Archives For speech

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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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.

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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Leaders Speak too OftenA speech is one of the most powerful ways for leaders to advance their organization’s success.

Leaders give a lot of speeches, presentations, informal talks, and interviews. Sometimes they speak too often and, as a result, dilute their message.

The speeches that leaders give should align with their three primary responsibilities:

1)      To Advance the Mission, Vision, and Values of their Organization

Leaders help their organization formulate, promote, and achieve their mission (what we do/hope to accomplish), vision (where we are headed), and values (the principles and ethical standards that inform what we do).

2)      To Promote the Vitality of their Organization

Leaders tend to the internal workings of their organization to promote its ongoing health. They know that focusing exclusively on getting the work done can, ultimately, lead to the organizations’ dissolution.

3)      To Contribute to the Welfare of the Community/World at Large

Organizations thrive in the long run not only by doing well (achieving their goals), but also by doing good (benefiting their members, their customers/clients, and society/the environment).

Here’s the question leaders should ask when given the opportunity to speak:

Will this speech to this audience, at this time, in this venue promote my organization’s mission/vision/values, its vitality, and/or the community/world we live in?

Effective leaders know when to give a speech and, just as importantly, when not to give one.  

Bring about changeWhen speaking to promote change, resist the urge to attack the status quo or its supporters.

The only reason to give a speech is to promote change of some sort: a change in how people think or feel or, more importantly, act.

If you’re happy with the status quo and you want people to keep on doing what they’ve been doing, don’t give a speech. Throw a party.

The underlying message of a speech promoting change always comes down to this: the new vision, initiative, product, service, behavior you’re proposing is better that what already exists.

How do you talk down the status quo without belittling those who had a part in bringing it about or who have a stake in maintaining it?

(When the status quo is clearly unjust, cruel, or oppressive, it may be honorable and brave to confront head on those who created and seek to perpetuate it.)

But in most cases assailing the supporters of the status turns them into opponents and hardens their resistance.

Do this instead. Demonstrate how the current problems or deficiencies–the status quo you wish to change–are rooted not in past mistakes but in subsequent changes.

Don’t say, “We’re having problems in the finance department because my predecessor [the current CFO] purchased an inferior accounting software program.”

Say something like, “When we purchased our current accounting software, it was highly rated. But in the intervening years, technological advances and our increasingly complex requirements have made it inadequate for our needs.”

Make it your goal to bring about the change you believe in, not to denigrate the status quo or vilify its supporters.

Confusing an audience is always a mistake.

But being precise, definitive, and conclusive in a speech isn’t always a virtue.

Sometimes your goal as a speaker is to educate your audience. Or it’s to persuade them to take a specific action—to support your initiative, to green light your project, to implement your procedure.

In those cases—and in most workplace presentations—you’ll want to avoid any and all ambiguity. By the end of your speech, your audience should know exactly, in no uncertain terms, what your point is and what you want them to do.

But when you seek to inspire an audience, you need to take a more open-ended approach.

Sometimes, when you’ve finished speaking, you want the audience to have more questions than answers. More wonder, less certainty. More to think about, mull over, and investigate.

Sometimes you want to plant an idea in people’s imaginations and trust them to bring it to fruition.

Sometimes you want people to invest your words with their own wisdom. And you’re willingwantingto see where that takes them. Even if it’s in a direction you had never imagined.

Ambiguous can mean obscure, vague, or cryptic. Which isn’t what I’m advocating. It can also mean “open to more than one interpretation.” Which is a quality many great speeches share.

If everyone in your audiences ends up thinking exactly the same way, you may have given an effective speech. When they each have a different take on what you’ve said, a unique insight, you may—you may—have done them a better service.

A good SpeechA good speech engages both the intellect and the imagination.

Which may explain why there are are so few good speeches today, in business, in politics, and in the pulpit.

When you’re giving a speech, of course you have to address your audience’s intellect. This is especially true in business and in academia.

The intellect demands reason and logic, information and ideas, evidence and proof. It expects facts and figures, explanations and definitions.

But you also have to engage your audience’s imagination, which is, in the words of Northrop Frye, “an intermediary between emotions and intellect.”

Imagination speaks the language of story and fable, of metaphor and simile, of symbol and myth, of dreams. It is the playground of curiosity, wonder, and fantasy.

Speeches pitched to the intellect may educate or inform, convince, or persuade. But they rarely move people emotionally or move them to action. They run the risk, if they are overly intellectual, of being arid, boring, and lifeless.

Speeches addressed to the imagination may motivate, influence, or inspire. But they will leave practical-minded people unmoved. And if they are lopsidedly imaginative, they will be at best entertaining, at worst woo-woo.

Good speeches please both the intellect and the imagination. They are logical and clear and, at the same time, intriguing and absorbing.

Use your gut instinctsOne of the best ways to improve your speaking is to learn from good speeches.

Over the years I’ve developed my own down-and-dirty methodology for evaluating speeches. There are more sophisticated ways to assess a speech’s merits, mind you. But this one works for me. It may work for you.

One caveat: I’m talking about how to analyze a speech for your own edification, not how to give someone else feedback about their speaking.

Step One: Trust Your Gut Instincts

Pay attention to your feelings during and immediately following a speech.

I’m talking about a simple appraisal of your visceral response that allows for only one of three possibilities:

  1. Love it!
  2. Hate it!
  3. Totally indifferent.

Or, put more simply, yay, nay, or bleh.

Don’t universalize your reactions. I’ve loved speeches that other people have hated. And people have raved about speeches that have left me cold. The same is probably true for you.

Be aware of your general emotional state. Sometimes our feelings have nothing to do with the speech itself. We may be in a foul mood to begin with—it happens—or preoccupied, depressed, or disengaged. In those cases, don’t blame the speaker.

Simply notice and accept your emotional reaction. Trust your feelings, your intuition, to provide useful information.

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Teleprompter, Speech, ScriptDonald Trump has nothing but contempt for politicians who use a teleprompter when making a speech.

He gives every appearance of standing in front of an audience and simply saying whatever comes to his mind. He extemporizes. He does not give prepared speeches.

Trump seems to think that using a teleprompter and, by extension, speaking from a prepared script somehow makes a speaker inauthentic. Insincere. Less authoritative.

Is that the case?

Does relying on a script — one that you’ve written or had written for you — make you a bad speaker? Does it lessen your credibility? Does it dilute your message?

Of course not. On the contrary, preparing a script and speaking from it is the best way to improve your speaking.

Giving a speech is like undertaking any project. You wouldn’t simply show up unprepared and wing it. Not if a lot was at stake. Not if you wanted to succeed.

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