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. 

 

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Stupid Mistake #9: Conclude Your Speech Abruptly

March 29, 2008

Here’s the situation:  As my husband and I were watching a movie, I was reminded of an important rule about how to conclude a presentation.  We were watching the movie, The Manchurian Candidate.  As this film came to its close, I felt my jaw drop open. Beside me, my husband shook his head in disbelief, “Is that all?” The movie had ended abruptly. The hero (Denzel Washington) stood gazing blankly over the ocean, his feelings and his future unresolved. There we were, still on the edge of our seats, and the movie was over. It had stopped on a dime.

Shuffling out of the theater, I felt dissatisfied and frustrated. A thoroughly suspenseful movie had left me hanging at the end. Testing out a theory, I asked my husband about his feelings, “Do you feel angry?” “Yes,” he answered, “I do.” I realized that I felt angry too.

Here’s the stupid mistake:  What holds true in a movie holds true in a presentation. An audience expects an ending. In fact, an audience expects a cohesive package that moves smoothly from beginning to middle to end. A good presentation does not end on a dime.

Here’s the solution:  As you prepare the close of a presentation, keep the following points in mind:

  • Audience members expect you to provide closure or tie things together at the end.
  • Audience’s perceive an unspoken contract with speakers.  When you start a story or a line of logic, they expect it to come to a satisfactory conclusion.  
  • The conclusion is the final impression of your speech.  If you do a great job throughout and then flub the conclusion, the audience is left with a negative impression.
  • The most powerful speeeches end with an action statement.

Now I invite you to view a free longer version of this article–with practical suggestions for closings: http://www.incrediblemessages.com/Articles/pp-10-dime.htm.

 For more stupid mistakes that sabotage your speech, check out this special report: http://www.incrediblemessages.com/products.htm#howtowin.


Add Power to Speech with the 7-Second Rule

March 25, 2008

On television, images change approximately every 7 seconds.  Yet, in organizational settings and conference presentations, we expect audience members to watch the stationery body of a presenter, speaking from behind a podium, for an hour or more.  No wonder people dread these presentations!

To be effective as a speaker, you have to recognize that our culture is increasing fast-paced and increasingly visual.  Here are some tips to build changes into your next presentation:

  Give up the podium.   It’s okay to use the podium as a home base.  Just don’t plant yourself there!  When you move with purpose, you add interest and variety for your audience.  For example, try moving away from the podium when you make a key point, or when you ask for audience participation. Of course, random pacing, due to nervousness, doesn’t count as purposeful movement.  Think:  walk, plant your feet; walk again, plant your feet again.      

Make your PowerPoint visual.   An agenda for the presentation is helpful for the audience as well as the speaker.  Overall, however, words on a slide don’t work as visual stimulation—no matter how often you change them.  If you choose to use PowerPoint, add changes with photographs and dramatic graphs.  Show brief video clips that support your points.  Just make sure that everything you use is relevant and easy for the audience to grasp.        

 Add vocal or auditory changes.  Raise the volume of your voice to emphasize a point.  Try a stage whisper to draw the audience into a little-known fact.  Practice a powerful pause.  If possible, add brief musical transitions between points.

Give your stories the stage.  Concrete examples, brief case studies, and stories are powerful ways to add variety, interest, and practicality to presentations.  Make these gems stand out in the midst of a PowerPoint presentation by hitting the “b” key on your laptop.  “B” will give you a blank slide, so that you, the presenter, can move forward and connect with your audience in a powerful way.  The change will be refreshing to audience members.  When you wish to return to the slides.  Simply hit the “b” key again.

Use natural gestures.  Use the gestures that come naturally in conversations.  These include suggestive gestures like shaking your head and demonstrative gestures like showing the height of an object.  Even a shrug will create a brief change for the audience.  For a bigger change, consider using a prop or two as natural extensions of your gestures.

It’s hard to compete with a change every 7 seconds.  Unfortunately, this is what your audience members have come to expect, even if they don’t realize it.  Build changes into the content and the delivery of your next presentation.  You’ll be rewarded with a more engaged and attentive audience.


Need Power in Your Speech? A Quick Lesson from MLK Jr.

January 21, 2008

On Martin Luther King Jr. day, I always reflect a bit on his “I have a dream” speech and how that speech left its mark on our nation. I feel a little guilt because I don’t want my passion for a good speech to eclipse King’s continuing call to our nation.  That said, have you ever thought about the power of King’s “I have a dream” speech?  

Among other things, King was a dynamic and powerful presenter.  Most people don’t feel they hold a whisper of a chance to match King’s passion.  At the same time, this speech uses a technique that is available to anyone!

King inspired a mixed audience of 200,000 when he gave this speech in Washington in 1963, and today people recognize the refrain and connect it with his name.  Not many remember the details of the speech, but almost every American, from school child to senior citizen, can connect “I have a dream” with the inspiration of Martin Luther King, Jr.

King knew his listeners wanted to believe in the hope of justice, but the obstacles were daunting.  History had been ugly on this point.  Yet, King knew he spoke to people with deep convictions; he made a connection between his cause and the deep dreams of his audience for themselves, their children, and their nation.

Martin Luther King Jr. wove a golden thread of America’s promise and the dream of freedom for all.  In the center of the speech, he repeated a golden refrain, “I have a dream…,” finishing the statement each time with concrete images of racial equality and harmony. 

In a song, it’s the refrain that connects the different verses together; it’s the refrain that sticks in our heads.  In King’s speech, it’s the refrain, “I have a dream” that rings with passion in our nation even today.  We remember it, and it still has power to move us.  This is part of King’s legacy.

As I honor Martin Luther King Jr. today, I am well aware that his example of an outstanding orator is not the most important gift he gave to our nation.  Even so, as a professional speaker and speech coach, I can’t help but appreciate this gift. 

Chances are that your next business presentation won’t be about something as important as racial justice.  Even so, you could make your point with concrete images that touch the priorities of your audience.  You could create a refrain that rings in their ears as they leave the room.  Your speech, while it might not change a nation, could be memorable.  It could make a difference in your sphere of the world.  That’s worth a little effort.  What is your refrain? 
 


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 #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.