public speaking

Another Public Speaking Horror Story

This isn’t one that happened to a specific individual.

This is a horror story that happened to all of us… and continues to happen to people each and every day. This is not what happened to Michael Bay. It’s much worse. It’s a pervasive horror story that is a part of our educational system, and sticks with us to the boardrooms and convention centers of every city, in every country where meetings are held. Let me explain by telling you a story: the other week, I was at a family dinner. We were discussing my nephew’s pending public speech, and I was being asked for any tips or tricks that might help him be successful. I asked him where was in the process of being ready, and this is what he told me: “I’ve written out the full speech and I’m almost done memorizing it.”

My knees buckled.

I had these sudden and terrible flashbacks to being in both elementary and high school. Being forced to write out a four minute speech on index cards, and then being forced to memorize it. The index cards weren’t there for support. Those index cards were the bain of my existence. They had every word – as they should be spoken – on them. They were not be used. They were there as moral support, in case I had forgotten what was supposed to be memorized. Every peek at those cards while speaking, was a physical sign to the class – and to the teacher – that I was not prepared. In a “break the glass here in case of emergency” scenario, I would see my fellow classmates cower in panic and wind up head down, nervously reading/mumbling their way through the reading of the cards, in a effort to simply finish the speech and make it (however pathetically) across the finish line. What was learned? From the speaker’s perspective, it was all about writing an essay, attempting to memorize it and then, ultimately, reading it aloud (nervously) to the class. From the audiences perspective, it’s hard to remember any of the content, because we were all too busy trying to figure out if our friend before us was about to have a public meltdown. Overall, it’s hard to focus on why we’re there (hint: it’s to learn) when everybody is focused on the performance instead.

Brutal. We still consider this public speaking.

If you look at what constitutes a good public presentation, the core of what we’re teaching young people is fundamentally wrong from the first instance. Here is a breakdown of what is happening when we teach public speaking contrasted with what we should be teaching…

  • Step one. We are teaching people to write out the full speech. We should be teaching people to choose the three most important aspects of what they need to explain about their chosen topic. Let’s say you are asked to give a speech on the electric bass. We are asking people to study the instrument, and then write three minutes worth of something to say. Instead, I would recommend breaking it into three (or four) chunks. Like this:

    1. Where did the electric bass come from?
    2. What is the electric bass (from a hardware perspective)?
    3. How is it played (techniques and styles)?
    4. Which bass players are inspiring?
  • Step two. We are asking people to memorize the full speech. We should be teaching people to look at each component of these three/four parts and simply write out – in easy to remember bullet points – a couple of lines about each section so you can better understand both the content you should be covering and the flow. As an example, for the first main section (Where did the electric bass come from?):

    1. In the 1930s, musician and inventor Paul Tutmarc from Seattle, Washington, developed the first electric string bass in its modern form.
    2. In the 1950s, Leo Fender developed the first mass-produced electric bass. His Fender Precision Bass is still an industry standard.
    3. In the 1960′s many music instrument manufacturers began mass producing these instruments because of the popularity of rock music.
  • Step three. We are asking people once they have memorized the speech to then learn some basic physical and vocal moves to improve the performance of memorizing a written story. We should be teaching people to add color (a funny story or anecdote) to support their three key points. If you do a quick search online about bass players or funny stories about the history of the electric bass, there are many interesting and hilarious anecdotes. Takes some of these stories, think about how you can best tell them, and then insert those stories into the framework above. Knowing the stories will also be a great way to remember the key bullet-points of your story.
  • Step four. Practice. Start by trying to remember each of the main three/four concepts you are going to speak about (this is also your agenda). Then take each main point and remember the two or three pieces you will talk about within each one of them. Then repeat the last step, but include the stories/anecdotes that you will be adding in to add color and depth to them. Lastly, set-up a bunch of times in your agenda and start practicing it as if you were speaking in front of an audience (don’t wait until the night before!). Practice it a lot (or as much as you can). If you can pull together a small group of friends (even if it’s via Skype or Google Hangout) to watch you do it, all the better.

No more horror stories.

There is no need to write up a story and then figure out how to read it or memorize it and say it to an audience. That is not giving a presentation. That is reading something in public or reciting something from memory that was written. Writing is not the same thing as speaking and/or presenting. What this all boils down to is learning about a topic, figuring out what makes it interesting to you, supporting those thoughts with stories and anecdotes, and then practicing it enough so that you are comfortable to present those ideas in public. We need to do a better job of holding our educational system accountable to produce people who are good at speaking in front of audiences and sharing ideas. Death to writing out speeches. Death to being forced to memorize these written words. Death to index cards. Death to feeling nervous or anxious about memorization.

Let’s put an end to this, shall we?

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If You’re Going To Speak In Public, Please Don’t Do This…

Everyone is talking about the Michael Bay meltdown that happened at CES.

I hate the whole “kicking someone when they are down mentality,” but this is worth watching if you ever have to present or speak in public…

Ugh… it’s tough to watch, isn’t it?

Because I am often asked to speak in public and I have a personal passion for the art of public speaking, my email, social feeds and phone have (literally) been a-buzz all day about this incident. I can’t imagine how Bay currently feels (if you’re interested, he has posted a response on his personal blog and did a brief interview with TMZ). The human side of this is brutal. I would hate for this to happen to anyone. I’m sure he’s not feeling all that great about the situation. And, to make it even worse, I feel like even commenting on this incident simply creates more attention to it (which, I am sure, Bay does not really want). That being said…

This incident has nothing to do with public speaking, a fear of public speaking or anything like that!

It’s true. Michael Bay was not doing any form of public speaking. He was going to read on stage, live in front of an audience (something that he has never read or rehearsed before). That’s not speaking. That’s reading. He was going to attempt Public Reading not Public Speaking (these are not the same thing). I write a lot about this particular issue/fear right here: Overcoming Stage Fright. Bay is not a professional speaker. Bay never claimed to be a professional speaker. Still, Samsung paid him and he agreed to this event. The teleprompter either broke or he said the wrong line and this threw off the script and flow. The truth is that none of that matters because Bay broke the cardinal rule of presenting in public long before the wheels of his plane touched the ground in Las Vegas: he did not prepare. Not even for a second. You can tell by watching the video. Regardless of the teleprompter, it’s clear that Bay had two speaking points: what is his work day in and day out, and what does he think of the new curved glass TV? He got so flustered that he couldn’t even respond to those two questions, so he bolted from the stage. Five minutes of preparation would have changed all of that. Yes, five minutes.

It goes like this…

Here’s how the five minute preparation should have gone in terms of giving Bay some direction: “We’re going to use a teleprompter and it has our whole script on it. Let’s meet 30 minutes before we go live and run through it a couple of times to get a feel for the stage and the interaction between everyone on stage. Technology might fail us, so if it does, let’s just be sure that you’re comfortable speaking to two key points: what your job is every day and how you work, and what you think about the new Samsung TV. If things really start going bad, be comfortable acknowledging it by letting the audience know that you’re a director, that you’re nervous but you’re also really excited about this new TV and everything it can do.” Obviously, nobody wants to be at the point where we’re apologizing and letting the audience know that we’re nervous, but that is the parachute for moments like this. In that quick five minute conversation, Bay would have had a mental framework, and would have been able to take ownership of the content instead of being paralyzed because he didn’t know or prepare any of the content (regardless of the teleprompter).

…And here we are.

Bay is right. In his TMZ interview he said that he had a “human moment.” We all have them. Good, bad and ugly. So, what turned out to be a bad day for Bay and an embarrassing moment deserves some empathy, but it’s not something that could happen to any of us. It’s something that happens when you don’t know the content and don’t do any preparation. So yes, it’s a human moment, but it is a completely preventable one. I write this because it’s moments like this that people will point to as a reason/excuse for them to not present (“I don’t want to pull a Michael Bay up there, so I better not speak!”). You don’t have to be a master presenter. You don’t have to be a pro. You do have to have a semblance of knowledge as to what you’re going to speak about, and you do have to prepare for it (more on that right here: How To Give A Great Presentation (Seriously). I feel terrible for Bay. I watched that YouTube clip once and could not watch it again. It is very uncomfortable for everyone. What’s most important is that it doesn’t act as a deterrent for you (or anyone you know) to speak. If you do know your content and you have prepared, and you do freeze up (which can happen), please don’t run off. Just stop. Let the audience know that you’re human and that you are nervous. Apologize. Nobody will die and no one will hate you. At the same time, also let them know that you have prepared. Then, ask yourself this one question (in your mind): “what did I want to tell these good looking people?” And answer it to the audience.

You will be fine.

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The Best Gift That You Can Give Yourself

We are quickly entering into the holiday season.

That’s a lie. We’re already deep into it. The parking lots at the local shopping mall are unbearable. The streets are filled with people trying to get everything in order before we all take a well-deserved break next week to spend time with our loved ones (and the ones we have to fake it with). With that joy and happiness often comes some excess (too much food, too much drink) and some lapses (not enough good judgement, not enough time to go to the gym). As the week unfolds, we look towards the New Year and all of the things that we’re hoping to accomplish to make the next year better than the last one.

Let’s not talk about resolutions.

Forget about what you should be doing. Forget about the few pounds you need to shake off or the exercise program that you’re going to start (CrossFit anyone?). Let’s not talk about that book that you’re finally going to write or how neat and tidy you’re going to keep your work area. Instead, I want you to think about the five people who impress you the most in life. They don’t just have to be business leaders. They could be artists, musicians, celebrities, comedians, philanthropists, comedians, doctors, teachers… it doesn’t really matter. List them off. Take two minutes and write next to their names what makes them so great at what they do. I’ll wait…

What did you find?

Where did presentation skills or their ability to tell a great story show up? Most people don’t realize it, but this is – without a doubt – the one thing that each and every admired individual has in common. Yes, they each have intellect, skill, wisdom, creativity and more, but without their ability to cogently communicate it, most great things simply die on the vine. I’m often asked about my route to success. It’s an awkward thing for me to think about, because I don’t consider myself successful. I still feel like a kid who is on a path and trying to find just the right direction. That being said, I know when I found my confidence… and that came when I got comfortable presenting. I used to panic in meetings. As people would go around the table to introduce themselves, I would get sweaty palms and cotton balls in my mouth as my turn arrived. My voice would be weak and meager when I spoke. I was unsure about myself and worried what others would think of me. When I was first asked to speak in public, I choked. I made all of the classic mistakes. I put it off until the last minute, I wrote up a speech and tried to read it to the audience. It was a brutal. I wanted to die. Several years later, when I got another chance to speak (this time on a much bigger platform), I took the time to get it right (you can read much more about the process right here: How To Give A Great Presentation (Seriously)). That changed everything for me. It made me a better businessperson, a better member of my community, a better friend and a better family member. When I learned how to present, it made me a better person. Period.   

What kind of presentation skills do you have? Seriously.

It’s not about knocking it out of the park in your next sales presentation, it’s about something much deeper. For the next few weeks, start paying close attention to those that you admire and those that you aspire to be. Watch how they present. In small groups. In large groups. When they are one on one. Watch how they not only present ideas and concepts, but how they weave stories in to make a point or to be memorable. My guess is that you will have the same awakening moment as I did (nearly eight years ago). Those who can present… and present well by telling a compelling story… typically win (unless they’re using their powers to be deceitful and dishonest).

Here’s the gift that you can give yourself…

What those people have is not a gift. It’s a skill set. Sure, for some it comes more naturally and some will be better at it than others, but it is still a skill. A learnable skill. Here’s my New Year’s promise to you: the better you get at presenting, the better your income will be. If you’ve been playing along, you will know that I have been blogging daily for over ten years, and I tend to not make dramatic statements like this. But, it is true. I have seen people go from non-existent skills/decent presentation skills to being really good at it, and I’ve seen their income grow exponentially along with their rate of growth in presentation skills. So, if you’re thinking of what to get for yourself during this holiday season, I’m going to recommend that you give yourself the gift of better presentations skills.

Where do you start?

If you want to get started right away, take a look at what your local Toastmasters are doing. I’d also snoop around and see if anyone in your area offers up a course on stand-up comedy. Typically, the gist of those courses get you thinking about how to build a story (in this case, a funny one) and by the end, they want you on stage trying it. You should also follow the blogging, books and courses of people like Nick Morgan, Nancy Duarte, Garr Reynolds, Peter Coughter and Jeffrey Gitomer. Head over to YouTube or iTunes and watch presentations from the people that you admire most. Watch how they build a story and follow their body language as well.

It’s a gift. You deserve to give yourself something. Do this. You will enjoy the process. You will be thankful that you did. Promise.

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Always Impress The Band

My first speaking gig.

It happened a little over seven years ago. It wasn’t really my first speaking gig, so much as my first “real” speaking gig. I was asked to take part in a full-day leadership event that was being headlined by Dr. Phil. There was only a handful of speakers and my role was to talk about personal branding and the power of new media to share who you are with the world. I did not take the invitation lightly. I worked tireless for months on the content, the visuals and the mechanics of the event. I worked with a handful of coaches from professional trainers to a stand-up comedian. I didn’t want to mess it up… but not in the way that you think.

Don’t make a fool of yourself.

I’m guessing that most people placed in that situation would have the generalized anxiety that comes from speaking, only magnified due to the thousands of people and the line-up of world-class bestselling authors and thought leaders. Anybody who isn’t dead from the shoulders up would feel that pressure. What if the audience doesn’t like me? What if the audience doesn’t like my content? What if the audience realizes that I’m not an expert? What if I make a fool of myself? What if I pass out from nerves? What if I make in my pants? These are just some of the common fears that make people more scared of public speaking than they are of dying.

I had a different fear of speaking.

My fear was that I did not want to let down the event promoter who was taking a chance on me and putting me on a stage that I didn’t have any business being on. I didn’t want to let him down or his team. I wasn’t trying to impress myself or the audience… I was just trying to impress him. Things haven’t changed all that much. Now, when I speak, I’m doing my best to always impress the people who represent me as a professional speaker (namely, Speaker’s Spotlight and Greater Talent Network) and the organizations that have invited me to speak. That isn’t entirely true. From a pure performance standpoint, I have one mission when I get to an event: I want to impress the a/v people. These people sit there – day in and day out – and see/hear every kind of speaker ad nauseam. My theory is simple: if I can entertain and inform these people, keep their attention, and keep them off of their smartphones then I’m more than confident that I can do the same for the audience.

Why I am telling you this.

This morning, on my way to the airport, I was listening to Howard Stern interview John Stamos. Howard was asking John about how he managed to play for The Beach Boys (dating back to the eighties). As the story unfolded, Stamos revealed that his first gig was in front of thousands upon thousands of people. Stern probed about just how nervous he must have been, when Stamos shot back: “I just wanted to impress the band.”    

Impress the band.

Hearing Stamos say that he just wanted to impress the band, reminded me of how my self-talk prior to speaking is all about trying to impress the a/v team or the event coordinators or the talent agents. When I see successful people in action, they’re not trying to please everybody, but are focused – like a laser beam – on trying to make someone who either inspired them or gave them the opportunity to be thrilled and delighted that they did so. They’re trying to impress the people who have literally “been there/done that.” Stamos’ one-liner reminded me to always make sure that I’m doing my best to impress “the band” in my life… whoever that “band” may be.

Always impress the band.

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Have to Give a Presentation? Here Are 8 Quick Tips To Go From Zero to Hero

You’ve heard the saying, “What’s the one thing people fear more than death? Public Speaking”. That’s why so few people do it. That’s why I avoided it at all costs for many years. But then I became so interested and passionate about the work I was doing, I decided to accept a speaking request in [...]

How To Give A Great Presentation (Seriously)

You’re doing it wrong.

People hate it when someone says, “you’re doing it wrong,” but trust me… you’re doing it wrong when it comes to how you prepare for a public speech. I’m sure this will upset many people, but let’s walk through the typical scenario of how someone is asked to speak and what happens next:

  • Step 1: someone gets asked to present on a specific topic.
  • Step 2: the presenter agrees to present.
  • Step 3: the presenter puts it in the back of their mind that they must prepare for this event, but because speaking in public is so nerve-wracking, they put it off for the last possible moment.
  • Step 4: in the week leading up to the presentation, the speaker starts writing down notes and building a PowerPoint deck. It could be more severe than this. Sometimes they write up the speech that they are going to read to the audience (please don’t do this).
  • Step 5: a day or two (but mostly likely, the night before), the speaker runs through the slides and (if they’re really keeners) will practice it formally in front of a mirror a few times.
  • Step 6: they deliver their presentation to an unsuspecting crowd.

Sound familiar?

This is, without question, the worst way to ever give a public presentation, and yet this is how the vast majority do it. Why? Because the first time that the speaker is ever going to give this presentation will be the most important time and – possibly – the last time as well. Ultimately, you are taking this material for a test drive when, in fact, that audience is the grand prix. When you are asked to present, the material should already have been road tested, tweaked and perfected (as much as possible). It sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it? Well, that’s the point. Most presentations suck because the presenter didn’t put in the work. Trust me, as much as you may like U2, you do not want to be there when they first try out a song together for the first time. It takes a lot of work to get that song to the point when it is ready for an album or live show.

This is how to really prepare for a public speech:

  • Step 1: someone gets asked to present on a specific topic.
  • Step 2: don’t agree to speak unless you have enough time to prepare and test the content out live in front of a few real audiences (this can be a simple lunch and learn at your office, joining your local Toastmasters or asking some friends to endure it over some beer and pizza).
  • Step 3: don’t agree to the topic that is being requested. Let the people who are asking know that you will get back to them in 48 hours with some thoughts on what the topic should be.
  • Step 4: spend the next day thinking about what you would like to present and how it will come together. Jot down some simple notes and top line thoughts on the subject.
  • Step 5: get confirmation and finalize the speaking topic – to your satisfaction – with the event organizers.
  • Step 6: build a plan. Work backwards from the date and create a calendar for when you will prepare your content, rehearse your content, present it to your colleagues and then, ultimately, the event.
  • Step 7: build an outline for your presentation. If you have never done this before, check out the work of Nancy Duarte, Nick Morgan and Garr Reynolds. All three of these presentation masters have tons of free content on how to structure a solid presentation.
  • Step 8: build your presentation. Have no more than three areas of focus.
  • Step 9: enlist some help. If you don’t think that your presentation skills are up to snuff, please get some help. Again, Toastmasters is great, a local presentation skills coach or even a local stand-up comedian can best help you massage the content and build proper presentation skills. You will be amazed at what you can learn in just a couple of hours.
  • Step 10: rehearse on your own.
  • Step 11: rehearse in front of the smaller audiences.
  • Step 12: ask them for candid feedback.
  • Step 13: integrate the feedback that makes sense.
  • Step 14: rehearse in front of another smaller audience.
  • Step 15: ask them for candid feedback.
  • Step 16: integrate the feedback that makes sense.
  • Step 17: ask one of your presentation coaches for their feedback once you have integrated everything from all of your test-run speeches.
  • Step 18: integrate your coach’s feedback.
  • Step 19: practice some more on your own, and watch speakers that you would consider to be great (YouTube is amazing for this). Think about what they’re doing that wins you over. Try to integrate those lessons into your own presentations.
  • Step 20: step away from the content for a few days.
  • Step 21: step back in and keep practicing.
  • Step 22: present at the event… and knock ‘em alive!

Sounds like a lot of hard work, doesn’t it?

It is. The great public speakers make it look easy. It feels like they’re presenting the content for the very first time. The truth is that most of them have practiced and road-tested their material for a while. They are constantly nurturing, tweaking and optimizing it. They look comfortable, because they are comfortable and familiar with the content. There may be some content pieces that are brand new, but it is usually an iterative process. Sadly, most presenters are so unprepared that their only goal is to either get to the end of their slides in their allotted time or read their pre-written speech from the podium without wetting their pants. What most presenters fail to realize is that nobody cares about you getting to the end of your slides or if you survived reading a document in public. People are in the audience for two (main reasons):

  1. To learn.
  2. To be entertained while learning.

No matter how serious the event is, people don’t want to be sitting all day and be bored listening to people reading from slides or reading from their printed out Word document. So, the next time you’re asked to present, don’t just say “yes,” unless you’re willing to commit the serious time, effort and energy to do it right. Why? Because if you don’t take it seriously, you’re just perpetuating a world where all of us have to endure another slew of painful meetings and presentations.

Who wants that? 

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5 Public Speaking Tips That’ll Prepare You for Any Interview

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Landing a job interview is incredibly exciting –- and often terrifying. But fear not. There are clever ways to transform your angst into nerves of steel. After all, a good interview should feel like a conversation, not an interrogation. Here are five essential key tips from the world of public speaking that’ll help you look just as awesome in person as you do on paper

1. Know Yourself

Most people dread the moment when their interviewer utters the words – “So, tell me about yourself.” But it’s actually the simplest question to navigate once you get down to the root of what’s being asked. “Tell me about yourself” really translates to: “What can you tell me about how your personality, interests, work habits and background will help you rock this position?” Read more…

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