Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Secrets of Effective Impromptu Speeches

 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 idea in your mind and you communicate this idea effectively then you are much more likely to make an impact. In speaking workshops I have noticed that there is a marked improvement in the quality of speeches when I provide participants with a list of ideas to choose from, rather than giving them a free choice. Instead of "Mars Exploration" I would suggest something like "Why Exploring Mars Benefits People on Earth". Sometimes you can anticipate requests and prepare topic ideas but even when you have to invent something at the last minute still choose a clearly defined position.

Illustrate Points With Stories. Ask audience members what they remember after any speech and the answer will always be the stories. Illustrate your talk with relevant, true stories -- preferably about personal experiences -- to make your speech memorable. Never make up stories because they have no depth, sound weak and will not fool many audience members who have probably heard the same myth before.Many people begin with a story, though that isn't needed, but tell at least one story that illustrates or supports your main idea. But don't tell too many stories because this can confuse people.

Package with Strong Open and Close. You can be excused if you wander a little in the heart of an improvised speech, but what will make it compelling and memorable is to have a strong opening and close, that frame your thoughts and make them stand out more. You could start with a story, a question or a surprising fact. All of these can work effectively. Avoid quotations because that tends to sound old-fashioned unless you have a fresh quote nobody has heard yet. And don't waste time introducing yourself, thanking people or explaining that you are unprepared. Get into your topic immediately and skip the introductions. Then at the end you will get a better reaction to your speech if you bring it to a satisfying conclusion. You could end with another story, a question, a challenge or another original quotation. Whatever you say it should feel like the end, perhaps because you answer the opening question or because you reach a conclusion. You can reinforce the sensation that you are at the end by giving a clue in your words and supporting that with your voice and facial expression.
Apart from these three rules and all the tips in the 2013 post, the secret of effective impromptu speaking is just practice. Look for opportunities where you can speak in front of a live audience on different topics and use these as a learning experience. With enough practice you will be able to speak comfortably on practically any topic in your domain of expertise without notes and with apparently no preparation.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing
For workshops and one-to-one coaching about public speaking contact Andrew Hennigan on speaker@andrewhennigan.com or 0046 73 089 44 75.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Guarding Against the Risk of "Fake Audio"

When Adobe demonstrated their Project VoCo at the MAX event in November the media focused mostly on the downside risks, though the tool potentially has many legitimate uses.

All you have to do is feed this experimental audio workstation tool a sample recording of someone speaking then you can rewrite the text and the audio will be automatically corrected, even creating new words with the correct voice.

For media production companies this kind of tool will be immensely useful, making it possible to correct voiceovers and dialog without having to bring the talent back into the studio. Actors might be less enthusiastic and will have to consider this possibility in their contracts.

But much of the media coverage focused on dark applications of this technology. With this tool you can literally put words in someone's mouth, editing a speech so that someone appears to say something they didn't. Sooner of later someone will actually do this in the wild, but I suspect that the biggest danger is just that politicians will learn to dismiss secret recordings as "fake audio". We will never know if an audio recording is genuine or not. Or will we?

VoCo is not available yet in any commercially available tool, and there is no news yet about when it might be available, but meantime I have been wondering if there is any way that people can protect themselves. To a certain extent the answer is yes;

Politicians will be able to guard against this type of audio manipulation to some degree by providing a video recording of each speech where there is an uncut single camera view of their lips. Any manipulated version of the audio will not match this reference recording and it will be much harder to change the video to match a faked audio track. It could be done with CGI but this would be expensive and take a long time.

Journalists can protect themselves from spurious audio recordings simply by being very suspicious about the provenance of recordings. A file that comes directly from a known source is more likely to be genuine than something found on YouTube or SoundCloud.

Everyone else should be wary of any audio recordings that do not come from a trustworthy source and especially when there is no matching video. I would also caution people to be more suspicious of phone calls that sound like they come from someone famous. Next time you have someone calling who claims to be Vladimir Putin don't believe it just because the voice is right.

But will this technology be a problem anyway? My first reaction last year was to fear the worst, but I said the same at the beginning of the 2000's when I first tried Syntrillium's Cool Edit Pro digital audio workstation software, a product that later became Adobe Audition. I used to demonstrate this by taking JFK's "Ask not what your country can do for you..." speech and with a few mouse movements I moved the "not", reversing the sense. You can do the same yourself using the free open-source audio tool Audacity.

At the time I suspected that this kind of manipulation would become commonplace but it never did, even though any user of any digital audio workstation tool could do this. Perhaps it didn't catch on because video dominates news cycles today and perhaps Adobe's VoCo will have a limited effect for the same reason. But in any case I suggest that everyone be aware of the risks that this technology poses. Be suspicious of any audio that comes to you through indirect sources and remember that with this kind of technology anyone can fake a voice realistically.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching & Writing

For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about communications you can contact Andrew Hennigan at speaker@andrewhennigan.com or 0046 73 089 44 75

Monday, February 13, 2017

Why White-on-Black Slides are so Popular

At TED and TEDx talks, major product launches and other big-budget events you will notice that the presentation designers often opt for white writing on a black background. There are actually good reasons for this.

To many people it simply looks cool and professional, but there are also practical choices that make this style appealing. One of the most compelling is that a white background adds a significant amount of light to the room. In a major conference where there are plenty of spotlights on the speaker and the room is professionally lit this does not make much impact, but in small and medium size events or in company meeting rooms you might notice that the brightness of modern projectors can be an issue.

One way to deal with this problem is to have a fairly constant intensity presentation where there are no slides that are significantly darker, but this can be monotonous. If you blank to black the screen when the images are not needed the impact is even worse. Back in the days of projection CRTs the screen image was so dim that this was never an issue. Now the kind of projectors you might find in any company meeting room can be bright enough to be a problem;

Apart from the distracting changes in light when slides change or the screen in blanked, a white background aggravates another issue. In many company and hotel meeting rooms it is hard for the speaker to stay entirely out of the projector beam all the time. When a slide is just a line of white text on a black background this problem is minimized. But when you have black writing on a white background you are much more likely to have some light from the beam in the speaker's face. This is annoying for the speaker and distracting for the audience.

You can reduce this effect another way by using a short throw or ultra short throw projector behind the speaker -- and possibly add two LED spotlights to brighten the speaker's face -- and you should definitely consider this for your own meeting rooms. But most speakers have more say in the making of their slides than in the equipment of meeting rooms so a white-on-black style is a simpler solution.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

If you would like personal one-to-one coaching to improve your speaking and presenting skills you can ask about buying blocks of hours either by email at speaker@andrewhennigan.com or by phone at 0046 73 089 44 75. I can also do group coaching, lectures and workshops for groups of people who need to become more effective presenters.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Crowdsourcing User Needs for a Book

When the first edition of my book about professional networking, Payforward Networking, was first published in 2015  it was based on the workshops I did for business school students and focused mainly on the core concepts that could be taught in one day. So it explained why networking is so important, how it works and ways of doing it in real life and online, but it didn't focus so much on details like practical mingling tips or the needs of specific groups.

But at the end of the book there was an extra chapter where I invited readers to ask about any other aspects of networking they were interested in. If the reader's question wasn't answered by the book I would, I promised, answer it either directly or through the writing of a new chapter. Many people took up this offer and asked questions that inspired new chapters. I sent a draft of each new chapter to the person who first suggested it.

Now all of these additional chapters have been gathered together in the revised and expanded second edition of Payforward Networking, which is now available from Amazon in both paperback and Kindle editions. This new edition covers in much more details about practical mingling techniques, how to use public speaking for networking, activity-based networking, networking for students, rainmaking, networking architecture and connections in high places.

In this new edition this same promise is maintained. Read through the first 26 chapters and if your professional networking question has still not been answered chapter 27 invites you to ask me for help through social media or email. For quick questions I might answer directly through social media; where a new chapter is needed I will send you a draft as soon as it is written. A final version will be included in the next edition.

You can order Payforward Networking from Amazon here.

Lectures, Workshops; Coaching and Writing

In addition to writing books about networking Andrew Hennigan also delivers lectures and workshops on th same topic for universities, business schools, companies and anyone else who is interested. You can contact him for details at speaker@andrewhennigan.com or 0046 73 089 44 75.