home and to issue a call to action.

“Thank you for your questions. I hope you can see how [or why]…”

Mistake #3: Introducing New Material

Never, never, never bring up a new idea or add new information in your conclusion. This is the time to summarize your main points and hit them home. Introducing new material at this point will only diffuse or dilute your message.

Mistake #4: Failing to Issue a Call to Action

The purpose of giving a speech is to move people to action. Sure, you give them new information, new ideas to consider. Sure, you entertain them (meaning, you engage their emotions and imaginations). But you do all that because, ultimately, you want to get them to do something.

So don’t be coy or vague. Don’t make people guess. Tell them what you want them to do. Your speech up to this point has told them what you want them to do and why they would want to do it. Now give the one more reason — an emotional reason — to act.

Mistake #5: Letting the Audience Down Emotionally

A compelling speech takes the audience through a range of emotions, both high and low. But you don’t want to end on a low note.

End on a high note, not a downer. Appeal to people’s hopes and dreams, their aspirations, their courage, love, or faith, their community spirit or patriotism. Send them out energized, not depressed.

For more ideas check out In Conclusion: When to End a Speech and How to End a Speech.

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?

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.

Rhetoric is the skillful use of language in speaking or writing in order to influence how people think, feel, and act.

Rhetoric is neither good nor bad in itself. Its legitimacy is determined by how it is used (honestly or deceptively) and for what end it is used (for good or for ill).

The deceptive use of rhetoric is nothing new, certainly not in politics, nor is it limited to any particular faction.

Karl Rove’s comments “questioning” Hillary Clinton’s mental health are the most recent example. (For an account of his tactics, check out the Atlantic piece, “Why Karl Rove Uses Dirty Tricks: They Work.”)

I would like to take a page from Rove’s playbook as a lesson.

A Common Technique of the Rhetoric of Deception

Make a malicious statement so that the idea, image, or phrase you used becomes part of the public discourse.

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