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For an audience to remember a speaker for the wrong reasons is a failure on the speaker’s part.

It can go one of two ways. One great; one… not-so-great.

It begins with someone who appears to be a total stranger approaching you and opening conversation with, “I saw you speak last year at XYZ conference…”  While the vast majority of people will at least be polite when they remember a speaker, anything other than “I loved what you had to say about ___” or at least “You made me think about ____” is a colossal FAIL for when you remember a speaker.  As the speaker, you had the chance to leave a lasting impression that changed someone’s life and instead left… nothing.

I think the worst attendee reunion memory I’ve experienced was someone who confessed hearing me speak, but couldn’t remember when, where, or what I said.  “But I’m sure I liked it,” she quickly added.  Oh, I bet.  You liked it so much that you cannot remember anything other than my face (and I’m pretty sure my face doesn’t leave a positive lasting impression!)

But this brings an important warning for speakers everywhere.  A speaker is remembered, simply because they were on the stage, on the clock, or on the hook at a meeting.  People remember.  But WHAT do they remember?  Every time you speak, it’s an opportunity for impact.  Find the message the audience needs to hear.  Figure out a way to make it memorable.  And give it with all the gusto you can muster (as opposed to the gusto you want to muster!)

I’ve remembered many speakers for all the wrong reasons.
  • The national celebrity who used a five-minute intro video to pump his reputation beyond all reasonable expectations and then used an inappropriate example that most of the audience found offensive.
  • The trainer who could not finish a sentence without a nervous tic that people still talk about 20 years later.
  • The community leader whose wardrobe caused her to make constant adjustments and was incredibly distracting.
  • The conference speaker who gave a top ten list and then said he didn’t follow his own rules.  And his reason I should follow them?  “You’re not me.”  (Thankfully!)
  • The talk radio co-host who could not let any statement go unchallenged, talked over the co-host, and leaves a taste of utter dissatisfaction in the listeners’ minds.

In each case, I speak of them in the past tense because I don’t remember a single positive thing the speaker said.  I will actively avoid them in the future.  They’ve lost the opportunity to make a positive impact, at least on me.

When you open your mouth, you’ve got that one opportunity to change the life of the listener. Make the most of it. RELATED POST:  

In my article The Speech Coach Genie’s One Wish, I remind my clients to:

Find your core, essential, one-sentence message that will be remembered. Everything else is supporting material.

Communication matters, what are YOU saying?

This article was published in the July edition of our monthly speaking tips email newsletter, Communication Matters. Have speaking tips like these delivered straight to your inbox every month. Sign up today to receive our newsletter and receive our FREE eBook, “Twelve Tips that will Save You from Making a Bad Presentation.”  You can unsubscribe at any time.

The post Don’t Remember a Speaker for the Wrong Reasons appeared first on MillsWyck Communications.

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We just passed a milestone anniversary here at MillsWyck Communications.  It was just over ten years ago that I said goodbye to my corporate job at (what was then) America’s Best Place to Work and the steady paycheck to become a public speaking trainer.  I was convinced that my passion to teach and the few nuggets I felt worthy of sharing would convince others it was worth paying me (now us) to help them become world-class speakers.  It seems like a long time ago.

While I’ve never missed a mortgage payment, my family has eaten every meal, and I am blessed beyond my wildest imaginations, the difficulty in running a business surprised (and still surprises) me.  While I married into an entrepreneurial family with a high tolerance for risk, my own discomfort coupled with the economic environment I stepped into in 2008 has made this much more difficult than I imagined.

Here are a few nuggets I have learned about business through being a consultant-speaker-trainer-business owner for the past 10 years:
  • No one else will ever care as much as you do about your passion.
  • If people don’t pay you for your expertise, you have a hobby, not a business.
  • Life and business have far more details than you are qualified to handle. Get help.

Along the way, I’ve learned a lot more about speaking as well.  When I began the business, I had done enough research and learned a bit from some masters that gave me a curriculum and a product I felt was worth selling.  But very quickly I observed that speaking is not an intellectual endeavor that relies on knowledge. It is a SKILL that thrives on focused practice and is more governed by culture and habit than any compilation of intellectual wisdom.

I now have adopted a few core tenets that seem to apply to most every speaker I observe or coach.

Here are the Top 3 Tips I’ve gleaned in a decade of being a public speaking trainer and coach:
  1. Have a point and share it clearly. A point is different from facts, knowledge, or data.  Far too often – especially with high knowledge workers like engineers, scientists, and leaders of any type – speakers confuse sharing what they know with having a point.  One of the reasons this is difficult for people my age (that used to mean “young” – now it means “experienced”) is that we grew up watching (and thus believing) that knowledge really mattered.  It used to be that the only people with knowledge were those that had studied.  A college education meant you knew something no one else did.  Now, everything man has ever known is available to anyone who can get to a public library or owns a smartphone. MIT puts all their lectures online for FREE.  Your audience can Google your topic and learn more facts reading their phone than listening to you.  Anyone can get knowledge; what people need is insight and wisdom.  And what they want is to be entertained (have their mind captured).  That’s where you come in.  Tell me what that data means (to me); share how I can use that fact in my life; make it more fun to listen to you than to read Wikipedia.  (And never run over time!)
  2. The specific is more powerful than the generic.  Somewhere along the way, I noticed that most speakers overuse worn-out clichés and generalities, but seldom give details that matter.  Drop the terms “thing”, “stuff”, “issue”, “problem.”  Instead, use specific examples that your audience is likely to connect to. (Read my past article on How to engage your audience:  Be specific.)  This engages their brain, gets them thinking about the topic, and makes you more relatable.  I was recently coaching a graduation speech that discussed the “struggles” that each graduate had overcome.  We dropped in specific struggles (money, time, motivation, purpose) and uncovered a theme that helped the rest of the speech as well.  It’s easy to be cheesy; being exact gives you impact.
  3. Rule #1 is still Rule #1.  Your speaking is not, nor will it ever be, about you.  I’ve had students and clients challenge me on everything from how to open a speech to how to ask questions to how long they should talk.  But no one has ever (successfully) argued that putting the audience first is a bad way to approach speaking.  Any time I stumble or get stuck in preparation, reminding myself of this important cornerstone always leads me out the morass and to the purpose of my talk.

Thank you for being a part of this stage of my journey as a public speaking trainer and coach. Using my talents and gifts to push others to have impact on the stage of life gives me great joy.  I’m as energized (and nervous) about what I do now as I was ten years ago.  My mind is always dreaming and thinking of how to make our influence greater and our expertise easier to consume.  May the next ten years as a public speaking trainer and coach bring even more lessons that others can benefit from.

What insight do you possess that needs to be shared!?

Oh, and 22 years ago today I experienced another momentous day!  Happy anniversary to my partner in this journey of life, business, and parenthood.  Haley is a God-given gift and the perfect complement to my stream-of-consciousness style to living.

Communication matters, what are YOU saying?

This article was published in the June edition of our monthly speaking tips email newsletter, Communication Matters. Have speaking tips like these delivered straight to your inbox every month. Sign up today and receive our FREE eBook, “Twelve Tips that will Save You from Making a Bad Presentation.”  You can unsubscribe at any time.

The post Lessons Learned from 10 years as a Public Speaking Trainer appeared first on MillsWyck Communications.

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Questions speakers need to ask to ensure their success

There are many questions speakers should ask their event organizer or meeting planner before they speak. It’s a regular call I make: a final check with a client about my upcoming program. I always ask what the audience needs to hear.  Everyone has the same message, it seems. “We’re different. We have unique challenges when it comes to communications.” Yep. They’re different. Just like everybody else. While I don’t discount that there are differences that matter, the core message I am hired to deliver will play in almost every organization, city, and demographic I can imagine. I’ve seen this play out enough that my confidence is high and I’m sure we can pull this off.

But if I rest on that last sentence, failure is lurking. Remember that small print on all your financial statements: “Past success is not an indicator of future returns.” Just because others have received my program well does not mean that this client will approve. I’ve learned (please don’t ask HOW I’ve learned. This is a place for positive, feel-good stories!) to ask a few important questions of a meeting planner that could save the program from disaster.

Here are some of the questions speakers should have on their checklist regardless of how sure they are of their message:

Who’s in the audience? 

This is the most important detail to understand. How many will be there? What are their expectations? What is their biggest pain? What is their motivation for being in the room? Are they interactive? Upset/grumpy? What will they be wearing? The whole first half of our content workshop is about understanding your audience. It should be the driving force behind everything a speaker says and does. The more you know about the audience, the better your talk can become.

What’s your definition of success? 

This is my favorite question to ask. I want the person signing the check to state exactly what they see as a program worth their money. If they can’t articulate what success looks like, then I know that they trust me, but there is also WAY too much leeway in our assignment. I then will help them find the problems I will help them solve. I don’t want to just “be a speaker” – I want to be a trusted advisor making them better, ostensibly with communication, but often much more. If success isn’t discussed, then it’s unlikely there will be met objectives.

There are practical questions worth asking, too:

What’s the room layout? 

While I would argue (and teach) that a speaker should be able to adapt to any situation, there are some layouts that are better than others. If there’s a meal involved, there will frequently be lots of distractions, which is a whole different set of problems from rows of seats in a conference ballroom.

I frequently ask the meeting organizer to take two pictures and send them to me: one from where they think I’ll be standing and one from the back row of the audience facing back towards the front. Those two photos can tell me all I need to know on what will and won’t work with regards to movement, audience participation, and distractions.

What’s the audio/visual setup? 

Bad sound can scuttle a presentation/speech/talk in no time. Is there a mic? Is it a lapel, hand-held, or over-the-ear? Is there someone on call that can help when (not if), the audio begins to go bad? Side note: Regardless of what you’re told, bring your own mic, spare batteries, and remotes – don’t risk someone else’s incompetence to mess up your talk.  And a Starbucks gift card for the AV guy isn’t a bad idea, either.

Is the projector mounted, or on a table with a beam I’ll have to walk through? Is the aspect ratio 16×9 or 4×3? What is the “normal” style of presenting the audience is used to seeing? (Hint: search the web for past presentations and you can get an idea.)  Is a flip chart available?

Is it being videotaped?

I don’t want the client to broadcast my speech to places I cannot control. I usually restrict video use to inside the organization that hired me and only for a limited amount of time. But I also ask for a copy of the video. The first reason is that I want to evaluate my performance and video is the only way to do that. But I also may want to use clips from the talk to pass on to other prospective clients. The best way to prove you can speak is to show yourself speaking. A demo video is a must for any prospective speaker.

And a few questions I ask (again) on the day of the program

How much time do we have? 

This seems obvious, as they surely told you when you signed the contract. But things change and guests are given program time.  Before I take the stage, I ask, “What is the absolute, drop-dead time that people will want me off the stage?” I don’t accept, “Oh, they’ll love you, take whatever time you need.” People do NOT ever (EVER!) want the speaker to run over.  So you MUST finish on time. Which means you MUST know what the end time really is. Have a mechanism for shortening your talk when (not if) the speaker in front of you runs over. Bring a clock or iPad to display the time so you know.

Where am I in the program? 

Who is before me? Who is after me? What does the transition/segue look like? Who will introduce me (have a bio sheet ready for them, and get to know them so they have something personal to add)?  Who do I hand the program back to?

This is not a comprehensive list, to be sure, but it’s a great start to assure that you will not embarrass yourself as the “guest speaker.” And please note this list says nothing about the legal issues of travel, payments, and contract.  This is about you being the best you can be on stage and having a message that resonates in every audience member’s mind.

Got additions? What have you found successful in securing those speaking gigs with questions speakers should ask?

Related blog:  Top 3 Mistakes Conference Speakers Make and 3 Easy Fixes

Communication matters, what are YOU saying?

This article was published in the May edition of our monthly speaking tips email, Communication Matters. Have speaking tips like these delivered straight to your inbox every month. Sign up today and receive our FREE eBook, “Twelve Tips that will Save You from Making a Bad Presentation.”  You can unsubscribe at any time.

About the Author: Alan Hoffler is the Executive Director of MillsWyck Communications, a firm dedicated to excellence in platform speaking and high-stakes communication. He is the author of Presentation Sin, an accomplished speaker and trainer, and an in-demand speaking coach who believes that everyone has the ability to develop the skill of communicating well and equips individuals to become GREAT speakers With the heart and passion of a teacher but the mind and training of an engineer, Alan brings a unique approach to speaking. He gives his audience and his coaching clients a practical, systematic approach that ANYONE can apply to speaking.

The post Questions speakers should ask BEFORE they speak appeared first on MillsWyck Communications.

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Speech hackers can usually be addressed with the appropriate amount of preparation, but our website was hacked.  Again.  It was the fourth major attack since January.  Each time it rendered the website an alarming (literally) mess of malware and phishing links.  It was annoying.  Embarrassing.  And it hurt our business because prospects and clients couldn’t reach us and it sucked resources away from other tasks.

The root cause was likely negligence on our part – long-term failure to update plug-ins, sporadic monitoring, and a commitment to frugality that perhaps borders on cheap at times.  It showed up with SQL injection and hidden tags, re-formed index.php files, VBS scripts and bogus Javascript calls, and readme files with semi-veiled threats and ridicule.  If that’s all confusing to you, please don’t click the “update Flash now” button when your browser starts acting funny.  No matter.  The website was down and hazardous to viewers.  And while we’ve had plans to overhaul the site for years, just keeping it running became the immediate priority.

For several months, I fought back by cleaning things up with my rudimentary web skills (I did learn HTML back in the early 90s, and PHP in the early 2000s, and …  well, I’m not very current on modern technology).  It took an hour.  Or a few.  It was tedious and repetitive.  Searching for files and deleting them.  I’d update all the plug-ins.  And wait.  Another breach would happen again a few weeks later.

Finally, it just got too annoying.  I paid an expert (props to Page Progressive!) and the transfer to a new secure hosting service was done in less than a day.  They’ll be able to monitor attacks and keep things up-to-date.  I can sleep easier now.

We do have a new system to learn.  There were tons of broken links and edits and color changes and formatting to polish and a few improvements to make while we’re in editing other files.  It was not without headaches.  And it will never be “done.”  But we are confident you can visit our website now without risk of a virus. The information is easier to find and read and get what you need.

What does a hacked website have to do with speaking, you ask?  A lot. 

There are so many speech hackers that undermine a speech or meeting.

Examples of Speech Hackers:

  • Speech hackers might be malicious – the heckler or the meeting attendee with a cruel agenda.
  • More likely it’s the person who is just clueless: “I need to make a few announcements ahead of your speech – it will only take a minute” (and it takes ten).
  • Many times it’s self-inflicted – not putting in the preparation time to overhaul old content and just getting by with last year’s slides because the urgent trumps the important.

Three lessons we can learn about speaking from a hacked website:

  1. The public doesn’t care about your problems.  While a few of you were nice enough to alert us to the problem (and one well-meaning soul from Spain threatened us with a lawsuit), whether you’re prepared or not, the stage is calling.  When the boss calls your name at the meeting, the start time for the conference comes, or the reporter sticks the mic in your face, it’s showtime. Your preparation is a moot point now. All that matters is what the public sees.
  2. Experience is the best defense in a moment of need.  The more well-versed you are in a subject, the easier it is to handle new problems. Speaker experience is key when the stage lights get a little hotter than you like.  Training matters.  And there’s only one way to get experience – say “Yes!” to the stage!
  3. Call in the experts.  When a problem is just bigger than you are, a second set of (expert) eyes is worth whatever it costs.  Your slides likely need a designer’s touch.  Your skills could use some coaching.  Your team is likely to have input that will make your presentation better.

The average person browsing the web has no idea what phishing is, how WordPress templates work, how to reset the cache on DNS lookups, or what a secure HTTP protocol gains you.  They just know when a website is down (or giving off warnings), they probably aren’t coming back.  An audience member probably has no idea the preparation and expertise a speaker has invested.  They only know if the talk is easy to listen to, handled professionally, and gives them value.

What speaking improvement have you been putting off? 

ANYONE CAN BECOME A GREAT COMMUNICATOR. Most people have never been taught. Let us show you how!

We have trained thousands on the importance of communicating with excellence. Whether you need one-on-one speech coaching, public or on-site corporate training workshops, a motivational keynote speaker for your conference or event, or just need a connection, we’ve got you covered.

Communication matters, what are YOU saying?

This article was published in the April 2018 edition of our monthly speaking tips email, Communication Matters. Have speaking tips like these delivered straight to your inbox every month. Sign up today and receive our FREE eBook, “Twelve Tips that will Save You from Making a Bad Presentation.”  You can unsubscribe at any time.

The post Three lessons we can learn about speaking from a hacked website appeared first on MillsWyck Communications.

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Sound Like You Feel

Expressing passion in public speaking is critical in all aspects of our daily communication. When it comes to selling – your product, your ideas, your goals – we often fail to convince others of the passion and commitment we feel inside. Since passion, confidence, and enthusiasm are inferred from our actions, it’s crucial to SHOW these critical components and not rely on our audience to INFER from our content or implications. The outcome: misunderstanding, loss of buy-in, and missed opportunity.

When coaching on how to express passion in public speaking, it’s a recurring argument, and I know it’s coming.  “I want to appear authentic!”  It’s a noble intent.  Who doesn’t want to be true to themselves?!  But how you FEEL about yourself and how others OBSERVE you can be miles apart, and this chasm causes problems for speakers.

As part of a talk I gave, I was demonstrating how passion in public speaking and this discrepancy looks.  I had a volunteer from the audience talk about something that was important to them.  I don’t recall the topic: human rights, feeding the hungry, world peace, saving the whales, spaying your pet.  Whatever.  He talked for about 90 seconds and I stopped him.  I asked the audience, “On a scale of one to ten, how passionate do you think he appears about this topic?”  People shouted out numbers, as low as two, and as high as six.  Our volunteer speaker was aghast – perhaps even angry.  He almost shouted, “I would DIE for this!”  An audience member shouted back, “Then show us!”  It was a powerful moment of realization for him.  And us.

This difference in perception identifies the problem.  We know our heart.  Others can only see our behavior.  Stephen Covey (Jr.) says it clearly in The Speed of Trust: “We judge ourselves based on our intent; others judge us on our behavior.”

Here’s another way to prove how expressing passion in public speaking (or any communication you have during the day) and how others judge our behavior is true.  Think about a person who has really upset you while driving.  Perhaps they cut you off, followed too closely, drove slowly in the passing lane, nearly crashed while texting, or stole your parking place.  What do you think of them?  You don’t know them, but you have some choice words – perhaps four letters long – to describe these social outcasts.  But what about your driving?  Have you ever committed such an egregious act?  What do you think of yourself?  Honest mistake?  Lapse of judgment?  Or perhaps even, “Wow – I’m good!”  Then consider what other drivers are thinking of you!

It’s behavior that drives people’s impressions of us.

Which brings us back to a speaker’s behavior and how to appear authentic to the audience.  If you want to drive the impression you are passionate about your topic, what should you do?  People who don’t know you won’t even care about your ACTUAL passion, they will only judge you based on your demonstrated passion—your behavior.  Want to give folks the impression you are glad to be on stage (usually accompanied with a dry, “I’m so happy to be here…”)?  Then you need to LOOK happy.

It’s simple to understand.  And easy to think you can do it.  Until… you see a video of yourself.  We get two comments from our workshop participants over and over when they watch video of themselves before they receive coaching.  “I thought I smiled more!”  And… “What am I doing with my hands?!”  Those behaviors are sending out a message.  The question becomes, what does your audience think that message is?

Being authentic does not mean you only present in a manner that makes you feel good.  You may argue that you’re just not that demonstrative.  Neither was I.  Until… I decided that the impression I made on my audience mattered more than how I felt.  If it takes making huge gestures to convince someone that I’m passionate and want their help, then I’ll flap my arms until I fly.  If modulating my voice can move someone to action, then I’m willing to practice speaking in whatever tone will work.  I think that’s about as authentic as someone can be—matching the opportunity on the stage with a result that the speaker is convicted about.

This realization is not enough.  These skills must be practiced with the careful eye of a person or group who love you enough to tell you the truth.  Bigger!  More!  We want CRAZY!  Because that’s what it feels like.  But it just looks… passionate.

Sounding like you feel—and not presenting to feel good—is a skill that is hard to master, but ultimately worth the effort because of the reaction and response you will get from your audience.

Communication matters, what are YOU saying?

This article was published in the March 2018 edition of our monthly speaking tips email, Communication Matters. Have speaking tips like these delivered straight to your inbox every month. Sign up today and receive our FREE download, “Twelve Tips that will Save You from Making a Bad Presentation.” You can unsubscribe at any time.

The post How to Expression Passion in Public Speaking appeared first on MillsWyck Communications.

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How to Start a Speech with a Story

The question of how to start a speech seems simple and there are several ways to open your presentation. Using a story is a great way to start a speech.

I just attended the fabulous KEY5 Conference in Charlotte, NC.  The concept is simple – put professional speakers on the stage for five minutes, create top notch videos of them, and capture audience testimonials. Think TEDx, demo reel, conference, and marketing push all mixed together.  Every one of the speakers had something worthwhile to say and the audience was never put to sleep because the event moved really fast.  Every speaker did a FANTASTIC job.

But I have some inside information.  I helped coach many of the speakers.  It was one of the few times I have gotten to see the live delivery of a speech I’ve coached. That was a special treat.  But there is one other surprise.  I was also one of the speakers at the event.  Five minutes to get my message out. I felt that people would expect me to be at least decent.  And I wanted to be much more than decent.

It was probably the toughest speech I’ve ever written.  I was trying out new material (a no-no when the stakes are high – try it in a risk-free environment first!).  I was slammed for time and utilized a skill I perfected in college – procrastination.  I had preached to the speakers in our monthly coaching calls that the way to write a five-minute speech is not to trim your one-hour keynote, but to build a new speech from the ground up.  I did just that.  My core message was fleshed out a long time ago and it was solid.  I had to make some decisions about which example, story, and data backed up my points the best (and in some cases, the fastest), but I was happy with the core block of my talk.  It was just under four minutes.

It was the open and close where I was struggling.  The opening I wanted to use was the personal backdrop of why the topic (coaching and self-evaluation) is important to me.  I could easily use 20 minutes to hash that out.  The trimmed version was over three minutes.  That won’t do for an intro to a five-minute talk (I usually use the guideline to use about 10% of your talk time for an open AND a close combined).   I was at a frustrating crossroads driven by the external constraint of time.

The saving way out came in the form of my own teaching on how to start a speech.  I led a discussion for part of our fantastic PRiSM Speaker’s practice group the day before I left for the conference.

We were discussing… openers and how to start a speech.  Few people doubt that stories top the list, but the #1 question is always “How do I know what story to use?”  I had the answer.  Find your core message.  Reduce it to a sentence or a phrase.  Then brainstorm stories that talk about or imply that singular point.  Make the segue to your content.  And come back and end the way you started.

As I was helping lead this discussion by using some examples from our group, I had one of those sky-parting-angels-singing moments.  “Hey, speech coach!  Why don’t you do that on your own speech!”  There was one complication, I had almost no time to sit and brainstorm and think.  So I used the three-hour commute to the conference and the Bluetooth connection to my truck and my phone to and record my new opening.  The new opening did nothing I originally set out to do – covering why the topic mattered to me.  And that probably violates rule #1 (it’s not about me) anyway.  But it did what I said it would do.  It got me into my content (in 37 seconds) and gave me an exit and call to action at the end.  And when I sat down to compose what my phone recordings were telling me worked, it took less than 15 minutes to have it all ironed out.  I was very pleased with the result.  My experience doing this for others helps, to be sure, but once you have the message hook and use it to start a speech, it’s a relatively easy task to find an opener.

The morals of this story:

Moral #1: if you believe in your system/product/secret enough to sell it to clients, it better work for you!

Moral #2: Don’t be so married to your content that you are not willing to change it.  More than one speaker told me they resisted my suggestions to their speech, but their practice and their frustration eventually told them they should just give up and take the suggestions.

By the way.  Several of the speakers confessed that they spent over 40 hours preparing their five-minute speeches.  I meandered into the room late on the eve of the big show and there was a speaker on the stage practicing.  The next time you see a keynote speaker and think it’s easy work, please reconsider your position.

How much time are you willing to spend to make your next meeting, talk, or message stand out? 

We will give you insights on how to start a story in our Power of Storytelling in Business and Life workshop.  We also cover how to segue to and from the story, how to make it interesting, making sure your audience applies your story, and how to practice storytelling.  Great speakers tell stories well. Come and join us to find out how!

Communication matters, what are YOU saying?

This article was published in the February 2018 edition of our monthly speaking tips email, Communication Matters. Have speaking tips like these delivered straight to your inbox every month. Sign up today and receive our FREE download, “Twelve Tips that will Save You from Making a Bad Presentation.” You can unsubscribe at any time.

The post How to Start a Speech with a Story appeared first on MillsWyck Communications.

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Turning Fifty may be the new Forty, but 2018 is here whether you like it or not!

It’s a new year and I’m turning fifty!  I love the fresh start of turning the calendar and contemplating what will be different in the next 365 days.  In recent years, I adopted the practice of picking One Word as my focus for the year.  I’ve been motivated to be Clean, Complete, Stretch, and Different.

This year my One Word is MATURE.

Those of you that know me just got a nice laugh.  There’s one motto that I’ve kept close to my heart: “it’s never too late to have a happy childhood.”  Growing up is not something I do gracefully, or willingly.  I’ve learned to adapt and mostly behave myself when I must.  But I’m prone to irreverent remarks and “acting like a kid” seems like high praise to me.

Turning fifty this year feels like I’ve got no choice but to mature. Unless you park this in your inbox for a really long time, shortly after you read it I will turn a major milestone in the age category.  It’s in the tens digit this year. Another decade. The Big One (until the next Big One, I guess).

I’ve spent the better part of the last year contemplating what this day means.  I’ve received much advice to make it nothing.  “It’s just another day,” they’ll say.  And they are right: I am really only one day older. Not a year older.  Not a decade older.  That’s how I’ve celebrated most of my birthdays in the last few decades.  Minimal fuss.  Business as usual.  Make some calls. Write an article.  Train a client.  Do some research.  Eat a piece of cake.  Ignore Facebook for a day (or a month; or a year).

This year I’ve settled on a slightly different tactic. It IS a big deal. My hair color has been telling me that for about 15 years (by sheer coincidence, my daughter is 15).  My hip, knee, and back have given warning signs that their warranty has expired and it may be time for some maintenance.  Sleep patterns have changed.  Mental acuity is fleeting.  I really do think that kids these days are headed for perdition and am tempted to yell “Get off my lawn” at any creature – human or otherwise – that dares trespass into my domain.  I’m confident I can grow into the role of a grumpy old man.

But I have also been under the impression that this is a great chance for me to embrace the experience and wisdom that a few years can bring.  Why should I be fearful of a shorter future?  I want to leave my mark with whatever years I’ve got left.

The most notable way I’ve chosen to make an impact on this planet is through people like you.  I realized long ago that the platform of greatness that was presumed upon me (after all, I was elected “most likely to succeed” in my high school class – with no definition of what success looks like) was not likely to occur. But once I discovered the drug of enabling others to achieve their greatness, I’ve gotten more and more satisfaction from watching others succeed.  It’s not coincidental that the coaching side of my business has increased steadily each of the last few years.

I have started a mentoring program for men who are a half generation or more behind me.  I have made a conscious effort to speak on coaching about as much as I do on communication.  They are, by the way, VERY related.

And on my birthday as I’m turning fifty, I have decided to give gifts instead of receive them.  While I was driving the other day, I had the great idea to tell the people who have been instrumental in my development how much I appreciate them. Thankful for the modern age of unlimited phone minutes, I intend to spend the day on the telephone being thankful for those who have invested in me to get to this point and reconnecting with treasured friends of yesteryear.  What a great joy it will be to hear voices from more than four different decades in my life and affirm the impact they had on me.

What difference does all this make to you?  It’s more than humoring an old man.  Along with the youthful joy in helping comes the responsibility and nerve of an old guy turning fifty bold enough to ask you to be different.  I’m not afraid to get in your face and ask for what needs to change.  Here goes…

What changes do you need to make in your life today?  How can this year be the springboard to fulfill your purpose?

Who can you assist on the path to greatness and maturity?  Who has assisted you to your current status?  Could you call them today and tell them how appreciative you are?!

Communication matters, what are YOU saying?

This article was published in the January 2018 edition of our monthly speaking tips email, Communication Matters. Have speaking tips like these delivered straight to your inbox every month. Sign up today and receive our FREE download, “Twelve Tips that will Save You from Making a Bad Presentation.”  You can unsubscribe at any time.

The post Turning Fifty: My One Word for the Year appeared first on MillsWyck Communications.

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I went to my first graduation in years yesterday (I don’t consider a kindergarten or elementary school graduation a real event worthy of such a title — there needs to be a diploma involved).  I was there to support a speaker and discovered that there were lots of students I have had in the graduate programs we teach also getting their diploma (and faculty I’ve worked with).

While I was just one of many audience members and it was likely few/none of them even knew I was there, I was filled with pride for them and their accomplishment.  It took me back… a LONG way back… to my own undergraduate graduation (I didn’t participate in my graduate school ceremony because it felt anticlimactic and I had just had major knee surgery).

Now with a few decades under my belt since that big day, my perspective has changed.  A lot.  What felt like the biggest day of my life at the time now seems rather trite and meaningless.  Sure, graduating (from anything) is a noteworthy accomplishment that represents the culmination of a LOT of hard work.  That is to be commended.  But if it’s the highlight of my life and the pinnacle of my career… well, I missed the point.  My college degree is more of a trivia question than a life-changing event now (I majored in aerospace engineering, and I’m now a speech coach!?).  I can’t recall that anyone has asked for proof I even went to college over the last 20 years.

Which leads me back to my musings in a sparsely-packed arena yesterday.  These kids — most of them are of an age I could be their parent — rightfully are proud of their accomplishment.  The student speaker — Ada Evbuomwan — graduated with a business degree and a dual concentration at age 19, while holding multiple jobs and volunteer responsibilities.  Impressive?  You bet!  But her best accomplishments are yet to come.

If your wedding day is the best day of your marriage… that doesn’t speak well of the intimacy and joy that marriage offers.

If the day they offer you the job is the day you have the happiest feelings about your company… it might be time for a new job.

If the day you walk out of one of our speaking workshops is the highlight of communications in your career…

“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”  –John Wooden

The post Pomp and Circumstance appeared first on MillsWyck Communications.

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Attitude is the single greatest factor in whether you can become truly great at any endeavor.

One of the negative aspects of my job is that I rarely get to see (live, anyway) the product of my efforts. If I train or coach a client, they are likely presenting at a location I cannot or will not attend.  Many times I pour significant effort and energy into an event that I will never witness.

Although I can’t see the product, I can usually predict how a client will perform based on the attitude displayed during coaching or a workshop.

Speaking is no different from golf or relationships in that respect. What I want to hear from a client is, “What must I do to become better?!”  The desire and willingness to work towards greatness is the most important criterion for seeing it come to pass.

I’ve had two encouraging interactions with clients recently that gave me an emotional boost, as well as an open door to coach them to a level of greatness that is not usually possible.

In the first, I was coaching a client remotely. In this particular session, we were doing a dry run (with no audience). I offered some feedback after a short snippet. The feedback was minor and there wasn’t anything really glaring to fix, but it was concrete and specific.  I expected this busy executive to say “Thanks for the feedback” and wrap up the session.  Instead, I heard a sigh and a hearty, “Let me give it another try!”  Surprised, I agreed that would be profitable, and we made two more attempts, each better than the one before.

In another recent workshop, I was packing up my equipment in an empty classroom when a student came back into the room and asked, “I’d like to know your honest opinion. What did you see in me today?”  I did not feel that this was a compliment-fishing excursion. I truly believed she wanted to know how she could improve and where she stood (she faces an extremely competitive environment and road ahead). The question did not go unanswered.

To a coach of any kind, a player/student/client saying “Let me Try again!” or “What did you see?” is a joyous (and, sadly, infrequent) occurrence. They are two responses that indicate an attitude of growth and a willingness to try and get better and what it truly takes to REALLY improve your speaking. 

Again I suggest Carol Dweck’s Mindset book – which outlines how attitude can change outcomes.

What do you need to try again?  Who can you ask an honest opinion of to find out what needs to happen to get better?

Communication matters, what are you saying?

This article was published in the December 2017 edition of our monthly speaking tips email, Communication Matters. Have speaking tips like these delivered straight to your inbox every month. Sign up today and receive our FREE download, “Twelve Tips that will Save You from Making a Bad Presentation.”  You can unsubscribe at any time.

The post The Role of Attitude in Speaking appeared first on MillsWyck Communications.

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Handling Presentation Mistakes

Handling presentation mistakes can be difficult, even for professional speakers, if you’re not prepared. My friend Karin (pronounced CARR-in) Wiberg recently blogged about lessons learned from speakers. Calling Karin a friend seems to be a bit understated. She is also a fantastic editor (the moving force behind Presentation Sin!), business motivator, analyst/strategist, and a speaker herself.  We are both members of a group in the RTP area of North Carolina who meet monthly to challenge, encourage, and learn from each other about the profession of speaking.

Karin recently wrote a blog entry on Avoiding the Oops: 7 Speaking Tips from the Pros.  As I read her report on our recent meeting, I found three lessons we can learn about handling presentation mistakes from her lessons about speaking. Meta-lessons, perhaps.

My Meta-lessons for Handling Presentation Mistakes

First, know that mistakes are inevitable.

We’re human, and mistakes happen, even to professionals (anyone else watching the World Series?  I grew up in Houston and one of my earliest memories in the Astrodome made me an Astros fan for life.  Men whose only job in the world is to catch or throw can still fail to do either well). The question is not if, but when.  We should not judge others, much less ourselves, on the existence of errors, but rather on the effort and preparation put in to lessen their chance and impact and handling presentation mistakes. They will still occur.

Second, mistakes are useless and harmful unless we learn from them.

While we should be gracious and quick to forgive people because of point #1 above, we should also hold ourselves accountable for our errors.  Failure is a fine teacher on the path to success.  I resisted the urge to include a pithy quote extracted from the Internet, because it’ll be far more meaningful for you to look one up yourself.  Consider that a lesson learned from my own current events (my ability to do calculus is in no way related to my son’s ability to do calculus.  He has to do it himself.)

Third, have a tribe of companions that share your journey and make you better.

Having a tribe not only smooths the road of pain that errors bring but also makes you better by sharing the journey, challenging you to be better, and showing you the way when motivation and doubt collide.  I am grateful for those who have joined and spurred me on in my journey.  I also have a new vision for how I can be a catalyst to those in my path in my remaining time on the planet.  You’ll hear more about that in an upcoming newsletter.  Part of this is a new habit I’m cultivating to call people in my network when I think they have expertise or advice I can use.  I have been blessed by their willingness and encouragement at least as much as by the truth they share.

Our speaker tribe is called PRiSM – the Professionals in Speaking Mastermind.  It is the brainchild of fellow speaker and customer experience guru Stan Phelps, who has lived his philosophy of lagniappe by giving me (and I presume many others in our group), personal and tangible advice to make me better.  I am thankful for my friends, not because I need more personal relationships, but because of what we share and can do together.

PRiSM is having their first (likely/hopefully annual) Speaker Showcase coming up November 30, 2017.  I am fortunate enough to be one of the speakers at the event.  It’s free, and you’ll meet some of our tribe, be entertained and inspired, and learn something yourself that day.  Well worth your time.

Sign up to attend the PRiSM Speaker Showcase.

Who are you hanging out with that can make you better?

On the road:

  • I start November with a rather lengthy road trip, stopping in three states in three time zones. In addition to working with and speaking to audiences, I will learn from these trips – and the mistakes I am sure to make. Look for THOSE lessons in this space in the future!
Related Articles:

Communication matters, what are you saying?

This article was published in the November 2017 edition of our monthly speaking tips email, Communication Matters. Have speaking tips like these delivered straight to your inbox every month. Sign up today and receive our FREE download, “Twelve Tips that will Save You from Making a Bad Presentation.”  You can unsubscribe at any time.

The post 7 Speaking Tips for Handling Presentation Mistakes appeared first on MillsWyck Communications.

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