Friday, March 19, 2010
In my experience of over two decades of coaching executives in their public speaking, I rarely run across one who has both the time and the inclination to do what it takes to deliver a great speech. Most of them are satisfied with average, which is partly why there are so many bad speeches given. The bar is set very low, and most executives are content to clear the bar, just.
What's to be done about this sorry state of rhetorical affairs? Here, I offer three quick steps leaders can take right now to improve their next speech. The steps are conceptually sophisticated but relatively easy to implement, thus fitting the busy executive lifestyle and addressing the natural objections of time and inclination.
First, step out from behind the podium and choreograph your relationship to the audience.
Our unconscious minds constantly monitor four zones of space between us and other people. We've evolved this incredibly sophisticated, unconscious radar to keep us safe, and it has important implications for public speaking. Twelve feet or more is public space, and it is the coolest category. We're not very interested in anyone, in survival terms, who's more than twelve feet away from us. So we don't pay much attention.
Twelve feet to four feet is social space. Here, we're paying about as much attention as you do to someone standing in the next circle at a cocktail party. You note them, but you're OK to keep talking to someone else.
Four feet to a foot and a half is personal space, and now we're paying close attention. In fact, we want to keep our eyes on anyone in that space all the time. Again, it's a safety issue. That person is close enough to us to do us harm, so we're going to stay focused.
Finally, a foot and a half to zero is intimate space, and at this level we only are comfortable letting in people that we trust a good deal. Spouses, family members, close friends, the attractive person you just met at that party after downing seven beers — these are the people we let into intimate space.
What are the implications for public speaking? Standing behind a podium means that you're almost guaranteed to be more than twelve feet from everyone. That means that no one is very interested in you, at the unconscious level. So one of the easiest ways to up the ante on your performance is to warm up the connections between you and your audience by leaving the podium and entering into carefully chosen audience member's personal space.
Thanks to comfort monitors and hanging screens, you don't even have to leave your speech behind, but it does help to know the speech well, so that you don't forget what you're doing when you try to walk and talk at the same time.
Move toward your audience, and particular audience members, when you're making an important point, and away when you want to signal a break or a change of subject. This choreography is a simple, easy way to enormously improve the connection you make with your audience, without even raising your voice.
Second, listen to your audience.
This may sound a bit odd — isn't the audience supposed to listen to you? — but all successful communication is two-way, and listening to your audience is a great way to increase your charisma. It will get the folks in the seats basking in your attention.
So how do you listen to the audience? The best way is to put regular breaks into your speech — at least every twenty minutes, and preferably every ten — where you stop and take the audience's temperature. Ask if it has questions, ask for reactions, ask for it to relate its own experience relative to what you're talking about.
You can save Q and A until the end, but it's less effective. People forget questions they may have had ten minutes ago.
Now, here's the important part. When you ask the audience something, you must wait for a response. If you wait a nanosecond or two, because you're in adrenaline mode, and then decide that no one is going to speak up, and go on with your speech, you will be telling the audience never to respond. The speaker sets the rules.
And here's the other important part. When you do listen, listen with your whole body. That means stopping whatever you're doing physically, and turning your whole body to the questioner and holding still. That's surprisingly hard to do for busy speakers on the go, but it's essential if you're to reap the advantages of listening in charisma. Many speakers get the gist of the question half way through and start to move on before the questioner has finished. That's not charismatic. That's dismissive.
Finally, focus on your emotional intentions for approximately three minutes before important meetings and speeches.
Many executives mistakenly think that leadership means not being emotional. That's a big mistake. Think about successful, charismatic leaders, like Steve Jobs, or your favorite politician. People respond to them because of their passion for their subject, their cause, or their products. Charisma comes from the focus of powerful, contagious emotions — like joy, enthusiasm, anger — so spend a few minutes living that emotion as strongly as you can before you go out to speak or go into a meeting. If you practice this, you will show up with greatly enhanced charisma and energy, and people will be drawn to you.
How do you focus? Identify the emotion first, and then think of a time when you naturally experienced it. Recall that time as powerfully as you can, invoking each of the five senses, for several minutes just before your speech or meeting. What did the experience taste like? Smell like? Sound like? Feel like? Look like? Run through these sensory cues, put yourself back into the moment, and bring the emotion to life. Then go out and knock 'em dead.
Practice these three shortcuts to effective leadership communications and watch the bar go up — way up — on your performances.
This week we brainstormed about how a three year-old would celebrate Shriji Maharaj's life and most responses consisted of fun, intellectual, and joyous memorabilia for baby Ghanshyam Maharaj's friends.
Perhaps the toddlers have the right idea - perhaps sabha should consist of sheer celebration of Maharaj's life and Pragat Guruhari Swamishri, of Akshar Purushottam Upasana and our mandirs, and of life as we have come to know it.
Have you seen toddlers play? They are full of focus, in the moment, and never just doing something just to do it. Oh, they mean to do it all right with full intention. And when you tell them they will play with Ghanshyam, they get very excited. Why are they able to not question their innate understanding?
This week, we also got to see a video of a remarkable Turkish artist who was born without eyes. The Discovery Channel followed Esref's feats, where he was able to outdo the accomplishments of Italian Renaissance master Filippo Brunelleschi. Esref is able to draw a geometrical optical linear perspective in perfect form, considered a near-impossible feat, without ever laying eyes on the building. How is Esref able to tap into his innate knowledge of past births and lives to paint so well?
When we start seeing Maharaj as Purna Purushottam Narayan and Pramukh Swami Maharaj as Mul Akshar Brahman, what do we do? When we learn about upasana and aagna, how does this change our actions?
Toddlers see and they do what they do best - play. Esref sees and does what he does best - paint. People who are writers, they write. People with a Porsche, well they drive...preferably on smooth highways. People with smart phones, they use their phones for way more than just making a phone call. People who understand the true value of what they have make full use of the opportunity.
On Hari Jayanti we take time to think about what we have. We think that maybe bhakti is our play, maybe bhakti is our paint, maybe bhakti is making a sticky talk - these are small steps to making use of the opportunity we have been blessed with.
Swamini Vaat 18 - 1
“God has said, ‘I am not as pleased by austerities, sacrifices, yoga, observances of vows, donations, and other endeavors as I am by Satsang.’ What is that Satsang? ‘To fold one’s hands before the great God-realized Sãdhu and to do as he says.’”
Friday, March 12, 2010
1. Can you give your presentation in 20 seconds even though you have 20 minutes to speak? Start your preparation by asking: What is the one thing I want them to remember if they remember nothing else?Studies show that by the end of the day, your audience will have forgotten half of what you said. And by the end of the week, 90% is forgotten. To make sure that the 10% that sticks is the 10% that you really want them to remember, say it early and clearly.
2. Do you look and sound like you do in a conversation? Think about your talk in terms of moods, not just information. Ask, “How should I feel when I deliver those three slides vs. the next three?…Am I giving marching orders, or am I sharing an example?” In delivering different parts of your presentation, you should look and sound different. Have someone videotape you (when you don’t know you’re being taped) to see the gestures and body movement that mark your personal style.
3. Are you mixing it up? Remember to hit the “Refresh” button. A top executive I work with recently stopped cold while rehearsing his speech and sighed, “I’m starting to get bored here myself.” Whether you add a cartoon or image to your PowerPoint, ask real and rhetorical questions–or walk a few steps to the side to tell a story. We live in a BlackBerry world. Adding variety to your visuals will keep you and your audience more engaged.
4. Do you think your presentation begins at 9 a.m., or the moment you drive in the parking lot?Recognize that “communication” begins the moment you arrive. Recall those auto execs arriving in their private planes to ask for taxpayer money. Thanks to social media, your actions (both good and bad) can wind up in print. So be kind to the receptionist, thank the folks backstage, and hold your tongue until you drive off the lot–no matter how clueless that guy in the front row was.
Monday, March 8, 2010
Psychology Today has a post on presentation tips. It covers a great deal of ground we have already looked at - practice, storytelling, and preparing. There are a few things that they add that are novel. A snippet is below. They also have a section on dressing for a talk.
It’s not about you.
Although presentations vary widely, they all have two things in common.
- First, the focus of a good presentation is on the needs of the audience.
- Second, your role as a presenter is to shape the group experience to make sure you meet those needs.
Your success as a presenter will be judged by how good you are at meeting the needs. You’ve run a good discussion when everyone feels they’ve shared and explored their ideas and comes to a different understanding of a piece they read alone. You’ve taught a good class when everyone has a clear understanding of the topic and had their questions answered. You’ve given a good scientific talk when people know what you’ve done, why you did it, and why they should be excited by it. If you’ve done that well, people will also think you’re a good leader, intelligent, and possibly charming, witty, or attractive, but that is entirely a byproduct of how good you’ve made them feel about what the group has accomplished.
How to Approach the Task
There are five main components to pulling together a good presentation:
- Choose a goal;
- Find a storyline that will help the group reach that goal;
- Develop a series of activities or a method of presentation that allows you to develop your storyline. Don’t let your media determine your storyline!
- Remember that your role is to facilitate the group reaching its shared goal. This is your primary responsibility!
- Remember that it’s not about you. All that matters is the experience of the other people in the room.