Thursday, December 27, 2012

It's Not Bad Speakers, it's Bad Speeches

In an email exchange with Jezra Kaye, author of the fabulous book on Public Speaking, Speak Like Yourself... No, Really! Follow Your Strengths and Skills to Great Public Speaking, I asked her why do we see so many poor presentations and speeches? 
Her viewpoint is (which I share) that some are not good speakers, and some are good speakers; however, “Their speeches aren’t good.”  From chapter two of her book, she shares her reasoning.
Here are the three steps in Doomed to Fail:
Doomed to Fail Step 1: Find out everything you can about your topic
Doomed to Fail Step 2: Put your facts into PowerPoint
Doomed to Fail Step 3: Ignore your speech until the day you give it

I found her reasoning to be spot on. 

For example, I got a call from a friend to help with his upcoming presentation.  He was promoted as new division manager at his manufacturing plant and one of his new duties was to give a presentation about his division to a monthly management meeting.  He didn’t know how to write a speech and called me.

I sat down with him and asked several questions about the audience, the topic, the purpose, what his boss expected, what other’s did, etc.  We developed a central idea and went to work supporting it with three examples and supported each example with some “Shop” stories and pictures.  I set up the Power Point to enhance his presentation.  Then, I strongly suggested he practice, practice, practice.

He showed the speech to the General Manager’s Executive Assistant, without my knowledge, and she said that nobody does it this way.  She said write out your speech, and I’ll put it on Power Point for you and all you have to do is read it.

So he scrapped all our work and fulfilled her request.  He gathered as much information as he could about his Division, wrote it down, and gave it to her to put on Power Point.  She typed it on several slides and gave it to him.  He, then, set it aside until the morning of the speech.

I called him that afternoon to ask how the speech went.  He said, “OK.”  I followed up, “Didn’t that opening line kill? How about that first slide on Power Point?  I bet they were rolling in the aisles.  You should have had their attention immediately!”  He sheepishly told me he didn’t give the speech we worked on.  When I asked why, he told me that the Executive Assistant told him that nobody did it that way. 

I guess she and he didn’t know that their way was exactly Jezra’s three steps to guarantee “doomed to fail.”

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

What is really at the root of Public Speaking Anxiety?

Over the past several years, my feelings on this topic have evolved.  I spent over 23 years of my adult life being terrified of Public Speaking such that it put my career into a deep freeze.  I overwhelmed myself with the fear of looking incompetent, being laughed at, and looking pathetic.  I would almost pass out at the thought of standing in front of a group even though I seemed to excel in one-on-one communication.

After years of study, practice, and a determined mindset to “harness” this fear, I succeeded in harnessing the fear even to the point of writing a book on the findings of my research and teaching others to improve their public speaking skills.

My feelings now (knowledgeable of The Francis Effect) are that most of my fear was based on an overwhelming amount of self-consciousness and selfishness.  I was so self-absorbed, my own feelings of fear were more important than any useful information I could share with others, thus stopping me before I got started.  The price was many years of lower pay, less help to others, and wasted time of friends enduring my private proclamations that I knew better than the brave people in front of the group.

If you can get the mindset that your message is more important than how you look, then, the fear will not debilitate you as it gives way to courage resulting in valuable information you will share with others.

Focus on your message and the audience, not yourself.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Who are these bad presenters?

In one of the thousands of books on Public Speaking, the author stated that 90% of all presentations, speeches, and meetings being held every day in North America are bad.  I don’t know about the accuracy of such a statistic; however, it might not be that far off. I know I have sat through hundreds of bad presentations.

The majority of Speakers (maybe 90%) think they are excellent speakers!  Clearly, there is a disconnect if most speakers think they are good and most audiences think the speaker is bad. Are you one of those?  How do you know?

I watch 2-3 speeches a day on the Internet and attend 10-15 per month.  I analyze every one through the eyes of an audience member, the speaker, and in context of the occasion.  There are many of excellent speakers out there; unfortunately, there are a lot of bad ones too.  I am not critical of the bad ones because as someone much smarter than me pointed out, all good speakers were bad speakers at one point.  The danger is being bad and thinking you are good. 

If so, how can you ever get better? In my observations, the disconnect is rooted in the following: often the speaker thinks that if he/she entertained, then he/she is good. Don’t drink the Kool-Aid. Just because the audience likes you doesn’t mean you communicated your message.  Maybe your style is entertaining; however, does the audience walk out of there knowing what you intended them to know?

Are you approaching Public Speaking as a Communication Event or a Performance? What does the occasion require?  If you didn’t ask those questions, you may be one of the bad presenters. The good news is you can be an excellent presenter, and not only in your own mind—really.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Focus on the Wood, not the fire

Are you looking to improve your public speaking skills? Public speaking is more than simply trying to look good in front of a live audience.  We approach it as a science in making the audience look good.

The principle is counter intuitive to many people and our competitors.  Many say they are audience focused; however, then they tell you how to “look good” and how they will “improve your performance.”  Using the metaphor of building a fire to warm yourself.  Do you put wood on the fire to make it bigger or do you hope and wait for the fire to get bigger, then throw more wood on it?
Focusing exclusively on the audience is throwing wood on the fire to make it bigger, focusing on your performance is looking for a big fire to throw wood on.

Even though there are tens of thousands of excellent presenters, most presentations are poor in terms of communicating a clear message.  I sit through hundreds of presentations a year and ask people around me about the presentation. 

I ask questions like, “Did you enjoy the presentation?”  

He or she mostly responds, “Yes, it was excellent and the presenter was excellent and fun to listen to.”  

I follow up with, “What single idea was most important to you, or what point will you take from this presentation and use in your work or private life?” 

This person almost always replies, “Oh, lots of things.  She was great, I’m glad I came here.”

 I press on, “Can you recall any one specific thing?”  

Commonly, they respond, “Oh there are so many things it’s hard to pick just one.
I always back off at this point.  Clearly, the speaker entertained and left a nice impression, but, did not communicate his/her message.

Do I just find people who “don’t get it”?  I think not, it has happened too many time, thus I suspect the speaker. The point I am making is that most speakers, although great performers and very likable, do not start out with a clear message and thus the audience loves the speaker, yet did not benefit from a clear message or call for action. 

Could this be you?