Sunday, December 26, 2010

Lessons from The King's Speech

As a speech coach, I couldn't wait to see The King's Speech, particularly as I am interested in learning more about how to help people who stutter. What I found was a lesson for all of us:

The King's brilliant speech therapist made clear that there is no substitute for hard work, and he had the King practice countless speech exercises. And yet his ultimate "cure" came from one simple lesson each of us needs to hear:

Speak to your audience as though you were speaking to a close friend.

Not only does this enable the King to overcome his stage fright - and his stutter, but at a critical moment in history - it makes each person in his audience feel personally addressed.

From the Green Room: Remember, there is no such thing as "public speaking." Whether you are speaking to an audience of 1 or 1,000,000, speak as though you are having a conversation with a close friend. There is no better way to calm your nerves - and connect with your audience.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Move Purposefully

A professor friend of mine recently introduced me to the blog FemaleScienceProfessor, in which the blogger writes:

"From a teaching evaluation (not mine, but it could have been):

'The professor paced without purpose while teaching.'

I confess: I pace while teaching. To the extent that my pacing has a purpose, it is so I can be a physical presence in various parts of the room at different times during the class, make eye contact with more students, listen to their questions better, try to see what they are seeing when I project something/write something at the front of a large classroom, or just because I get kind of hyped up when I teach and I feel like moving. I don't know if those are good purposes or bad purposes, but I think they add up to purposes, even if students don't know what they are.

Movement in a presentation is very powerful. When you move purposefully, you drive home your content. When you move randomly, you likely lose your audience.

It seems the professor here does some of both.

There is a big difference between walking towards a student in order to listen to her question and pacing back and forth "because I get hyped up when I teach and feel like moving."

The former is purposeful - and helpful. The latter may be a way to get out energy - but is most likely distracting to the audience.

From the Green Room: A speaker can ramble in words and in movement - both are problematic. Just as you speak with intention, you should also move with intention.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Steve Martin and the Perils of Not Knowing Your Audience

What do you do when you've been invited to give a talk and realize that you've lost the audience?

To make it worse, the organizers of the event interrupt you midway through and tell you to change course.

No, this is not the tale of a novice presenter. This is exactly what just happened to Steve Martin.

Last week, the 92nd Street Y invited Martin to arts journalist Deborah Solomon to discuss Martin's new novel "An Object of Beauty," which centers around the New York art scene.

Midway through the talk, the event organizers sent someone on stage with a note directing Ms. Solomon to turn the discussion away from art and towards "Steve's career."

The incident resulted in a full refund to the attendees and an apology to Martin for the hasty interruption.

Martin describes his reaction to the interruption in an op-ed which in last Sundays NYT:

This was as jarring and disheartening as a cellphone jangle during an Act V soliloquy. I did not know who had sent this note nor that it was in response to those e-mails. Regardless, it was hard to get on track, any track, after the note’s arrival, and finally, when I answered submitted questions that had been selected by the people in charge, I knew I would have rather died onstage with art talk than with the predictable questions that had been chosen for me. Since that night, the Y has graciously apologized for its hastiness — and I am pleased to say that I look forward to returning there soon, especially to play basketball.

What is surprising about this story is not the inappropriateness of the note, but rather that it got Martin so flustered!

Just goes to show, even the best presenters can get caught off guard. What happened to Martin could happen to anyone. My advice is to treat this incident as a cautionary tale.

From the Green Room: When you are invited to speak, make sure to fully discuss with the organizers the expectations of the audience and how you plan to meet them. As long as the communication is open, clear, and thorough - no "interruption" should ever be necessary.