A few years ago, I was taking my usual shortcut through Earl Warren Showgrounds on my daily walk, when I was stopped by a family in an SUV. They had a couple of questions about the Fiesta rodeo, a longstanding Santa Barbara tradition that's part of our annual Old Spanish Days festivities.
"How is the rodeo?" they asked. "Is it suitable for children?" And... "Is it violent?"
If you know me at all, if you know how much I love animals and if you know that I've been a vegetarian for 30 years, you'll have an idea how I answered.
I shared my thoughts honestly. I told them that I don't agree with rodeos, that animals are harmed in the process and that I didn't feel it was suitable for children.
1) Animals (especially mammals) are feeling, thinking, intelligent creatures that suffer physical and emotional pain (reach out if you'd like me to send you resources on on the intelligence and sensitivity of animals).
2) People dominating animals for entertainment is harmful to both the animals and to the onlookers, as the audience becomes desensitized to the suffering of animals. (Yes, I know people still do these activities on ranches, which is an argument in favor of rodeos. That still doesn't make it okay as entertainment.)
But no, there's no blood and gore. The parents were satisfied with our conversation and they pressed on to look for a parking spot.
I had felt heartbroken that day walking through the showgrounds, past all the rodeo horses and other animals in their stalls unaware of the fear, stress and possible injury awaiting them.
The opportunity to speak with this family raised my spirits and gave me hope. I was grateful to introduce them to a perspective on rodeo they might not have heard before, about the effects on the animals pressed into service for what many consider to be an inhumane sport.
They listened and seemed thoughtful, and I hope they took my words to heart and maybe did more research on their own.
Speaking up for change doesn't have to be dramatic or aggressive. It can be loud or soft. It can be a poke or a shove, a shuffle or a stride. Change is change, whether big or small.
Your voice is needed. Your message is valuable. A pebble still makes ripples!
What change do you want to bring about? What cause or issue are you passionate about? Want to make big ripples or small ripples? The choice is yours!
Join my #speakingupforchange 5-day challenge starting Monday, July 22, and learn five simple steps toward getting your message off your heart, out of your head, and into the world!
One of my clients has been working her way through the upper levels of her organization with a culture-changing idea for her company. She flies jumbo jets, and her idea would impact all pilots in her airline, and ideally, pilots across all of aviation.
After her first presentation, to which she had invited some of her peers for support, she felt really good about her performance. She made a brief comment to her (all male) peers about an area where she thought she fell short, and they immediately began critiquing her.
For 45 minutes they deconstructed her talk, giving only negative feedback, and the piece that really stuck with her was the idea that she's was "being a showman."
When she and I first met, she was very clear with me that her style is forceful and bold. As the commander of a jet, she can't be shy and retiring. She's knows her personality is strong and she's a very expressive presenter.
Luckily, she didn't beat herself up about the feedback. She carefully analyzed it and went into the following morning's meeting with resolve to get the results she needed for her project.
And she did. The chief pilot suggested sending her idea up the chain of command and having the legal department take a look.
Let's talk about this concept of showmanship, and some speakers' fears around being seen as enthusiastic and passionate.
My client is passionate about her cause, and when she speaks about it, her passion comes out. When I hear her speak, I get excited too!
However, her male colleagues (but not the boss!) were extremely uncomfortable with what they deemed to be unprofessional behavior.
This is partly because women in general are often judged in the workplace for expressing emotion - any emotion. Not just sadness or anger, but also excitement and enthusiasm. But so are men, especially in the workplace, and mostly for enthusiasm.
"Emotions are just not professional," according to some sad, dreary dude in a gray suit way back in the olden days.
The problem with this belief is that it's wrong. And also, as a speaker, you must engage your audience emotionally in order to be persuasive. People don't change attitudes, beliefs or behaviors based on data alone.
Take a look at advertising, where experts in consumer psychology persuade us to buy things every day based on our emotions. Sure, there's some data, but we use that to justify our decision, once we're already sucked in emotionally.
If you want results from your presentations, you must activate your audience's emotions.
That doesn't mean you, personally, have to be emotional in a big way. But digging into your own emotions about your topic and taking your audience on a journey with you so they feel something is how change happens.
My client and I discussed how she can be persuasive but not "stagey," and this is a valid concern. She's expressive (as am I), but she needs to be careful not to "perform" expressiveness so that it looks like she's acting.
As speakers, our voice, our hands, our bodies and our facial expressions are all connected, and they're connected to our emotions. They have to be, otherwise we look like we're faking it.
There's a middle ground between stagey and conversational, between over the top and just having a chat.
If we want to activate emotions, we have to tap into our own emotions and be willing to express them in order to bring our audience into our world. I know you might feel embarrassed for your audiences to perceive you as human, but human and authentic is what they want!
For me, expressiveness is a big part of my presentation style. It's not easy to get photos of me presenting, because I am ALWAYS making a face. My hands, my body and my face are all quite expressive. So on a scale of 1 to 10, I'm probably at a 9 when it comes to expressiveness.
This may not feel comfortable to you! But a 1 out of 10 is going to put your audience to sleep, guaranteed.
How can you increase your expressiveness in a way that is authentic to you, but also helps activate your audience's emotions? Can you move the needle from a 2 to a 4? From a 4 to a 6?
I dare you to upgrade your showmanship.
Let your emotions flow naturally. Let your body and face be expressive, the same way they probably are when your sitting around at a barbecue telling stories to your friends or kids.
There is no shame in being enthusiastic. There is nothing wrong with being expressive.
You can be in solidarity with the sad gray guy who decided enthusiasm is unprofessional. Or you can take a risk and free yourself from the restraints that one or two people in your workplace or audience would place on you.
My client got her results because her superior wasn't intimidated or threatened by her energy, and he was able to hear her message, get the data AND allow his own emotions to be activated.
Don't let small-minded fearful people interfere with your bold and courageous message!
Once upon a time, I was getting on the freeway at an onramp near my home, and for the nth time, was nearly sideswiped by a car entering in the lane next to me. This onramp has two left turn lanes to enter the freeway, but once you begin the turn, the lane markings disappear.
If someone doesn't realize there are two lanes, it's very easy for them to drift from the left into the right lane. Accident waiting to happen.
So I contacted CalTrans on their website and shared my concern (they have a form just for these kinds of suggestions), and I received an auto-reply that my concern would be investigated. Exciting! But would it, really?
Less than a month later, I was getting on the freeway at this onramp, and suddenly realized that the entrance lanes were now demarcated with raised pavement markers!
(Here's a little factoid for you: These markers are called Botts' Dots.)
This was a small win, personally, but it made a big impact on all the drivers entering the freeway on that very busy street.
And I had had little faith that my concern would actually be heard and acted upon.
What are you longing to speak up about? What issue do you care deeply about, but feel powerless or afraid to address?
And what's holding you back?
Discomfort around being seen and heard?
Fear of reprisal?
Weariness from being ignored in the past?
Apprehension about shocking people?
Belief that nothing will happen?
Confusion about what's the next right action to take?
I hear you and I see you!
There are as many reasons NOT to speak up as there are to speak up.
Like you, I've suffered the emotional consequence of speaking up and being ignored or chastised. I've also experienced the incredible reward of speaking up and seeing change happen.
It's easy to sit back and wait for someone else to complain.
Or to share a post on Facebook and think we've done our civic duty to speak out on an issue (it's a start).
But someone else won't complain. Or not enough people will speak up. Or a lot of people will speak up, but not effectively enough to get other people to take action.
Sometimes we just don't care enough to speak up until we personally have been affected by an issue (like my unsafe neighborhood onramp). That's okay! Pick your battles. You can't fix everything, but you can take baby steps toward effecting change. You just have to participate in the conversation.
And... this is important... you have to be willing to take action and share action steps with others. Because the biggest frustration when we want change is not knowing HOW to take action. This is what knocks back the best of us from speaking out when we want to!
Here's my challenge to you:
1. Pick an issue that you care about and want to share. It doesn't have to be a big issue. It can be an issue in your neighborhood, community, children's school, church, or workplace. Or it can be something global like climate change, gender equality or poverty. You decide!
2. Do some research on your issue. Find resources. What actions can you take and encourage others to take? Here's a great website about the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals if you want to go big. There are 17 goals; something for everyone!
3. Pick your platform. Will you write a letter or postcard, send an email, post on social media, shoot a video, give a presentation, write an op-ed piece, speak up at a meeting, have coffee with someone who can help....?
There are many ways to use your words and your voice to effect change! I do encourage you to test the waters outside social media, but if it's new for you to speak up on social media, go right ahead.
4. Do it! Speak up! Write, speak, video, teach, meet... go on!
5. Tell me about it! Share it on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, or post here in the comments. Use the hashtag #speakingupforchange and tag me!
Have you stepped out of your comfort zone and spoken up lately? Share it, use the hashtag, and tag me!
TED talks are the "it-girl" of speaking. Everyone wants their presentation to be as cool as a TED talk, as profound as a TED talk, and as viral as a TED talk.
I'm a huge fan of TED talks (and their locally-produced TEDx brethren). I've written about many of them here on Speak Schmeak, in fact. I admire the ability of TED speakers to quickly and concisely express their big idea in a compelling way, using stories, analogies and sometimes visuals to share their message.
When you only have 18 minutes or less to make an impact, you keep it simple.
However, in a TED talk, you also have minimal tools at your disposal. TED talks are time-limited on purpose: "...short enough to hold people's attention, including on the internet, and precise enough to be taken seriously. But it's also long enough to say something that matters."
In my workshops (which are often a day and a half long), I'm asked by my corporate training clients to address specific learning objectives and teach specific skills. Not only do I teach skills, but I also give my participants time to practice the skills they've learned.
I teach a range of public speaking concepts, provide activities and exercises to help the group internalize and remember the concepts, and then provide practical feedback as they practice the skills related to the concepts. There's also a lot of "white space," time to process what the group is learning, to take breaks and to sleep on new concepts.
Sorry, but 18 minutes isn't enough.
I remember reading a Seth Godin article once where he gave tips for effective presentations, and he suggested that the perfect length for a presentation was: "Most of the time, the right answer is, 'ten.' Ten minutes of breathtaking big ideas with big pictures and big type and few words and scary thoughts and startling insights. And then, and then, spend the rest of your time just talking to me. Interacting. Answering questions. Leading a discussion." Most of the time? I have to disagree.
There is no one right answer for how long a presentation should be. There is no one right answer for what style a presentation should be. There is no one right answer for "slides or no slides."
There is no one right way to achieve the desired outcomes of a presentation, because there are many, many reasons we give presentations, and there are as many presentation styles as there are reasons to give presentations!
There's a reason we have 60-minute conference breakouts, and 20-minute keynotes, and short TED-style talks, and 2-minute quick tips, and "un-presentations," and PechaKucha, and pitch weekends, and group discussions, and Ignite-style talks, and 3-day workshops, and other alternative ways of presenting.
Each kind of presentation serves a unique purpose. Each audience has different needs and goals. Each presenter has different ways of achieving results.
My jam is training. Sure, I can do a ten-minute talk, and I have! I can do 60 seconds if necessary. I can be persuasive and inspiring and even teach some public speaking skills in that amount of time.
But it's not my preference, and the people who hire me do so because my jam is jumping into the deep end with their people and getting into the nitty gritty details of presentation skills, speaker mindset, confidence-building, audience engagement, ditching perfection and creating connection.
Truthfully, only about four hours of a 1 1/2-day training is straight content, though experiential. The rest of the time is practice, which sparks questions and discussion.
In follow-up surveys with clients who did experiential training vs. clients who only received the content but no practice, 90% of participants with experiential training are still using their skills three months later and 95% feel from 50-300% more confident about their speaking skills than they did before the training.
Contrast this result with participants who only received content (as well as all the tools at my disposal except practice: stories, analogies, exercises, activity, group discussion, visuals and more): only 79% of participants are still using their skills three months later. The confidence numbers are slightly lower, too. Okay, so these follow-up results aren't terrible (what can I say? I'm good at what I do...), but if my participants could do better with experiential learning, they should get experiential learning!
What are the needs of your audience? What is your jam as a presenter?
I know everyone wants the "magic bullet," the one "right answer" to every question. What's the one magic way to lose weight and keep it off forever? What's the one magic way to make a million dollars and never have to worry about money again? What's the one magic way to give a presentation that wins you raving fans, clients and viral success?
Nope. There is no one right answer. No magic bullet. And no, every talk can't be a TED talk, nor should it be.
Twice in conversations with a client, she's told me, "I'm not a writer." And yet, she is a writer, because she writes!
Perhaps I'm oversimplifying a bit, because I suppose there's a difference between someone who writes all the time and enjoys it (whether or not they receive income from it), and a person who writes sometimes and finds it a struggle.
So, with this in mind, that there is a certain mental "picture" she might have about what a writer is, and a story she's telling herself about herself, I suggested she change the story to "I'm becoming a writer."
Because while it might be true that she doesn't fit her mental picture of what a writer is, it's also true that the more she writes, the more she becomes a writer.
I often hear from my clients and colleagues that they're "not speakers." And yet, they stand in front of audiences or classrooms or conference room tables and they speak, teach, train, inform, educate, persuade and inspire.
Does someone have to get paid for speaking to call themselves a speaker? Nope.
Does someone have to give formal speeches to call themselves a speaker? Nope.
Do other people need to believe you're a speaker for you to believe you're a speaker? NOPE!
If you give presentations as part of your job; if your business requires you to teach something to people in groups; if you give regular reports or deliver information to groups of colleagues, clients, community members or other stakeholders... you're a speaker!
Maybe you only speak sometimes and you find it a struggle, like my client mentioned about her writing. You have the power to change the story you tell yourself.
Are you a speaker? Maybe you're not quite mentally there yet. Are you becoming a speaker? Try that story on for size and see how it feels.
I finally got around to finishing the original season of the podcast "Serial," in which the case of convicted murder Adnan Syed is re-evaluated in detail by investigative journalist Sarah Koenig. I had listened to the first four episodes on a road trip last year, but never picked it up again. As I've been driving back and forth to Sacramento regularly for two months (a 6-hour drive), I decided to give investigative reporting podcasts another look, and finally finished "Serial."
Syed's defense attorney was a woman named Cristina Gutierrez (now deceased), who was known at the time as a "pitbull on the pant leg of justice." A tireless advocate for her clients, she went above and beyond to defend their cases.
This description of Gutierrez by Sarah Koenig really stood out to me.
"She did the first, or at least one of the first, DNA cases in Maryland.
To figure out how to explain it to a jury, I heard a story that she went to a grade school and practiced. Each time a kid said he or she didn’t understand the science, she started over."
Let's be honest: How many of you work this hard to make sure your topic and concepts are understood by your audience? And when you're in the room with your audience, are you reading their reactions to see if they're with you, or do you just blow through your content, unaware of whether your audience is following along?
I work with a lot of clients who speak and train on complex topics. Over the years, my clients' topics have included companion diagnostics, affect regulation, Six Sigma certification, private capital markets, securities fraud (from the mouth of the felon himself!), the Affordable Care Act, and structured empowerment, none of which were familiar to me when I started working with the client.
One of my gifts is to help my clients make a topic I know nothing about understandable to a lay audience! However, some people hear "dumb it down" when I say "simplify." But these are two different things.
Simplifying means using plain English instead of jargon and acronyms. It means understanding where your audience is coming from and describing terms in ways that relate to what they already know about the world. It means using clear examples and analogies.
There's a reason a "pie chart" is called a "pie chart:" pretty much everyone in the world can envision cutting a pie into slices! This is not a "dumbed down" explanation of a pie chart, but rather a simplified explanation.
"Dumbing down" implies just that: your audience is dumb. It really comes from a place of disrespect. Whereas simplifying comes from a place of respecting your audience and figuring out what they need in order to navigate your possibly-complex topic.
Cristina Gutierrez practiced her explanation of DNA on children, but that doesn't mean she spoke to jurors like children! It means she boiled down the topic to its simplest components and then delivered that to intelligent adults in a way that made sense to them.
How can you simplify your concepts so that your audience really grasps what you're saying and can apply it to their own lives? If your audience is able to take action on what they've learned—and especially if they're able to explain it to someone else after hearing your presentation—then you're on the right track!
Hey y'all! I'm giving away 100 digital copies of Presenting for Humans: Insights for Speakers on Ditching Perfection and Creating Connection!
I'm celebrating the second anniversary of publishing my first book on April 14 and I want you to have a copy! The giveaway started today and 51 copies are already gone, so if you're a Goodreads member, get over there ASAP to reserve your free digital download.
I frequently hear colleagues and friends complain about all the money they've spent on coaching or training, with disappointing results.
Literally never have I heard someone complain about all the work and effort they put into coaching or training, with disappointing results.
I'm going to flip our usual conversation on its head today and instead of talking about your job as the one providing service, I'm going to talk about your job as the one receiving service.
Whether you're the audience member or the coachee, you also have responsibilities.
Have you ever had those audience members who seem like they would rather be elsewhere? The audience members who don't participate, who look annoyed, who spend all their time looking at their phone?
Or worse, the audience member who's constantly interrupting or trying to impress everyone with how much smarter they are than you?
Have you ever BEEN this audience member?
If we want "good" audiences (ask great questions, participate in exercises, look interested, stay awake), perhaps we should start with modeling good behavior as audience members. I often remind my audiences and my coaching clients that they get out of the relationship what they put into it.
As a speaker, we can't expect to just pour knowledge into an audience of empty vessels. That's not how it works. And as audience members, we can't expect to sit back and have knowledge poured into us.
Have you had a coaching client who wasn't open to trying new things, who was unwilling to take risks and get outside of their comfort zone? Have you had a client unwilling to question their own current beliefs and practices, or unwilling to do work outside of the coaching sessions?
I occasionally have a coaching client who expects me to hand him all the tools he needs on a silver platter. Instead of doing the work and pushing himself into new territory, he makes excuses about why he "can't" do this thing or that thing. Or s/he comes to me with a last-minute event to prepare for and expects miracles.
Have you ever BEEN this coaching client?
Of course, coaching is a delicate process. It's not easy to be comfortable with discomfort. I acknowledge those who come forward for coaching to improve their speaking skills and confidence, because it's not an easy road.
But a coaching client or an audience member cannot just sit back and be a passive observer of the process. The audience member or client cannot just "take" from the process and not "give." This is a sure path to disappointment.
As an audience member, as a coaching client, you have a job to do as well! Spending the time, effort and energy (not just the money) to do your part contributes to a successful outcome for both the participant and the teacher.
It's actually pretty easy to type your credit card number into an online order form or click that payment button in PayPal. That's not the real work. And no one is going to unscrew your head and dump in a bunch of knowledge.
Pay attention to how you approach learning opportunities. Be honest with yourself. It's possible that these opportunities haven't worked for you in the past because you were not fully committed or open to taking responsibility for the goals, focus, tasks, reflection, timelines, preparation, emotional exploration, and growth mindset necessary for a successful coaching or training process.
We all strive to be confident speakers; it's a standard by which we judge our own levels of experience and practice.
However, it's possible to be too confident, to become complacent over time about our own skills and abilities.
I made this short video to encourage you to look at where you might be resting on your laurels just a bit too much, to look at where it might benefit you to get out of your comfort zone and look honestly at where you could improve.
A new year is upon us, and many of us use these time markers as starting points to refresh our skills and habits. Is 2019 the year when you'll decide to take your speaking to the next level?
Two-time Academy Award winner needs an acting coach? - YouTube
Many of my speaker colleagues reject the use of slides. They say slides are boring, prevent engagement, and distract the audience away from the speaker's message. And yep, they do. Especially when they look like this:
are loaded with cliches like this:
or packed with bullets like this:
or when the presenter looks like this:
or when your images look like this:
So here are four reasons to stop using slides:
1. If you're still living in the 90s, using crap clip art and cartoons, please don't inflict your slides on audiences.
2. If you insist on listing everything you know about your topic in the form of bullet points or complex charts and graphs, please don't inflict your slides on audiences.
3. If you face the screen the whole time, reading from your slides so that you don't have to learn your content or interact, please don't inflict your slides on audiences.
4. If you're unwilling to learn and use best practices for visuals, like cutting down on text and complex graphs, using more images, and letting slides be the background and enhancement to your presentation, please don't inflict your slides on audiences.
For the rest of you who are challenging the old ways of "death by PowerPoint," carry on!
Personally, I love PowerPoint. I have lots of fun creating slides that will illustrate my points and entertain my audiences. Slides can be part of an engaging, fun and creative presentation. PowerPoint doesn't force anyone to use bullets or to be boring.