Matthew, I am happy to hear from you. Congratulations to you and your students. Competitions can be nerve-wracking, but I’m glad they will have the honor and the experience.
The thoughts that follow are based on what you wrote; I apologize in advance for any misunderstandings on my part.
First, a suggestion for the future: It sounds (I may be wrong) as though you and your students very conscientiously edited what was on the page. It’s more effective to edit using two non-writing criteria: What you hear when the students reads his or her work out loud, and how he or she feels reading it. In this way, the student begins to practice delivery as part of the editing process. This can help avoid the disconnect you describe them feeling at the moment, and also creates a better edit. (I have written more than 1000 speeches, and feel confident asserting that it is impossible to create a natural-sounding script without “editing out loud.”)
What I believe you’re expressing at the moment is frustration that your students haven’t fully embraced the task of delivering their speeches. This is a difficult step for people who don’t have public speaking or other performance experience, but how they practice between now and the competition can make a big difference.
The key is to nurture their sense of connection with the audience.
First, if they have not already begun to do this, they must start reading their talks out loud to other students, while making as much eye contact as they naturally can. The more often they read their talks out loud to other students, the more they will be able to get their eyes off the page and look at the audience. This transition should occur naturally, over many repetitions of the speech. Do not try to force it, just give them the goal of ultimately being more connected to their listeners than they are to whatever is on the page.
Second, they should practice being ridiculously dramatic. PRACTICE is a fundamentally different activity than presenting, so assure them that their overly dramatic antics will not carry over to the actual competition. Being overly dramatic now is a way to stretch the emotional range of their delivery, which is done in service of the audience (drama helps the audience to hear, understand, and absorb what is being said), but this approach is just for practice and should be forgotten on competition day. This blog post explains: http://speakupforsuccess.com/sound-exciting/ (the action items are most important for your students). Try to have fun with this exercise and embrace its full silliness.
Third, a conversational delivery is the best way to connect with an audience. When they practice, your students should pretend that they are speaking to a small group of close, trusted friends, and strive for a relaxed, friendly delivery. Please share this post with them, and use the attached handout to let them practice making eye contact with one person at a time.
And finally, help them to practice in a non-rote way by delivering different sections of their speeches out of order (you can call out the sections, or they can create flash cards to use). Randomizing your practice helps keep it fresh and encourages you to think about the ideas you are sharing, not using particular words in a particular order. This post explains: http://speakupforsuccess.com/public-speaking-practice/
I hope this is helpful, and will look forward to hearing how the competition goes.
You can imagine the academic versions of these, right? (“How we’ll become cyborgs” might be “Enhanced brain augmentation: pros and cons of a hypothetical mind-machine interface.”)
These titles are actually TED big ideas. They cover a wide range of topics, but they have one thing in common: lots of attitude.
You know, before you hit play, that the speaker has a powerfully felt position, and a point of view that is not trying to be “objective” (even though the research that’s presented will be).
You know one other thing, too: The big idea referenced in these titles will be front and center throughout each of the talks.
Which bring us to a corollary that can be difficult for people who are experts in their subjects to accept: Prioritizing one idea in the design of your talk requires that lots of other, related ideas, are not going to be explored.
As Chris Anderson, current owner of the TED franchise, says,
Ideas are complex things; you need to slash back your content so that you can focus on the single idea you’re most passionate about, and give yourself a chance to explain that one thing properly. Everything you say [should link] back to it in some way.”
So find your big idea, then focus on it.
2. TED Talks are Personal, Not Cerebral
We often give presentations that are loaded with information and argument, perhaps believing that the sheer weight of our evidence will persuade our listeners.
TED talks take a different approach — one in which your audience’s connection with an idea is based on your relationship to it. (Note Anderson’s use, in the quote above, of the phrase “the single idea you’re most passionate about.” Passion is not incidental to a TED idea; it’s essential.)
So if you’re presenting academic research, be ready to share not just the thinking behind your work… not just the conclusions from your work… but also the feelings, fears, hopes, frustrations, etc., it generates for you.
Yes, this means that you will be a factor in your talk. You will be talking about — wait for it — yourself.
But never fear, that doesn’t mean you’re stuck making direct emotional statements. Your passion, your emotions can also be expressed through stories about your experience.
The essence of a “story” is that it has a beginning (the “precipitating event”), a middle (actions taken, often to overcome obstacles), and an end (which ideally “pays off,” or completes, the beginning).
How to Find the Stories Connected to Your Big Idea
Your research and professional life are rife with events that can be construed as “stories.” To find them, try this exercise: Complete the following phrases (or answer the following questions) out loud:
“When I first thought about this project…”
“What I didn’t realize was that…”
“That’s when it occurred to me that…”
“I’ve often thought that…”
“In spite of what we expected…”
“Now, you may wonder…”
“At that moment, I suddenly…”
Why does it matter? (ask that out loud before you answer it)
Jezra, I’m presenting tomorrow, but I haven’t had much time to practice, and the person who invited me to speak has suggestions he wants to give me tonight. There’s a lot of pressure and things feel off. Do you have any advice for me?
Here’s what I wrote in response:
Dear Wonderful Client,
I hope it will be helpful to realize that what you are going through is VERY common.
Most of us never feel that we are adequately prepared for a presentation. Even if you had been practicing for an hour a day, I can promise that you would not feel adequately prepared.
And many speakers are deviled by well-meaning conference organizers with “helpful” suggestions for how they should change their content at the last minute. It just seems to go with the territory.
So here is my advice:
I then suggested that my client do these three things:
Step One: Manage Yourself and Others
Your NUMBER ONE focus before any speech must be on taking care of yourself, and that is particularly true if you’re speaking at a conference. Lack of sleep, too much socializing, fear of not doing your best, unfamiliar food and drink can all contribute to severe disorientation, so trust yourself to know what you need, and prioritize what is best for you at every moment.
When dealing with whoever invited you to speak, be respectful and vague. Say things like, “I will try to incorporate that,” or “Let me see what I can do about including that perspective.” Don’t argue with their requests (you will get nowhere); don’t point out how absurd it is for them to give you last-minute instructions (they don’t care); and don’t agree to change your speech. Listen respectfully, and then do what you think is best, which will probably be to make very small changes, if any.
Step Two: Trust Yourself
When you feel off balance before a presentation, DIG DEEP to find trust in yourself and confidence in your professional skills. Remember that your talk is composed of things that you’ve learned while living your life and doing your job. It isn’t some bizarre activity that’s disconnected from everything else; your speech is an extension of things that you think and do every day.
Don’t get caught up in things like “giving a good speech” or “being an expert” or “impressing the audience,” because those things are all illusions. What’s REAL is that you have interesting things to say to people who want to hear them.
So give yourself permission to say those interesting things. Not as some theoretically perfect and perfectly-prepared speaker, but as the deserving, thoughtful person that you are right now. Only when you trust yourself will you find the calm you need to enjoy this experience.
Step Three: Follow These Links for Additional Strategies
When You Ask for What You Want, You’re Starting a Negotiation!
You’re not asking for a favor.
You’re not a supplicant, in a one-down position.
Instead, you’re opening a conversation — a negotiation — so that you and the person you’re talking to can find common ground between what they want and what you want.
The classic example of this is asking for a raise. In this situation,
I want to maximize my income (or other benefits); and
My manager wants to save the company money while keeping me happy enough that I won’t leave.
Knowing that they want to save money and need to keep me happy will help me craft a realistic and effective “ask” — one that,
Points out my benefit to the company
Gently reminds them that I have other options, and
Explains how they can get what they want (a satisfied, productive employee) by giving me what I want (that raise, promotion, plum assignment, etc.)
How do you get to the point where you’re ready to make that pitch?
Follow These Five Steps to an Effective Ask
Here’s a process that will prepare you to ask for what you want. (I’ve carried through with the example of asking for a raise, but the process is equally effective when you want a promotion, an exciting assignment, time off, better working conditions, or help from your family with household chores!)
1. Know Your Value — What do you bring to your company or team that they would otherwise have to do without? What have you accomplished for them? Can you put a dollar figure on the clients you’ve won, the time you’ve saved through good management? Even intangibles like increasing team morale can sometimes be quantified (“our team lost only one member last year; the other teams all lost two or more”)
2. Do Your Research — What do others at your level, in your field, get paid? How fast have others in your company been promoted? Are you being fairly compensated (often, women and people of color are not)? Should you be making more than others, because you supervise more people, manage more projects, or have special expertise?
3. Develop Your Strategy — You know your manager! Are they best approached at 8am on Monday morning? Over drinks on Thursday night? After a difficult project has wrapped? Should you make an appointment, or have a casual conversation? Do they need time to process, or pressure to decide? And WHAT is the argument that will win them over? (To answer this question, think about The Four Public Speaking Personalities.)
4. Plan Your Speech — Don’t leave this important conversation to chance! Work out what you’re going to say (perhaps using the Instant Speech format), and then…
5. Practice, Practice, PRACTICE
You’re now ready to prepare an ask.
But there may be one more thing standing in your way: feelings.
Ask For What You Want, Even If You’re Uncomfortable
If you’re like me (and many of my clients) you may agree with asking in theory but feel uncomfortable actually doing it.
You may, for example, not want to ask because of thoughts like:
“If they say no, I won’t be able to handle my feelings of anger, hurt, disappointment, or whatever.”
“They would have already offered if they thought I deserved it.”
“My value should be obvious, I shouldn’t have to ask.”
“They should know what I want or need without me telling them.”
These thoughts and feelings come from the Nasty Little Voice in your head that most of us hear from now and then. And what I like to tell me clients about the NLV is,
Give that voice the attention it deserves. Which is zero.
So acknowledge your feelings, but don’t give them power. Don’t focus on them or take them seriously; and above all, don’t let them dictate your actions.
Instead, put your feelings aside, do your preparation, and then go out and ask for what you want.
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).