Even the most seasoned public speakers can be at risk if they don't know how to recognize the danger signals.
We've all been there - the racing heart, the sweating palms, the cotton mouth. Many clients call me because they're nervous or experiencing public speaking panic. The mere thought of public speaking can trigger anxiety in some presenters. May is Better Speech and Hearing Month and it's a good time to assess the state of your speaking skills.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What do I see when I think of myself speaking?
- What do I say to myself?
- How do I think I'll feel when I finish my speech?
I would bet a lot of money that the answers to those questions are negative. The act of public speaking is neutral. We charge it with anxious energy by the way we think. Successful speakers know that confidence begins in the mind.
So in honor of Better Speech and Hearing Month, resolve to watch this public speaking affirmations video everyday. The only thing that's triggering your public speaking fear is you.
Resolve to delete three deadly words from your vocabulary this year. We make resolutions on January 1st and then we go back to our usual habits in less than a month. But you can't afford to let your communication and presentation skills slide. Why? It's a new game. It's tougher, more competitive, and harder than ever to be heard above the noise. Your speech can undermine your success in an interview, a sales presentation, or a promotion opportunity. And it can sabotage your leadership. Jargon, non-words, and slang will not serve you.
According to a Marist poll, the most annoying word in 2012 was "whatever", followed by "like', and "you know" was a close third. The word "whatever" topped the list for a third year. Other annoying words included "twitterverse" and "gotcha".
People under the age of 45 in the Northeast were most annoyed by the word "like" while "you know" was offensive to people over 45 years old. Go figure.
Regardless of demographics, using these words will, like, undermine your executive presence, you know? So choose your words carefully during your next communication or presentation. When tempted to use these three words in presentations, hit the delete button and pause. It's up to you. Whatever.
The first presidential debate on October 3, 2012 belongs to Mitt Romney. It was a clear win in terms of content and delivery. Both candidates began cordially and gracefully. The President acknowledged his wife on the evening of their 20th anniversary. Mitt Romney also congratulated him and quipped about how Obama probably didn't want to spend a romantic evening on stage with him. Both candidates are skilled public speakers. They each looked presidential but Romney owned the room with his rapid fire responses, his knowledge of the facts, and his aggressive approach. He seemed more relaxed and natural and was finally able to humanize his image by talking about people he had met on the campaign trail and correcting any inaccuracies about his policies. What was especially effective was his ability to speak crisply as he quickly enumerated three to four points he wanted to make. He made direct eye contact with Obama and his passion was evident. Gone was his robotic delivery.
What was missing last night was President Obama's trademark confidence. He looked downward as Romney was speaking. His body language was weaker than expected and he would have been better served by standing with his shoulders back and making direct eye contact. He still needs to speak more crisply to be more impactful.
The real loser in this debate was Jim Lehrer, an accomplished journalist and moderator who seemed to be off his game. He acknowledged they had gone over their time and Romney seemed to take advantage of Lehrer's loose time-keeping.
As in any speech, or media presentation, public speaking skills are very important. But visual images can send a strong message. At the end of the debate, Michele stepped on stage to greet her husband. At the same time, Romney's wife and five sons joined him on stage for a victory hug creating an image of strong support.
Romney won the first debate on domestic policy. Will he be able to keep the momentum in the second debate? Will Obama rise to the challenge? What do you think?
Today marks the eleven year anniversary of 911. I remember it like yesterday. It was the nicest day of the year. There was a noticeable stillness in the air. I headed off to JP Morgan where I was speaking to a group of relationship managers in the private bank. The seminar was on sales presentation skills. We began at 8:00 a.m. A participant arrived late and told me the World Trade Center had been hit by a plane. Thinking this was a fabrication for his lateness I was a bit skeptical. When someone else confirmed his story, I called a break and we all marched out to the lobby in search of a television. For the next few minutes we sat in stunned silence as we watched the towers collapse. I asked the manager if she wanted me to continue the seminar and she said no. We cancelled the seminar and I left to find a hotel since certain areas were on lock down and traveling home was probably not an option.
While this is an extreme case of speaking disasters, public speakers need to be prepared for the worst. The best advice for any public speaker is to have a recovery strategy. You never know when your presentation will be impacted by an unforeseen event.
Take the case of the man who was giving a motivational keynote speech to a large audience and suddenly there was a fire in the hotel. The hotel was evacuated and all the audience members were herded into the parking lot. Did that end the speech? Oh, no. This savvy professional speaker jumped on top of a car and continued to give his keynote speech in the parking lot. He believed the show must go on.
I remember when I attended a National Speakers Association conference. There were 2000 people listening to the keynote speaker on the big stage. All of a sudden, an audience member had an epileptic seizure. The audience was now riveted on the disturbance and she realized she had lost their attention. There is always that moment when you question what is the right protocol. She called out and said "Should I stop?" She paused for a bit and when they removed the man she continued her speech. Again, these are extreme examples but they do happen to public speakers.
It's more likely that when you give a presentation you'll encounter less dramatic mishaps. The most common speaking disaster is when technology fails. The recovery strategy for technology failure is to have a back-up. Put your PowerPoint presentation on a flash drive, send an email copy to the meeting planner, and print a hard copy.
What if it's an embarrassing speaking situation? One woman was giving a speech on a stage behind a podium. The elastic band on her half slip (undergarment) snapped and her slip fell to her ankles. She calmly stepped out of the slip and continued her presentation. This would have been a good moment for some humor.
Which brings us to the best public speaking recovery strategy. Take a line from Rod Stewart's song "Her ad lib lines were well rehearsed." In other words, plan some extender lines. Let's say the lights go off. You could say, "Next time I'll pay my electric bill." But what if they continue to flicker and go off again? If you have a few lines you can extend the humor by adding a new "ad lib." One professional speaker had a technology meltdown. He had five extender lines which he used. He later confessed that he was glad that the problem was fixed after the fifth attempt because he had no more humorous one-liners.
Anticipate what could go wrong in your every day presentations. I've spilled coffee, knocked over a flip chart, and hit the wrong button on the video playback. I even lost my train-of-thought when presenting on a panel. I knew what I wanted to say but couldn't retrieve the word. My brain froze. So I simply asked the audience, "What is the word I'm looking for?" They gave it to me and that was the end of it. When it comes to public speaking or any kind of presentation, the audience will not fault you for flubbing if you recover with grace.
Back in 2001 when my seminar was cancelled, we did recover with grace. We rescheduled the presentation a month later and the attendees performed well. They recovered emotionally and that was the best recovery strategy.
What were your worst public speaking disasters and how did you recover? What advice do you have for other public speakers and presenters?