TEDx Talk: Never Laugh at Live Dragons

I’m excited to finally be able to share this video of my TEDx presentation last year in Hickory, NC.  Unfortunately, due to a number of technical issues apparently caused by my appearance on the stage, it took the team a long time to get the video to its current state of mediocrity.  But, you can see and hear it well enough to get the point.

It’s a fun excursion into the power of stories, and what they can mean to the tellers and the listeners.

Enjoy!

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TEDx Talk

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Embracing Your Fear of Public Speaking

fear of public speaking

. Photo courtesy of Photo Extremist(CC No Derivatives)

Sure, it’s one of the biggest fears known to man.

Sure, it makes you sick to your stomach days before you have to do it.

Yeah, staring at that crowd of expectant faces magnifies the chance that you’re going to make a complete and utter fool of yourself.

So what?

Embrace it.

What is Fear?

Really, what is fear any way?  

It’s simply your mind’s means of dealing with potential problems.  Sometimes it’s danger (like fear of being attacked by a drunk gorilla when you’re walking to your car.)  But more often than not, it’s simply fear of potential setbacks, like looking silly or saying the wrong thing.

Now, those are two completely different things, and rational people will handle them differently.

After all, if you’re really in danger – if you know there’s an inebriated primate on the loose in your part of town – then you need to move from the building to the car with extreme caution.  

But before falling back on fight-or-flight, you need to ask:

What’s the worst that could happen?

Usually, in circumstances like speaking in front of a crowd, the absolute worst that could happen is you trip up and feel silly for a moment.  Sure, it doesn’t feel the best.  But are you going to have your arms ripped off and die slowly and painfully to the smell of stale banana daiquiris? 

Nope.

So should you really be afraid?

Nope.

dazzled maniac Jim Morrison drowns out the haunting whimper of a coyote dying on the road by his dreadful death-scream into the abyssal sun ... HWY 01:23:47

Photo courtesy of quapan(CC Attribution)

Embrace Your Fear of Public Speaking

There’s actually several great reasons to embrace this “fear” you feel about speaking in public.  

You see, fear is a visceral emotion.  It moves you.  It causes you to react.  It’s very powerful.

So just imagine how much it can help you if you can control that power and make it work for you instead of against you!

You can let that fear energize you, embolden you, enhance your arguments, infuse your speech with power and passion!

Your fear can make you a better speaker!

Here’s the simple method:

  1. Prepare well.  The more prepared you are, the less likely you’ll be to mess up.  It’s plain and simple fact.
  2. Get to the venue early.  If possible, get up on stage and see everything as it will be when you get up there for real, but before you’re on the spot.  Watch people file in and take that opportunity to mingle and talk.  It keeps your mind off the speech, and turns strangers into acquaintances.
  3. Wait for, recognize, and accept the fear.  It’s going to happen.  Butterflies in the stomach, sweaty palms, a lump in the throat… just accept it. Then…
  4. Swallow the fear.  You’re well prepared, you’re talking to people you know, you’re in a place you recognize and feel comfortable with… what’s there to fear?  To paraphrase a smarter man than me: 

I used to get butterflies in my stomach every time I had to speak publicly. I still do.  But now they fly in formation.

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You Should Read “How to Earn More From Your Writing Just By Talking About It”

Linda Formichelli from The Renegade Writer blog

Linda Formichelli from The Renegade Writer blog

I’m thrilled to be featured on one of my favorite blogs, The Renegade Writer, run by freelance writer and coach to fellow freelancers, Linda Formichelli.  My article is called “How to Earn More From Your Writing Just By Talking About It“, and it’s about how to use public speaking to enhance and expand a freelance writing career.

Here’s an excerpt of the introduction, and I hope you click over to the full article to enjoy the rest on Linda’s blog.  You’ll find a ton of other great info there too.  As always, let me know what you think!

Excerpt

If you’re like me, every single article you write is a learning experience.
Especially for the large-scale feature-style articles, you put the time in, do the research, conduct the interviews, compile and curate your notes, all before you even manage to put pen to paper. And the entire time, you’re learning.
Maybe it’s a subject you’re totally passionate about. Or, maybe it’s something you’ve never even considered before you got the assignment to write about it. But at this point, you’re a genuine expert.
Now you have two choices: 1) You can hand in your article and move on to the next learning experience without a second glance, or 2) you can capitalize on all that effort and new-found expertise while putting a few extra dollars in your pocket and a few extra credits on your bio.
As a freelance writer smart and ambitious enough to be reading this blog, I’m pretty confident you’re a #2 kind of person.

(Continue reading at The Renegade Writer…)

What’s the Best Way to End It All?

Now THAT's the way to do it!

Courtesy of Jonny Goldstein (flickr)

I realize, of course, that the title of this post is a touch morbid.

And, considering the scary uses to which Google gets put on a daily basis, I probably ought to change it.

But I won’t.

If you’re reading this article for any reason other than to learn how to create and deliver spectacular conclusions in your speeches, please hang in there.  It gets better, I promise.  As a matter of fact, just keep reading.  If I bring a smile to your face, you have over 100 other articles here that can do the same!

How important is an effective conclusion?

As a speech writer, I focus about 80% of my time on crafting effective introductions and conclusions for speeches.  And of THAT time, I spend about 60% of the time working on the conclusion.

In other words, if you’re spending $800 having me write your speech, about $384 is going toward your conclusion.  That’s just a hair under half my effort!

Why is it so important?

The answer is very simple:

The last thing your audience hears is often the first thing they remember.

So, when you’re putting your speech together, you need to be very clear about what it is you want your audience to walk away with.  That needs to be the basis of your conclusion and the focus of the speech that leads to the conclusion.

How to conclude a speech effectively

There are a few ways to conclude a speech effectively, depending on the circumstances and the subject matter:

  1. The Summary – This is probably the standby, and it’s most often the best method there is.  Basically, your conclusion consists of a quick review of the main points of your speech.  This is especially effective for longer speeches (more than 10 minutes) where a number of points were highlighted and you want your audience to walk away remembering those points specifically.  Remember, this must be handled with some flair, or it becomes a boring rehash of previous material.
  2. The Unveiling – In some cases, the purpose of a speech is to lead up to a climactic unveiling.  This works especially well in circumstances where the audience will be directly involved in using the item or service being unveiled, or where the unveiling is the introduction of the next speaker, a special guest or celebrity of some kind.  In this case, the speech should be relatively short (5 minutes or less) and should be slowly ramping up to the climax, to end in wild applause as the person or product is unveiled.
  3. The Thought-provoker – This works really well if your speech is on a heavy subject (global warming, a recent tragedy) because, while keeping the mood appropriate, it provides that little flair that sticks in the mind of the listener after you’ve left the stage.  A great way to accomplish this is to pepper the speech with powerful statistics followed by questions as to their meaning, then end with a similar, but expanded question.  (i.e. After noting a few examples of the effects of climate change on various places around the world, and what people in that area have or haven’t done about it, conclude with a shocking statistic or two about the local area.  Then conclude with the open-ended “what are YOU going to do about it?” question.)

Of course, there are at least a dozen other more obscure and specialized methods that will work for various situations, but these “big three” cover a lot of ground and are worthy of review the next time you’re looking to “end it all”.

So tell me, have you ever had a speech conclusion fall flat?  Ever manage to really nail it?  Let’s discuss in the comments!

 

Justin P Lambert is a professional speech writer and content marketing specialist who focuses on the audience with every word he crafts.  If you’re going to give a speech that could be important to your life and career, he can help you plan, write, polish and deliver it in the most effective way possible.  If you liked this article, you may be interested in these other selections from the Public Speaking University series.

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How Your Anti-persperant Makes You a Better Speaker

Courtesy of TimothyJ (flickr)

Remember the old slogan for Dry Idea anti-persperant, “never let them see you sweat”?

That’s excellent advice if you’re standing in front of an audience speaking.  Never let them see you sweat.

In other words, you need to strike them as calm, cool, collected and in control of the situation, or else you’re going to distract them from what you have to say.

This entire package can be summed up in one all-important word: poise.

What is poise?

I like the following definition from Dictionary.com:

2. a dignified, self-confident manner or bearing; composure; self-possession: to show poise in company.

—Synonyms
2.  self-assurance; polish, grace, refinement.

That’s really what it’s all about: confidence, coming through in the way you stand, the way you talk, the way you control your hands.

It’s a fairly subtle skill, because you need to be aware of your body and your mind “behind the scenes” while you’re concentrating on giving your speech.  For that reason, it’s an advanced speaking skill too.

But that doesn’t mean a relatively new speaker can’t start working on it.

It really comes down to two things:

1)  Preparation

and

2)  Confidence

And obviously, these two factors feed off each other naturally.

If you are well-prepared for your speech, you are automatically going to be more confident when you’re giving your speech.  If you’re confident when you’re giving your speech, your preparation will shine through.

This is a very effective cycle, but it must start first with preparation.  If you’re so confident that you feel like you don’t need to prepare, you’re in for a rude awakening, my friend.

But, let’s assume for a moment you’ve taken the time to effectively prepare for your speech.  You have your notes and/or your outline in hand, and you know what you’re going to say.  But you’re still battling some confidence issues.

What can you expect?

Well, if you’re nervous, your audience is going to notice some inconsistency in your vocal quality: you’ll probably speak a little faster than you normally would, with a slightly higher pitch.  Or, you may battle a parched throat, requiring constant clearing or swallowing.

Your hands might be sweaty or cold, and they may start fluttering around all over the place, out of sync with your words.  Or, maybe they’ll clamp down on the lectern in a vice grip.

You may start sweating everywhere, which can get really uncomfortable, and not just for you.  Imagine yourself sitting in the audience and watching some poor guy sweating it out in front of a bunch of people!  Not good.

Now I’m not describing all this to make you even more nervous, but simply to make sure we’re on the same page: a lack of poise is not a pretty thing.

And worse yet, it automatically distracts your audience from what you have to say:  They’re so busy watching you sweat and writhe, feeling sorry for you most likely, that they’re hardly even hearing you.

How do you do it?

Developing poise starts with balancing the two components well.

You must prepare your speech well, but with an underlying confidence in your ability to give the speech adequately.  Then, you must be able to give the speech, confident in the preparation you have done.

By marrying these two factors effectively, you should be able to get up on stage and act naturally.  No funky voice, no incessant thirst, no horrible faux pas to distract the audience, and certainly no one seeing you sweat.

 

Just Shut Your Mouth

Courtesy of Purple Raiine (flickr)

Have you ever had the pleasure of being cornered by a non-stop talker?

You know the type: barely pausing to breathe between statements, seeming to have a long, drawn-out opinion on just about every topic imaginable, and completely oblivious to your building desire to scream,

SHUT UP!!

We’ve all been there.  And because of that, it may not come as a surprise to learn that public speakers sometimes suffer from the same bad habit.

Don’t think your audience feels any different than you do in that situation if you get up on stage and start spouting words of wisdom, non-stop for thirty minutes.

When faced with that sort of barrage of ideas, the human brain has a very effective defense mechanism set up and in place, ready to be deployed at a moment’s notice.

It’s called tuning out.

If you’re speaking non-stop, barreling through your speech at Mach 4, your audience is going to tune you out within minutes.  They’re going to be thinking about what they’re going to eat for lunch today, whether or not they turned the toaster off, who that pretty new girl at the Starbuck’s was… anything but what you’re talking about.

Sure, they might tune back in now and then, catch a few phrases, maybe even take a note or two if it’s appropriate.  But if you’re still pushing ahead without noticing their disinterest, they’re just going to tune out again.

Like a guy lounging on the couch, clicking the remote, you’re just one of 150 channels they need to scan trying to find something interesting.

In effect, what they’re doing is inserting their own pauses in your speech.

Did you catch that?  Because it’s important.

They are inserting their own pauses in your speech.

So, logically, how can you disarm this potent mental defense?

By pausing for them.

You see, to keep command of your audience, you need to give them a chance to stay with you.  You need to anticipate where they may start to tune out and help them not to do it.

How?

Well, there are plenty of things you can do to keep things interesting, and we’ve talked about some of them already.  But one of the most important things you can do is to pause at appropriate times during your speech to make sure your audience is still with you.

So how do you do it?

Brief pauses should come naturally with practice and relaxation.

At the same points where a written message would contain commas, periods or paragraph breaks, a good speaker will put brief but noticeable pauses in, just as we generally do when we’re speaking to each other face-to-face.

Preparing your speech well enough to get up there and speak naturally is a goal of any public speaker.

But there are other reasons to insert meaningful pauses into your speech.  Here are a few to consider:

  1. For a change of thought: When combined with the effective use of transitional phrases, such as “Next, consider this” or “point number two is”, a significant pause works well to mark the point where one main point has been covered and you are moving into the next.  This pause silently tells the audience, “that’s it for that point, tie a bow on it and set it aside, we’re moving on.”  If anyone is taking notes, they’ll love you for this.  Just make sure not to make the pause awkwardly long or people will wonder if it was just a really bad conclusion.
  2. For emphasis: Dramatic pauses can do amazing things for emphasizing points you want to make.  For example, if your speech material includes a particularly powerful statistic, one that exemplifies the urgency of the solution you’re about to explain to your audience, don’t just blow right through it!  Lead up to the statistic, give it to them, then pause.  Long enough to look at one or two individuals specifically.  Just a second or two will allow that incredible nugget to sink down into their minds and memories.  Or, if you introduce your topic by means of a series of questions, a short buy poignant pause after each question allows the audience to actually ask themselves the question, mull it over a moment, and look forward to how your speech is going to answer it.  Because, now that they’ve had a moment to personalize the answer, they’re more vested in finding out why you asked the question!
  3. When circumstances require it: Hopefully, this won’t happen.  But, sometimes it does: some sort of disturbance erupts right in the middle of your speech.  Something that’s guaranteed to take your audience’s attention away from you.  Maybe a baby starts screaming, or someone’s loud and obnoxious cell phone goes off.  Maybe you choke on a swallow of water.  Awkward?  Possibly.  But it’s even more awkward for everyone involved if you try to ignore the fact that no one’s listening any more and you try to keep speaking as if nothing is happening.  Just pause for a few moments until attention comes back to you.  If what you have to say was important enough to get you on stage, it’s important enough to wait until the bozo turns off his phone.  Don’t embarrass anyone, just politely wait until the rest of your audience is back with you, then move on.

Have you ever had to sit through a speech where the speaker didn’t know how to pause?  How effective was he/she?  What other reasons for pausing can you think of?  Fill up the comments!

Timing is Everything, Even When You’re Giving a Speech

Courtesy of morguefile.com

While creating and delivering powerful introductions and conclusions is vital to the success of your speech, and all manner of little tricks and skills can greatly improve how you look, sound and feel on stage, it’s important that you don’t forget about some of the basics that your audience cares about.

For instance, dinner.

Or the movie they’re going to see tonight.

Or the next speaker on the program. You know, the one they actually came to hear…

It Comes Down to Timing

Just like many things in life, success with a speech will often come down to timing.

You see, if you’re a competent speaker (i.e. you pay attention to what your audience wants and needs to hear, and you give it to them with some personality,) you’re 90% of the way to walking off the stage to a standing ovation.

But, if you over-stay your welcome, you’ve lost them.

And if you bolt off the stage five minutes early because you blew through your presentation at Mach 4, you’ve also lost them.

It’s not just a matter of giving them what they want, it’s also a matter of serving it up in an appealing and appropriate way.

The Five-Hour Four-Star Dinner

Picture yourself eating dinner at a fancy-shmancy 4-star restaurant with a $60-per-plate minimum. No matter how fantastic the food is, would you enjoy it as much if the waiter brought you everything at once?

Shrimp cocktail, soup, salad, steak and cheesecake, all at the same time?

It’s also not fun to sit through a five-hour dinner because they’re giving you an hour between courses.

If you’re shelling out that kind of money, you’re automatically expecting the experience to be timed right.

Your speech is no different.

Everyone in your audience is spending the most valuable thing they have, their time, not to mention any money they may have plunked down if you’re speaking at a paid event.

In exchange, they’re automatically expecting not just stellar content, but excellent timing as well.

Don’t dissappoint them.

How Do You Do It?

Timing is a touchy thing because it’s fluid. A lot of factors can go into making sure your speech hits the right time span, and only some of them are in your control.

So, the first and foremost thing you can do is take care of those things that ARE in your control:

Write It Well - By writing the speech in such a way that you’re sure you can hit all of your key points with adequate emphasis, not short-changing anyone, and still keep it loose and engaging, all while keeping within your allotted time, you take away that scary rush that turns off an audience like a cold water firehose.

Practice - Once you’ve created a stellar speech that you know hits your points perfectly, you need to pull out the old stopwatch, stand in front of the mirror, and give it a go. Then again. Then again! Practice until you’re sure the timing isn’t going to be a problem. Not that you want to memorize to the point that you’re a robot on stage, but just to the point that you’re not going to feel the need to add five minutes of ad-libbed fluff to one section, then scrap the next one to make up for it.

Relax - When you’ve finally gotten to the point of getting up on stage, if you’re confident that the speech is written well and you’re as prepared as you can be, just relax. Nothing screws up your timing worse than a bad case of nerves. A relaxed speaker puts the audience at ease. A relaxed audience puts the speaker at ease. See how that works?

What’s Not In Your Control

You can’t control how well the other speakers on the program are at controlling THEIR timing. If one or more speakers before you has gone overtime and you’re speaking right before lunch, you may be asked to cut your speech short.

Sucks to be you.

But you know what? It’s your audience that matters. And you’re never going to successfully compete with a grumbling stomach.

So do what you have to do graciously and make sure everyone knows how to get a hold of you for more details later on.

Similarly, if other speakers have left you more time than you expected and you need to stretch things out a bit, don’t get nervous. This is a great opportunity to add back in a few interesting tidbits you had to nix in the writing phase, or maybe a personal anecdote or two.

Even better, if a Q&A is included in your timespan, give the extra time to your audience! They’ll love you for it!

You also can’t account for every little technical glitch you may run into.

If the projector blinks the blue screen of death in-between slides 17 and 18, make a joke, move seamlessly into slide 18′s content and do your best to stay on track while someone handles the snafu for you (hopefully!)

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is this:

To achieve maximum effect, a speech needs to be timed right: long enough to satisfy your audience’s reasons for listening, but short enough to satisfy your audience’s interest in everything else in their life.

If you can accomplish that, they’ll invite you back.

What are your secrets for nailing the timing of your speeches? Any tips you can share in the comments?

Can You at Least Make it Look Like You Want to Be There?

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For obvious reasons, this guy’s not going to win any Toastmasters awards.

Hopefully, no matter how nervous, unprepared, or ill-at-ease you are speaking in front of people, you’re able to put forth a little more effort in two natural tools to improve your speech: warmth and enthusiasm.

Warmth

Warmth refers to how appealing your voice and manner are to your audience.

Of course, it needs to be appropriate for your subject and your audience, but generally a warm speaker is going to smile, speak with understandable and appropriate emotion, and not scare anyone with weird eye contact or gestures.

It’s a matter of comfort level.

For instance, if you’re overly nervous when you give your speech, your voice will be tense, shaky, tight.  This puts across an uncomfortable, irritating vibe to your audience.  They’ll lose some or all of what you say behind the stammering, the throat-clearing, the lack of eye-contact.

It’s no fun to listen to, and it’s even tougher to learn from.

To generate warmth in your speech, try these pointers:

  • Smile: guaranteed to lighten your mood and your audience’s, plus it relaxes your face and throat, which relaxes your voice.  Try it! You’ll like it!
  • Breathe:  By breathing naturally, your voice will find it easier to move up and down in the natural speaking voice you use every day as opposed to the tight, nervous voice your brain seems to whip up for these occasions.
  • Be Prepared: Preparation cures all your ills.  If you’re prepared well ahead of time, you literally have nothing to worry about.  You can just step up on stage, smile at your audience and launch warmly into whatever you’ve got to say.

Enthusiasm

Enthusiasm has more to do with how you feel than how you look or sound, although if you’re genuinely enthusiastic about your subject, it’ll show on your face and in your voice.

Enthusiasm comes across to the audience in the excited and convicted way you discuss your topic.  They can tell it really means something to you, so naturally, it means something to them too.

It’s based primarily in your own personal conviction that what you have to say is of importance and is worth hearing.

If you find your presentations tend to lack enthusiasm, consider these pointers:

  • Do you care? Enthusiasm is tough to fake, and transparent as heck.  If you really don’t care about your topic, why are you discussing it?  If, for some odd reason, you HAVE TO talk about it, isn’t there something about it you can latch onto to get excited about?
  • Why should they care? Even if you’re already into the topic, ask yourself why your audience should care about it?  Are they going to be able to come away from your speech with some solid actionable items they can do to improve themselves?  Or are they going to learn something that’s going to make them feel better, or let them help someone else?  These are all valid reasons to get fired up about your topic, because it’s going to help your audience to hear it, and to hear it right!
  • Be Prepared:  Not to be a broken record, but once again, preparation comes into play.  If you’re prepared, you’ve had time before your speech to think hard about the two questions above and any number of other points that should help you really understand completely how important and exciting it is that you’re on this stage right now speaking to these people.  And, as a bonus, you’ll be less nervous and therefore you’ll be able to speak, look and act more naturally, which lets your enthusiasm shine through.

So the moral of the story?

Pick a topic you deem important, prepare well, then get up there and give it all you’ve got in a natural, warm and enthusiastic way.

The best part about these two skills is that they are so easily and automatically mirrored by your audience, which is a great reward for doing it right!

Can you think of any other ways to generate warmth and enthusiasm in your speeches?  Let me know in the comments.