Podium Coaching Blog
Youthful masters of body language
What’s more difficult than communicating with words? Communicating through ballroom dance. If you’re the leader, you need to decide which move to make, find the right beat to start the move and place your partner in an area with enough room to execute the move. You have to do this in a split second without speaking or looking at your partner.
If you’re the follower, you have to respond to the leader a fraction of a second after he’s initiated the move.You both must move as one making the dance flow effortlessly. Plus you have to look like you’re having fun. This is the real ‘body language’, a difficult communication skill to learn as an adult, never mind if you’re a kid.
Darci Ross, ten years old and Tanner Beamish, eleven, have been dancing competitively for about three years. Recently Podium’s Halina St. James was the Emcee for a fundraiser for Darci and Tanner.
As they danced, their body language was focused and intense. At their ages, they’re already well on their way to mastering body language because of their dancing. This is giving them confidence so when they have to speak, they will have a head start at becoming powerful presenters. If you want to be a memorable, confident communicator, take some ballroom dancing lessons.
Darci and Tanner are students at the Edgett Dance Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Pauses make you a better presenter – in any language
by Neil Everton
No matter what language you speak, three simple guidelines will enable you to connect more strongly and memorably with your audience:
- slow down
- use conversational language
Last week we worked with a group of talented young people who all speak for a living. They are broadcast reporters and anchors.
Their native languages included Kyrgyz, Spanish, Croatian, Swahili, Russian, Polish, Cantonese, Romanian and Arabic.
This member of the Podium team is not fluent in any of those languages.
But when we asked each person to stand up and make a presentation, in their own language, a couple of things became clear:
- they raced through their presentation much faster than they talked normally;
- they barely paused at the end of thoughts and sentences;
- they stumbled over certain words and phrases.
Don’t scorch through a presentation like you’re trying to get out of a burning building. Slow down. Pause for breath after every big thought and every sentence. You build in a comprehension gap for the audience. And by filling your lungs regularly you have more control over your breathing. That means more control over pacing and emphasis – all the good things that help you connect with the audience.
And if you are struggling with a clunky sentence, stick Hi Mom in front of it. If you can’t hear yourself saying the words to your mom, you have to be more conversational.
Speech-writing tips for dictators on the run
Recently we posted a blog packed with tips for people who have to write speeches for others to deliver. If you found that helpful, you might like this sideways look at the business of speech-writing.
Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi (above) is on the run. He’s still broadcasting defiant messages, but they are uncharacteristically bland. That prompted Philip Boyes to wonder if Gaddafi’s speech-writers had deserted him. Boyes, who writes speeches for a senior European Union politician, decided to offer some tips – in case the ‘Brother Leader’ had to write his own speeches.
1. Don’t mention rats, cats or dogs. Calling your enemies ‘greasy rats and cats’ might infuse a certain rhetorical flow into your speech – but at the end of the day it sounds a bit too Dr. Seuss, when you should be thinking Dr. Goebbels.
2. Try to avoid blaming Israel for all human suffering – commonly known as Arab Leader Tourette’s Syndrome (ALTS). Or the West in general, for that matter. Yes, it’s an obvious crowd-pleaser and often guarantees applause. But blaming Zionists and their domestic lackeys for your country’s woes is too easy and it’s getting repetitive.
3. Drive home key words. Repetition of key words and phrases – formally known as anaphora – can help pummel the audience into remembering the core arguments of a speech. But be careful: sometimes it just draws attention to your past failings. In his last-gasp address in February, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak used the word ‘dialogue’ almost ten times – unfortunately reminding his citizens that his main dialogue over the decades had been with his Swiss bankers.
4. Keep it short and crisp. Short speeches often work better than long, rambling ones. Stay on message. Quit the rambling. You might remember that your personal translator had a nervous breakdown towards the end of your long UN speech in 2009. Your famous speech in late February wasn’t much better, it went on for one hour and fifteen minutes. Quality, Colonel, not quantity! You may never get another chance.
Colonel, now’s the time to craft that final message to the world. Why wait until you face the International Criminal Court in The Hague? But stop threatening to martyr yourself. Someone might take you up on the offer.
And if all else fails you can always borrow a line or two from one of Obama’s speeches. That’s what most speechwriters do.
‘Skeptical inquiry’ key to internet research
The Podium team is generally suspicious of chain letters and mass e-mail postings. Our background in journalism means we are strong supporters of what author and journalist Linden McIntyre calls his ‘skeptical inquiry’ approach to public pronouncements from any source.
So the skepticism meter was hitting red when we got an email promising that, if we forwarded it to ten others, it could save lives. It told the story of a woman who slipped and fell at a barbecue, waved off offers of help – and died shortly afterwards. She’d had a stroke.
A little internet research seemed to vindicate our skepticism. The story was not new. In fact the same tale had been circulating since 2003.
But at least one hoax-buster site suggested the information at the heart of the story is accurate – and useful. The email says if you are worried someone has had a stroke, remember the first three letters of stroke:
S – ask the person to Smile
T – ask the person to Talk, and say a simple sentence
R – ask the person to Raise both arms
We still had some nagging doubts. And rightly so. It turns out the information came from a scientific paper presented at the 2003 International Stroke Conference. But it was based on a very small study, and the American Stroke Association won’t promote it – because they believe it’s over-simplified.
Their website lists their five warning signs of a stroke:
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
- Sudden, severe headache with no known cause
So – whether your source is a close friend or a complete stranger – apply a little skeptical inquiry.
As we increasingly turn to the internet as a research source for speeches and presentations, we’re in danger of recycling myths and falsehoods. Check and double-check, before you accept anything as true.
Handy tips for speechwriters
Most people hate writing and giving speeches for themselves. Can you image how difficult it is when you have to do it for someone else?
The role of the speechwriter is to motivate, inspire and reach an audience – through someone else. It’s takes a special skill to be able to make sure both the speaker and the audience are happy. The first important step is to know your speaker. Here are some tips to help you:
- Get his/her voice inside your head. Mimic it
- Capture their essence with your words.
- Find the heart of their speaking style when they are talking conversationally. What is their sentence structure? What words do they like to use? Do they like to include personal references? Do they speak quickly? What do they tend to emphasize? Do they like to walk when they speak?
- Record your conversation with them to get their instinctive, strongest, first key thoughts. Use some of the exact wording when you prepare their speech or remarks.
When you’re working for someone else, make sure you focus and plan the speech collaboratively as much as possible. Otherwise, you’ll be doing a lot of rewriting.
As a speech writer, your biggest challenge will be to guide the speaker. Your guiding principle for the speaker should always be:
Ask not what the speaker should say.
Ask what the audience needs to hear.