Public speaking, presentation, and communication coaching and training for professionals and businesses
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This year I am running two classes of my 8 session public speaking course. This challenging fun, intensive course will enable you to overcome your anxiety, unleash your voice, and create presentations that will capture your audience's attention.
The Tuesday class meets every two weeks from January 26 to April 26, and the Wednesday class meets every two weeks from January 20 to April 20.
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This post is an excerpt from a project I’m currently working on: The Little Book of Big Confidence
Here’s a pernicious myth about confidence: Confident people are dominant.
It’s easy to think that dominance indicates confidence. After all, people who speak louder than others, or take up all the space, or control the conversation do come across as being pretty sure of themselves. But while dominant or bold behavior might indicate confidence in some people, it certainly doesn’t do so for all people.
Bullies show plenty of dominant behavior, yet bullies often hold deep seated insecurities and very a very shaky sense of self-worth.
Some people who try to dominate a conversation or an audience are putting on a show of bravado as a way of compensating for gut-wrenching fear.
And sometimes dominant behavior is fueled by other emotions, like anger or exasperation – two feelings that probably don’t factor into most people’s concept of confidence.
For women, dominant behavior is even more divorced from confidence. When we’re establishing our positions within a group – or establishing our authority as speakers – we tend to look for common ground, to connecting with one another, or to use other, subtler social signals to signal our role within the room. This isn’t to say that no woman uses dominance to establish her position – we’ve all encountered queen bees or battleaxes who seek to dominate in a group. There are also many outstanding women leaders who have more dominant personalities and who use their dominant traits both respectfully and effectively. But by and large, we women are less likely to use dominant behavior to indicate confidence.
You absolutely do not need to be dominant in your personality or in your behavior to be a confident presenter. Even though you might be in the spotlight persuading people to take a certain action or vigorously defending your choice or viewpoint, you don’t need to dominate your audience to persuade, to lead, to inspire trust, or to feel completely comfortable owning your position at the front of the room.
Such is the agony of sitting through a terrible speech. But what makes a speech terrible? This is something I get asked a lot. Differences in taste and preferences means that one person’s god-awful speaker could be someone else’s guru, but there are a few key sins that can kill just about any speech. Here’s a list of the things I consider especially egregious. Read, my friends, read and learn so that you do not commit these sins yourself:
TOP 5 SPEECH SINS1
1. Giving a talk that has nothing to do with its title
Well, the title said “Upcoming Trends for Online Marketing,” but it really ended up being about the speaker’s business training course.
Giving a talk that’s not related to its title is the speaker’s equivalent of a bait-and-switch.2 If someone’s decided to spend their time listening to you speak, you’d better deliver the topic that was promised or else you risk annoying and confusing your audience. Speak on what you promised to speak about.
2. Not having a clearly defined message
I have no idea what that talk was about.
Your entire speech should hang on a clearly defined message – a key takeaway that the audience can pick up on quickly and remember easily. Everything in your speech should support and build on that message. I’m militant about this, because not having a super clear, concise message is one of the fastest routes to Wandering Topic Syndrome and confusing speeches. It’s also a slippery path towards committing sin #1.
Personal stories are important. They help you and your audience connect. But there comes a point when you should move on and switch from talking about you to talking about your audience. Going on with personal story after personal story and never really getting to some kind of actionable, audience-centered point is going to make you seem completely self-absorbed. I’ve seen some horrendous examples of me-focused, navel gazing speakers (one involved the speaker making a “spontaneous” phone call from the stage to prove how awesomely connected they were with Big Important People. UGH).
A speaker’s platform is not a venue for therapy or self-aggrandizement. If the speaker is making it all about themselves, it come across as though they neither know nor care about their audience. Make it about them.
4. Reading from your notes or slides
I don’t need you to read it for me. I know how to read.
This sin is why I discourage people from memorizing their speech, bringing up extensive notes, or putting too many words on their slides. You can’t engage your audience if you’re staring at a piece of paper or a slideshow.
If you come up with long, extensive notes, I will guarantee that your eyeballs will be drawn irresistibly to that page and you’ll revert to reading mode. The same thing goes for text-heavy slides. I’ve seen internationally lauded professors on the pop lecture circuit commit this crime as often as speech neophytes. Free yourself of the temptation of reading and avoid this sin by using only the sparsest of speaker notes and extremely limited text on your slides.
5. Going overtime
Do we really need to talk about going overtime? YES! This happens with astonishing frequency! Going overtime throws the event agenda off, steals time from other speakers, and deprives the audience of their transition times and bathroom breaks. It also makes you appear unpolished and unprepared. The only way to avoid this sin is practice, practice, practice your talk, timer in hand, and then ruthlessly edit if you find yourself consistently going over time. Have your timing down cold and always leave a buffer in case there is an interruption or you mess up a bit of your timing. Did your talk get cut short because the person before you went over time? Then you need to adjust your talk so you still end according to your original time slot. Know what pieces of content (stories, examples, slides, etc) you can skip or gloss over in case you find yourself with a shortened speech time.4
Most of these mistakes may seem obvious, but they’re easy to commit if you don’t spend enough time creating, practicing, and rehearsing your talk. Speaking is a craft, and you need to have a craftsman’s attention to detail if you are going to perform with polish and ease.
I’ve committed every last one of these sins, by the way. I don’t know any speaker who hasn’t.
I find this happens most often when the speaker is attempting to sell from the stage. Typically, they rapidly veer off their promised topic and on to how their latest offering is going to solve all your ills. Lip service may be paid to the original topic, but it tends to be shallow and never really addresses the subject promised in the title. It’s infuriating.
Hat tip to Vince Poscente for making me aware of that clip. It makes me laugh until my sides hurt every time I see it.
This is a skill worth practicing. I often have to adjust my content on the fly because of variances in the event agenda. Being able to adapt and adjust at the last minute can save you a lot of grief and make you look really good to event organizers.
Bet you thought I’d be going over the presidential inauguration speeches, eh? Not today! I’ll do a post about it later, as there was some interesting stuff going on. I was live tweeting during the inauguration, though – click here to see my in-the-moment thoughts regarding the rhetoric. Check my tweets from January 20th. Communication… Continue Reading
Improving public speaking means so much more than doing vocal drills, practicing your body language, or even rehearsing your presentation materials.* A big part of it is doing some deep thinking about what “good” public speaking means to you. One of the things that trips many of us up when we decide to work… Continue Reading