Monday, December 21, 2009

Speech Advice from the Boss

After listening to quite a few bad acceptance speeches at this year's Golden Globe Awards, here's a great one:

No magic potion here. He's 100 percent himself. Humble. Lyrical. Inspiring.

From the Green Room: Find your authentic voice. There is no great way to communicate your message. And no greater gift you can give your audience.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

3...2...1 Lift Off!

My five-year old son is passionately interested in space shuttles.

As a near complete ignoramus on the subject, I am grateful to be learning new things from him each day.

Just recently, for instance, he opened my eyes to the wonder of the Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs). I had no idea, for example, that two SRBs provide the main thrust to lift the shuttle off the launch pad. Once the shuttle has reached an altitude of 150,000, the rockets drop into the ocean and are subsequently recovered.

Imagine that.

These enormous rockets' sole purpose is the get the shuttle on it's way.

Then it hit me.

This is what's missing from so many presentations.

So often, we begin a presentation with hesitation and self-deprecation, when what we really need is 2,800,000 pounds of force. Without a powerful lift-off, your presentation will never get off the ground.

What every presentation needs is a pair of Solid Rocket Boosters.

Let's call the first one the "Content Rocket Booster." Get right into the heart of your message. Don't waste time with pleasanteries. Demonstrate immediately that you have something significant to offer your listeners.

Let's call the second one the "Delivery Rocket Booster." This rocket takes off from the moment you walk up to the podium. Even your most powerful content will lose it's liftoff force if it is not supported by your delivery.

And the amazing thing about your SRBs? Like the space shuttle SRBs, you can reuse them again and again. Once you have developed one powerful opener, you can replicate much of the energy, structure, and delivery in subsequent presentations.

From the Green Room: Think of your opener as a space shuttle liftoff. You need extra power - in both content and delivery - to fully capture the audience's attention and get your speech off the ground.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Know. Feel. Do.

As a small business owner, I looked forward to hearing this ABC video, "Winners of the Home-Based 100." Rich Sloan, co-founder of StartupNation discusses three of the winners and the entrepreneurial strategy each one uses. Click on the link below and then click on the second video at the bottom of the screen.

Rich does a terrific job of implementing three of my favorite speaking strategies:

1. He speaks as if he is having a one-on-one conversation with the listener.

2. He uses the Rule of Three.

3. He uses Know, Feel, Do.

What do I mean?

The first company offers a cognitive lesson. Sloan talks about Priceless Profiles, a company that produces improved profiles for online dating. The take-home strategy here is that the company takes a common skill (writing) and uses it in an uncommon market. This is clearly a knowledge-based strategy.

The second company immediately connects to our emotions. Haralee Weintraub, a breast cancer survivor, had suffered from night sweats during her chemo-therapy treatment and started a business selling wicking PJs. The listener could not help but feel inspired and moved by Haralee's story.

Finally, the third company tackled the action piece. Christine Perkett, founder of Perkett PR, advises entrepreneurs to "Listen as much as you can" to what the market is saying.

From the Green Room: When using the Rule of Three, the order matters.

1. Know. First give your listeners a vital piece of information.
2. Feel. Next, connect to their emotions.
3. Do. Finally, tell them exactly what action you want them to take.

Know. Feel. Do. It's simple, it's clear and it works.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Speech Advice from Mary Poppins

Here's something we all know - but too often forget:

If your words say one thing and your delivery says the opposite, your audience almost always believes your delivery.

Watch the song "Stay Awake" from Mary Poppins, and let it serve as a gentle reminder of this principle:

From the Green Room: Synthesize your content and your delivery. If your words are meant to inspire and awaken, and your message doesn't match, you just might end up (in your case, unintentionally) putting your audience to sleep!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanksgiving and the Power of the Call to Action

Earlier this year, I discussed what we can learn from Abraham Lincoln's delivery style.

Now as Thanksgiving approaches, I want to focus on his content.

In 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a National Thanksgiving Day

In his Thanksgiving proclamation, Lincoln spoke of the importance of gratitude in a time of profound national strife. But as eloquent as his words may have been, it was only his call to action that gave his statement such lasting impact:

I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea, and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and prayer to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.

Lincoln's moving proclamation is a powerful reminder of the importance of including a clear action step in almost any speech.

Only rarely do we give a fully informative speech. Almost always, there is something we want our listeners to do.

We celebrate Thanksgiving each year as a national holiday because one leader called us to action. Each presentation is an opportunity not simply to inform but to influence change.

From the Green Room: Each time you prepare a presentation, ask yourself:

What do I want my audience to do after hearing me?

Then decide on a specific action.
Clarifying the goal beforehand will help guide and focus your presentation.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Don't Sacrifice the Eyes

Yesterday I led a presentation skills training for a group of nonprofit fundraisers.

As we practiced "connection techniques" (ways to use voice, body language, and eyes to connect with the listener), one participant asked,

"Many times, we have to make phone calls to people we don't know. How can we apply this training?"

I had a difficult time answering him.

On one hand, I could help him find ways to connect with a stranger over the phone. (vocal variation, warmth of tone, etc.) But really, I knew this would be insufficient.

Phone solicitations work when the listener has already made a commitment. The phone call merely seals the deal. The goal here is not connection - but rather completion.

The power of conversation can only be truly realized in a live format.

While so much is lost in non-live exchange, perhaps the greatest sacrifice is eye contact.

As a speaker, the most powerful way to engage your listener is by truly looking him in the eye. This is true whether you are speaking to an audience of 1 or 1,000.

On a fundamental level, human beings want to be seen.

And making eye contact is the most fundamental and the most powerful to do this.

From the Green Room: If you really need something from somebody, don't sacrifice your greatest asset - your eyes. Take the time to meet face to face and make sustained, direct eye contact. Even if you are speaking to a large group, this is the most powerful way to connect.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Welcome Your Guests

So often we begin a speech by thanking the audience or someone in the audience for asking us to speak. This small (arguably unnecessary gesture) perhaps unknowingly puts the speaker in the mindset of being a guest. The speaker subsequently must ingratiate himself to the "hosts" - the audience.

What happens?

The speaker pulls back. After all, it's difficult to fully be yourself when you're a guest in someone's home. Particularly, if you don't know the hosts well.

Stephanie Scotti, author of the blog, Speaker Notes, offers this excellent piece of advice:

Transform the Room... Close your eyes for a moment and shift your thinking. This is no longer a ballroom, or a boardroom, or a trade show hall…it’s your living room. And the audience, each and every one of them, is a welcomed guest.

Just as you would greet guests arriving at your home, adopt the same attitude in welcoming listeners to your presentation. This simple change of perspective allows you to project confidence and manage the dynamics of the room. Because, after all, you’re the host.

From the Green Room: Instead of thanking the audience for inviting you, welcome them to your presentation.
In an instant, you are no longer a guest, but rather the host - with a wonderful presentation to offer each of your guests who have come to hear you.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Remember the Rule of Three

Today I taught a music class for a group of 2-year olds.

One of the songs they like best is called "Me, You, We."

Each verse contains three lines of one word each:








and finally...




That's it. Really.

And the kids love it! Why? Because it's so easy to remember.

Today I realized that even at the tender age of two, people respond to the Rule of Three.

People remember things much more in threes than they do in twos - or even one. Me, You, We is especially memorable, as the words in each of the verses connect to each other.

From the Green Room: Whether you are speaking for 30 seconds or 30 minutes, remember the Rule of Three.

Break down your speech into three distinct points.

Even better, find a thematic way to connect your three points to each other.

(e.g. Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow; Stop, look, listen; We came, we saw, we conquered)

It's simple, it's clear, and it works!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Prepare for Your Fallibility: Mind Blank Recovery Tips from Olivia Mitchell

It happens to each of us. No matter how prepared you are, there will come a time in your speaking career when you have a mind blank.

The question to ask yourself is not "Will this happen to me?"

The question you should be asking is "When this happens to me, will I know what to do?"

Olivia Mitchell, author of the Speaking about Presenting blog offers some excellent tips for both preventing and recovering from mind blanks.

I especially appreciate her advice to practice remembering and to develop a recovery routine:

Practice remembering

If you can’t think of what you want to say during a rehearsal, don’t jump straight to your notes. Try and remember what you want to say. This will strengthen your memory for the flow of the presentation and will train your brain to remember – rather than panic.

Develop a recovery routine

Work out how you’ll recover from a mind blank. Here’s my suggested recovery routine:

  1. Stop talking
  2. Look at your notes and find your place
  3. Look ahead in your notes to see what comes next
  4. Decide what you will say next
  5. Look up again
  6. Find someone to talk to
  7. Start talking.
What I like about this advice is that it shows the importance not just of preparing your content and delivery - but also of preparing for your fallibility.

By accepting that you can and will make mistakes - and that this is just fine - you can better prepare for and even embrace the unexpected.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

When the Speech Trainer Has Stagefright

Yesterday, I learned an important lesson about a major pitfall of public speaking - not from watching someone else, but from my own mistake.

I was teaching a class (not about speaking) and realized about 20 minutes beforehand that I was unprepared. I thought I had done enough work. I thought I knew what I was doing.

What I realized was that I had not taken ownership over my content. And it was too late to do anything about it.

I tell my clients that if you are crystal clear about your message - if you really know what you want the audience to understand, then the delivery just flows.

And if you don't? It's much harder to overcome anxiety - especially if you are asked to convey real information.

This is what happened to me yesterday.

My heart raced. My palms got sweaty. I panicked.

I made it through the class, but I felt pretty miserable afterward.

I am grateful to have had this experience, as it reinforced for me the absolute importance not just of knowing your material, but of distilling it into a clear and focused message.

I was reminded of an earlier post on this blog - Be A Starfish Speaker. I wrote:

Visualize your presentation as a starfish. Your central message is the middle and your main points radiate our from there. If you get off track, just return back to the center.

I was unable to return to the center, because I hadn't yet solidified my core message.

Yesterday I broke my own rule and I paid the price.

From the Green Room: There is simply no substitute for preparation. Even if you are a speech trainer.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Getting to the Root Cause of Stagefright

Lisa Braithwaite, speech coach and author of the Speak Schmeak public speaking blog commented on my last post and referenced a terrific letter to the editor, which she posted in her blog back in 2007:

The letter, written by Ed Barks, discussed some potential pitfalls of the speaking advice offered in the Post's article about the Stagefright Survival School. Ed offered this alternative:

Those who hope to overcome their fears must attack them at the root. The cause may be stage fright. Or it may be something altogether different, such as shyness, insecurity, uncertainty about one's topic, fear of being judged, lack of passion or another cause.

In other words, having a speaker hold on to a microphone, prescribing beta-blockers, etc treats the symptoms of stagefright - but not the cause. By just treating the symptoms, speakers may learn how to cope with stagefright, but they will never overcome it.

For many people, stagefright is a learned response that comes from a traumatic performance experience in childhood. (e.g. piano recital, school play, class presentation...) Every time the person is asked to speak, he returns to the childhood trauma.

At Green Room Speakers, clients learn how to overcome stagefright first by identifying the root causes. Then we help clients break the pattern of negative association, by helping them connect speaking in public with past experiences of strength, calm, and presence.

From the Green Room: Have Stagefright? Don't fear. You can do more than just learn to cope with it. By getting the root of the anxiety, you can learn to overcome - and actually begin to enjoy speaking in public.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Got Stagefright? Try This.

Many of my clients prefer to speak with a podium because "it gives me something to hold on to."

The impulse to hold onto something is sound. It makes you feel grounded - which is a very good thing when you're nervous.

I remembered that in February 2007, the Washington Post published an article about stagefright in which they highlighted techniques used at the Stagefright Survival School in Alexandria, VA:

"We also use grounding techniques," Charney says. "You grab hold of the podium and with your hands squeeze as hard as you can. You move the locus of attention away from your bad thoughts to your hand. Pain in your hand is better than craziness in your mind at the moment."

The problem is that there really is no way to hold onto the podium gracefully. You always look as though you're clinging to it for dear life - which perhaps you are.

Here is a technique I learned from the Ron Hoff's public speaking handbook, I Can See You Naked:

As you speak, keep your arms loosely by your sides and on each hand, press your thumb and forefinger together. You will feel as though you are holding on to something - and the best part is that the audience will never know.

It's a grounding technique that helps control stagefright, while keeping the speaker looking strong.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Getting in the Green Room - The Zen of Surfing and Speaking

I originally decided to call my company Green Room Speakers because of its theater definition:

From Wikipedia:

A green room is a room in a theater, studio, or other public venue for the accommodation of performers or speakers when not required on the stage.

In other words, the green room is a place for performers to prepare before they get on stage.

Yet I recently learned that green room has a second definition.

In surfing, the green room is the inside of a barrel that is produced by a wave. This term was coined due to the color of light reflected into the barrel.

This moment of being inside the barrel of the wave is described as the ultimate zen surfing experience.

The Utne reader just published an article called The Zen of Surfing. The article describes how understanding the wave is the key to enjoying it:

If you understand the wave and how it moves, you don't have to be afraid of it (or at the very least, you can be less afraid). After all, when you break a wave down to its basic nature, it is just cycling energy moving through water. When the conditions are right, when the water is shallow enough, the wave is born.

When I realized this on an experiential level, the waves lost their ability to paralyze me. I began to see through them and enjoy riding them.... And when a beautiful wave comes,... we can catch it, maybe even get inside the hollow tube and see its beautiful emptiness.

This is what it means to be inside the Green Room.

At Green Room Speakers, I help my clients learn now to master their anxiety and get in the zone - the green room - each time they get up to speak. For many speakers, the experience of being in the green room is one of pure connection to the audience.

This is a learned skill and one we can all cultivate.

Monday, September 21, 2009

What Patrick Swayze Taught Us About the Art of Public Speaking

A great speech coach once gave me the following advice:

Try practicing your entire speech without once moving your head.

Not easy.

This is the way Patrick Swayze danced.

Look at the closing scene from Dirty Dancing. His body moves in perfect rhythm. He is beyond sexy. And his head remains absolutely still.

This enables him to maintain full eye contact with Jennifer Grey - and is, I believe, the secret to what makes this scene so riveting and so memorable.

From the Green Room: To master the art of public speaking, as you make eye contact with individuals in your audience, try keeping your head as still as possible.

Thank you Patrick Swayze.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Inspiration from Steve Jobs

Given Steve Jobs' return to work last week after a 5-month medical leave following his liver transplant, there's no better time than now to go back and listen to Jobs' 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University.

I first heard the speech three years ago, when I had just gotten into this work. It continues to be a source of inspiration to me:

Jobs speaks powerfully about the vital importance of loving what you do.

I believe this lesson can be applied even if you are not "in love" with your work - or with your presentation topic.

In other words. even if you are given the task of delivering speak on an inherently dull, dry, loveless, or otherwise miserable subject, strive to connect it to something you care about. For some, this is an impossible task - yet even the effort of trying will make a difference.

The more you can find reasons to care about your content - and about the people who are listening to you - the stronger your presentation will be.

From the Green Room: Each time you speak, try to connect your content to something you really care about. And if you find yourself feeling utterly uninspired, watch Steve Jobs' commencement speech, again.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Be a Starfish Speaker

One day this summer, while walking with my family on the Santa Barbara pier, my son excitedly pointed out to me a large starfish floating in the water.

We talked that day about the starfish's amazing powers of regeneration. We couldn't help but wonder, wouldn't it be great if people also could grow back lost limbs?

But then it occured to me that in a metaphorical sense, we can!

Many of my clients express anxiety that they will forget part of their speech and that this will get them off track and ultimately ruin the whole speech.

To address this anxiety, perhaps we can learn a thing or two from the starfish.

You see, most starfish are able to regenerate limbs only if they have their central body intact.

Next time you prepare your content and each and every time you practice your speech, first review the central message of your presentation. You should be able to state this in no more than one sentence.

Then if you "lose a limb" during your speech (i.e. forget a point, lose track of your direction, etc.), as long as you return to your central message, you can always regenerate that portion of your presentation. It may not look exactly the way it did before, but it will get your point across.

From the Green Room: Visualize your presentation as a starfish. Your central message is the middle and your main points radiate our from there. If you get off track, just return back to the center.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Less is More

Yesterday I had a fascinating conversation with a conductor who spent the summer working with an orchestra in Salzburg. She spoke of the challenge of communicating with the musicians in German, when she barely speaks the language.

The conductor was forced to say less and rely even more on nonverbal communication and say only what was absolutely necessary. She realized that she was able to get across the same information just as effectively - and much more efficiently - than when she was speaking in English.

From the Green Room: Next time you prepare a presentation, imagine that you will be speaking to a group of people for whom English is a second language. Eliminate filler words. Speak as simply and clearly as possible. Focus on the essence of what you are trying to communicate. Then try practicing your speech focusing solely on nonverbal communication (gestures, facial expressions, movement, etc).

You will see that by using fewer words, you will actually say much more.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Emotional Power of Variety

In the June 2009 issue of Oprah magazine, Tim Jarvis discusses a psychology study conducted by Dr. Emily Pronin at Stanford on the power of speed reading to raise spirits. Pronin discovered that fast-thinking activities such as speed-reading actually induce a positive mood.

At the same time, she also found that in certain situations, such as times of stress, slowing down makes us happier. Pronin concludes:

"We found that varied thoughts tend to be more uplifting, whereas repetitive thinking tends to be mood downer."

The same is true for a listening audience.

A presentation with vocal variety - in volume, pace, pitch and emotion - is not only more interesting to listen to, but makes your audience feel better listening to you so that they want to hear more.

From the Green Room: Vary your voice. You will lift your audience's spirits so they have more energy to listen to you.

Begin With the Unexpected

While visiting my husband's family in Santa Barbara this week, I had the pleasure of listening to a performance of the Canadian Brass at the Lobero Theater.

As we took our seats, I noticed that the stage was set up predicably - with black chairs arranged in a semi-circle, music stands, and brass instruments ready.

When the lights went down, we heard horns playing from the back of the concert hall and turned around to see the quintet slowly walking down the aisles, playing what sounded like a graceful processional. By the time they reached the stage, they had us.

What was so brilliant about this entrance, was that the stage set-up had led us to believe that the musicians would enter from the wings. The simple twist of entering from the back - and thus physically being with the audience - enabled the musicians to both surprise and connect to us. The effect was both captivating and endearing. You could feel the warmth and affection coming from the audience for the rest of the performance.

From the Green Room: Try beginning your presentation with something unexpected that also brings you closer to the audience. They will love you for it.

Friday, August 7, 2009

To Gain More Confidence Public Speaking, Jump Up and Laugh!

Recently, I ran a training for a group of young professionals. I asked them to stand up, muster as much energy as they could, and say "Good morning everyone."

Not bad, I told them afterwards.

Next, I asked them to jump and laugh at the same time for about five seconds before again saying together, "Good morning everyone."

This time, the energy in the room increased tremendously.

Jump and laugh is a simple exercise used by actors before an audition. It is almost impossible not to sound energized and enthusiastic after doing it - and it's a wonderful way to channel nervous energy and gain more confidence public speaking.

Someone in the group asked the obvious question, "What's the point of this exercise if you can't actually do it in public, right before you speak."

Ah, so here's the secret:

If you practice jumping and laughing each time before you rehearse your presentation, you will train your mind to return to that same of state of high energy right before your actual speech - even without the exercise.

From the Green Room: Each time you practice, jump and laugh right beforehand. The dual motions give you a burst of energy and launch you straight into the present moment - exactly where you should be. Being fully present will give you more confidence public speaking.

Monday, July 13, 2009

More from Coach Bowman

Listen to this interview with swim coach Bob Bowman, who I wrote about in my last post. Coach Bowman, among other things, is the coach of Michael Phelps.

In the interview, Bowman talks about what swimmers and their coaches should (and should not) do right before the race:

Note: There are some annoucements before the interview - but it's worth the wait.

Track and Field Videos on Flotrack

By focuses on a technical detail - the process of success - rather than on the end result, the swimmer keeps his/her attention fully in the present moment - not on the larger meaning of the event.

Bowman's message can apply beautifully to speaking:

From the Green Room: Right before you get up to speak, try not to focus on the broader significance of what you are about to do (e.g. my career depends on this, I have worked so hard to get to this moment). Instead focus on something one technical reminder. (e.g. Breathe. Keep feet planted. Smile.)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Price of Not Being There

In last week's Washington Post Sports section, Amy Shipley recounts swimmer Katie Hoff's surprisingly disappointing race, "more than 10 seconds off her personal best."

The article groups together a number unfortunate circumstance including her recent illness, missed training time, and the fact that she is working on her stroke.

But at the end of this list, she quotes Hoff's coach, Bob Bowman. (who incidentally is also Michael Phelps coach)

"Physical problems are not her only ones," he said, "She was just not there, probably psychologically and physically."

What can speakers learn from this?

No matter what baggage you bring to the table, take a few moments before you speak to get yourself present.

Do your Green Room Trigger.
Take deep breaths.
Feel your feet firmly planted on the ground.

Do whatever it takes for you to get in the here and now.

Simply being there - being present - can be the difference between stumbling over your stumbling blocks, or as the saying goes, using them as stepping stones - and thus reaching to even greater heights.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Find Your Green Room Trigger

In this week's New Yorker, Alex Ross writes about Marlboro Music, an elite summer music program at Marlboro college in Vermont "where artists could forget about commerce and escape into a purely musical realm."

The summer seems to give the musicians a formative and utopian musical experience that carries them through the year:

"One musician after another says the same thing: from September to May, when they sit down to play in an antiseptic postwar performing arts center after an hour or two of rehearsal, they close their eyes and think of Marlboro."

Take a moment and think of a memory, an experience, a place where you felt in the zone. It could be a moment from childhood or an experience you had this week; an athletic or artistic or travel experience - just a moment when you were at your best and everything seemed to click.

Think of a word, a mantra, a motion that represents that experience for you and use it each time before you get up to speak.

I call this the Green Room Trigger. For the musicians in Ross's piece, their summer at Marlboro is that trigger - a memory that enables them to feel present and in the zone - even at potentially disheartening and unfulfilling moments.

From the Green Room: Find your Green Room Trigger - a word, mantra or motion that takes you back to a moment in your life where you were fully present. Then use this trigger before you get up to speak. Over time, this exercise will help you get in zone and be at your best each time you speak.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Today's Vocal Assignment: Read the Three Little Pigs

Recently, I was trying to help a client get his voice "out of the box." I gave him a copy of the Three Little Pigs, and we practiced reading it. This is an especially good story for vocal training.

Here are a few reasons why:

1. The story has different voices. When you read it, try using a different voice and focus for each of the three pigs - and especially for the wolf!

2. The story builds. As the wolf moves from house to house on his rampage of huffing and puffing, practice building from low to high (energy, volume, tempo, etc.).

3. The story has several tone changes. In just a couple of minutes, tones may range from lazy (the first pig) to terror (enter the wolf) to triumph (the third pig's victory). Try exaggerating these tone changes. The more you exaggerate, the more flexibility you will have with your voice.

From the Green Room: Read childrens' books. It's a wonderful way to get your voice "out of the box" and experiment with the full range of your vocal ability.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

If You Must Read...

One of the greatest speaking challenges is being able to connect to the audience while reading a prepared script.

Great speakers seem as though they are in conversation with their audience. It is very difficult to do this if you are reading your remarks word for word.

When possible, I recommend using notes or an outline, rather than a script. But of course there are times and occasions when this is simply not possible.

So what is a speaker to do?

Try writing your speech as if you are writing a personal letter to the audience - and read it that way, too.

You might even start your speech, "Dear (audience),"

While you won't actually read that part aloud, writing in a letter format encourages you to be fully present with your audience - and they will respond in kind.

From the Green Room: Need to read from a script? Try writing - and reading - a letter written just for your particular audience. Make eye contact with the individual people you are "writing" to. This will enable you to be present with the people in the room - even if you prepare each word in advance.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

When Giving a Short Presentation....

Today I gave a 30-minute presention at the Jewish Communal Service Association's annual conference. The topic? Fearless Public Speaking.

Now how in the world can you possibly hope to teach public speaking in 30 minutes?

A colleague, Barry Bainton gave me some invaluable advice:

Barry suggested that the goal of a short training is not to teach a skill, but rather to persuade the audience that the skill is one worth learning.

There is no way to teach public speaking in such a short amount of time. But in under thirty minutes, I was able to make a clear and compelling case for learning how to be present in front of an audience.

I got great feedback. Thank you, Barry.

From the Green Room: Don't attempt too much in a short amount of time. Set a focused and realistic goal, and stick to it.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Avoiding Panel Hell

Why are panel discussions often so dreadfully boring?

After all, isn't it more exciting to listen to four different voices than one?


But most of the time, if it's true that less is more, it's also true that more is less.

Most of the time, the panelists speak for far too long, never engage each other, and (perhaps because they share the spotlight) are not able to engage the audience.

The solution?


Suggest that the moderator bring the panelists together during the planning process so that each can prepare his/her presentation knowing fully what the others are talking about.

In other words, see the panel discussion as one presentation - with four different parts. This will help the audience put it all together and stay focused.

From the Green Room: End panel hell. Bring the presenters together to coordinate an exciting, unified program that flows smoothly from start to finish.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

For more on conference calls

Check out this great list of conference call tips from the blog Bad Pitch:


Conference Call 911

Yesterday I gave a presentation to the Washington Area Legal Recruitment Administrators Association. (WALRAA) I asked two volunteers to tell a story to each other - at the same time. The goal for each was to distract the other.

The first time, I had them tell the story only with their voice.

The second time, I encouraged them to use movement.

It was remarkable to see the contast. The ability to move around dramatically increased the power of their voices. Somehow the physical motion set their voices free.

This is a particularly useful point to remember when you are speaking on a conference call. Stand up. Move around the room. Your voice will sound all the more animated and expressive.

From the Green Room: Move around. And set your voice free.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Focus on What Not to Do

Today's NYT Business Section profiles business guru Jim Collins. The article explains that one of his keys to success is his hyper-focused, minimalist approach to his work:

"...a willingness to say no and focus on what not to do as much as what to do...Therefore, in Jim Collins' world, small is beautiful."

This is a critical - and often missed - step of speech preparation. Often we are so busy trying to figure what to say, that we don't spend enough time and energy thinking about what not to say. So many rambling, long-winded presentations are the sad result of forgetting this step.

From the Green Room: When honing your subject, remember that small is beautiful and less is more. So ask yourself - "What is my speech not about?" This process of elimination will help focus your content.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Dangers of Being Overly Enthusiastic

A great speech coach once gave me the advice to "punch the operative words." If you want to emphasize something, punch it with your voice.

Kara Dioguardi, this year's new judge on American Idol takes this advice to the extreme. She punches everything! Each statement she makes is one big sock in the gut.

Kara speaks in a monotone of "incredibly enthusiastic:"

"You were amazing!"

"You are a musical GODDESS!"

"You were terrible!"

"You were pretty average!"

"You were unmemorable!"

"I didn't listen to you sing because I was in the ladies room!"

You get the point.

Kara often has very intelligent and insightful critiques of the performers, but her enthusiastic monotone makes all her comments blend together into one big PUNCH.

The listener is left feeling exhausted.

From the Green Room: Speak with passion. But vary your emotional intensity.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Speaking to Music

Listen to this inspiring talk on by artist Bill Strickland, who journeyed from being an at-risk youth to the recipient of a MacArthur Genius Award in 1996.

Notice how the music does not distract from Strickland's story, but rather enhances it. The jazz piano gives his voice a rhythm and his intensifies the power of his words so it sounds as almost as though he is reciting poetry.

Next time you are preparing to give a speech, try practicing it with music in the background. Choose a piece that moves you. Something without words that reflects the tone of your presentation.

Now give your speech. As you practice, pay attention to how your voice changes when you speak to music. Practicing with music can add a layer of depth to your presentation style and bring out the underlying rhythm of your text - and your voice.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Listen to the POP to Know When to STOP

Who knew great speaking lessons could be found in the instructions for making Orville Redenbacher microwave popcorn?


1. Microwave ovens vary. Cooking time may need to be adjusted.
How true. A speech that works brilliantly in one setting may "scorch and burn" in another. Temperature, lighting, room set up, time of day, etc. These are all variables that impact your audience.

2. Stay by microwave and listen.
In normal cooking, we set a oven timer and walk away. We know it will be done in 30 minutes. Perhaps we check once to make sure, but we don't stand there listening the whole time.

When you speak, follow the popcorn method of cooking. Listen. Pay attention to the audience's reactions and read their cues. And if you sense they are "done," try to end swiftly.

3. Open bag carefully.
Once the popcorn stops popping and the speech is done, don't end too abruptly. Take a moment to wind down and look at your audience before walking off stage. While you don't want to drag this out and let the popcorn get cold, the audience does need a moment digest what you've just told them and process your exit.

From the Green Room: Don't forget the most important instruction on the package. Enjoy! (Your popcorn and your audience.)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Matching the Internals and Externals

I recently published a short piece in the Wexner Foundation community newsletter.

I tried to pick the Torah portion of the week that would seem to have the least obvious connection to public speaking!

The Wexner Foundation Electronic Beit Midrash Tazria-Metzora
Tazria-Metsora and the Lessons of Public Speaking
By Sarah Gershman

What can leprocy teach us about how to be a better speaker?

In this week's reading, we learn about the mysterious skin condition called tsaarat. Often mistranslated as "leprosy," tsaarat is traditionally understood as a physical manifestation of a spiritual malady, such as haughtiness or excessive pride.

The Torah seems to be describing a condition where the body is deeply in tune with the soul. When the soul is infected, you can see it on the skin.

The physical manifestation of tsaarat reveals a much deeper internal problem. Perhaps the physical manifestation served to raise greater awareness of the spiritual problem. Indeed, many of us are visual learners - when we see something, particularly something on our own skin, it registers much more immediately. And once the condition is diagnosed, the physical symptoms can be healed only by working on the internal spiritual malady.

So what does this have to do with public speaking?

Like tsaarat, speaking effectively depends on your ability to match internals—the content—with externals—the delivery.

Here are three ways to make that happen:

1. Diagnose your own public speaking "tsaarat." We all have external speaking mannerisms that reflect something internal. Some of us "um" and "uh." Others over-gesticulate. Others shift back and forth. Whatever your speaking tick is, chances are it is a symptom of an inner anxiety or struggle. For example, we tend to use filler words such as "umm" and "uh" when we do not feel confident about the content. Identify the external symptom, diagnose the underlying issue, and focus on resolving that rather than on fixing the tick.

2. Own your message. Make certain you truly understand the essential message you want to communicate to this particular audience. If you take the time to clarify your content, it is much more likely that your delivery will be strong. Often it is when our message is unfocused that our voice shakes and we stumble over our words. Just like tsaarat, the external reflects the internal.

3. Synthesize content, voice and body language. The audience will pay attention, when what they hear is also what they see. Here are a few suggestions:

Move purposefully. If you change directions in your content, turn and walk the other way on stage. If you are taking a moment to address the audience more personally, step away from the podium and move towards them.

Vary Tones. Mine your content for emotional shifts. Perhaps in your opening remarks, you want the audience to feel intrigued. Later on, you want them to feel frustrated. At the end, you hope to inspire. Let your voice express these contrasting emotions. Speak with feeling and let the feelings reflect the substance.

Speak to Individuals. You've worked hard to craft your message for your audience's needs and interests. Now, use your eyes to strengthen your connection to each individual in the room. Make eye contact with one person at a time - the general rule is one person per thought.

One final thought: The Talmud also explains tsaarat as a physical manifestation of lashon harah, the sin of harmful speech.

How compelling it must have been to see physical proof of the damage caused by hurtful speech! Tsaarat is a reminder to each of us of the power of the spoken word. May each of us continue to learn how to use our words to inspire the changes we seek.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Rachael Ray and the Art of Public Speaking

From this week's NYT Sunday Styles:

Jonathan Rosen, the agent to Food Network stars, describes how he knew that Rachael Ray would succeed:

"I told her I felt like her personality translated directly across the screen and made you feel like she was in the room with you."

Truthfully, when I first watched 30 Minute Meals, I said to myself, "What makes her special? I could totally do that!"

And now I realize that this is her secret weapon.

Rachael Ray's slip-ups, cutesy expressions, and goofy laugh make her seem not like some celebrity chef, but like your fun (and albeit sometimes annoying) girlfriend. She's not giving a cooking demo - she's chatting it up with her buddies.

We can all learn from this.

The next time you get up in front of an audience, try saying to yourself, "I am not giving a speech. I am having a conversation with people I care about." You don't have to be best friends - or even know the people in order to find sometime about them you care about - even if it's just, "I care that they understand what I am trying to say because it will be helpful to them."

You will connect with an audience, when you speak to them as if you are having a one-on-one conversation with each person in the room.

From the Green Room: To master the art of public speaking, don't just give a speech to an audience. Have a conversation with the audience.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Adapting to the Audience

Recently, I worked with a rabbi to help him prepare a pre-Passover sermon. He worked hard to prepare and practice a meaningful and powerful message. The rabbi tended to need to write everything down beforehand and was working on developing a more conversational, spontaneous style.

Little did we know how far he would take that.

The morning of the sermon, he says in his own words, "I looked out and saw - the audience for the drash (teaching) we worked on was just not there. In its place were two families in shiva, two or three people out of work, a few dealing with illnesses. Hurting people."

So this rabbi did something quite courageous. He adapted the speech at the last minute to make it a sermon about hope.

He told himself, "If I really am committed to what I have to say, and to my relationship to the audience, I will be able to speak without the notes."

Which he did.

Afterwards, one person said, "Great drash." Another said, "I don't know if you worked on this a lot or just winged it, but it meant a lot to me."

Indeed. This rabbi went beyond simply giving a great sermon. He connected directly to the individuals he was speaking with.

From the Green Room: Prepare. Then, when necessary, trust yourself to be able adapt your speech to the audience when necessary. The connection you make with the people in the audience will be worth it.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

How to Give an Acceptance Speech: The Top 5 Things My Dad Did Right

Last Friday, I had the privilege of hearing my father speak at a ceremony honoring his 25 years of service as the first and only president of his organization.

My dad knows I'm his biggest critic - but that day, I was his biggest fan.

Not only was I tremendously proud of his accomplishments, but of the (dare I say) perfect thank you speech he gave.

Here are 5 things he did just right:

1. He kept it brief.

2. He spoke with genuine emotion.

3. He did not spend a long time listing people to thank, but rather expressed gratitude for the honor itself - for the privilege of having served a cause he is passionate about.

4. Rather than thanking the audience for helping him reach this day, he thanked them for helping him serve the organization all these years. We all felt part of the journey.

5. He brought everything back to the essential mission of the organization - and thus made those around feel inspired to continue the effort.

Great job, Dad.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Address the Individual

This week on Slate, John Dickerson comments on Obama's second press conference:

Obama returned to the theme of togetherness to buy time. We will "travel that road as one people," he said in his opening remarks. "We are all in this together." Lovely sentiment, but the times seem to call for a stronger pitch. Why should people join together when bailouts are rewarding people who didn't act in the common interest?...

Obama may be popular enough to make the case. But to bring about collective action in this environment, Obama may have to return to a lesson he wrote about in Dreams From My Father: the power of self-interest in helping to create community.

Good point. Truly connecting to an audience means addressing individuals - not the collective group. In Obama's case, he could have spoken to each individual, without losing his call for people to join together to get our nation back on track. Obama could have stated that we travel that road - not just as one people - but as a community of individuals, each with something to contribute.

From the Green Room: When you speak to an audience, imagine you are having a one-on-one conversation with each individual present.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Stop the Tone Drone

Ever wonder how you can maintain concentration when you listen to talk radio?

The answer is that you never have to listen to any one voice for too long.

Note how one person gives the traffic report, another talks about weather, and a third gives the financial update - all in under a minute.

We maintain our attention because of this vocal variation. If the same person were to speak for all three, we would have a much harder time digesting the information.

This is why someone can have no problem listening for an entire hour to talk radio while driving, but will drift off during a 15 minute lecture.

So how can you achieve this kind of vocal variation in a speech?

Change tones!

Divide your speech into several mini-speeches, each with a different, contrasting tone. Each tone should have an emotional intent - how you want the audience to feel when they listen to you. The tones should be completely distinct from each other.

For example, you might begin your speech with the goal of making the audience feel frustrated and then immediately switch tones so they feel hopeful.

And it goes without saying that tone changes should reinforce and support your content - that, of course, is the point in the first place!

From the Green Room: End vocal monotony. Change tones.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The First Speech Coach

As my family gets ready to celebrate Passover, I am reminded that the fear of public speaking is as old as...well, Moses.

When God tries to convince Moses to speak to Pharoah and argue for the slaves to be freed, Moses responds, "Please, my Lord, I am not a man of words...for I am heavy of mouth and heavy of speech.

Does God respond by giving Moses a pep talk about his underated speaking abilities? Nope.

God says, "Who makes a mouth for man or who makes one dumb or deaf, or sighted or blind? Is it not I, God? So now, go! I shall be with your mouth and teach you what you should say."

What can the non-prophets among us learn from this interaction?

Sometimes it helps to see yourself as an emissary. Rather than worry whether the audience will like you, focus on delivering your message.

Friday, March 13, 2009

G-dcast: The Power of Visuals

What is G-dcast?

As defined on their site (, "G-dcast is a place to watch cartoons based on the story Jews are reading in the Torah this week."

This week, I am the lucky narrator. I discuss the story of the Golden Calf, and my words are animated by the incredibly talented Nick Fox-Gieg.

Parshat Ki Tisa from

More Torah cartoons at

In my discussion, I talk about the power of sight. The seriousness of the sin of worshipping the calf is only truly recognized when God and Moses see it with their own eyes.

This message about sight really hit home for me months after the initial recording, when I actually saw my words come to life through the animation!

A famous study at UCLA tried to answer the question, "What makes the most impact on an audience?"

The study revealed that only 7% of the impact comes from the words you say.

37% is the sound of your voice.

And a whopping 56% is what the audience sees when they listen to you. (stance, movement, visuals, eye contact, etc.)

So the key to making your content stick is to reinforce it with your body and your visuals - and especially with eye contact.

What makes G-dcast so powerful is the simultaneous audio and visual expression. Each reinforces and enriches the other.

From the Green Room:
Synchronize what you say with what you do with your body. Watch

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Afraid of Public Speaking? Try Crossing a High Wire

What can the seemingly fearless teach us about fear?

Take a look at an interview with Philippe Petit, the tightrope artist who crossed a high wire linking the Twin Towers. (His story is the plot of Man on Wire, the 2009 Oscar winner for Best Documentary Feature):

Given Mr. Petit's steadiness at 1,500 feet and his entrepreneur's resilience, it's fair to ask what does rattle him.

"I am very human and full of little stupid fears on earth," Mr. Petit says. "I have problems with big dogs showing their teeth. And centipedes and tarantulas. But up there, I have no fear. And I have no fear, I feel, out of working on it, knowing my subject, not out of not wanting to know."

"That," he said with characteristic seriousness of purpose, "would be death in my profession."

(New York Sun, July 2008)

This is not the answer I expected to hear.

I thought Mr. Petit would say that he is afraid when he can't get out of his head. Yet instead he says that it is knowing his subject that allows him to conquer his fear of it.

Of course, one has to imagine that when Mr. Petit is actually on the high wire, he survives because he is able to quiet his mind. Yet, what enables him to do that is the preparation he does beforehand - his absolute knowledge of his subject.

So unfortunately for those of us who like to wing it (I am often guilty of this), there is no substitute for thorough and thoughtful preparation.

From the Green Room: Prepare. Prepare some more. Then trust yourself.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

What Paul Harvey Taught Us About the Art of Public Speaking

From today's Washington Post:

Paul Harvey, 90, a Chicago-based radio broadcaster whose authoritative baritone voice and distinctive staccato delivery attracted millions of daily listeners for more than half a century, died Feb. 28 in Phoenix.

What can we learn from how Paul Harvey used his voice?

Certainly, as the Post recognizes, Harvey had a unique style that was easily recognized. But of course there is something deeper happening.

Listen to Harvey read a hypothetical letter from God:

He addresses the letter to "My Dear Children." And that is exactly what we hear. Paul Harvey seems to actually be speaking to people he deeply cares about and is truly invested in. As a result, his voice inspires trust.

From the Green Room: Speak to your audience as if you were addressing someone who is precious to you. Be generous - with your eye contact, voice and with your message.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Gov. Jindal and Mr. Rogers

What can Bobby Jindal's delivery teach us about what NOT to do in front of an audience?

Before he spoke a single word, he bombed. How? By making a Mr. Rogers entrance.

Jindal should have begun his speech with this feet planted - ready to deliver. Instead, he strides merrily towards the camera, much like Mr. Rogers entered the room the beginning of each episode.

What makes this mistake especially egregious is Gov. Jindal's age. He is 37 - the youngest governor in America. What he needed to do at that moment - that critical moment of first impressions - was to raise his status. His Mr. Rogers entrance communicated "casual," and only served to lower his status in the eyes of the audience.

An older, more established politician could have gotten away with it - maybe - but not a junior governor.

From the Green Room: If you're more junior than your audience, make sure that your body language raises your status.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

See How Bono Uses Public Narrative

Watch this video of Bono's speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2006.

Bono brilliantly uses the Public Narrative storytelling method. (see my last post if you want to learn what public narrative is.)

Bono begins with his story of religious struggle - the Story of Self. He then connects his story to the religious leaders in the room - the Story of Us. Finally, he gives the audience a mission - using the language of religion - to give one percent of the federal budget to the poor. This is the Story of Now.

From the Green Room: Climb the Highest Mountain. Run through the Fields. Learn from Bono.

Public Narrative

Recently, I attended a training given by folks from the Harvard's Kennedy School of Government on powerful storytelling technique called "Public Narrative."

A giant in the world of community organizing, Professor Marshall Ganz is the architect of Public Narrative, the key to the success of the Obama's grassroots organizing.

In a nutshell, public narrative is a simple - and powerful - way to move an audience to action using storytelling.

The following is from Professor Ganz's Public Narrative Syllabus:

The questions of what I am called to do, what my community is called to do, and what we are called to do now are at least as old as Moses’ conversation with God at the Burning Bush: Why me? asks Moses, when he is called to free his people. And, who – or what - is calling me? And, why these people? Why here, now, in this place? The intent of this course is to offer students an opportunity to prepare to lead by asking themselves these questions at a time in their lives when it really matters.

Public narrative is the art of translating values into action. It is a discursive process through which individuals, communities, and nations construct their identity, make choices, and inspire action. Because it engages both “head” and “heart”, narrative can instruct and inspire - teaching us not only how we should act, but moving us to act. Leaders use public narrative to
interpret themselves to others, engage others in a sense of shared community, and inspire others to act on challenges that community must face. It is learning to tell a story of self, a story of us, and a story of now.

I was deeply moved by the training and by the stories it inspired from the participants.

From the Green Room Room:

Each time you tell a story, begin with your own. This is the story of Self.
Next, connect your story to the audience - the Story of Us.
Last, give your audience a mission. End with the Story of Now.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Lessons from "Shopaholic"

Even the best presentations can fall flat if the they are given to the wrong audience.

As a far too blatant example, read this excerpt from a review of "Confessions of a Shopaholic" (

Could the release of the new movie “Confessions of a Shopaholic” be any more poorly timed? Based on a popular book series, the story is about a credit-crazed, New York City woman who makes Carrie Bradshaw’s shoe collection look like a joke. We just watched the trailer where the Shopoholic, played by Isla Fisher, animalisticly bashes her emergency credit card out of a block of ice with a stiletto, desperate to spend more money...

Warning: it’s tragically painful to watch, given the current financial crisis.

Talk about tone deaf.

Before you prepare, take time to learn as much about your audience as you possibly can. Who are they? What matters to them? What challenges are they going through? What do they know and what do they need to know? What do you need them to do?

And if any of your answers change before you give your speech - adjust your content accordingly.

From the Green Room: Know Your Audience.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Emotion Rules

People remember what they felt when they listen to you. Your content will have a much deeper and lasting impact if you have an emotional intent when you speak.

Before you sit down to write your speech, ask yourself, "How do I want the audience to feel when they listen to me?"

If you are clear about this in your own mind, it will come through in your words and in your delivery. Make sure that your emotional intent is an active verb. For example, your goal should be to motivate, not “to be motivational.”

Here is a list of emotion verbs from the fabulous book Leadership Presence, by Belle Linda Halpern and Kathy Lubar. (Penguin Group, New York, NY 2004) (







































Shake Up








Win Over


From the Green Room: Make Them Feel It!