Monday, April 25, 2011

Who cares about hand gestures?

It's almost startling how many people will relate to me as a public speaking coach by telling me about a training course they took and what it taught them about hand gestures.  I'm here to tell you that unless you are moving your hands, arms, legs or body in some wildly distracting way, (incessant movement, uncomfortable looking confinement, using anything in your hands as a noise maker, weapon, or device other than its intended purpose) you can STOP thinking about gestures at all.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of gesturing, and I admire those who use their hands and bodies as intruments to help them get their message across.  There are those of us, myself included, who can't speak unless we use our hands to help us.  Because this is our natural way of expressing ourselves, using of hands for us is a good thing.

It is NOT such a good thing, however, when people who don't commonly use their hands in normal conversation start trying to gesture when presenting.  If you are among those who have been persuaded by a well meaning presentations trainer to try this, you know how awkward and uncomfortable this feels.  FAKE is the word I would use.  And that is exactly where the trouble begins.

Presenters MUST be authentic, organic, real.  You cannot be any of those things when you're using gestures and mannerisms that are not your own.  It looks inauthentic because it is. What's more, who says you have to be a great gesturer to be a great presenter?  Not I.  And not your audience either.

   It's not about the gestures.  WHO CARES about the gestures?  (aside from presentation trainers).  I say, start a mutiny!  Buck the system!!! Be YOU, hands idly by your side.  If you're really brave try putting one hand in a (gasp) pocket.  (Do take the change and keys out first, however.  Your hand should be resting there, not playing all that metal like a tiny pocket tamborine.) 

How does that feel?  better?  More natural? You betcha.  Are you able to concentrate on your message and your audience? exactly.  NOW we're getting to what really matters.  Gesturing smesturing.  Focus on your audience and your message and you'll have them eating out of your hands, gesturing or no.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Dragging George

My late mother- in- law used to tell a great joke.  A man comes in after a day of golf, and his wife asks, "How was golf, honey?"  "Terrible." he replies. "On the third tee George dropped dead."  "Oh my Lord!  That's awful!"  the wife exclaimed.  "What did you do?" "Well," the husband sighed, "for the rest of the day it was; hit the ball, drag George, hit the ball, drag George."

Of course this joke always gets a laugh because it illustrates the obsession and single mindedness of some of the golfers among us.  But I got to thinking about it a different way.  What if we were giving a presentation we'd developed without our audience in mind?  We'd filled it to the brim with all of our insider jargon words and acronyms.  We described the inner workings of our doodads and thingamabobs in intricate detail.  We were sure to include every factoid we could find about our beloved product or service, our business, even ourselves.  We lovingly clicked through our massive deck of slides, smiling and smiling and feeling all aglow, proud as punch to be reading bullet after bullet about, well, us.

Then, when the big day comes, we stand in front of our audience and we begin our presentation.  Sure enough on about the 4th slide our "George" (the audience), drops dead, metaphorically speaking.  Realistically speaking, they simply stop listening.  Their eyes glaze over, they surf their blackberries and iphones.  Throats are cleared, restrooms are visited, seats are vacated.  And yet, on and on we go, hitting our presentation "ball" and dragging our audience along with us.

We know that what makes my mother in law's joke funny is that the golfer's priorities are all messed up.  The focus should have been (say it with me now) GEORGE!  That's right, just as our focus should be the audience, NOT ourselves, our product, our company.

The most important part of any presentation is the audience.  you want them ALIVE, engaged and attentive, nodding their heads in understanding and agreement.  They should be eagerly following you from "tee" (point) to tee.  Never ever should they be dead weight you're dragging through your presentation.  Remember George.  Never forget your audience.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Could I GET any luckier???

Almost five years ago now when I started bespeak, I knew I had a passion for presentations, but I had absolutely no idea how to be in business. I had always been employed by someone else. and someone pretty big.  Luckily for me, my sister is a small business coach.  I had help and advice, cheering on and guidance 24 /7. 

My sister, Diane Helbig, lives in Cleveland, so all of this support was done long distance.  We often talked about how great it would be to be able to do a day of workshops for small business owners and include my presentations/public speaking part into her everything else.  Logistics so far have prevented that from happening.

Well, today, thanks to the miracle of modern technology ( and a little thing called Blog Talk Radio) I was on the "air" as my sister's guest on her bi monthly radio show; "Accelerate Your Business Growth".  I think quite a few people were listening in, but I can tell you that no one had more fun than she and I.

Now that I think about it, that's often the case for the two of us where ever we are, no matter what the occasion or how many other people are there.  She has been my best friend my whole life (and truth be told my only friend for the younger bossier part of it). 

Now despite years and distance, we can share business thrills and fun (and, yeah, she talks me of the ledge every once in a while) and its ups and downs just like everything else we've ever experienced.

I mean, really, could I GET any luckier?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

"out of pocket" huh?

Is it just me, or did "out of pocket" used mean that an expense was coming out of your own pocket?  How did it come to mean; out of reach, out of town, out of the office?

No kidding, I thought I was just hanging out with a large number of people who didn't know the correct use of the expresssion, but I guess I'm the one not in the loop.  How does the meaning of something like this get changed?

 In college, we would frequently change the meaning of words to suit ourselves.  My boyfriend and his housemates used the word "houl" to refer to partying.  It actually originated as a hockey player's last name, as in "Houl shoots; he scores!!!"  Somehow he and his friends co opted it to mean something completely different.  (and it could be a noun or a verb, as in "I got houled last night." or "We're having a houlathon.")  This same boyfriend called an angry mood, a "1947 huff".  If I remember correctly, that one had something to do with the huffy bicycle... But hey, these examples are only used among a small group of people, not an entire population.  And they're pretty ridiculous to boot.  How does a phrase like, "Out of pocket" change meaning with no one objecting, no one saying, "I think what you meant to say was..."?

Any ideas?  Examples of your own? I'd love to hear them.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

networking; a breeze for the "new kid"

When I was growing up we moved 15 times in 16 years, and no my father was not in the military. (it's a long boring story.) We lived in 7 different states. Twice we moved in the middle of a school year. Once we moved while I was at camp; I left for camp from our house in Pittsburgh and came "home" to a house in Birmingham Michigan.
You might think all that moving was a burden; it certainly was to our mother, who bore it all with calm and grace. For us, it was normal and,to us, exciting. As my mom unpacked moving boxes she would send me and my younger sister and brother out into the neighborhood to find kids our age to play with. I was the spokesperson, but all three of us became adept at meeting and getting to know people, over and over and over.
Flash forward a few (ahem) decades, and the three of us are grown (double ahem) and in the business world. For us, networking is alot like being the new kid. We are accustomed to walking into a room full of people we don't know. We learned very early on the importance of observing, asking questions, really listening to the answers, getting to know just a few people at first, and then building out from there.
In many ways, people are people be they 5 or 45. We all feel a little intimidated being the "new kid". But if we allow ourselves we can feel the excitement of meeting and forming relationships with new people; hearing their stories and learning about their lives. Letting them know about us and sharing our experiences.
One thing the three of us knew; friendships didn't happen overnight. They took time and energy, and lots and lots of paying attention. The same is true of successful networking. The good news is, now the three of us (although spread out over the country) have stayed put. As adults we've had the great gift of creating and nurturing relationships that will last a lifetime. Although, as eager networkers, we still get that "new kid" experience again and again.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

the beauty of the 180 degree turn

One of my "bespeakisms" is "Turn your focus 180 degrees." By this I mean to urge you, the presenter, to focus on the audience rather than on yourself. Over the years I've found that in addition to being beneficial to the audience, it also greatly benefits the presenter; particularly the nervous presenter.

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to help a client improve her facilitation skills. As we talked over the phone and met in person she described her excruciating preoccupation with herself, her mannerisms, her eye contact (or lack thereof) and her overwhelming feeling of being, well, overwhelmed while facilitating a workshop. This kind of confession is at once heartbreaking and heartening to me; heartbreaking because I hate to see and hear people experiencing that kind of thing, and heartening because I knew I could help.

The first thing I did was to assure her that facilitating a workshop takes practice and skill. It is not something any of us are born knowing how to do. The next thing we did was to talk about her audience, who they were and, more importantly, what they were feeling about the workshop.
As we talked, it became clear that as scared as she was, her attendees were coming to this workshop even more scared. They were about to learn the results of surveys given to their teams, their peers, and their supervisors. It would be my client's job to create a safe, reassuring atmosphere right off the bat, so that the attendees could not only know how to interpret these results, but begin thinking of how they would use it to create action plans for themselves.

Once she realized what her audience was feeling, she stopped thinking about herself. Eye contact became a necessity, something she understood the importance of and worked hard to practice. Her empathy and care about her attendees completely overtook her thoughts of herself and in the short time we spent together she became a sincere, commanding facilitator.

 Her supervisor wrote me that she'd "got her mojo back". Interestingly, it snuck up on her when she wasn't looking. She was too busy focusing on her audience; a focus turned 180 degrees.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Want an idea of what you really look like as a speaker? Hit the "mute" button

I just finished evaluating one of my very favorite clients. This is a super smart guy (not to be confused with a super smartypants guy; yuck.) with whom I've worked on developing some pretty high stakes presentations. This time, as luck would have it, his presentation was posted on youtube within 24 hours after he gave it. This gave us the oppportunity to evaluate his delivery.

The first thing I noticed, like immediately, was that he wasn't smiling. At all. Despite the fact that I'd SPECIFICALLY instructed him to smile when we'd prepped for the speech the day before. Now keep in mind this is a guy with a great sense of humor who I can hear smiling ON THE PHONE. ay yi yi.

From a content perspective, he hit it pretty much out of the park. He had an incredibly tight time frame, (7 minutes) and an important message, and he pulled it off beautifully. Not only did he make his planned points, he tied them in with what had been said before he spoke. Genius. Content wise, me happy. Delivery wise, not so much.

To make my point LOUD AND CLEAR (I'm a pretty petite person, but I make up for it hitting people over the head metaphorically speaking.) I advised him to watch the video of himself without the sound. Doing that he would see immediately what I was missing in his delivery.

Try it yourself. I guarantee it'll give you a whole different perspective on your presentation. And please, I beg you, don't forget to SMILE.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

it's always the people

I was very fortunate to attend the Rethink Forum yesterday at the Sentry Center in NYC. The whole event was absolutely first rate and first class. The food was beautiful, delicious and plentiful. The personalization of everything from name badges to netbooks to programs was amazing and the technology involved was astonishing. This was a forum to rethink events, meetings and conferences and it was attended by about 300 people globally. The NYC speakers were streaming live to Paris, Copenhagen and Minnesota in addition to individuals who were logged in remotely at their own locations. The agenda for this half day event was ambitious (my head was spinning a little by the end, but I'm not a techie) there were cameras, video cameras, sound boards, three screens, a control booth... you name it, they had it, knew how to use it and did.
Yet with all of the fabulous innovation, inspiration and overall WOWness, the best part of the day for me was, (drum roll please) the people I met. From Ann and Rea, the masterminds behind LilyGild, a meeting and event company, to Michelle Alexander from Fundtech,a global solutions technology company, to my host Karan Spanard planning genius of Maryada Strategies, I loved getting to meet and talk to people in businesses related and unrelated to my own who had great things to say about the day, their work, their industry, their clients, and their worlds.
The hosts of the Rethink Forum absolutely gave me plenty to think about, but it was the people I met that made my day.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

give 'em the "why"

How many people reading this floss their teeth on a regular basis? Most people don’t. They know a generic “they” “should”, but they really don’t understand the benefit of flossing, so they skip it. I floss every single day. You know why? A million years ago, when I was about 24 my dentist said to me, “Debbie, you need to take care of your gums. We can always replace a tooth, but if your gums go, there’s nothing protecting your teeth, no way to anchor a bridge, you’re sunk.” I like my teeth, I need my teeth, and if one or two has to go, I want to know they can put in a reasonable facsimile, so I floss.

Sometimes in a persuasive presentation, we must provide the audience with the "why". Your product or service absolutely solves a problem for them, but it's a problem they don't know they have. If you explain to them first what their problem is, or could be, you've got them eating out of your hand when you get to proposing your solution. Not only that, they're grateful to you for seeing the oncoming train which would have nailed them if not for your alerting them. Now they not only see the value in your product or service, they see the value in their relationship with YOU.

Think about that the next time you're preparing a pitch. Oh, and floss everyday too, will ya?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Volkswagen Commercial: The Force: Why is this a great commercial?

This was by far my favorite commercial from last night's Super Bowl. In fact, I've seen it twice again today and I think I like it better every time. So it gets me thinking, what is it about this ad that's so appealing? I don't think any of us would say it's about the car. Unlike the Chrysler ads, it's not about a city, a life style or a culture. I think it's about something in us. I think it's about the way the ad makes us feel. I think it takes us back to a part of us, or a part of our children that evokes a magical, powerful, anything is possible, I can move mountains (or maybe a golden retriever) kind of feeling. How does that feel? Inside? It's a feeling presenters would be wise to evoke. May the force be with you.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Getting started is the hardest part

Here in the Northeast we've had snow, snow and more snow. Although you wouldn't know it to look at me, I love getting out there and shoveling. It's a good thing too, because we live at the top of a relatively unforgiving hill with HUGE trees along the driveway. But with the insane amounts of snow we've had this winter even I am finding shoveling a daunting task some days.

Last week, for example, I woke up to over a foot of snow which had drifted on our front stoop and against our storm door. It took brute strength just to make it outside, and then I was standing in snow up to my knees, with no easy place to shovel it to. (there are walls of snow on either side of the driveway literally about 4 feet tall...)

So I began shoveling. What else could I do? I cleared the stoop and the stairs, and then little by little I began clearing the driveway. I had to think strategically; where was I to put this new snow? Where would we need room to maneuver the cars? By the time my son came out to help I'd created enough space for two of us to make even better progress. It took us three hours, but we did it.

The same is true with presentations. Beginning is the hardest part. It feels vast and overwhelming. There's so much to say, so much information to gather, so little time. I think this is why so many presenters simply copy and paste other people's slides and slam together a "presentation" that, when given, feels like a long dark ride on a bumpy road.

A better way would be to sit with a piece of paper and map out the presentation. Think about the presentation's purpose, the audience's problem and how you're solving it. THEN start building. The time you spend thinking will be the most valuable time of all. THAT'S the beginning; hard but necessary.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

In praise of words

"as contentious and frustrating and messy as our democracy can sometimes be, I know there isn't a person here who would trade places with any other nation on Earth."

This was my favorite phrase in last night's State of the Union. Why? Because the words are so great. For one thing, they're plain old garden variety anyone with a seventh grade education can understand them words. For another thing; they're accurate. Certainly when speaking to a room full of public servants. (OK, that moniker may not seem so accurate to you, but I digress.)

I absolutely LOVE words like "messy" in a speech. Messy says something, it's wonderfully descriptive. We ALL know from messy, whether we are messy or not. The word "messy" is not a word typically associated with the pomp and circumstance with our Congress, or the building in which its work is done. Yet when people with strongly held opposing views try and hammer out policies and laws, messy is probably all over the place.

Here's my point: if our president can use a word like "messy" in his most high profile presentation, why can't we? Ditch the five syllable super smarty pants words for your next presentation. Use juicy, real, descriptive ones instead. You'll have the audience eating out of your hand.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

carrot! carrot! carrot!

After reading some of the mini hoopla about the "tiger mom" and her daughter's rebuttal, I came up as I usually do, a big fan of the carrot versus the stick. (the idea that you can get a mule to move faster if you dangle a carrot in front of his nose than if you beat him with a stick.)

The carrot as motivator worked for me as a kid, worked for my own kids and works for audiences as well. Put another way, I believe in inspiration, aspiration over guilt and fear any day of the week. Here's why.

Guilt and fear may move an audience emotionally, but I'm not convinced it will move them literally. Think about it. Too much doom and gloom just makes us feel bad, scared and hopeless. Tell us what we can do to make something better, solve a problem, (and what the happy result will be) and we're up and out the door on our way to ACT.

If we make our kids, or our audience, feel bad about themselves, their situation, their future, how energized are they going to be to move in the direction we want them to go? Plus, how much more will we have to "beat" them to get them there? Yuch.

I say build them up. show them what they can aspire to and why and how they can get there. Then you stand in the background and cheer them on. Remind them of the "payoff" at the finish line. How much better does everyone feel? How much farther, faster, do you think they'll go?

Monday, January 17, 2011

A missed opportunity; Robert De Niro and the Cecli B DeMille Lifetime Acheivement Award

Watching the Golden Globes last night, I was thrilled to see Robert De Niro given the Cecil B DeMille life time acheivement award and then stunned as I listened to him give his acceptance speech. Didn't hear it? (click here) Worse than him reading it, obviously unrehearsed, from the teleprompter, was what he was reading. The text sounded like a script, written by a "comedy" writer, and not a great one at that. (In fact less than 24 hours later the blogosphere is heating up about a whole bit he did about deportation...totally UNfunny.) Where was the sincerity? Where was the humility? Where was the thanks?

We've all seen Mr. De Niro be very very funny, (Analyze This comes to mind) and a funny comment or two would have been in keeping with the evening and taken the edge off what is typically a very emotional speech. (It's a lifetime acheivement award, for heaven's sake.) What was missing was a glimpse of heartfelt anything, especially gratitude, not only to the Hollywood Foreign Press, but also to those with whom he has made movies and (p.s.) to his family.

I don't have any way of knowing at this posting if the contents of Mr. De Niro's speech were self written or ghost written, but either way he missed an opportunity to show his gratitude.

In my opinion the chance to show your appreciation to your peers, those you love and the world at large is an opportunity not to be missed. These kinds of speeches, when delivered from the heart, are inspiring and moving for the speaker and the audience. Mr. De Niro missed this opportunity last night.