If you’re not the person in charge, you can make your boss look good (that’s part of “managing up“) and make life easier for yourself by gently pushing for some thought before the call. Say something like,
I’d like to prepare for the call in advance. What do you think you’ll want me to cover?
If you’re not able to determine your role in advance, take your best guess of what it’s going to be.
Now you’re ready to…
Use These 5 Conference Call Tips
1. Practice Making Your Point
Know the points you want to make and practice them out loud before the call. This will give you confidence and help you find the clearest way to state your message.
Make sure, as you practice, to deliver your most important point first. That way, if you’re interrupted or distracted, you’ll know that at least you’ve gotten your main point across.
2. Anticipate Questions
In addition to thinking about what you want to say, try to anticipate the questions you might be asked.
6 Tips to Refine Your Delivery (so you’re listened to and heard more clearly)
53.4% of you — more than half of survey respondents — said that being listened to and heard was a top public speaking priority for this year. These tips will help you hold the floor and communicate clearly, no matter the setting you’re speaking in:
Wouldn’t it be fun if most meetings just went away? Until that happy day, though, 53.4% want to speak more effectively in meetings, and these tips will help.
NOTE: If, like many people, you’re not speaking up because you don’t think you have important things to say, read Tip 61 first! And even if you’re not running the meeting, Tip 75 will help you understand what makes good meetings work (and how you can contribute).
I recently had the kind of week that every consultant cherishes. I delivered three workshops and one major keynote speech to exciting organizations, all in a six-day period.
So what did I learn from this whirlwind of activity (aside from, get to the airport early)?
In Public Speaking, as in Life, Learning to Manage Yourself is the Secret to… Everything
Self-management is normally not my best attribute.
I’m the person who eats everything on my plate even when I’m not hungry, just because it’s there.
I’m the one who needs two hours to psyche myself up for an hour of work.
And oh, how I envy those of you who can follow carefully constructed plans and make progress at a steady pace, instead of alternately hiding and hurling yourselves forward.
But when it comes to public speaking, I become a self-management boss — and what I learned last week was how rare and important a skill that is.
Manage Yourself If You Start to Wander
Are you the kind of public speaker who likes to go where impulse takes you?
Often, speakers digress or improvise because something occurs to them in the moment, or because they like being spontaneous. But it’s remarkably easy, when you’re speaking in public, to wander yourself right off a cliff.
Here’s what I mean by that:
Let’s say you’re talking about how to make an apple tart, and you suddenly feel a powerful urge to tell the story of an apple-picking trip you took last summer. That could work well.
But if you then speak at length about a friend who took that trip with you, you’ve introduced a second degree of separation.
And if you now start describing your friend’s divorce, that’s three degrees of separation from your topic.
But fortunately, if you manage yourself and your impulses, you can satisfy both groups by taking a brief detour through apple picking and then return back to your point. To do this:
Notice where you were before you headed off in a new direction (so that you can get back to that point); and
Discipline yourself to stay within one degree of separation from your topic.
Manage Yourself When Uncomfortable Feelings Strike
Oh, those uncomfortable feelings.
Very few of us get through a public speaking situation without being assaulted by self-doubt.
The specific words that are spoken by that Nasty Little Voice in your head may vary, but the idea is pretty universal: You screwed up, you’re not good enough, etc., etc.
When these sorts of thoughts and feelings hit, draw on your skills at self-management to get through the moment.
Seriously, that’s all you have to do!
Don’t feed the thoughts by focusing on them. Instead, stay connected with your audience. Stay focused on what you’ve decided to say. And in a minute (or two, or three) the negative thoughts that seemed so compelling just seconds ago will begin to dissipate of their own ridiculous weight.
Manage Yourself When Other People Annoy You
This one can be tough.
When other people annoy us, it’s easy to decide they’re doing it on purpose. After all, we’re clearly in the right and they’re clearly in the wrong, so why don’t they just get with the program??
It’s harder to see that other people’s perspectives might simply be based on different concerns than ours.
I recently met an important client in a local coffee shop. She was delayed by subway troubles, and by the time she sat down with me to edit an important speech, we had only 30 minutes left.
Ten minutes later, a server came over and said,
I need to ask you to move. We don’t allow laptop use at these tables.
OK, then! I was annoyed, but made what I felt was a very reasonable request, saying,
I understand that’s your policy, but can you make an exception? We only have a few minutes left to meet, and it would be great if we could just keep working.
To which she said,
I’m sorry, but if I make an exception for you, I’ll have to do it for everyone.
Arghhh! At annoying moments like this, it helps to remember that different types of communicators are motivated by different, often equally valid perspectives.
So instead of snapping at the server, I’m glad I was able to tell myself,
Don’t take it personally! This person is a Reliable communicator. Reliables follow the rules, and sometimes prioritize the needs of institutions over people.
Whether you’re being pushed by internal thoughts and feelings, or by other people’s behavior, self-management creates some breathing room.
It lets you reflect on what’s happening… choose a strategy for dealing with it… and handle communications challenges like a boss, without adding to the already-too-high quotient of BS in our very challenged world.
But what if you’re not a “naturally” dramatic or exciting presenter?
You can still up the excitement in a talk, speech, or off-the-cuff statement if you practice to sound exciting.
What Does “Sound Exciting” Mean to You?
Drama can mean different things to different people, so let’s start by deciding what it means to you.
Because I used to be a jazz singer, I often look to great singers for new ideas. The first 17-seconds of this clip of opera diva Joyce DiDonato (who’s also featured in Tip 31) captures the essence of drama for me. DiDonato goes from 0 to 60 on the emotional intensity meter in one short line of music.
Joyce DiDonato: Drama Queens (Royal Arias from the 17th and 18th Centuries) - YouTube
And for a different type of excitement, watch the first minute of this video from jazz virtuoso Aubrey Logan’s “You Can’t Touch This!” (yes, the M.C. Hammer tune):
U Can't Touch This (MC Hammer Jazz Cover) - Aubrey Logan - YouTube
In these clips, the two singers are doing opposite things — DiDonato plays down her extraordinary vocal technique and grabs us with fiery emotion, while Logan mutes the emotion and grabs us with her extraordinary vocal technique — but, for me, each of them creates over-the-top excitement.
The point is that there are lots of different ways to be dramatic. So choose your own model of “exciting,” and keep it in mind as you do the following exercise.
Practice to Sound Exciting by Taking It Over the Top
ACTION ITEM: First, pick a statement or some song lyrics that inspire you. (If it inspires you, it probably has lots of dramatic potential!) Here are some examples to show that you can pretty much pick whatever you like:
“The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” (W.B. Yeats, The Second Coming)
“Would you lie? (No!) Make me cry? (No!) Do something behind my back and then try to cover it up? Well, neither would I, Baby!” (Mary J. Blige, Be Without You)
“These violent delights have violent ends.” (Bernard, in Westworld)
“Whisper tickles! Whisker tickles! Tickled by your hair! Oh no — not my armpits! Please don’t tickle there!” (The Tickle Book, by Heidi Kilgras)
ACTION ITEM: Write down or print the statement you chose, and then follow these practicing steps…
Stand in front of a mirror and read your statement out loud in a normal tone of voice.
Read the statement again, and this time, try to be dramatic. (If you feel really silly, you’ll know that you’re doing this exercise right!)
Now read it again with even more drama. Raise your voice. Make some gestures. Emphasize important words. Let yourself get angry or happy or curious or bewildered. Be extravagantly over the top as you try to bring out the meaning of your statement.
Now do it again, going even more over the top.
And when you think you can’t get any more dramatic, try to take it up one last notch and get crazy stupid dramatic. You should feel like a total caricature of a public speaker who’s trying too hard to be exciting.
Now sit down, relax and take a deep breath. You did it!
Next time you do this exercise, do it with some words that you’re actually planning to say in public.
And don’t worry, this is just for practice! When you deliver your talk, meeting remarks, or speech, you’re not going to do any of this. But some of it will have seeped into your delivery, because that’s what practicing is all about.
As you practice being dramatic, listen for instances where you’re using dull language, complicated sentences, or passive constructions (“the program will enhance your skills” rather than “you are going to be a lot more skilled by the time you’re done with this program!!!!”).
Then immediately rephrase what you just said, out loud and dramatically.
2. Practice in short sessions, often. Making one dramatic statement a day will get you farther than practicing for an hour once a month! (This post has more on the subject.)
3. You can practice to sound exciting while you’re putting a talk together. As you write down your draft bullet points or script for an upcoming presentation, say each idea out loud, with dramatic energy. Then print your notes and practice delivering them out loud, standing up. (Here’s a post on why and when to put down your editing pen.)
My clients sometimes report that — although they felt ready to give a talk or speak up in a meeting — when the time came, their minds went blank.
This is what they experienced. And yet, anyone who’s ever tried to meditate knows that there’s no such thing as a truly blank mind. There’s always something going on in our heads.
So I’ll ask my clients,
OK, you felt like your mind was blank. But was there actually a thought that went along with that feeling?
Absolutely not, people tell me.
They weren’t thinking anything.
Their minds were COMPLETELY BLANK.
When “Your Mind Goes Blank,” You’re Probably Having an Uncomfortable Thought
My theory is that your “blank mind” is actually blanketing a thought that’s too uncomfortable or unpleasant to be acknowledged. So I give my clients a challenge like this one:
I’m going to share some things that you might have been thinking when your mind went blank, and you tell me if any of them sound familiar.
Here are some of the thoughts I suggest:
“The minute I open my mouth, everyone’s going to know that I’m a total phony.” [This is called imposter syndrome. It’s a real thing, and tons of people experience it.]
“Other people know more about this topic than I do, so I’m not the best person to talk about it.“
“The talk I’m about to give will be a complete failure, and I’ll never live down the humiliation.”
“I should be able to do this [give a talk or make a comment], but I’m really nervous so there must be something wrong with me.”
“Whether I give a good talk or not, everyone will hate me for showing off,” etc.
And here’s what happens:
People who, just moments earlier were positive that they had no thought can easily pick the thought they were having out of this line-up of possibilities.
That’s because self-critical thoughts are always hovering near the surface.
It’s just that, sometimes, we don’t hear them.
You Can’t Fight a “Blank Mind,” But You Can Push Back On Inaccurate Thoughts
Why is it worth unmasking the “blanked out” thought?
Because that’s what’s messing up your public speaking!
When your mind goes blank, it’s like being stuck in a room with no doors and no windows; there’s no obvious way out. But when your enemy is a negative thought, the way out is to reject what you’re thinking!
You can do this in lots of ways. Try:
Reassuring self-talk (“I’m very qualified to discuss this topic”);
Focusing on something besides yourself (“My team is counting on me to deliver this update, and I’m not going to let them down”);
Connecting to your audience (“These people look friendly, and it’s going to be OK”);
Using meditation, yoga, or calming breaths to center yourself;
Screaming at the nasty little voice in your head (I’ve done this); and
Whatever method of combat you choose (and there are more suggestions in the You May Also Want to Read… section, below), remember that you canfight back against inaccurate, negative thoughts, and go on to give a great talk.
And if, someday, your mind goes blank, be assured that a negative thought is lurking below that blank surface.
Dig out that thought, kick it to the curb, and go on to enjoy your public speaking success!
When “your mind goes blank,” there’s an uncomfortable actually a thought stuck in the middle of it.
NOTE: This post isn’t just for conference organizers! The tips that it outlines will also help presenters, or teams working on group presentations and pitches!
I recently had the delightful experience of coaching presenters for GEER 2017 — and learned a lot about how to engage your conference audience!
“GEER” is the Greater Everglades Ecosystem Restoration Conference, a semi-annual event that’s hosted by the University of Florida and features a who’s who of scientists, policy-makers, local leaders, and others who care about preserving this precious resource.
Here are the steps we followed to create acclaimed presentations:
GEER Conference Illustration
1. Educate Your Conference Speakers about TED Talks
It’s also helpful to put together a list of examples, such as TED talks on topics that relate to your conference, are similar in length and style, or are particularly effective.
2. Create a Speechmaking Calendar, with Check Points
One reason that most business and academic presentations are so unbearably dull and dry is that (a) they’re written at the last minute, and (b) speakers deliver them without practicing.
To avoid this common pitfall, divide the remaining time until your conference in half, using the first half to create presentations and the second half to practice them.
This is the best way to approach any public speaking scenario, but it’s absolutely crucial for TED-style talks because TED talks,
Are usually delivered from memory (and memorization takes time!), and
Require a relaxed, conversational style that you just can’t get without mastering your material (and getting comfortable with your content takes time!)
So let your conference speakers know that this won’t be a “business as usual” process, and share your pre-conference schedule with them.
Then either check in often to make sure they’re on track, or hire an experienced public speaking coach to guide them through the preparation process.
3. Keep Your Presenters Informed About Each Other’s Talks
Captain Everglades (illustration by Eduardo Galindo)
As your speakers’ talks develop, it can be helpful and fun to share what each one is doing with the other.
I had a great time doing this with my GEER presenters, who enjoyed hearing that Dr. Jennifer Rehage was going to show a local TV interview with one of her citizen scientist/fishermen and that Dr. Fred Sklar was talking about a character named Captain Everglades.
But don’t just share information because it’s fun. Do it because:
Having the big picture will give everyone a common sense of purpose;
Knowing each other’s content let’s people refer to each other, and reinforce common messages; and
If anyone is struggling (and, inevitably, some will find this process hard), they’ll take heart from knowing that their colleagues are going through the same steps and getting good results.
4. Encourage Presenters to Use Strong Visuals
If you’re truly going for a TED-style presentation, boring visuals are the kiss of death — and there’s absolutely no need for them.
Slides don’t have to be elegant to be effective; they just need to support a single idea in an interesting and easily-grasped way, as this slide does:
From Dr. Stephanie Johnson’s presentation at GEER 2017
And don’t forget: Actual, physical props — anything from a decorative cane to a replica of the human brain — are a welcome addition to any talk, and can make a powerful visual statement.
To Engage Your Conference Audience, Get Engaged Yourself!
As you can see, creating a TED-style conference is more complicated than just lining up the usual subjects and letting them do their usual thing.
And even if you bring in a professional public speaking coach — which, of course, would be a very wise move! — you’ll need to invest your own time, thought, and passion to make this conference the best that it can be.
So challenge your speakers… engage your conference audience… and watch the kudos and standing ovations roll in!