Posts

Why Meeting the Audience Before a Speech is a Good Idea

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One simple, practical tip that will make almost any speech, presentation, talk or pitch more effective is to talk to the audience beforehand. You don't need to talk to everyone and you don't need to talk to them very long, but you do need to establish contact.

Exactly how you do this depends on the situation. In some events there might be a mingle, a breakfast or a lunch before you speak, and this is a great opportunity to meet some of the people in the audience. All you need to do is to introduce yourself and mention that you are one of the speakers, perhaps explaining very briefly what you will talk about. You might be asked one or two questions at this point, which is a very good sign.

Why you should do this is very interesting, because it works on at least three different levels. First of all, by meeting some people in the audience at least those people will be more open to listening to what you say. It is a natural human reaction to be wary of strangers, so when a new sp…

Using Props to Make Speaking Memorable

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One of the challenges of making a speech, pitch or presentation is to make it memorable. To the speaker every talk seems memorable because they had to learn it. To the audience it is maybe just one of dozens of pitches that they will hear that day and soon forgotten.

Most people turn to stories to make their talks memorable, and this is an excellent idea because if people are going to remember anything it will be the stories. But there is another technique that can also make your content more memorable: use props during the presentation.

Used appropriately a simple prop can make a difference between a compelling presentation and a slide show. More than once when talking about notes I have used a small notebook as a prop. On other occasions I have used sections of rubber seal, an old X ray film, a Walkman, a piece of volcanic rock and many other simple props. Shown at the right time and in the right way these props add an extra dimension to the talk and at the same time they provide a…

Networking: Why It's Best to Avoid "Similar Interests"

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In networking you can't always get introduced to another person so contacting them directly is unavoidable. But there are good ways and bad ways to do this. Looking through some poorly-crafted cold messages recently I realize that there are some common expressions that ring alarm bells.

One of my favorites is when people suggest connecting because "we have similar interests". What's wrong with that? The problem is that, rightly or wrongly, it looks very spammy. A spammy message is one that could be sent to thousands of people without being changed and that sends the wrong message. It also suggests that you have no idea what I do. If we really do have similar interests why are you unable to name even one of them. What makes this worse is that the person sending this message often hasn't even read my profile. I suspect that they are just sending the same message to thousands of people and literally have no idea who they are talking to.

There is a good litmus test …

How to Avoid Keeping Speakers in the Dark

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Every day on social media I see pictures taken at events where the face of the speaker is hidden in the darkness. Every. Day. This is both frustrating for the speakers, who might otherwise have been proud of the photos. It's also a wasted opportunity for the organizers, who fail to capitalize on the natural inclination of the audience to promote the event through their own social accounts.

But why is the speaker's face so often in darkness? To the immensely adaptable human eye the face is perfectly visible in the room, but to the average smartphone camera the dominant source of light in the room is the projection screen. Adjusting the exposure to adapt to the screen brightness inevitably means plunging the rest of the room into darkness.

Speakers can't really do very much about this problem beyond complaining to the organizers and sending them a copy of this post. They could adopt slides that are less bright -- light text on a dark background is the best -- and by blankin…

How to Practice for Big Speaking Events

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When I am coaching people who are going to speak at a major event I always recommend that they practice their talks in a setting as close as possible to the real thing. This doesn't mean that you need to find a spare opera house or stadium to practice in, but that you arrange your own office or practice room so that critical things are in the right place.

Just what exactly are these "critical things"?

When you speak at any reasonably-sized event there will usually be two video monitors on the floor of the stage in front of you. The screen on the left usually shows what is on the big screen behind you so that you never need to turn round. The screen on the right is the countdown clock showing how much time is left. If you are not used to using monitors the problem is that you will not include them in your usual 'scan' of the room and you might miss that the slide didn't change or don't notice the numbers turning read on the timer.

To simulate this setup a…

Design Matters: Lessons from the Oscars Mishap

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Sometimes serious problems are caused or at least aggravated by small errors that could have easily been avoided. Recently presenters at the Oscars ceremony briefly misidentified La La Land as the Best Picture because of a mixup with the envelopes.

As so often happens, the mistake was the result of a chain of errors. The representative of PriceWaterhouseCoopers should have handed the right envelope to Warren Beatty, who in turn could have noticed that the card did not say "Best Picture". But any system should be designed so that one error is not enough to cause a serious problem. There should have been additional checks in place to ensure that if the wrong envelope was given to the presenter they would simply ask for the right one.

Looking at photos of the ceremony it is very clear that poor design contributed to this mishap. On both the envelope and on the card inside the critical line "Best Picture" is printed in a very small font that is barely legible unless y…

Secrets of Effective Impromptu Speeches

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In a 2013 post How to Deliver Impromptu Speeches Without Anxiety I advocated preparing in advance for predictable requests to speak. If you are a startup founder, an explorer or a novelist you can easily imagine what people want you to talk about and prepare in advance.

Preparing in advance is immensely useful, but to improve your speaking skills to another level you need to master the ability to improvise on a broader range of topics. Clearly they have to be topics you know something about, so reading and listening to a variety of content will be useful. But that preparation alone is not enough; you will also need to improve your technique and there are three fairly simple rules that will help you do just that.

Start With an Idea. A speech will be much stronger when it is constructed around a well-formed idea -- you might recognize this as being at the heart of the success of the TED/TEDx format. Just talking about a subject in general might be simpler but if you start with a clear …