Podium Coaching Blog
Remarkable women with important stories to tell
Can you imagine going to a foreign country, not speaking the native language very well, and having to deliver a speech in that language?
That’s what 15 women from around the world did when they came to the Coady Institute in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. They were part of the Global Change Leaders program for women’s leadership. They strengthen their leadership skills at the Coady and then return to their countries.
In my session teaching them presentation skills, I heard some of their amazing and heart-wrenching stories. Many of these women (above) are considered second class citizens in their own country. They’re fighting for equality. They’re fighting against human trafficking, abuse of women, and slavery of children. Others are working for the environment, peace, health and education. They’re involved and they want to make a difference in women’s lives – in their countries, and in the world.
Each woman had to tell her story in English. For many, English is their third language. Despite this challenge, these women all presented speeches that would have been the envy of some native English speakers.
I am proud of these women, and proud that the TalkitOut Technique helped give voice to their stories – because these are stories that need to be heard.
Show your audience you care
One of the biggest turn-ons for an audience is the speaker’s passion for their topic. Passion engages listeners and focuses their attention.
Passion doesn’t have to be boudoir-breathless. Everyone expresses passion differently according to their personality. You don’t have to be an extrovert to show how deeply you feel about something.
However the passion manifests itself, it’s transmitted directly to the audience.
Recently at one of my presentation skill workshops, a young man asked this question: “What do you do if you need to present something you’re not passionate about. Do you fake it?”
My answer is simple: absolutely not.
I would hope there is something in the presentation that you can get excited about. Even the driest exposition of facts usually concerns someone’s life and well-being. Try to see the person affected by your facts and figures. Connect with the beating heart of your subject and you can usually fire-up your enthusiasm.
If all else fails, then you really must excuse yourself from the presentation. If you don’t care about the topic, you shouldn’t be in front of an audience. The audience will detect your indifference, and your credibility will be ruined.
Do not try to fake it.
Fight back against jargon and empty phrases
by Neil Everton
An article in the Independent newspaper this week noted that management-speak had become one of the biggest office bugbears.
The British newspaper reported a survey that said phrases such as ‘thinking outside the box’ and ‘going forward’ were among the most overused jargon.
It reminded me of a rant by veteran journalist Robert Fisk, also in the Independent.
Fisk had been asked to give a talk on the Middle East, his specialty. Then he read the invitation. It proclaimed: “We want to bring visionaries, innovators, doers, funders, connectors, and their community into one space…With all of these people gathered into one space, it’s inevitable that sparks will happen, ideas will find momentum, and positive change will take birth.”
Fisk’s reaction to this? “I have not the slightest intention of participating in this particular ‘space’. I won’t have anything to do with an invitation written in so clichéd a language, including all the trappings of pseudo-academese psychobabble and happy-clappy optimism. These are words of emptiness and exclusion, of elitism and trend, of a conference held for the sake of holding a conference. Of nothing.”
Fisk recalled a lobbyist trumpeting how he encouraged people to ‘think outside the box’. And how he disliked the phrase. “I really – truly – believed that ‘thinking outside the box’ had had a stake run through into heart. I thought another ghastly cliché had expired until I read that the television presenter Tim Lovejoy had found that Ho Chi Minh City was ‘outside of my comfort zone’.
“Is there any end to this tosh,” Fisk asked. “There’s only one reaction to this stuff. The moment the clichés come up, throw the invitation in the bin or tear up the page.”
Great advice from Dr Seuss for all writers
If you write newsletters, or copy for web sites, take a tip from Dr Seuss:
…the writer who breeds
more words than he needs
is making a chore
for the reader who reads.
We kicked off a lunch-and-learn with Dr Seuss’s poem. It was an appropriate way to start a session about cutting clutter out of writing. My thanks to former TV colleague Duane Lowe for reading the poem, and to Daley Progress founder Linda Daley for masterminding the event.
I thought blog readers might like a short checklist I shared with the lunch-and-learners:
- Do I have something to say – interesting, original, cliche-free?
- Do my words deliver on my focused idea?
- Is it relevant to my audience?
- Is there a stronger way of grabbing their attention?
- Will I pay a dollar for every word I’ve written?
- Can I break one long sentence into two short sentences?
- Is it conversational?
- Has any jargon slipped in under my radar?
- Can I use bullets or numbered lists or sub-heads to add white space?
- Have I told enough stories?
- Is there a peg I can use to make it more topical?
- Have I used the most vivid images to make my message stick?
- Have I proofed it carefully?
Here’s a link to the complete poem, and some other great quotes from Dr Seuss about writing.
For other free tips on writing, check the Resources Page of our web site. And don’t forget to sign up for our free e-booklet 10 Commandments of Communication. There’s a signup box on this page.
Lessons from a Leonard Cohen concert
WHAT CAN SPEAKERS, presenters and writers learn from Leonard Cohen? Quite a lot, as we discovered when we joined 12,000 other fans at the Halifax Metro Centre.
Show your passion
From skipping on to the stage just after 8pm to skipping off almost four hours later, the 78 year-old showed how much he still enjoys singing for a crowd. His enthusiasm was transmitted to the audience before a word was spoken or a note played.
Business speaker and author Tom Peters used to say ‘an audience’s biggest turn-on is the speaker’s passion for the topic’.
Your audience wants to be engaged, entertained and enlightened. And the quickest way to engage an audience is by being comfortable showing your own passion for your material and your task.
Respect your colleagues
When he wanted to invite a musician to take a solo, Leonard raised his trade-mark fedora to the chosen performer, held the hat over his heart, and stepped back into the shadows until the solo was over.
Show that same support and respect when you are sharing the stage in a group presentation. Don’t fidget, count the ceiling tiles or check your watch when others are speaking; focus respectfully on the other speaker. By that simple act you will help focus the audience’s attention on the message.
Strip out clutter
Cohen is famous for constantly trimming, polishing and refining his verse. The result is poetry where not a syllable is wasted.
We should all learn the lessons of songwriters and poets. Strip away the clutter. Erase the flowery phrases and adjectival excesses. Make every word work hard for you.
If you want to improve your writing and don’t like reading grammar text books, download the lyrics of songs by favourite singers. Check how they tell a story and share an emotion in just a handful of words.
Throwing words at the paper is easy. Delivering maximum message in minimum words is a whole lot harder. But your readers will thank you.
Connect with your audience
Cohen’s show in Halifax was one of 22 in North America. Then he’s off to Europe. It would be easy to turn up, deliver, and head off for the next destination. The same applies to speakers. There’s a danger of thinking of yourself as the sage on stage, turning up, delivering the wisdom and departing.
So let’s learn from Leonard. With a few simple phrases, Cohen established common-cause with his audience. He raised his fedora to the folks in the nose-bleed seats: “thanks for climbing all the way up there,” he said. He shared recollections of previous concerts in Halifax. And, with the clock heading towards midnight, he acknowledged people who were leaving to catch last buses and pre-ordered taxis. “If you have to leave, please don’t feel bad. I know it’s getting late.”
Any speaker who has ever felt slighted because someone in the audience left the room could learn from Cohen’s easy charm and humility.
This article first appeared in our newsletter on Monday. We got so much good feedback after it appeared, we thought we’d share it with people who are not on the newsletter mailing list. (Why not sign up now? You don’t want to miss any more good stuff. There’s a sign-up box on the right of this page).
Entertainers turn out to honour agency that put them in the limelight
Ten years ago I was the first speaker at a talent showcase organized by Limelight, a speakers’ bureau in Atlantic Canada. Limelight was only a few months old then. It was the brainchild of founder and president, Kim George.
Kim told me she found “an overwhelming hole” in the market in Atlantic Canada. So she started to fill it up with amazing speakers.
Now Kim’s expanded to include world class entertainers and international speakers, as well as her home-grown talent. And she’s expanded from her Maritimes base to open an office in Western Canada.
But she’s never lost sight of her mission – to find the absolutely right speaker and the absolutely right entertainer for the client. Kim’s a born matchmaker.
Ten years ago at that first talent showcase Kim had one comedian, one piano player and 7 or 8 speakers. Last night it was my pleasure to emcee Limelight’s 10th anniversary celebrations. Kim and her team were surrounded by dozens of her speakers and many of her loyal clients. It was a special pleasure to see the Limelight team serenaded by half a dozen live bands, and to hear the musicians credit Kim and the team with giving their careers a boost.
Limelight has indeed filled a hole in the market of Atlantic Canada – and the rest of Canada – with inspiring storytellers and electrifying entertainers. Here’s to the next ten years.
PS Did you know that the phrase ‘being in the limelight’ comes from a type of stage lighting once used in theatres and music halls. Limelight was created when an oxyhydrogen flame was directed at a cylinder of quicklime, which could be heated to 2500 degrees C before melting. The technology was replaced by electric lights, but the name survived.
Halina St James is the author of TalkitOut: From Fears to Cheers. If you want to upgrade your presentation skills or public speaking technique, her book ($20) or ebook ($10) is a great investment. Check them out in our online store.
Young prince could learn a thing or two from veteran’s passion
One of the delights of political leadership elections is the chance to compare the speaking styles of the protagonists. I’ve just been comparing the speaking skills of the Liberal Party of Canada’s young prince and the party’s elder statesman.
Justin Trudeau is, by consensus, the leader-in-waiting. Most pundits believe the counting of votes over the coming week is a formality. He has the lineage, and he has the looks.
Bob Rae is not a candidate for the leadership – though he confesses he wanted the job ‘in the worst possible way’. After a couple of years as caretaker-leader, the man with the political savvy settled for the job he describes as Chief Restructuring Officer.
But this is not about their political merits. It’s about their platform skills; their ability to connect with an audience.
Justin Trudeau spoke from the podium, flanked by two eye-level teleprompter screens. He’s a former teacher, and a former public speaker – so you’d expect confidence, projection, and command of tone and emphasis. He told stories. He flowed seamlessly from English to French. Only once did he go off script.
Bob Rae, on the other hand, forsook the traditional podium. He paced the stage, using a hand-held microphone and speaking off-the-cuff – or so it seemed. (We all know those wonderful impromptu moments take hours to rehearse). As a veteran of stump speeches, he knows a thing or two about pacing, tone and emphasis. And, like Justin, he knows the value of stories in making concepts real and making ideas stick.
So far, a lot of similarities: both smooth, poised, prepared, fluent, well modulated storytellers. But for me there was one big difference between the performances of Justin Trudeau and Bob Rae. And that comes down to one word: passion.
Bob Rae won in the passion department, hands down. Trudeau was passionate, but his passion was more contained, more rehearsed. It seemed to come more from his head than from his heart.
No matter the stakes, no matter the topic, no matter the audience – passion is critical. It turns good speeches into great speeches, and great speeches into amazing speeches. Passion builds a bridge from the speaker to the audience. It’s the conduit through which the message flows, to connect on a visceral as well as an intellectual level.
Sometimes too much control, too much programming, too much preparation only serves to constrict the conduit, stifle the passion, and reduce the connection between speaker and audience.
What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts. You can view the two styles here:
Halina St James used to work as a political producer for CBC television, based in Ottawa. Now she runs Podium Media & Communications Coaching from her base in Nova Scotia. Her latest book, TalkitOut: From Fears to Cheers, helps people overcome the fear of speaking and presenting in public. It’s available as a paperback or ebook from our online store.
Chance to upgrade newsletter writing skills
Do your newsletters have the impact you desire? The decision to read or junk your promotional material can be taken in the blinking of an eye.
Why not give your words a work-out? Make sure they’re earning their keep. Join me and newsletter specialist Linda Daley for a free lunch-and-learn session in Halifax, NS on April 17th.
I’ll be sharing my top tips for:
- clearing clutter from your writing
- creating memorable messages
- engaging your readers quickly
- holding them to the last word
Linda’s company Daley Progress helps people harness the marketing power of e-newsletters. If you value the impact of newsletters, you may be interested to read what Investment Executive wrote about her approach.
UPDATE: This lunch-and-learn session is now over-subscribed. We have a waiting list and we’re considering running a second session.
Why nimble feet help with a nimble mind
by Halina St James
Why is ballroom dancing better than golf or swimming for staving off Alzheimer’s? And what’s the similarity between ballroom and driving down the 401?
They’re just two of the topics I got to explore on Saturday morning with CBC Weekend Morning host Stan Carew.
Today I’m trading my presentation skills coach hat for my ballroom dancer hat.
We’re just a week away from the excitement and spectacle of the 2013 Canadian Closed Amateur DanceSport Ballroom Dance Championships. They’re being held on my doorstep, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and I’ve already got my tickets.
We’re all hoping for great things from our wonderful dancers based in Atlantic Canada.
It was a pleasure to talk to Stan about the event, and about dancing in general. Here’s the interview (with the addition of some pictures and videos featuring Atlantic dancers).
The championships take place at the World Trade and Convention Centre, Halifax, on March 29 and 30. You can find out more at the DanceSport Atlantic website.
Are you making life hard for yourself?
Do you get nervous before presentations and speeches?
Do you get flustered when you stumble or lose your place?
Do you worry that, despite all your hard work, people don’t get your message clearly?
If your answer is a resounding No, congratulations.
If you said Yes, or even Maybe, let’s dig a little deeper into how you prepare your speeches and presentations.
- Do you write in silence?
- Do you judge your script by how it looks on the page?
- Does your script look like a page from a book when it’s finished?
- Do you find, under pressure, it’s hard to say some of the words and sentences?
- Do you find yourself speaking in a monotone?
- Do you like to put a lot of text on slides?
If you ticked three or more boxes, you really are making life way harder than it needs to be.
Here are three quick tips:
- Speak your words out loud (really loud) before committing them to paper.
- Write shorter sentences. Turn commas into full stops and eliminate conjunctions.
- Experiment with how few, rather than how many, words you put on slides.
If these tips help you, you’ll find more like them in TalkitOut: From Fears to Cheers. (Paperback $20, E-book $10).
This post is taken from Podium’s March Newsletter. If you are not already getting a copy, you’ll find a subscription box on this page.