Thursday, September 20, 2012

Green Room Speakers Blog Has Moved!

The Green Room Speakers blog has moved to:

Thank you for visiting!

- Sarah

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Lesson From Minute Maid: Use Concrete Language

This is what is reads on every carton of Minute Maid Lemonade:

Put Good in. Get Good Out.

You can taste and feel these words in every drop of Minute Maid.
We fill every glass with the delicious refreshing goodness you have come to expect from us.
All because, when it comes to life, we believe what you believe.
The effort you put in is equal to the good you get out.

Ultimately, these words are meaningless. There is not a single concrete word about the lemonade itself. And no wonder! It's hard to be specific and concrete when your product contains only lemon juice from concentrate and high fructose corn syrup. So the manufacturer instead relies on generic, abstract language that goes in one ear and out the other.

From the Green Room: Use concrete language whenever possible. This is what the audience will remember - and ultimately it's what shows you actually have something worthwhile to say.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Speaking Lesson from Hollywood

In the recent New Yorker profile of Ben Stiller, Tad Friend describes what a movie needs to have in order to be successful. He writes:

 "Then you need a whiz-bang ending, one that sends audiences out of the theaters, texting in rapture."

How often do you leave a speech "texting in rapture?" We often spend so much time on the body of the speech, that we forget to take the time to craft a powerful close.

Friend continues: "This requirement explains why many studio films fall apart in the last half hour, are reshot, and still don't work."

Yes, endings are hard.

From the Green Room: Even the most powerful speech falls apart with a bad ending. Save your best for last, and take the time to figure out how to end strong. While this is difficult, it is well worth the effort.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Beware the Swivel Chair!

Watch this Fortune 50 interview with Pam Nicholson, president and COO of Enterprise Holdings:

Great lessons in effective communication here. Nicholson is personable, poised, and clear. But unfortunately, she undermines herself by swiveling in her chair.  The back and forth movement is not only distracting, but also sadly lowers her status.

From the Green Room: When possible, try to avoid speaking in a swivel chair. If you have no choice, whatever you do - don't swivel!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Body Language:

I just listened to this terrific interview with Mark Bowden on the power of body language:

Bowden gives simple tips for ways to build audience trust. For example, he explains that if you tilt your head slightly towards the the audience while you speak,  the audience will be able to see your ear and thus feel that you are listening to them - even if you never stop talking!

From the Green Room: Don't assume that your words are sufficient to gain the trust of your audience. If your body language doesn't communicate your trustworthiness, even the most sincere speech will raise the suspicions of your audience.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Speaking Lesson from IBM's Ginni Rometty

Watch this talk by Ginni Rometty, the CEO of IBM:

Rometty tells a story that taught her the importance of risk-taking. She explains that sometimes we are so self-critical, that it prevents us from having another experience.

As a speaker, this dynamic is particularly challenging. It is easy to fall into the trap of being so self-critical - and so concerned about what others will think - that you are unable to be in the moment. And being in the moment - being fully present - is the secret to having stage presence.

From the Green Room: Is self-criticism preventing you from being fully present when you speak?

One easy way to break this pattern to take a few moments -  right before you get up to speak - and your body into its most confident state. Stand with your feet grounded. Maintain an open posture. Breathe deeply. Smile.  Even if you are feeling less than confident, this simple exercise will help  quiet your inner-critic so you can be present.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Embrace Mistakes

Watch this 4-minute TED talk by start-up guru Renny Gleason.

Gleason shows us how you can turn mistakes into opportunities to connect:


Gleason ends his talk with the following message:

A simple mistake can tell me what you're not.

Or remind me why I should love you.

From the Green Room: Don't worry if you mess up. You will, and that's OK.What matters is how you respond. Sometimes your mistakes can end up being the part of your presentation the audience loves most.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

When Content and Delivery Don't Match: Speaking Lesson from the High Line

In the Digital Empathy, an art installation by Julianne Swartz, on display at the High Line park in NYC, listeners hear loving messages in computer-generated voices.

 The effect is supposed to create a dissonance between the warmth of the content and the coldness of the speaker. While this makes for an interesting and provocative art installation, it is exactly the opposite of what you should do as a speaker.

 From the Green Room: If you want your presentation to be both understood and remembered, make sure your delivery is in sync with your content.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Coldplay/Beastie Boys Speaking Lesson

I love Coldplay's tribute to the Beastie Boys' MCA. This is a brilliant example of somebody stepping into the shoes of another speaker and being completely authentic.

From the Green Room: Public speaking isn't about having to become someone different in front of an audience. It's about expressing sometimes even someone else's words in your own voice. 

Find your voice and of course, fight for your right to party.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Great Improv Exercise

Here's a fun improv exercise that works on body language and can help you get out of your comfort zone when you deliver a presentation:

From the Green Room: The same words can have entirely different meanings depending on how you say them. Try rehearsing the opener of your speech using a variety of vocal tones and body language. The more you exaggerate this at home, the more free you will be to experiment with different forms of expression when it comes time to speak.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Rahm Emanuel: Raising Status through Stillness

Watch last night's CNN interview with Rahm Emanuel:

Notice the way Rahm Emanuel sits straight up in his chair, barely moving. Contrast that with Morgan, who moves more and leans forward, toward Emanuel. 

Emanuel's straight and still posture raises his status - giving him an even greater sense of authority. Morgan's movement and posture, on the other hand,  lower his status, making him seem more approachable.

From the Green Room: Stillness = status. When you get up to speak, decide whether you are aiming to raise or lower your status. If your goal is to raise your status, maintain a more fixed posture, keep your head still, and use minimal gestures. If your goal is to lower your status, use more movement and lean towards the audience.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Speaking Lesson from Introverts

I showed the following TED talk, "Susan Cain: The Power of Introverts" to my Advanced Oral Presentations class at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University:

One student commented that Cain's words held particular gravitas precisely because she is an introvert.

So true. We often assume that it's the extroverts who get more public attention - and who are more engaging speakers.

Yet introverts can actually have the upperhand. Because they say less, people listen more closely.

From the Green Room: Remember, less is more. Don't try to fill your presentation with noise. Leave room for silence. This may be more challenging for extroverts - but well worth the effort.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Passover Speaking Lesson

Passover begins tonight. Our family will gather together for the Passover Seder - the retelling and re-experiencing of the Jewish people's exodus from slavery in Egypt.

Certainly, there's a lot of important information to cover. So, why not make a Passover PowerPoint presentation and show it at the Seder?

 Aside from certain religious prohibitions, one can only imagine that a PowerPoint presentation would turn a potentially meaningful, exciting and interactive experience into a dreadfully boring and passive one.

The Seder plate, on the other hand, with it's various, colorful symbolic foods, is a brilliant visual. It is concrete, tactile, and a great trigger for discussion of the topic at hand. What's more, it helps the participants remember the information, even after the holiday is over.

From the Green Room: Next time you give a presentation, consider minimizing your usage of PowerPoint, which inhibits human interaction and connection. Instead, choose a prop to emphasize your point. When used correctly, a prop not only helps you communicate your message, but helps your audience remember it, long after you have stopped speaking.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Power of Emotion: Lesson from the Solicitor General

 This morning on Politico, J. Lester Feder explores the question:

Did Verrilli choke? And does it really matter?

Feder quotes Arnold & Porter's Lisa Blatt, a former assistant to Verrilli:

Blatt said she was primarily surprised that Verrilli "didn't seem that excited to be up there." Given that this is one of the biggest cases in modern history, she said, "I would think it would be a blast to be up there."

Clearly, Verrilli's lack of excitement made just as much if not more of an impact than his actual substance. This is an unfortunate but easily avoidable mistake.

From the Green Room: People remember how they felt when they listen to you even more than the information they learned. 

No matter how unprepared or nervous you are, try to communicate positive emotion. At the very least, people will remember something positive from your presentation. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Lesson from Rick Santorum: Don't Dart Your Eyes

Rick Santorum did many things wrong in his victory speech after winning the Louisiana primary:

He was clearly unprepared and unsure of himself.  This was apparent not only in his content, but also in his eyes.
Notice the way his eyes dark back and forth when he speaks. The lack of focused, sustained eye contact lowers his status and makes him appear nervous, shifty - and worst of all - unconfident.

From the Green Room: Use your eyes to connect with each person in your audience. Look directly at one person at a time. Don't rush, but instead focus on one person per thought.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Match Your Voice to Your Message

Watch Peter Diamandis' recent TED talk: Abundance is Our Future:

Diamandis' message is one of great optimism and hope. We believe his words, not just because he has compelling content but also because his voice sounds strong and uplifting.

From the Green Room: If you want your message to stick, the sound of your voice, needs to be in sync with your content.

Kony 2012: The Power of a Story

What makes the beginning of the Kony 2012 video so gripping? 

Rather than focus on the broad issue and facts about Joseph Kony's horrific crimes, the filmmaker hones in on the story of a single child - Jacob. Using concrete details, vivid language, and of course - pictures, he makes us care about the issue right from the start:

From the Green Room: If you want to move people to action, before you give them the facts, try telling them a story.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Speaking Lesson from Meryl Streep: Take a Breath

So often Oscars acceptance speeches are a torrent of thank you's - the speaker tries to get everything in before the music cuts in.

While understandable at the Oscars, this is a mistake speakers often make. We try to fill up the space with as many words as possible - and leave no room for what is one of the speaker's most powerful tools -  silence.

What made Meryl Streep's acceptance speech so refreshing - and so elegant - was her pacing. She breathed. She spoke slowly. She actually left time for the audience to absorb her words.
Granted, she went over her time limit. But if all of us could give that kind of speech in under three minutes, we'd be doing pretty well!

From the Green Room: Say less. Say it slower. Give yourself time to pause - and the audience time to process your words.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

One Word Only

In tonight's CNN GOP debate, the candidates were asked to describe themselves in one word only.

One of these words doesn't belong with the others. Which one is it?

A. Ron Paul: Consistent
B. Rick Santorum: Courage
C. Mitt Romney: Resolute
D. Newt Gingrich: Cheerful

If you answered "C," I agree.

The other three words are concrete - and thus memorable.

"Resolute" is about as abstract a choice as you can get - and is thus utterly unremarkable and unmemorable. As proof, notice the lack of audience reaction after Romney states his choice.

From the Green Room: Whether you have one word or 1,000 - if you want your ideas to stick, use concrete language.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Madonna Teaches Us How to Mess Up

When you get up to speak, you will inevitably make a mistake. Everyone does. What separates the good from the great is not how perfect you are, but how well you can recover.

It was hard to miss Madonna's twice near falls in last night's Super Bowl Halftime Show:

What was striking about these mistakes was how she kept going and didn't miss a beat.

From the Green Room:  Sometimes your most impressive speaking moments happen when something goes wrong, and you bounce back. Embrace your foibles, and keep going!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Singing vs Song-Leading

Watch this video comparing Obama and Romney singing:

Vocal talent aside, why was Obama's performance so much more compelling?

Obama's "Let's Stay Together" conveyed real emotion, while Romney's "America the Beautiful" did not.  Romney led the song, while Obama sang the song. And the audience immediately felt the difference.

From the Green Room: If you want to convey emotion, be a singer, not a song-leader. Emotions are contagious. The surest way to get your audience to feel a certain way, is if they feel the emotion coming from you. 

Friday, January 6, 2012

Don't Undermine Yourself

Listen to how Michelle Bachmann responds to her introduction  at the opening Iowa Caucus Night Speech:

Brad gives her a rousing introduction which he ends by saying that Bachmann:

"...pound for pound is the toughest person in Washington, DC."

Bachmann proceeds to take all the energy out of his words when she says:

"I was introduced in all 99 counties counties with that same phrase, "pound for pound."

From the Green Room:  No matter how embarrassed or annoyed you are by a on overly flattering, repetitive, or lengthy introduction, don't express this publicly. You will only undermine yourself.

To avoid this problem in the first place, take time to go over introduction beforehand. People are almost always happy for the speaker to give guidance on this.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Speaking Lesson from Drew Brees: It's You, Not Me

Watch New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees' speech, after breaking Dan Marino's single season passing record:

Notice how he rarely speaks about his own feelings and accomplishments, but instead focuses on the roles played by everyone else. Not only does this show tremendous moral character, but it is a much more compelling and exciting speaking style.

From the Green Room: As much as possible, substitute "you" for "I."

For example, try to avoid beginning a speech by saying something like "I'm honored to be here." Instead, begin with a "you" statement: "Each one of you made this day possible."