Podium Coaching Blog
Roaring start to presentation skills workshop
I want to share an experience I had this week that I had never encountered before, in all my years of training around the world. I was leading a workshop for 15 women – but on this occasion I was the one being led.
We stood in a circle, and held hands. A First Nations’ elder, Hubba, led us in a prayer in her native language.
Then we spread out around the room. Melinda, from the Dene First Nation in Canada’s Northwest Territories, had us face north. She told us to conjure up the image of a wild animal. And on the count of three, she told us, we had to roar like that animal.
Imagine the scene: a room packed with women letting out this mighty, animal roar. We roared to the north, we roared to the south, we roared to the east and we roared to the west.
And then we started the course, helping First Nations, Métis and Inuit women improve their presentation skills and public speaking confidence. It was part of the Indigenous Women in Community Leadership program at the Coady International Institute, based at St Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. The goal of the four-month program, of which presentation skills training was one small part, was to help these women lead change in their communities.
The morning prayer and the animal roar were an amazing way to start the day. It made me realize I wasn’t there just to teach the women my TalkitOut™ Technique. I was there to learn from them.
I learned how to put up a Teepee, decorated by each of the women. You don’t take pictures while the poles and canvas of the teepee are being smudged with ceremonial smoke. And you never step over the poles as they’re lying on the ground. You walk around them. All part of respecting a culture too many of us know too little about.
I learned that these women had an incredibly strong bond through their culture. They expressed this openly everyday, not just in words and actions but by exuding an inner confidence and strength about who they were.
They were leaders. They knew it. I just gave them another tool to help them express their power.
Keeping the Olympics alive: the Podium medal awards
Didn’t you just love those Olympic Games in London? Even the London cops got into the Usain Bolt spirit. By now the athletes are heading home. But we can keep the Olympic spirit alive a little longer with our own medal ceremonies.
We start with Best Answer to a Reporter’s Question:
BRONZE: cyclist Mark Cavendish (GB) on missing out on a medal -
Reporter: Was Tour de France tiredness a factor?
Cavendish: Stop asking stupid questions. Do you know about cycling?
SILVER: London mayor Boris Johnson after getting stuck in mid-air on a zip line -
Reporter – Do you still want to be Prime Minister?
Johnson – How could anybody elect a prat who gets stuck in a zip wire?
GOLD: dad of GB medal-winning gymnast Beth Tweddle -
Reporter: Tell me what you’ve been going through this past week.
Mr Tweddle: I’ve been laying a patio.
Judges’ verdict: When you are in front of microphones and cameras your only objective is to deliver your message. Mark Cavendish’s frustration at losing robbed him of the chance to deliver a solid message. Boris Johnson’s quote proves you can be a mayor (and possible PM) without becoming robotic. And Jerry Tweddle proves you don’t have to leave your sense of humour at home when you talk to reporters.
Next up, Best Soundbite by an Athlete. And we have a dead-heat for third place:
BRONZE: Yohan Blake (Jamaica) after winning 4x100m relay: “We’re flying. People call us robots. I said, no, we’re from space. We drop from the sky like Mr Bean.”
BRONZE: Usain Bolt (Jamaica) after listening to Blake: “I’ve told Yohan he needs to stop talking like that because people are going to put him in a straitjacket.”
SILVER: Oscar Pistorius (South Africa) on being first double-amputee to compete: “Being disabled doesn’t have to be a disadvantage. You want to be here, you want to be excited, so it’s just the most amazing experience. Even now, when I hear the crowd shout, even if it’s for a long jump, you just can’t help but smile. Thank you to everyone who’s come out to support today.”
GOLD: Mo Farah (GB) after winning 5k and 10k for Britain and being asked if he’d rather run for Somalia, the country where he was born: “Look mate, this is my country. This is where I grew up, this is where I started life. This is my country and when I put on my Great Britain vest I’m proud. I’m very proud.”
The judges verdict: Our medals go to competitors who spoke from the heart, and used simple words in short sentences. Compare the authentic, conversational, quality of our winners with this piece of bafflegab from the Olympic organizers, when asked what would happen to the giant bell that featured in the opening ceremony: “The bell is in a safe and secure location and the intention is that it will be in the Olympic Park in legacy.”
This blog is an edited version of articles that appeared in the current Podium Coaching newsletter. If you want to receive a free monthly digest of tips and resources to make you a better communicator, you can find the sign up form on the right of this page. If you want to check out our newsletter, you can see the current edition here.
Brave Paula’s lesson for ambitious speakers
by Halina St James
As a Canadian, one of the most heart wrenching moments of the Olympics was when 23 year-old Paula Findlay – in tears – willed her aching body to the finish line of the triathlon.
She’d had a bad year. She’d injured her hip. The slow rehab cost her the chance to get match-fit. Her coach left her just before the games. Just about the worst preparation you could have for the event of your life.
There’s been nothing but praise for Paula’s courage to actually finish the gruelling combination of swimming, cycling and running. And she richly deserves that praise.
But the big question is – should she have even competed? Was she really ready? Sometimes we can blind ourselves by our bravery.
There’s a lesson here for people who want to be professional speakers. Don’t do the big show unless you’re ready. It’s flattering to be asked to give a speech, especially to a big audience. But a hesitant, uncomfortable presentation can spoil your reputation before your speaking career is established.
How do you know you’re ready? You start by looking at yourself objectively. A good way to do that is through coaching. Find someone to help polish up your public speaking, stage presence and presentation skills. But make sure you find a coach you trust. If in doubt, talk to one of the professional speakers’ associations. In Canada, connect with your local chapter of CAPS, the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers. You’ll find a warm and welcoming atmosphere where you can hone your skills and get supportive feedback.
Start slow. Start speaking at smaller local events. Offer yourself to Rotary Clubs, business associations and other organizations. Do lunch and learns.
Build your speaking muscle with practice, practice, practice. Become an expert in your field. Understand what audiences want, and how you can deliver that.
Athletes like Paula Findlay compete in regional, national and international competitions for years before they do the Olympics. Paula has been competing since the age of 10. You have to build up your speaking muscle in the same way, if you want to go for gold.
What speakers can learn from the Olympic Games
Watching the Olympics is exciting and inspiring. What a moment of pure joy for the medalists as they realise they’re the best in the world. What heartbreak for those who tried so hard and came so close.
As speakers, we can learn from all Olympic athletes. Here are some points to help you with your next presentation:
Practice, practice, practice
You don’t get to be an Olympian without years of hard work. Likewise you don’t become an amazing speaker overnight. It takes practice. Seek out as many opportunities to speak as you can. Thoroughly rehearse every aspect of each presentation – words, emphasis, body language, movements around the stage, slides (if you are using them). Tape your rehearsals and listen back critically, checking for logical flow and ease of comprehension.
The seconds before an Olympian competes are critical. They focus entirely on the competition. They visualise the outcome they desire. You need to do the same. Before you start speaking, focus on what you are going to say. Focus on the audience. Clear all unrelated matters from your mind. You’ve got a job to do. Focus on that completely.
Your personal best is good enough
Not everyone gets on the medal podium at the Olympics. But because an athlete didn’t win a medal doesn’t diminish their achievements. Many have broken their personal records. Set achievable goals – and watch your speaking performance improve.
So when you speak, aim for the gold as it applies to your skill and experience. Aim to get better with each speech or presentation. Forgive yourself for errors (but learn from them). Get over them. Keep practicing. Stay focused. You too can be a gold medal speaker.
Halina developed the TalkitOut™ Technique to help people improve their public speaking and presentation skills. She’s the author of TalkitOut™: Discover the Secrets of Powerful Presentations, which is available as an e-book in our Store.
Mitt the Twit: how NOT to deal with the media
Republican hopeful Mitt Romney’s first international foray has not gone well. He got off to a bad start in England. His questions about the state of preparedness of the London Olympics earned ‘Mitt the Twit’ headlines in the media and a public putdown from Prime Minister David Cameron.
On to Israel, where he was accused of racism after declaring that ‘cultural differences’ explained why Israel’s economy was so much healthier than that of Palestinians.
So, with his messaging looking shaky, he arrived in Poland. And that’s where the wheels really fell off his media machine.
Reporters from CNN, the New York Times and Washington Post asked Romney about the gaffes that had earned him negative headlines.
At which point Romney’s press secretary, Rick Gorka, intervened. “Kiss my ass,” he told the journalists. And just to hammer home his message, he added “shove it.” Gorka later called the journalists to apologise for his outburst. But of course that was too late to prevent more damaging headlines.
Romney later complained to Fox News that journalists had been more interested in ‘finding something to write about’ than reporting on the economy and security issues.
It’s easy to blame the media. But Romney and his media advisors have only themselves to blame.
The would-be president took only three questions from reporters during his six day trip. So he missed the opportunity to deliver his message and establish his narrative for the trip.
If he is not feeding newsworthy lines to reporters, who are only on the trip to write about him, he shouldn’t be surprised if they look elsewhere for headlines.
And if his messaging is as uncertain as it was on this trip, he has only himself to blame for a European visit where the perceived narrative was about Mitt the Twit rather than a President-in-Waiting.