Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Conan O'Brien and The Power of Unexpected Emotion

What made Conan O'Brien's farewell speech last Friday night so memorable?

Watch it here:


The content was clearly very moving. And his delivery was both clear and powerful.

But what really made us sit up and listen was the shock of seeing someone who always cracks jokes suddenly and unexpectedly speaks with full sincerity.

From the Green Room: The next time you speak, take a moment to drop your usual persona and try something radically different. If you're normally loud - get quiet. If you are very serious - act goofy. And if you are always the comedian, take a moment to speak personally and sincerely to your listeners.

Your audience will remember that moment not only because it's so unexpected, but because you had the courage to reveal another side of yourself.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Meet Your Audience Where They Are

The Folsom Prison scene from Walk the Line is so fantastic, I had to use it again.

The prison warden cautions Johnny Cash (Joaquin Pheonix) not to sing a song that reminds the prisoners they are in prison. Cash looks up and says, "You think they forgot?" He then walks out on stage, thanks the men for being "the best audience we've ever had" and sings Cocaine Blues:

When I was arrested I was dressed in black They put me on a train and they took me back Had no friend for to go my bail they slapped my dried up carcass in that country jail

How do the men react? They love it.

The scene has a decidedly redemptive quality to it. Out of respect for their current state, Cash chooses to sing a song about a criminal going to jail. And this is actually what enables the audience to transcend their current state and sing and cheer joyfully along with him.

From the Green Room: Whether you have bad news to give or you're speaking to an audience who's going through a rough time, don't hide from it. Go there with your audience. This kind of sincere honesty is both respectful and redemptive.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Joaquin Phoenix Shows Us How to Use Prop

Using a prop, if it's done well, can be a powerful tool to make your message stick.

For a great example of this, watch the Folsom prison scene from the movie, Walk the Line:

From the Green Room: Try using a prop - and one prop only - to visualize and concretize your message. If you do it right, it could be the most memorable and powerful moment of your presentation.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Bowlers' Guide to Public Speaking Part II: The Hook

Back to bowling:

The goal of the bowler and the speaker is not to throw the ball straight down the middle towards the head pin, but instead to hit the space between the head pin and the pin right next to it.

This is called "hitting the pocket."

One way to do this is to bowl "straight." This requires precise aim every time.

Many bowlers say that the only way to score high consistently is by throwing a hook.

A hook is a ball that rolls in a curving pattern, thus hitting the pins with more force and requiring less precision.

Most of the time, bowlers first learn how to master the straight throw before they learn the hook.

As a beginning speaker, it can be tempting to experiment by throwing the audience a curve ball - taking them in a direction they don't expect at the start.

While I am all for creativity and risk taking, I follow the wisdom of the bowler.

Before you try to master the curve approach, first get your "straight throw" presentation down cold. No fancy footwork or great surprises. Just meaningful content and a powerful delivery.

Once you have that down, you can begin to learn how to throw a hook.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Bowlers' Guide to Public Speaking

Last night, I went bowling with some friends.

During the third frame, I threw the bowl straight down the middle - like an arrow pointed towards the center of the dart board.

To my dismay, I only knocked down seven pins. To make matters worse, the three pins left were on opposite sides of the alley. What's a bowler to do?

Turns out, the middle pin or head pin is not the one you want to hit if you hope to knock 'em all down.

A few frames later, I hit the pocket, that space right between the head pin and either pin next to it. Strike!

Often when we get up to speak, we try to hit that middle pin. We make our point so clearly and so directly, that we leave no space for the audience to absorb it. When you deliver the "straight down the middle" speech, many people may your understand message, but you will never truly wow the audience - you will never bowl a strike.

A really great speaker has the ability to deliver a message with force and precision - while deliberately leaving space for the audience to have that moment of self-discovery and transformation.

From the Green Room: When you get up to speak, aim for the pocket. Aim not just to get your point across, but to communicate in such a way to enables your listeners to discover your message for themselves.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

More Speaking Wisdom from the Karate Kid

Someone who read my last post on the Karate Kid asked me, "How can I ever hope to prepare like Danny LaRusso? I don't have time to practice repetitive motions all day!"

Oh yes, you do.

The average person speaks 16,000 words per day. That's 16,000 chances to practice your speaking skills.

The next time you are talking with a friend, practice maintaining sustained eye contact. The next time you read a story to your child, practice varying your voice. And the next time you speak to a sales clerk at the grocery store, practice keeping your body in an open stance.

Mr. Miyagi would be proud.

From the Green Room: Each day provides us with dozens of opportunities to practice using our voices. The more you work at strengthening your voice in casual conversation, the better you will sound when you get up to give a speech.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Wax On, Wax Off Public Speaking

Yesterday, our family spent a delightful morning (re)watching the Karate Kid.

One of my favorite scenes in the movie was when Mr. Miyagi teaches Daniel LaRusso karate by having him do a series of seemingly endless chores. For each chore, he instructs to Daniel to use a specific arm motion over and over again.

Frustrated, Daniel wonders when he will ever learn "real Karate?"

Just as he is about to throw in the towel, Mr. Miyagi demonstrates that the very motions he used to sand the floor, wax the cars, and paint the fence were exactly the motions Daniel needed to effectively block any punch. Those hours and hours he had spent practicing and mastering those simple motions paid off in spades.

One of the lessons we can learn here is about the importance of preparation.

People often ask me, "How can I learn to speak on the spot?" There are no magic tricks to mastering this skill.

If you know your stuff, keep up on your reading, and walk into meetings assuming that you could be asked to speak, you will do just fine.

From the Green Room: Being prepared means knowing your area of expertise well enough so that you are able to speak comfortably about it at any time. Each time you enter a situation where you could be asked to say something, assume you will be and prepare accordingly. Keep doing it. Over time, this will get easier and easier.

Can't wait to see the remake this year...