Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Speaking: How to Use Notes Discretely

One of the questions I am continually being asked by aspiring speakers is how to read from notes discretely, so that most of the audience doesn't notice. There are actually quite a few techniques and the best plan is to learn them all so you always have the right solution for the venue.

By far the most effective way to speak is to speak from memory. But even if you have learned your speech very well some notes can be useful in case you suddenly lose track of your thoughts and need a prompt. Simply reading the entire speech sounds very awkward and stilted, though there are ways to make that sound smoother, too.

In most cases I would recommend that people memorize the sequence of points in their talk or presentation and then talk freely about each point. If you are speaking in a second or third language or you are less experienced it is usually more effective to write a complete script and go through that several times to prime your brain with suitable words. After that you can reduce the script to a list of keywords. But what do you do with that list?

USE A VIDEO MONITOR. Whenever you can make sure that there is a video monitor in front of you where you can see it without turning round. This is extremely useful to see which slide is on the screen, and the content of that will remind you what you are talking about if you have a momentary blackout. In some presentation tools you can also send the speaker notes to a separate monitor and use that space to list the key points you want to make. You should not plan reading from the monitor but only using it to jog your memory when it falters.

PLACE PAPER NOTES OUT OF SIGHT. When a monitor isn't available or in case of a monitor failure you should also have a list of key points on paper placed discretely where you can see it but the audience cannot. One classic approach is to have the notes on a high table where you have your laptop, glass of water and clicker. To cover the fact that you are glancing at the notes you can pretend you need a glass of water or "forget" you have a clicker and use the keyboard to advance slides.Another way to "cover" a quick glance at the notes is to look just after you have placed an interesting image on the screen; for a moment everyone will be looking at the screen and not at you.

CONCEAL NOTES ON FLIPCHARTS. If you are planning to use a flipchart to write something you can also conceal notes in plain sight by writing the keywords with a pencil. To the audience the paper will appear to be blank but to the speaker standing right next to it the writing will be readable enough to copy. You can do something similar with a whiteboard, taping a small note to the board with writing big enough for you to read it but too small for the audience to see.

CARRY EMERGENCY NOTES IN POCKET. In any case always carry at least a copy of your notes in one pocket and possibly also a copy of your script in another. Most of the time you will not need them but it is reassuring and calming to know that they are there. In the worst case you can always pull out the notes, refresh your memory and then put them away. Most of the people in the audience will never notice that you did it. In fact you can even use a deck of cards in your hand and most people would never notice. The secret, though, is to glance at the card, put it down and then talk. Don't talk as you read or it becomes obvious.

With plenty of rehearsal and some prepared keyword notes you should be able to make it look like you are talking from the heart and not reciting a memorized script. But if you do need to read from a script then borrow an old technique from newsreaders in the pre-Autocue days: read a piece of text, look up and say the words. Reading head down without eye contact always looks very unprofessional.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about public speaking and other communication topics you can contact Andrew Hennigan by phone on 0046 730 894 475 or 0033 6 79 61 52 81 and by email at

Monday, February 22, 2016

Churchill's Little Secret: See to it That Your Reports are Shorter.

As the Battle of Britain raged in the skies over southern England, prime minister Winston Churchill found time on 9th August 1940 to address a memorandum to the war cabinet lamenting that people sent him wordy reports.

"To do our work", the memorandum says, "we all have to read a mass of papers. Nearly all of them are too long. This wastes time, while energy has to be spent in looking for the essential points. 

I ask my colleagues and their staffs to see to it that their reports are shorter."

Were Churchill still alive today he might not be terribly surprised to see that that air forces today are equipped with stealthy jet fighters and remotely piloted drones, but perhaps he would be disappointed that more than seventy years later we are still struggling with the same problem.

There are many ways to make written communication more effective but one that will almost always work is to keep your messages shorter. Short messages are easier to read, easier to understand and easier to interpret correctly. Write 500 words when 200 would do and many people will scan the text and might miss a key word or point.

Writing brief messages is actually harder than writing long ones, but if you want people to act based on your messages it is worth the effort. Sometimes great expenditure of effort trying to formulate a winning influencing strategy is undone simply because the busy person scanning messages on their smartphone misses a key sentence.

But what is curious about this message is that at the time it was classified SECRET. Perhaps this was simply because all messages from the prime minister were kept out of the public eye so that they would not be mined by enemy intelligence services for useful information. But this is a secret that everyone should be reminded about. See to it that your reports are shorter.

If you'd like to read the entire text of the message click on this image. But don't expect a very long tutorial. Churchill tended to walk the talk and kept his communications brief.

Messages like this that are limited to a single page are inevitably more effective than a longer document simply because people are more likely to read them. Remember this fact next time that you write anything.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

Andrew Hennigan provides lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about effective communication including writing and public speaking. For more information email or call 0033 6 79 61 42 81 or 0046 730 894 475.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Three Things Twitter Needs to Fix

For years Twitter seemed to have an unassailable position as the new CNN, the place everyone goes to spread and read news. Journalists rely on it for breaking stories much more than people realize, world leaders rely on Twitter to get their news out in real time and when disaster strikes following Twitter live has replaced CNN.

Now Twitter growth has stalled and investors are getting nervous. Partly this slowdown in user growth is caused by the emergence of new alternatives that didn't exist in 2006 -- people have more choices and the market is more fragmented. But this stalled growth is also at least partly because Twitter has slowly become much less appealing for users, to the point where some drastic action will be needed to restore confidence. I am sure that people at Twitter are already working on this problem, but here are some issues that they could and should be fixing right now.

PREEMPTIVELY ADDRESSING HOSTILE CONTENT. One of the problems that deters many would-be Twitter users is the volume of offensive, hostile and threatening Tweets from anonymous users. For anyone in the public eye this has become a serious problem and people who don't enjoy reading death threats tend to either avoid Twitter, avoid any controversial topic or simply pay someone else to take care of it. None of these solutions is in the interests of Twitter. What would work better is to create an environment where there is zero tolerance of threats and insults. One way to approach this is to adopt a real or near-real name policy. Another might be to pursue legally anyone who makes any kind of threat. I have long wondered why all the big social media companies don't just pool their resources and go after any trolls that cross the line of legality. They could even attempt to apply stricter rules of politeness, following the example of Quora, where rudeness is simply not tolerated. Even the site's Top Writers can be banned for life simply for being impolite to another user.

RESTRICT THE ABUSE OF AUTOMATED ACCOUNTS. Another problem that turns off Twitter users is the difficulty of finding human users to talk to. Five or six years ago human users were still very common and live interactions completely normal. Today there are too many people who rely on automation, who never ever respond to a Tweet. These accounts are both pointless for the owner and frustrating for everyone else. Many of these accounts are apparently completely abandoned by their owners and continue to auto-Tweet low value content with no human intervention. I often test this by sending a message to people who interact with my account. When no reply comes I assume that there is no human there at all. Some accounts simply tweet the same "my tweet stats this week" or the annoying Paperli spams. To address this problem Twitter should simply tighten up their API rules and restrict auto follow, auto direct message and other anti-Twitter practices. 

ACTIVELY ENCOURAGE CONTENT PROVIDERS. Finally, Twitter should be fostering partnerships with content providers, encouraging them to share their news on Twitter and also to collect inputs through Twitter. Give content sources good reason to choose Twitter as their primary channel and they are more likely to stay there, attracting other users. There's a reason people prefer to share through Facebook and Instagram. Just leaving the content to manage itself worked in 2006. Ten years later the spoilers are more sophisticated so the good content providers need more help.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

Andrew Hennigan does lectures, workshops, coaching and writing about social media and other communication topics. For more information call on 0046 730 894 475 or 0033 6 79 61 42 81 or email

Friday, February 5, 2016

Why Eating Your Own Dog Food is a Good Idea

A few years  back I sat patiently through the presentation of a new presentation tool, puzzled and bemused. Finally when the pitch was done I asked just one question: Why are you guys not using your own product?


In the software and startup world the practice of using your own products is known as eating your own dog food or dogfooding, based on the supposed origin in the dog food business, where employees' dogs were the first to try a new product. Many company routinely test their products in this way.

Not everyone can eat their own dog food but when you can it can be a very persuasive argument to customers, investors, the media and pretty much everybody else. If you don't think your own product is worth using why should anyone else use it?

One of the best examples of this I have seen recently is a new app called Lunchback, that brings together people for mentoring lunches, an app that emerged from a Stockholm Startup Weekend. Mentors post lunches -- dates and times when they will be available. Anyone else can then request a lunch with the mentor, effectively buying their time for the price of a lunch. Some people also use it to arrange networking lunches.

When I signed up for Lunchback one of the very earliest lunches I had was with founder Jimmy Zhao, who uses his own app to learn more about the user experience and other insights that might make a better product,

Another example is the social media monitoring tool, Mention. A few months back I just tweeted that I was writing an article about social media monitoring and looking for interesting new services. Mention caught this with their own monitoring tools and got in touch with me. They were mentioned in the article. Other social media monitoring startups that were not so good at monitoring Twitter missed this opportunity.

Eating your own dog food is more than a persuasive sales argument. It is also a powerful quality control tool because it means that you usually discover product shortcomings much sooner when you are using it yourself every day. When employees are using the product in their everyday work you soon identify bugs and also poor design choices.

You don't find all the flaws because developers don't always use products the way other users do, but at least you find the obvious issues before the customers do. And simply by using your own product you reassure send a clear message to stakeholders that you believe in it yourself.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching, Writing

For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about digital marketing and other communication topics you can reach Andrew Hennigan by phone on 0046 730 894 475 or 0033 6 79 61 42 81 and by email at