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.
You're probably hearing a lot right now about using your voice. With elections coming up, it's important to be reminded that our voices—via our votes—really do make a difference. I know... sometimes it doesn't feel that way. Sometimes we feel small, we feel powerless, and we feel disheartened.
But those aren't good enough reasons not to vote!
Now, how about your actual voice? What are you dying to express? What do you have to say that will make a difference in the world if only enough people hear you?
Do you have a cause that you fiercely believe in, that you're passionate about, that needs more visibility and attention?
Does your business do transformational work and you're looking for the right words to express what you do?
Are you tired of playing it safe, holding yourself back, retreating from the limelight, instead of advancing the conversation about your cause and forging ahead?
I have so many speaking and coaching colleagues who long to be real, to share their passions and to speak up about their core beliefs and convictions.
But they're afraid. They're afraid that being real and speaking out about injustice, oppression and discrimination (for example) will hurt their businesses. They fear alienating potential clients and customers. They don't want to hurt their friends and families' feelings with their opinions.
Maybe this sounds like you. Well, hear this: Your voice matters.
There are people who need to hear you. There are people who will be influenced by your ideas, people whose attitudes or behaviors will not change until they hear YOU.
I know it sounds crazy to think that there are people out there who are waiting just for what you have to say, but it's true. How do I know this? Because every single person who chooses to be heard and seen, believed and trusted, has influenced someone. Just look around you.
You've got the secret sauce, so what's it going to take to break down the barriers that you've created for yourself? Because you're the only one standing in the way of YOU.
Yep, sometimes you feel small, you feel powerless, and you feel disheartened.
Those aren't good enough reasons to keep your mouth shut.
Share your story. Write your manifesto. Submit that speaking proposal. Upload that article. Get your thoughts and opinions out there. Yes, on social media, too. Now is the time. Your audience is waiting.
In 2016, Michelle Dobyne and her neighbors escaped from their burning apartment building. Michelle, who had been cooking breakfast at the time, gave an animated and upbeat interview with the local news, which immediately went viral.
You've probably seen it, but I was reminded of it recently, because my husband and I found ourselves saying "Not today," in Michelle's cadence, but not remembering exactly where we heard it.
Not only was Michelle's interview entertaining, it was memorable!
There's a lot of emphasis on storytelling in presentations these days. But now speakers think they need to overdramatize stories and stage them like performances, and this can get in the way—especially for a less-experienced speaker—of just connecting with the audience in an authentic way.
Michelle Dobyne is a natural storyteller. I'm pretty sure she didn't have time to write and rehearse this before the news media showed up. When asked if she was putting on a show for the cameras, her husband said, "This is what we do every day. Our household is a fun household."
Not all of us are natural storytellers. It's a skill to be learned and practiced. And even a natural storyteller like Michelle could improve her skills if she so desired.
But you can already learn a few things from Michelle. Her story is brief, just 31 seconds. It has a beginning, a middle and an end. It has characters, a plot, and a conflict to be resolved. She uses humor, vocal variety and facial expression to bring the story alive. It also has a happy ending, which stories don't necessarily need to have, unless you're a speaker who wants to end your audience's journey on a positive note.
News 6 in Tulsa caught up with Michelle two months after the video went viral to see how she was doing with her newfound fame. Her response pretty much sums up what we want to do as storytellers:
“I told the world what was going on and how it was going on,” she said.
My clients will frequently say to me, "I don't understand why I'm so nervous. There must be something wrong with me." Well, if it's wrong to be human, I guess we all have something wrong with us!
What we forget is that, while we are indeed human, we are also animals. Human animals, but still animals. And there is a very primitive part of our brain that still behaves as though we're living in a world populated by lions and other scary predators that are waiting to devour us if we remove ourselves from the safety of our herd. This part of the brain, the part that regulates our "fight or flight" response and other subconscious responses, is the limbic system—also called our "lizard brain," although it's not the same as what's called the "reptilian brain."
Humans have survived because we're social animals (or herd animals or pack animals, if you like)—we survive because we create cooperative and interdependent societies and groups. We need and depend on these groups, with their complex rules and systems, for our survival. And because we live and work in these groups, one of the worst things that can happen to a human (or other social animal) is to be kicked out of the group.
We need to belong to our group, so putting ourselves in front of the group, separating ourselves from the group, comes with great risk.
In a nutshell, when you put yourself out in front of an audience as a speaker, you become visible not only to the lions (according to your lizard brain), but also to those in your group who might shun you. Makes sense you would be scared if the result of your presentation might result in you being eaten or ostracized!
Of course, both of these outcomes are unlikely, but it doesn't stop our lizard brain from wanting to protect us. That primitive part of the brain is so tiny, yet has such a great impact in its ability to overrule our logical, and more recently evolved, neocortex.
So how do we manage this lizard brain?
First of all, let's just acknowledge it. There's nothing wrong with you if you're nervous about speaking in front of an audience. It's human nature to want to protect yourself, even though the process happens deep in your subconscious. Those of us who speak all the time and have been doing it for decades still get nervous! Yes, there's that lizard brain, but also, we just want to do a good job. We want our audiences to have a great experience and learn something. We do put human pressures on ourselves to succeed.
Second, there are many tools available that can help you work around that fight or flight response, the adrenaline that your body produces when your lizard brain feels threatened.
Some people prefer to dissipate the excess energy through jumping, stretching, "shaking like a dog" (that's a contribution from a client of mine who's a therapist), or moving their bodies in some way.
Others prefer to try calming strategies, such as breathing, listening to quiet music, meditating, or reading. By the way, if you ever watch athletes behind the scenes before a competition, you'll witness a variety of these strategies.
Third, understand that, with practice and experience, your nervousness will lessen over time. It very likely will not go away completely, and you will have some speaking engagements that dredge up more anxiety than others. The best way to manage your lizard brain is to speak frequently and get used to the sensations that adrenaline creates, and then work on managing your thoughts and your body so that you recover more quickly from your nerves.
“I was so happy with how Freaks and Geeks came out, that in my head I thought 'my career is basically over.' I accomplished what I wanted to accomplish, and everything else is gravy.
And so nothing else matters. I can experiment. I can do anything. Because I did what I wanted to do, perfectly, once.” ~ Judd Apatow
How many of us can say we've done something perfectly, once? Probably a lot of us! Even if it was something seemingly minor, like nailing that Julia Child recipe or running your best ever 5K. (Technically, I'm all about "ditching perfection," because trying to be perfect is usually a futile exercise. But sometimes we do achieve the goal we set out for ourselves, and sometimes it really does feel perfect!)
But oftentimes we don't acknowledge it or celebrate it. Instead, we keep trying to top it, to beat the record, to beat ourselves in our own internal competition—or sometimes external competition.
There's nothing wrong with building on our achievements, setting bigger or more daring goals, or seeking a level of success or mastery that feels way beyond our current abilities.
But what if we took the time and made the mental space for acknowledging our current or previous successes? What if we didn't feel constantly driven to achieve someone else's definition of "success?" What if we stopped comparing our wins to others' wins and minimizing ours because they don't "measure up?"
Judd Apatow could have been a "one-hit wonder" with Freaks and Geeks. Because of his success with the show, he no longer felt the need to impress people with his brilliance, but rather felt free to experiment and—implied in his quote—fail!
In a blog post a few years ago, I shared a quote from Barbara Walters, referencing the title of her autobiography, Audition:
"As a child, I felt that I didn't belong — I was auditioning. I kept going to different schools — I was auditioning. Most of my professional life, I've been auditioning. I think for a lot of us, life is an audition."
The thought that some people can never relax, can never enjoy their successes, and continue to audition every day of their lives makes me so sad.
Here's a thought: What if you've already got the part? What if you're already in the perfect role and you're already playing your part perfectly?
Could you give yourself a break? Could you enjoy the freedom of experimenting and even failing sometimes?
If you don't watch figure skating (and even if you do), you may not understand the importance of the triple Axel in competition.
First of all, it's the only forward-facing jump in the skaters' arsenal. All other jumps are executed while skating backward. It's also the most difficult of the six jumps figure skaters do, with the highest potential point totals.
Women skaters are required to include an Axel in competition, usually executing doubles, but three American women have landed triples (requiring three-and-a-half rotations in the air) in competition. It's a pretty big deal.
You might have realized that I'm not a figure skater, but I did recently have a "triple Axel moment."
There was a time when you would see a skater skip a jump during their program and add it back in at the end. Adding in a jump that was missed is penalized now, and most skaters won't do it because of the precise choreography that's rehearsed over and over. But from time to time, you'll still see a skater throw in a jump late in the program that was unexpected. Something similar happened to me during the Storytellers Project event last month.
I had been practicing this ten-minute story for about two months. By the time the event came around, I was able to tell the story pretty smoothly each time I rehearsed. There were a few transitions I kept getting stuck on, but the great thing about a storytelling event is the fact that you're telling a story! It's not a presentation; it's not a TED talk; it doesn't have to be memorized or use the exact same wording every time. It's a story.
I was the first teller on stage; what a relief! I could sit back, relax, and watch all the other tellers once I was done!
I will confess that I struggled with some aspects of the event. First, there was a fixed mic on a stand in the middle of the stage, and we were not allowed to remove it or walk around the stage, for the purposes of videotaping. I'm used to moving around the stage or the room, and it was awkward to have to stand in one place. But I had practiced this way, so it wasn't as awkward as I expected it to be.
Another thing that was strange for me: Stage lighting! My speaking engagements are mostly trainings in training rooms or conference rooms. The room is fully lit and I can see and interact with everyone. In the case of the storytellers event, the room was darkened, there was lighting on me, and I could only see silhouettes of the audience members. Because I couldn't see their faces, I couldn't read their energy or nonverbal responses, and just had to listen for verbal cues (hmmm, ahhs, laughter), to know how I was doing!
I started my story, and to my delight, the audience was right there with me. Going first, I didn't know how "warmed up" they would be. Were they ready? Would I have to warm them up for the other speakers? Well, they were warm. Early on, I got a laugh just where I wanted it. I relaxed and got into the story.
And then... I lost my place! And this was not a segment I had ever messed up in practice, so I hadn't developed mental tricks to find my way back. It was GONE. In my mind, I panicked, but out loud, I just continued on with the first thing that came to mind.
As I spoke, I reached into my brain to search for the missing piece of the story. Ahh, THERE it is! I remembered what it was that I had skipped, and as I continued telling the story, I now determined where to slip the segment back in.
Whew. Done. Segment re-inserted (my triple Axel moment), and my story continued to the end with no more mishaps.
It's hard to describe how I could be telling the story and engaging with the audience while being in my head rearranging the story so I could put the missing piece back in.
What I will say is that this is what experience gets you. I have been speaking, teaching and training for about 26 years, and I because I know my material and I don't fear making mistakes any more, I don't get into an outward "panic mode." I know how to stay calm and keep my wits about me. And I understand the importance of practice and rehearsal for newer material, so I can do things like rearrange a talk on the fly.
Skaters have muscle memory; their bodies know exactly what to do and when, even if they get thrown off in the moment by a mistake. They fall, and then they get up and keep going and complete the routine.
Speakers also have muscle memory. After having practiced out loud enough times, we can also pick up where we left off in a program, even after a mistake.
This is why I encourage my clients to practice more than they think they need to! And why I encourage my clients and audiences who are newer to speaking to take as many speaking engagements as possible. There is no substitute for experience.
As I came down from the stage and took my seat next to my husband, I heard him say "It was perfect." I said, "You didn't notice that I totally left out a piece of the story and then added it back in later?" Nope. He didn't notice a thing. Of course, he didn't have my story memorized. But he also didn't see me panic, didn't notice an awkward pause, and didn't find the flow to be interrupted in any way.
Click here to watch the video if you'd like to hear the story (it's about ten minutes long), and especially if you'd like to try to spot the mishap!
Perhaps I can help you decide with these points about the benefits of the program to you!
1. Author-led discussion: Most book clubs and study groups are not led by the author, the person who knows more than anyone else about the process for the book, the premise of the book, the core message and teachings, and the whys, whats and hows of the book. PFH Success Circle has me, the author, leading discussion, answering questions, and coaching you along the way!
2. Practical outcomes: This is a program to help you put the concepts in the book into practice. Sure, you could read the book on your own, but we all know how much better we are at implementing (and avoiding procrastination) when we have accountability partners! Your goals will include finishing the week's reading assignment before our live call, and coming ready to review what you read and to compare notes with your fellow participants.
3. Making connections with your fellow program members: A shared love of reading is already a great connection point among you, but your shared interest in speaking adds another level of depth to your connections. It's a great online networking opportunity (when you join the Facebook group, especially) for meeting like-minded individuals—no matter where you live in the world.
4. The difference between reading a book alone and reading as a group is huge: Reading a book and discussing it as a group opens your mind to ideas you might not have considered, conclusions you might not have come to, and perspectives you might not have gained. Reading and discussing as a group supercharges your learning and absorption of concepts and takes you in entirely new directions.
5. Practice and grow your communication skills: Reading a book about public
speaking is one thing, but actually formulating ideas and sharing them with the group, defending your opinions, speaking up for your beliefs, and persuading others to see your perspective—tactfully and respectfully—are all valuable opportunities to enhance your own communication skills as well as to help you retain information better and reinforce your learning.
6. It's virtual: I get that the wine, snacks and personal interaction are big draws for in-person book clubs. But not everyone has the time (or calorie allowance) for that. You can stay at your desk or (if you're like me) on the couch in your pajamas. There's no judgement! Join the meeting from wherever you are, and even if you can't join live, it will be recorded so you won't miss a thing. You can leave your comments in the Facebook group at any time—whether you're a night owl or an early bird, whether you're in Australia or Africa. (Feel free to bring your own wine...)
7. And because it's virtual, you choose your own method of interaction: You can exclusively stick to the Facebook group if you prefer to write out your thoughts. You can come to the live Zoom calls, participate with the other members and get your questions answered on the spot by moi. You can shoot video sharing your comments and upload to Facebook. Or you can do any combination of these, or whatever else you think of! (Want to make a pic collage or Pinterest board with public speaking memes? Go ahead!)
8. You will learn to be a better speaker: There's just one book and one topic here. If you want to learn to be a better speaker, you've come to the right place. We will be 100% laser-focused on speaking. Your questions about speaking will be answered, your knowledge will grow, your opportunities to improve will expand. Period.
9. It's affordable: If private coaching isn’t an option for you right now, the PFH Success Circle is the next best thing with laser coaching and a private Facebook group—where I'm very active—and the only way to work with me for under $800.
10. It's a short time commitment: The program starts in May and ends in June. There are five weekly calls (but if you can't make it live, they'll be recorded). The reading is light: two chapters a week. We'll accomplish a lot in this short time frame, but it's not going to take months of your life to complete or hours a week of homework.
Each week, participants will read assigned chapters, do personal exploration and reflection, and return to the group for follow-up, discussion, and laser coaching on the concepts learned.
Perfection is finally attained, not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.
~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, aircraft designer and author of The Little Prince.
I'm fortunate that, in most of my speaking, I'm not required to be particularly concise. My speaking engagements are mostly trainings that range from three hours to three days, and there's a lot of room for spontaneous stories and discussion built into my workshops.
Of course, I still have to leave out a lot of content that I would like to use, because even over the course of three days, I will not be able to cover everything I know about public speaking.
But in the process of preparing for the upcoming Storytellers Project event in May, I'm having to approach my speaking in a way that is unfamiliar to me. I have to tell a story that took a year to unfold, in the course of 8-10 minutes. I have to be brief!
Ironically, I spend a lot of time working with clients who have very short presentations to deliver, such as keynotes (that might last 30 minutes) or speeches during public comment periods at city or county government meetings, that might only be 2-3 minutes long. I'm really good at helping them get rid of anything not critical to the core message while still maintaining emotional engagement, stories and the most important details.
In my Speak to EngageⓇ trainings, I display a slide with an image of a cleaver, and the words "Be brutal." You may have heard "kill your babies" or "kill your darlings," variations on the expression "Murder your darlings," originally attributed to Arthur Quiller-Couch, from his 1914 lecture "On Style."
What all of these expressions have in common with each other, as well as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's quote at the top, is the concept of cutting, culling, thinning out, simplifying, tightening, reducing and narrowing down.
Notice that no one suggests improving your presentation (or your writing, or your aircraft) by adding a bunch of stuff. Even Coco Chanel was quoted saying "Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take at least one thing off." Or something close to that. Which would be a problem for me as, lately, I'm only wearing earrings. I'm not sure I'm ready for the one-earring look.
Yes, we would all like to add more to our presentations: More facts, more data, more content, more humor, more persuasion! But as you add, so must you subtract.
In fact, cutting and culling can be painful. It requires the ability to let go of something we want to hold onto, a piece of writing or a story we think will make all the difference! For example, adding humor doesn't necessarily mean adding more words. It means rearranging what you've written so that the right words, in the right order, make the line funny. And we all know, logically, that adding more facts and data just confounds and exhausts our audiences.
Good writing and speaking are about how you express your ideas, in terms of how compelling, creative, intriguing, provocative or thought-provoking your words are. The number of words you use is not even a factor, except for the literal time frame you're given to express them.
The "New Beginnings" story I'm telling on May 9 for the Storytellers Project (tickets available here) is one of the shortest presentations I've ever given. It's not even a presentation. It's merely a story. I have ten minutes total, but right now it's at about eight minutes, and I don't want it to be much longer.
First of all, I have to memorize it! *Stomach does flip flops*
Second of all, I want it to be lean. I want it to be entertaining, and I want there to be enough detail and color so that the audience can feel connected to my story, and even feel like they're inside the story. But I don't want to go on and on, saying something in 25 words that I can say in 12.
It happens that I have a history of being too brief. In high school and college, when I was asked to write a ten-page paper, I couldn't stretch it to more than eight. Even the Storytellers Project story clocked in at five minutes the first time I delivered it to my coaches. They asked me to add more detail, so I did. But I'm a fan of brevity, a clean structure, and an easily navigated journey.
Still, this is a challenge for me, as I typically don't need to be quite so lean and quite so brief!
How about you? Are you a good self-editor? Are you willing and able to cut out the extraneous so that the beautiful and powerful core of your message can shine through?