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.