Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Step away from the Podium

Podiums create distance between you and the audience. They make it difficult to connect.

In this week's NYT, Michael Shear and Ashley Parker describe how Mitt Romney's speaking got much better once he stepped away from the lecturn:

Mitt Romney crammed for the Republican presidential debates four years ago, he went all out: The campaign built a stage with four lecterns and used senior staff as stand-ins for his rivals, John McCain and Rudolph W. Giuliani...

This month, when Mr. Romney prepared for his seventh debate of the 2012 campaign, at Dartmouth College, there were no lecterns. No one playing Rick Perry or Herman Cain...Mr. Romney and a few aides simply sat around a small table at the Hanover Inn in New Hampshire and batted around topics in the news.

The result was markedly different. Four years ago, Mr. Romney responded to a debate question about the Iraq war by lapsing into consultant-speak. “The question is kind of a non sequitur, if you will, and what I mean by that — or a null set,” he said.

At a recent debate, he gave short snappy answers — “nice try!” — as he delivered another in a string of largely successful debate performances.

From the Green Room: Whenever possible, step away from the podium. This is one of the easiest ways to improve your speaking. By removing this physical barrier, you are more likely to speak naturally and succinctly - and to speak directly to your audience.

And even if you need to speak with a lectern, take a lesson from Romney and practice without the podium.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Harness the Power of Stillness

Last week in Vegas, Jock Elliott earned the title of 2011 World Champion of Public Speaking in a contest sponsored by Toastmasters International. Here is his remarkable speech, "Just So Lucky":

This week's New York Times Magazine featured a piece about the contest in which Elliott reflects on what made him stand out:

By the time it was Elliott’s turn, he felt good about his odds of winning... While the other speeches relied on props and histrionics, Elliott’s was much quieter. “I was very conscious that the style of it, the physical stillness and vocal quietness, would be at variance with the others, and that would either work for or against me.”

From the Green Room: So often, speakers try to get attention by moving around a lot and by making as much noise as possible.

Instead, try to harness the power of stillness when you speak. Pause. Lower your voice when you make your most important point (of course, audibly!) Keep your head still.

It is in the stillness that people are fully able to absorb the impact of your message.