Wednesday, December 2, 2009

do one thing

Today I celebrate having graduated from Jane Pollak's 6 month private coaching program. To say it has been life changing would be an understatement. I have truly shifted, reframed, and moved forward in GIANT STEPS in every aspect of my life. One of the biggest things I got from my coaching experience was the idea of "doing one thing". As an entrepreneur and single mother of three I was feeling overwhelmed at best and undone at worst by the mass and scope of some of the items on my "to do" list. we all have things we are better and worse at, and I, like most people, put off doing the things on the "worse at" list. Of course these are the very same things that have me up at three in the morning.
Jane helped me see that I only needed to tackle ONE thing a day; not the whole ginormous thing. One thing I could handle. One thing was doable. And even better, once I did the one thing I could feel GOOD about myself for the rest of the day instead of kicking myself around the block.
Amazingly, this whole DO ONE THING campaign has helped me make BIG strides in checking things off my "worse at" list. And I'm getting more sleep to boot.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Audience Abuse: Step away from the audience until you have a well conceived presentation, and no one will get hurt

Maybe I've been at this whole presentations thing too long, (very doubtful) but last week I lost it. As Popeye said, "I had all I can stands, and I can't stands no more." I told a presenter that her presentation as it stood (not her delivery; the content) was a clear example of Audience Abuse. Strong language, yes. But as a service to poor unsuspecting audiences everywhere, I felt I had to be as blunt and straightforward as possible.

What constitutes audience abuse? For starters, telling an audience you're going to speak for 20 minutes and then speaking for four times that. Not having a clear cut point, path, beginning, middle or end. Not having 3-5 (ONLY) important points and then making them clearly and compellingly. Not discerning the difference between "need to know" and "nice to know". Not reading the looks on the audiences faces to see that they have indeed had all they can stand.

Please, please, please; I beg of you. DO NOT get in front of anyone, even your kids, your dog, or your kids' stuffed animals, before you have figured these things out. Audiences are trusting us to value their time and attention. In fact, that's the least we can do as presenters. Ideally we want to give them HUGE HUGE value in the time they've given us. We need to honor them and their time and attention by planning and preparing with only one thing in mind; THEM. Neglecting them, failing to prepare, regurgitating old, boring, ill-conceived, irrelevant to them information is nothing short of abusive.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

speaking on the spot

Yesterday was a big big day for me. Thanks to my new friend and excellent speaker, Duane Cashin, I was a breakout speaker at the NYC EXPO for Business, which was held at the Jacob Javitz Center. Although I've lived on the East Coast for 20 some years now, this was my first time in the Javitz Center. The whole day was a thrill. Well, actually, a thrill and a half.

As I was waiting for Duane's presentation to begin, at about 11:00, Mark Sherrer, the President of Event Management, and mastermind of this humongous event, approaches me and asks me if I can fill in for a presenter who's fallen ill and was to present in the afternoon. "You mean give my presentation twice? I'd love to!" "No," he said, "You'll have to give the scheduled presentation which is.... Let's see... Oh, "Marketing and Advertising on a Budget." "You're kidding me, right?" was my immediate and out-loud reply. The dead serious look on his face let me know he was in fact not kidding me. "Honestly Mark, I know nothing about marketing and advertising."
Thankfully, just then Bill Kenny, events manager at the Hartford Business Journal stepped in. "Yes you do, Debbie. You have a website, and a blog, and you do presentations and networking..." "WOW!" I said, "He's right! Yes, I'm a small business owner and I know all that stuff, particularly how to do it on a tight budget. I'm in."

Now came the hard part. I had two hours to design and develop a presentation. Those of you who know my schtick will be happy to know that I adhered to all of my own rules; especially the rule of threes. I grouped the kinds of marketing into three groups, free or almost free, worth spending money on, and hey, you never know. Having structured my presentation this way, I had only to put flesh on the bones and then think of a gripping opening and tie-up closing.

I loved delivering it; it enabled me to share with new business owners my own experience as a start-up. And it gave me the opportunity to see what my clients feel like when they're under the gun. A win win win.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

silence: a speaker's most valuable tool

I'm sure we can all agree that peppering our speech with "um" and "ah", "you know" and "I mean" only serves as a distraction to our audience. I would add that listening to a message littered with these pointless sounds forces the listener to work much much harder. He or she must sift out all of these sounds to get to the real, useful words, and then string them together, make sentences and thus make meaning out of what the speaker is saying. Whew! That's a lot of work. Instead of filling time with these worthless space fillers, how about just allowing there to be silence instead?

C'mon. What are you afraid of? I'll tell you what you're afraid of. You're terrified that if there's 5 seconds of silence the audience will get restless, or think you've lost your train of thought, or maybe someone else will start talking (OK, if you're having dinner at my house, that last one may happen. We've all got a lot to say around here.) The reality is that silence is a GIFT to your audience. It takes a great deal of mental effort to keep up with what a speaker is saying, even a speaker who's not peppering his sentences with ums and ahs. When you give your audience a moment of silence, you're actually giving them a chance to catch up. It's time that enables them to organize what you've said, and prepare for what's coming next. How could that be a bad thing?
In fact, when you stop speaking for 5 seconds an amazing thing happens; you get the audience's FULL attention. They look up because there's a LACK of sound coming from you. Honest to Pete.

So if we know that silence is a really useful powerful tool, how can we use it to enhance our presentations? Here's one way. The next time you're presenting, when you get to something you're about to say that's really important, try doing it like this; Say to your audience, "I'm about to tell you something really important." Don't make them read your mind or guess what's really important; TELL them! Let them know you're about to tell them something really important and then PAUSE. Let there be silence. Then say the really important thing. (And I like to say it at a little softer volume to add impact, although NEVER so quietly that the audience has to strain to hear me. Nothing will make an audience madder faster than having to strain to hear a speaker.) Pause. Repeat the really important thing. Pause again. Step back, and move on. Your use of silence before, during and after the telling of the really important thing allows your audience the opportunity to digest it. To let it sink in. Even to repeat it to themselves in their own heads. All in all, it's a really important gift to them.

Silence is also a great tool when the audience is laughing, or engaging in cross talk. Rather than shouting over them, just smile and remain silent until the room settles down. (You never want to shout over an audience that's laughing. If you shout over an audience that's laughing they'll stop laughing because they'll be afraid they're going to miss something funny.)

For those of you who are ummers and ahhers, here's my advice. Start TODAY right this minute, paying attention to what's coming out of your mouth. Not the next thing you're going to say, or how the person you're talking to is going to respond; concentrate on the words and sounds coming out of your mouth in real time. Catch yourself before the non-word can escape. Be silent instead. You can do it. I have every faith in you. You'll be an exponentially better speaker in no time. As will those of you who use silence to present your really important thing, or to help quiet a chatty or laughing audience. Oh, and not only will you be a more effective speaker; you'll be heard.

Friday, October 2, 2009

10 biggest mistakes presenters make; #10

Having illustrated these top 1o at the 2009 Business Women's Forum in Hartford CT (an event not to be missed for 2010) I thought I'd offer them here as well. We'll start with the least egregious and move to the most detrimental. Ready? Here goes.

#10 Being a Stranger in a Strange Land

Dashing into the site of your presentation 15 minutes before you're scheduled to go on is NEVER a good idea. You look flustered, out of place, unsettled, etc. You've not given yourself time to get acclimated to your surroundings or (more importantly) your audience and it shows. Talk about starting off on the wrong foot.

You should arrive to the site of your presentation at least 30 minutes early. Stand where you'll be standing to present. If you'll be using a microphone, test it out. Sit in a few different spots around the room to get a feel for what the audience will be seeing.

If you are one of many speakers at a conference, I suggest arriving about 2 hours early, if not the night before. Why? because a speaker scheduled to present before you may not show, or may go shorter than expected. He or she may touch on something related to your presentation, or may (heaven forbid) talk about something you'd planned on addressing.

If you are a nervous speaker, getting there early will help you tremendously. Greet a few of the audience members as they arrive. Get to know them a little bit. They will become your instant fan club. Having met you, they'll now feel that they "know" you. As you stand up to speak, they'll be smiling at you, silently cheering you on.

Get there early. Get acclimated, get comfortable, get fans. be heard.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

REAL customer service starts before they're even a customer

A few weeks ago I was desperate to get my 3 kids on an earlier flight to Cleveland Ohio. For the first time ever, I had booked us on a PM flight thinking I was booking us on an AM flight. As the weeks before the trip ticked by, I became more and more anxious about my odds of them going standby on an earlier flight.

The day before the trip, I called American Airlines, inquiring about the available seats on the earlier flights, and what it would cost to change my kids' tickets. While there were seats available, the cost of the change was prohibitive; over $2,000 for the 3 tickets. Desperate, I called the Warren Travel Group ( ). I have never used this agency for travel, but I had met the owner a few days before at a networking event, and she'd impressed me. Boy was my initial impression right on.

A woman answered the phone on the second ring, politely informed me that Karen (the owner) had stepped out for a moment, and offered to help me. At about 190 miles an hour I explained my dilemma. She checked the flights, informed me that there were in fact plenty of seats still available, and then told me about an airline policy that would save me BIG bucks. I had only to call the airline within 12 hours of the upcoming flight and ask for a guaranteed change of flight at a cost of $50! "The airlines don't advertise this." she said, "and not all of them do it. But I know American does."

Sure enough, 12 hours before my desired flight, I called American and secured seats for my kids for $50 each. How great was that???

I am now a customer of the Warren Travel Group for life. They provided me excellent customer service before I was even a customer!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The beach awaits

At my Tuesday morning networking group's evening event last night I noticed two big common denominators;

1.) everone was saying business was slow, and

2.) everyone was tan

No kidding. Even folks I had never before seen with anything resembling a little sunburn were beautifully brown. Here's what I'm thinkin'; this slowdown in business has been a great gift to those of us who know opportunity when we see it. We know that come September things will be slammin' busy, and we're taking advantage of these lazy days and precious gorgeous sunshine. (And a solid month of rain in June makes the sun even more irresistable.)

So slather on the sunscreen and get outside!! Before you know it, we'll be looking at Fall...

Monday, July 13, 2009

Fear and dissapointment; we are all our own worst critics.

Yesterday I had a chance to audition for a band. The drummer sent me a list of songs in advance, which I loaded on my shuffle, listened to, learned and practiced. I had the to-be-expected butterflies all day yesterday, but I've auditioned dozens of times, and usually my performance exceeds my practice. Not so yesterday. Granted, some of the songs were outside my vocal range, others outside my comfort range, but still it was a humbling experience.

It makes me think of some of my clients and their fear of public speaking and feelings of inadequacy about their own presentations. Do they feel like they're not measuring up, despite lots of positive feedback? Who's view is more accurate, the presenter's or the audience's?

I'm giving my performance yesterday a "C". For a life long ham, that's a dissapointing grade. I'll give it lots more practice and look into getting some help. And be way more sensitive to my clients' impressions of their presentation performance. I'll also try and measure the opinions of the other band members against my own assessment. We are, after all, our own worst critics.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

conquering fear of public speaking: take a cure from a ham

Here's the reason "hams" don't typically suffer from fear of public speaking. We've always had an audience orientation - or more accurately - audience stalker-like obsession.

We're not afraid to get up in front of an audience because we're madly in love with the audience, any audience, and we're desperate for them to love us back. It's really that simple. We can't waste time or energy being nervous wrecks; that's our audience out there; we've gotta get on out there, start loving them and squeezin' the love out of them back. That's what energizes us, that's what we live and breathe for.

We're sort of nervous and fearful that maybe they won't like us, which would be a fate worse than death. Seriously.

So to avoid this too-horrible-to-even-think-about eventuality we;

1.) Gear anything we're doing in front of our beloved audience for their maximum satisfaction

2.) Practice like crazy, and

3.) Closely monitor them as we're giving our presentations to gauge their reaction and adjust accordingly.

It's a win-win. To paraphrase Roxy Hart in Chicago we're lovin' the audience and they're lovin' us for lovin' them and we're lovin them for lovin' us lovin' them.

Think about your affection for your audience the next time you plan and deliver your presentation. Just try lovin' them enough to think about what they want to hear, practice like crazy, and watch them like a hawk as you present and adjust accordingly. i guarantee you'll be lovin' it and you'll be heard,

Thursday, March 26, 2009

the bliss in asking for help

Another confession: I'm a real do-it-myself-er. I mow my own lawn, rake my own leaves, shovel my own snow, clean my own house. When we renovated one of our bathrooms, I did the demo work myself. Smashing through walls with a hammer gave me LOTS of pleasure. Likewise, raking and shoveling and mowing. House cleaning; not so much.

But lately, and honestly for a long time now, I've had the nagging knowledge that I need help with my business. I've reached a certain level and I want to go higher, can go higher, need to go higher. But some days (today being one) I feel like I'm walking in circles, confused and anxious, swearing under my breath. "I'm alone! I need help!" my mind wails to itself. "But we don't do that." the stubborn part of my brain says, "We keep plugging away til we get it right. C'mon. You're the queen of energy. Keep going long enough, you're bound to get there."

Probably true. But today I realized I don't want to keep going alone pushing and pushing until I get it right. I want to get help from someone I respect and trust. Someone who's way ahead of me, and has made a career out of helping people like me get there too.

So, I took a deep breath and reached out. I wrote the email, pleading for help and clicked send. I've gotta tell ya; I feel better already. In fact, I feel like I just made a really important step toward getting where I want to go. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Help! My attitude's fallen and it can't get up

Ask my sister, my brother, heck anyone who knows me. I am the eternal Pollyanna. Gullible some would say. Lord knows I've found myself in a pickle or two because of my eternally optimistic outlook. Pragmatic is not the first word that comes to people's minds when describing me. "always smiling" would be more like it. but now, I'm horrified to say, my attitude has fallen and it's struggling to get up.

I vowed yesterday to stop watching the news. This will probably take a 12 step program because i was mainlining CNN and MSNBC during the election. NO more. These guys are total doom and gloom; yesterday I considered just napping all day; maybe catching episodes of "The Girls Next Door". Why bother working? According to the Washington Post (as gleefully displayed on Morning Joe) we're on edge of a total economic melt-down, catastrophe, apocalypse, Sodom and Gomorrah... you get the picture. ay yi yi. gimme my mommy, and throw in some twinkies while you're at it.

Well, now I'm amusing myself. totally. oops, there's a smile. And I confess, I worked yesterday, and today and I have a full day tomorrow... If I try really really hard, I can draw on the place in my brain that reminds me that this is AMERICA. The country people came to on ships, sleeping among livestock and strangers, in stormy seas, bringing barely ANY of their beloved "stuff". This is what this country is made of. It's made of US.

I'm an optimist because I was totally purely randomly lucky enough to be born HERE. Uh oh, my positive attitude, Pollyanna, sunny disposition's knocking. gotta go let it in.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

you are here

Yesterday I met with one of the women I'd offered a free 45 minute consult, and we were discussing the nervous symptoms she experienced whenever she spoke to large groups. Although there are numerous theories about why we experience these things (sweating, heart pounding, knocking knees, etc.) - the most common idea is that it's perfectly normal adrenaline that some of us who love the spotlight interpret as a rush and others of us who would just as soon remain in the "shade" interpret as fear.

I think the experience is profound and physical for all of us, especially in this technologically advanced era, because when we stand up to speak we are totally unequivocally physically there. We're not coming in via phone, or email - all eyes are focused on US. We know it, and it's unnerving. I think the fact that we are, by virtue of standing in front of these people, asking for their undivided attention calls into play our own ego issues. Do we really want their undivided attention? Do we deserve it? Do we like it? If we think the answers to these questions are "no" then we're a big ol' bag of nerves. If, on the other hand, we KNOW the answers to these questions are a resounding YES, we're a gigantic bundle of "let me at 'em".

If we know we've developed a presentation with our audience in mind, we know we're about to address some pressing issue, problem or concern, we know we're then going to provide them with a bullet-proof solution, what's to be nervous about? They need what we're there to tell them. We absolutely want their undivided attention. We absolultely deserve it, and (believe it or not) we will like having it. Now the physical symptoms we feel are more like the rush than the fear. It's all in the focus.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

action: the antidote to fear

I, like most people over 20, have been up nights lately worrying about the economy. What if the housing market really does crumble? What if more and more and more people lose their jobs until everyone is sitting at home with a bag of Oreos or Ritz Crackers or Ruffles staring at the TV? What if no one every hires me again and I pinch every last penny and still can't make ends meet? What if we're heading toward something like, "Children of God?" (God Forbid.) As I'm sure you've figured out by now I have a.) a BIG creative catastrophising-type mind and b.) had very little sleep in the recent past.

I am finding that this kind of fear can be paralyzing. It's a good thing for me to experience, because I coach people all day long who have a paralyzing fear of public speaking.

Anyway, today I had had all I could stand of standing still, so I picked up the 500 lb phone and started (gulp) calling people. Guess what? Not only were they happy to hear from me, they were eager to meet with me. SUNSHINE!! A new day! And I am a new (and not even so tired) woman.

Monday, January 26, 2009

It's not a beauty pageant, or a fashion show

A few nights ago I went out into the freezing cold to hear National Managing Director of Bernstein Financial, Richard Abramson, speak about the state of the markets. Like most of us, I'm not a big fan of venturing out, about 30 minutes down the highway on a weeknight when I could be in my sweats curled up on the couch watching TV. But, like most of us, I've lost some sleep over the economy and I was hoping this guy could provide some insight. (I should also say here that the whole left side of my brain, the numbers side, limps along at best, but I am determined to be a better informed grown-up.)

I arrived about 20 minutes late, and went right up to the front. If there was valuable information to be heard, I wanted to catch every word. A youngish handsome guy was clicking through a pretty typical looking powerpoint presentation extolling the virtues of Bernstein, (which wasn't horrible and was mercifully short) at the conclusion of which he introduced the man we'd all come to hear.

Up to the poduim lumbers this beefy man, wearing what I'm sure was an expensive, but horribly ill-fitting suit, glasses so big they needed their own windshield wipers, fingers like sausages. You get the idea. A candidate for Bay Watch this man was not. But let me tell you, about 5 minutes into his presentation I was positively smitten. This guy could talk, in complete sentences, using compelling language, in a way I could (almost always) follow. Even more engaging was the fact that he was given to using rhetorical questions, self-deprecation and EVERYTHING he said and did telegraphed "This guy's the real deal." At the conclusion of his presentation it was all I could do not to beg him to take my money and invest it.

My point? Don't worry if your suit's too small, your glasses too big, your face and/or body not red-carpet worthy. Your audience doesn't care, and too much caring on your part only leads to preoccupation - on YOUR part, and boredom and disconnection on theirs. Worry instead about your message. Make sure you're communicating it in the best, clearest, most compelling way possible. Put your heart and mind in it. Nobody cares about the rest.