Showing posts from 2019

TED’s Magical Red Carpet

Watch any TED(x) video or, better still, attend a live event, and you will probably notice that speakers stand in the middle of a circular red carpet. This choice is not just a question of aesthetics. That red carpet actually plays a key role in the success of the TED format. Having the speaker stand in the middle of a red carpet has several important consequences, leading the speaker to follow best practices that they might not be aware of. No script or notes . Since there is no table, lectern or other furniture within reach, the speaker cannot easily read from a script. This forces them to deliver their talk from memory, which is much more compelling because few people can read from a script and make it sound natural. And no matter how good you are at reading, the audience can see that your eyes are scanning the text and this breaks the magical connection with their minds. Encouraging people to speak from memory pushes them to make a much better talk than they might ot

Speaking: Why You Need to be Careful with "We"

In his 1946 book “ How to be an Alien ”, the Hungarian-born British writer George Mikes tells a story about how newly naturalized citizens need to be careful about their use of we , us and ours . After hearing that 22 planes had been shot down, someone asked ‘What – ours?’, to which his English hostess answered icily ‘No – ours’. When I am coaching speakers or rewriting their speeches I am often reminded of this anecdote when I notice an ambiguous use of “we”. This is surprisingly common, but it can easily confuse or mislead an audience. At the very least it can be distracting because your brain is momentarily occupied trying to work out who “we” are exactly.  Imagine, for a moment, a product launch keynote by the CEO of the fictional Acme Computers. The CEO admits that “… we need to do more about privacy”. What precisely this means depends entirely on who “we” are. It could mean all of humanity, it could mean the people in the room, it could mean her company or it coul

Five Steps to Become an Awesome Speaker

Every so often someone will ask me if it is possible for anyone to become a great speaker. Actually it is. Anyone can learn to become a compelling and memorable speaker, though it does require an investment in time and energy. But unlike many other skills, speaking is actually built on a surprisingly small number of key elements. There are just five of them. Master these five elements and literally anyone can become an effective speaker, even if they are starting from zero. 1 Speak as often as you can . If you speak once a year at a wedding, or once a quarter at a corporate meeting you will never become a really effective and confident speaker. You need to speak in front of a real audience at least once a month to become simply competent, but this is a minimum. Once a week would be better and if you can find periods where you speak every day or even several times a day it will be better. To make this happen you need to find some opportunity to speak regularly. You could voluntee

Focus at Start is Key to Impactful Speaking

Watching a speaker competition recently I noticed that even competent and confident presenters sometimes make a mistake that looks minor, but actually impacts negatively the first impression that they make on the audience. What they do is to mention something essentially irrelevant just before they start speaking, which is a both a distraction and can give people a negative feeling even before you start. This usually takes one of three forms, but the advice in every case is the same: don't do it. Dissing the equipment, venue or audience . One of my favorite TED talk videos begins with an irritating comment from the speaker that he dislikes head microphones. That may well be true but the audience is not interested, and focusing on that detail makes us think about other things and not the topic of his talk. Frankly we don't care if you don't like the equipment or any other practical detail of the event; that is between you and the organizers. In fact if you didn't

How to Build Support Quickly for Your Presentation

Last year I wrote about what to do if you need to create an important presentation at the last minute in  The Dog Ate My Speech: Preparing an Important Presentation at the Last Minute . This focused on techniques for creating and learning effective content with very little time. But if you have time, another way to make last minute presentations more effective is to get the support of the audience before you start. Before most presentations there are breaks where people drink coffee and chat. You can use this time to mention your most important points to as many people as you can. Later when you are presenting you will probably notice these people nodding as you mention these points. Your ideas sound familiar so people show signs of recognizing them, and this gives encouraging body language feedback that will make you more confident. If you have a little more time, you could also try to organize a practice session with some of the people who will attend the real presentation.