Powerful Presentation Lesson from Stanley Cup Final

June 4, 2008

As a speech coach in Pittsburgh, I’m doing what everyone else in Pittsburgh is doing on June 2nd in 2008:  cheering for the Pittsburgh Penguins in their unlikely fight for the Stanley Cup.  Commentators are saying the Pens Game 5 performance (winning in the third round of overtime) is one of the most inspiring performances in the finals’ history. 

One example involves Ryan Malone, who was playing this critical game with a broken nose.  During the game, Malone got a puck-shot to the face that could have killed him.  After a brief absence, Malone returned to the game! 

As a speech coach watching an inspiring performance, I found a lesson in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ situation for myself and my clients.

A winning goal in a third round of overtime means the Pens battled through nearly two full games back-to-back, finally winning in the wee hours of the morning.  They have a mere 43 hours to recover before game 6 back in Pittsburgh.  While the physical preparation is daunting, it’s the mental preparation that interests me as a speech coach. 

According to Al Green, chairperson of the National Athletic Trainers Association public-relations committee, both the mind and the body have to be ready for the challenging game 6.  Here’s a quote by Green from today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:  “The athletes need to get in that zone.  If you can get mentally ready to play, the endorphins and all those fun chemicals can kick in and get an athlete [physically] ready to play the game.  That becomes a big factor because your mental really controls your physical.”

Obviously, playing in a Stanley Cup final is an experience outside of the ordinary.  Given that speaking in public is consistently voted people’s #1 fear, giving a presentation is outside the ordinary as well.  Power speaking has its physical elements:  voice projection, quick adjustments and responses, embracing gestures, and moving across a stage.  To speak with true power, a person must be mentally ready. 

Professional speakers seek the jitters that amateur presenters try to avoid.  Those jitters are the endorphins and other fun chemicals we need to be ready to present with power.  The mental controls the physical.

Be careful with your jitters.  Don’t seek to get rid of them.  Seek to learn the skill of mentally managing your endorphins so you are ready to play your best game. 



Persuasion Technique: Imagine This!

March 3, 2008

An article on the power of suggestion in persuasive communication relays an important lesson for business communicators.  Most of us approach persuasion as an exercise in  logic and statistics.  According to Don Price, we’ll get much better results if we appeal to a person’s imagination (http://searchwarp.com/swa119495.htm).   

Price claims that the power in the words of politicians, sales, and marketing professionals just might be hypnotic.  These folks can mesmerize us, moving us to fall in love with a product or a position by stringing words together in a way that “fires off your imagination” in a persuasive way.  Is this hypnotic?  You decide!  Can it help your next business pitch?  Absolutely!

Price compares a salesperson’s “pitch” to classical hypnosis, as follows (in italics with slight adaptions):

A Salesperson’s communication may go like this:

  •  When you own this home you are going to love holding her in you arms, late at night, while sitting by this fireplace. You’ll create memories to last a lifetime.      
  • Imagine coming home on a cold winter night and snuggling up in front of the warmth of this fireplace.

Classical hypnosis may go like this:

  • As you relax more deeply on the object you’re on, it will begin to feel like you are floating back deeply into a wonderful journey.     
  • You’ll soon discover that your mind will readily absorb all the positive suggestions that I have given you just like a sponge absorbs water.

The structure is the same in the sales communication and classical hypnosis, but the content and verbal suggestion is quite different. All the suggestions set up expectations in the mind of the listener. Our imaginations fill in the blanks as to what the expectations are. The choice of words and the order in which you use them has the power to change how people think and influence the actions they take. 

For the most part, business communicators don’t work to “fire” the imagination.  We say things like, “This fireplace is an asset during cold winter nights.”  There’s no trigger for the imagination, nothing to “grab” the listener’s attention.  In short, there’s no persuasive power. 

Competent business presentations will always contain logic and statistics.  The most powerful ones, however, will also appeal to the imagination, to the deeply held values and desires of individuals and the organization.  In your next formal or informal business presentation, insert the words, “Imagine this. . . !”  You just might tap into some true persuasive power.

Don’t Make this Stupid Mistake #8: Promise to Conclude Your Speech Before You Intend to Conclude

January 9, 2008

Here’s the situation:  Recently I attended a presentation that was relevant to me.  I wanted to be there.  At the same time, a thousand other things were clamoring for my attention that day.  I’m sure you have the same problem.  We all feel we are too busy, and we give our time and attention as a gift.  Effective speakers let their audiences know they are aware of time constraints and will stick to them. 

Here’s the stupid mistake:  Several times, the speaker said “in summary” and then kept talking.  Each time, I began mentally ready for the presentation to be over.  When the speaker kept talking, I became irritated.  It was like he made a promise and then broke it.Looking back, I think this speaker was using “in summary” as a transition between one point and the next.  The problem is that listeners are conditioned to hear this phrase as “this speech is coming to an end!”

Here’s the solution:  Think of the words, “in summary,” or “in conclusion” as a promise that the presentation will be over momentarily.  The audience hears these words as a promise—don’t say the words unless you intend to k Think of the words, “in summary,” or “in conclusion” as a promise that the presentation will be over momentarily.  The audience hears these words as a promise—don’t say the words unless you intend to keep the promise.  When you need a transition, choose a different phrase!

For more stupid mistakes that sabotage your speech, go to http://www.incrediblemessages.com/products.htm#howtowin.

Avoid this Stupid Mistake #7: Introduce Your Speech with Low Expectations

November 14, 2007

Here’s the situation:  This week I attended a presentation in which a consultant had been asked to address a group for a potential client.  The consultant had 30 minutes to say something useful and make an impression in order to be asked back for a fee.  The manager in charge introduced the consultant/speaker to the group.  Politely, the group clapped.

Here’s the stupid mistake:  The speaker responded to the applause with this statement, “It’s nice to receive applause before you start a presentation because you never know what will happen afterwards.”Good grief, what was he thinking?!  Audience members form an opinion of a speaker in the first seconds of a presentation. 

Here is the speaker announcing he might lose control of the speech.  Who would want to listen to him, let alone hire him?!

The first words out of this person’s mouth should have formed a connection or delivered some value for the client.  Once a speaker starts off on a negative foot, it’s hard to recover.

Here’s the solution:  Self-deprecating humor is fine, and sometimes it’s desirable—but NOTas you introduce your speech and NOT about your competence.  As you begin a speech, strive to do the following three things.  When you introduce your speech with each of these elements, you are off to a strong and credible start.

  1. Attract the audience’s attention with an interesting statistic, a brief and relevant story, or a provocative quote or question.     
  2.  Create a connection between you and the audience.  Touch on a value or an experience you have in common.
  3.  Establish your credibility as an expert or someone who is well-prepared to address the audience

Introduce your speech with a combination of these three elements, and you can be sure that you start off with a solid start.

For ten techniques to introduce your speech, including examples, go to http://www.incrediblemessages.com/products.htm#howtowin.

Avoid This Stupid Mistake #5: Begin Your Speech with an Apology

October 15, 2007

Here’s the situation:  An accomplished physician and researcher from Puerto Rico was presenting at a conference of her peers in the United States.   The physician was uneasy about the fact that English is a second language for her.

Here’s the stupid mistake:  “First,” the doctor began, “I want to apologize for my English.” Sitting in the audience, I felt the energy drain out of the room. Audience members collectively caught their breath, preparing to sit through a problematic presentation.  I wanted to rewind the tape and skip the apology. Apologizing in a speech, especially in the introduction, automatically decreases your effectiveness.

Not only did the doctor’s apology expose a lack of confidence, it diverted attention from her expertise. The apology was entirely unnecessary—the doctor’s skills as a clinician and a researcher had earned her the right to present.

Here’s how to handle this situation:  It is appropriate to acknowledge an obvious difference that might distract audience members from your content, something like a heavy accent or the presence of a wheelchair. The doctor might have begun, “I’ve come from Puerto Rico to report significant findings from my research. These findings may impact your clinical practice in substantial ways. As we work together today, you might notice that English is not my first language. Sometimes my brain goes faster in Spanish than my tongue can translate.

The same is true if you should encounter a problem with the room, with the equipment, or with another speaker failing to arrive on time. If the audience knows about the problem, acknowledge it. Then confidently report how you are going to handle the situation and get on with it. If you appear to take the situation in stride, the audience will as well.

Acknowledge differences and problems that arise, but skip the apology. Your credibility—and often the success of your presentation—depend on it.

To learn ten techniques for a terrific opening for your speech, including examples, go to http://www.incrediblemessages.com/products.htm#howtowin.

Stupid Mistake #4: Introduce Your Speech Offensively

October 2, 2007

This entry is somewhat different from the others in the series. It describes a choice one speaker made for impact–rather than a mistake.  I submit this description respectfully and leave it for you to decide whether the choice is wise or not, and under what circumstances. 

Here’s the situation: At a large conference, Ed Tate, a Toastmasters champion speaker, shared his 8-minute award winning speech at a break-out session on how to tell a great story.  I bought the recording of the session.

Ed Tate opened his winning story with the “N” word.  Perhaps he has earned the right to do this because he has been on the receiving end of this word as taunt. This is not mine to judge. 

During the session, Tate explained that his opening attracts attention, and he doesn’t mind making people uncomfortable.  He has made a strategic choice to open his story in this way. 

Working as a design consultant for a communications course for a graduate program, I suggested Tate’s recording as a resource.  The entire resource was quickly dismissed because the client, an African American, finds the “N” word offensive, no matter who says it or what the context. 

Here’s the stupid mistake:  While it’s not for me to tell persons of color when and how they have the right to use certain words, I can’t help but notice that using a controversial word cost Ed Tate a lot of exposure and potential business. 

By choosing to open his speech in a potentially offensive way, Tate created a situation in which some people will not even listen to his message, let alone fairly judge its value.  The fact that Tate’s story won him the title of Toastmaster Champion is irrelevant to my client.  She will not listen to the story on principle.  The question is, how many people share her view?  What does this mean to Tate, his business, and/or his moral message? 

Here’s the solution:  I am not prepared to criticise Ed Tate or anyone else who makes a conscious choice about how to use words.  We have the right to use words to shock if that’s what we choose.

At the same time, I believe there are plenty of non-offensive ways to attract attention.  It’s safest to have a policy that says, “I will avoid potentially offensive words, racial comments, sexual comments, and ethnic comments at all times.”  The backlash of carelessness just doesn’t seem worth it to me.  I don’t want to be famous with a Don Imus kind of fame, and I don’t want my messages rejected without being heard.

Capture people’s attention with startling statistics, amazing facts, powerful images and verbal pictures.  Use your imagination–the possibilities are endless.

To learn ten techniques to introduce your speech, including examples, go to http://www.incrediblemessages.com/products.htm#howtowin.

Avoid This Stupid Mistake #1: Offer to Strain Your Voice

May 28, 2007

Here’s the situation:  At a workshop I attended recently, the room was set up with chairs and tables to accommodate 50 people.  Fifteen participants attended the event.  And, as you might predict, those 15 people chose seats widely scattered toward the back of the room.  As the speaker walked to the front, the first two rows were empty, leaving around 20 feet between the speaker (where she stood by her laptop) and the first row of participants.

The presenter made a joke about no one sitting in the front rows and then she said, “My voice usually projects really well.  I think we’ll be fine, but let me know if you can’t hear me.” 

Here’s the stupid mistake:  The speaker abdicated her responsibility and missed an opportunity.

It’s natural for a group of strangers to “hold back” in a new situation.  As a workshop starts, the participants are typically risk-adverse.  They choose their seats for psychological safety rather than engagement with the rest of the group.  It’s the speaker’s job to set the tone for any event, and to initiate the involvement essential for the highest level of learning, networking, and enjoyment.  A tone of engagement must be set in the opening seconds of the event, or it will be nearly impossible to recover.

Looking at this situation objectively, the speaker made an idiotic offer:  “I’ll strain my voice throughout the morning so that you don’t have to move.”

Here’s the solution:  The speaker should have, in a confident and good-humored way, insisted that the participants move toward the front.  Both the confidence and the good humor are important.  Audience members expect the speaker to take charge, and they begin to relax when it happens.  At the same time, they want to feel like adults, not children being herded by a schoolmarm. 

Note that this speaker was experienced and competent.  The morning was okay, and I learned some things.  Had she taken responsibility for true engagement, however, her competence might have swelled into excellence.  Building on the speaker’s and each other’s ideas, the group might have reached a whole new level.  Personally, whether I’m the speaker or a participant, that’s what I’m striving for.  How about you? 

For more stupid mistakes that sabotage your speech, go to http://www.incrediblemessages.com/products.htm#howtowin