Sunday, July 25, 2010

What a Prop!

So often, I learn just as much from my clients about speaking as they learn from me.

Tonight was a great example.

One of my clients, Emma Epstein, is about to embark on a cross-country bike trip to raise money for AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps, a remarkable social justice organization. Emma asked for my assistance with the speech she will give to various audiences along the way.

We met a couple of times, and I helped her develop her message and clarify her content.

This evening, I watched her deliver the speech for the first time. Little did I know what would unfold.

The MC of the event remarked that Emma "was nowhere to be found" and that he would have to"fill time" until she showed up.

Suddenly, the door opened and she rode her bicycle right on stage, complete with helmet and bike shorts!

Needless to say, it was a brilliant way to begin and a perfect use of a prop.

For more information about Emma's ride, go to

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Keep Your Head Still - For Golfers and Speakers

What do speaking and playing golf have in common? In both pursuits, the ability to keep your head still is of central importance.

Look at this article by Donald Hutchinson, Jr. from

Hutchinson writes: keeping your head still it acts as a pivot point much like how a pendulum swings from a fulcrum. The pendulum passes through the same set of points as long as it swings from the same point and is not disrupted by any other force.

He later offers two simple yet fascinating answer to the question of why golfers are tempted to move their heads:

Pulling your head away before the shot is completed is a common mistake and there are a couple of reasons for this.

One being, trying to hit the ball hard, resulting in a jerking motion or uneven distribution of weight from one leg to the other; causing the head to shift and miss hitting the ball because the arc of the club head has become out of sync with the point the ball lays on.

The second is getting overly anxious about picking the ball up in flight. Golfers want to observe the results of their stoke and lift their heads early in anticipation.

Both of these answers - trying to hit the ball hard and wanting to see the result of your swing immediately - seem to reflect a lack of inner confidence and control on the part of the golfer.

The same is true for speaking - whether you are in a one-on-one conversation or addressing a larger audience.

Often, when we speak, we move our heads a lot. This may be because we are trying so hard to communicate our message - or because we are checking to see how that message impacts our audience. Just like the golfer.

And like the golfer, the speaker who moves his/her head a lot communicates a lack of inner confidence. The effect that this has is to lower the speaker's status.

Sometimes, as a speaker, this is a good thing. If you are the known expert and are trying to meet your audience at their level - lowering status may be just what you need.

And sometimes, it's exactly what you don't want to do.

From the Green Room: If you are trying to raise your status - to impress the audience and show your authority - try keeping your head as still as possible when you speak. This is not to say that you don't look around the room. Rather, keep your movements controlled and purposeful, rather than jerky and random. And always keep your eyes directly focused on your listeners.
For more on keeping your head still, read this post I wrote last year about Patrick Swayze's dancing:

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Vary Your Levels - Just Like Danny and Sandy

With the release of the Grease Sing-a-Long Movie this month, I just had to find some speaking advice from my favorite childhood movie.

Take a look at "Summer Nights:"

What makes this performance so fabulous?

So many things - but something I never noticed until tonight, when I watched the song for probably the 100,000th time, is the way Danny and Sandy are always changing levels.

They both begin sitting down. Then Danny stands on the top bleacher. Sandy stands on the table. Danny lies down on the bleacher. Sandy skips across the cafeteria, falls down, etc. And it all makes sense with the content and feel of the song.

It may sound like an obvious device, but it's one of the many reasons why this performance is so endlessly entertaining.

And the best part? You can apply this strategy without being able to dance like John Travolta or Olivia Newton John!

From the Green Room: As you give your presentation, vary your levels. Sit. Stand. Kneel. Walk around. You will help keep the audience engaged, while also raising your own energy level.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

End with Fireworks

What is the best part of any July 4th fireworks display? The ending of course!

Why should speeches and presentations be any different?

So often speakers end a presentation with Q and A.

This is a mistake.

Why end on such a vulnerable, unpredicable and potentially unexciting note? Why end your presentation with someone else's question instead of with your message?

People remember most what they hear first and last. So often we think much more about how we begin a presentation and hardly at all about how to end it.

From the Green Room: End with fireworks. Put your Q and A second to last. Close with your best material.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Skill of Knowing Your Audience

We all know that key to a successful presentation is knowing your audience.

But how do you really do that?

One way to begin, is by thinking of "knowing your audience" not as a task but rather as a skill. In other words, if you work on knowing more deeply, the people with whom you communicate on a daily basis (spouse, family, friends, colleagues, etc.), you will be better equipped to know the audiences to whom you give presentations.

With this in mind, watch this video by Doug Stevenson. In the video, Stevenson demonstrates his Story Theater methodology by telling a story of his relationship with his stepson.

While the ultimate purpose of the video is to demonstrate the Story Theater method, the story Stevenson tells contains a valuable lesson about how to develop the skill of truly knowing the people in our lives:

As Stevenson points out, the way to build a relationship is not by inviting someone into your space, but by "sitting at their desk."

By practicing this skill with those closest to you, you will develop the critical skill of knowing the other. Not only will this greatly improve the quality of your relationships, but you will in be better equipped to connect with any audience each time you get up to speak.