Losing Your Train-of-Thought

What is brain freeze? It's the moment you go blank, feeling like a virus wiped out your memory bank. It can be a scary moment when you realize it's happening...

Public Speaking Lessons from The Big Short

grid-871475__180What's the one word that's the kiss of death for most presentations? No, it's not BORING. Boring is the outcome. What makes a presentation boring?

The word is ... COMPLEXITY. An audience often dreads having to listen to  technical or financial topics because they  expect to be confused and bored. The technical speaker does have a bigger challenge than most public speakers because of the complex nature of their information.

How does a public speaker use the  KISS formula (keep it short and simple) for technical or financial topics? Let's look to Hollywood to find the answer.

I recently saw the movie The Big Short which is about the U.S. housing crisis that caused the financial collapse of 2008.  Imagine having to explain the financial products and intricacies of mortgages to the average person..How exciting is that?  Yet the movie did a masterful job of simplifying the message, keeping it interesting, and making it stick.

There were at least four presentation techniques that the movie used to explain a complicated topic in a manner that anyone could understand

Set the Stage: Introduce the Problem and Characters The movie began by identifying the origin of the problem long before there was a financial crisis by introducing the man who created Mortgaged Backed Securities. Ask yourself as a a technical speaker, Am I able to introduce the problem and the players in a couple of simple sentences at the beginning of the presentation?

Tell stories. A big mistake in technical public speaking  is to spout a lot of data and hard facts. In the film, the audience learned how events unfolded by watching a well told story.Every story has a beginning, middle, and end. Good stories are visual. The speaker creates word pictures that create an experience for the listeners. As a technical speaker, do you allow the audience to learn the sequence of events by telling the story?

Use analogies.The best way to simplify a complex subject is to use metaphors and analogies.The filmmaker created a clever clip of the chef, Anthony Bordain who was cooking a fish stew. He likened Mortgage Backed Securities to having three day old fish.

You can no longer sell the fish because it's not fresh. But you don't want to throw it away and lose money. So you chop it up and add it to the seafood stew. You now have a new product you can sell. Just like the fish stew, the Mortgage Backed Security is a product that contains valued mortgages along with some subprime worthless mortgages thrown in. As a technical speaker, do you employ comparisons, analogies, and metaphors to help the audience relate the content to what they already know? Do you use video clips to demonstrate the concept?

Connect with the Audience. There's a concept in acting called the Fourth Wall. It's the imaginary wall in the front of the stage where the audience sees the action.The actors perform as if they don't see the audience.  In the film, the actors break the fourth wall. That is, they get out of character and speak directly to the camera as if they know the audience is watching. It's often done to explain what 's going on in the scene. As a technical speaker, do you TALK AT the audience or do you share a personal experience? Do you break through the fourth wall of formal speaking to show your humanity? Do you engage in self-disclosure?

What if you're not a filmmaker? Can you accomplish this level of simplicity as a technical speaker?

One of my clients said, "My topic is boring. I speak about compliance,' to which I said, "There are no boring topics-only boring speakers. In the movie The Big Short, the writers  made the housing crisis fascinating and explained financial instruments simply and clearly so that anybody could understand them.

And now technical speakers can take a lesson from their playbook. Use these four techniques to simplify complex content and engage your audience until the very end.


Tell Your Own Stories Not Someone Else's

JWH_AuthorPic2012I'm honored to have Jeffrey Hayzlett as a guest blogger. Whether in life, or in business, there’s no cookie-cutter, surefire way to achieve success, no one plan you have to follow. We all carve our own niche, create our own success, but there are some things all successful entrepreneurs have in common: they Think Big and Act Bigger. Meaning, they tie visions to actions—go beyond the stories and excuses, the self—imposed limitations, preconceived notions and constraining structures to become the biggest, baddest, best versions of themselves.

Here are five principles that have helped me stay on track throughout my career:

Be Authentic   I consider myself a successful businessman, but that success doesn’t come from trophies or accolades. It comes from being me all the time. It’s OK if you’re not everyone’s cup of tea; it’s going to happen. Some of the best people I’ve met act the same way in public (or in a business setting) and at home. That authenticity comes through in every setting – during a meeting or at a keynote. There’s no need to second-guess their motives and they exude trust.

If you’ve been conditioned to think that being yourself is risky, ask yourself why? To me, that sounds exhausting. Having to pretend to be someone else is no way to live. How can your business stand for something when you can’t even stand up for yourself? Being anything less than yourself could have serious repercussions for your business. It can kill morale, productivity, loyalty, vision and eventually, your bottom line.

Adapt, Change or Die Your story will need to revolve over time. That’s a given! However, many people are afraid of changes, thinking that it will change the core of who they are. That couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s OK to evolve, and to even change your mind about things. That doesn’t change your core. If you refuse to evolve and change with the times, you run the risk of being the dinosaur in the room, and we all know what happened to them. Extinction shouldn’t be part of your plan. Ever!

What’s Your Story? That’s one question I ask everyone I meet. I ask, not only because I am interested, but because I’m curious to see how original their story is. I want to see if they stand up for something or if they’ve crafted their story out of someone else’s experience. For example, I am firmly against TED Talks, not because they’re useless, but because I think they cultivate a false sense of idolatry. There are some great people that speak at TED Talk with great, useful advice. But that’s their story; it will never be YOUR story. There’s no single solution to any problem, so while the TED Talks may inspire many, it can create a sheep mentality and not encourage the individuality I look for in people and entrepreneurs.

What Are Your Conditions of Satisfaction? In business, I always adhere to the following criteria: is it going to make me money, will I grow professionally and am I going to have fun doing it? Those are my conditions of satisfaction. I might consider a business opportunity that satisfies two of the three under the right circumstances, but never just one – no matter how good the money is.

Find out what makes you happy and meet your own conditions of satisfaction. Throughout my career, I have learned that violating those conditions, it never ends up well and it usually ends up costing me some money. So unless your last name’s Rockefeller, I wouldn’t recommend losing money on something that doesn’t interest you.

When in doubt, ask yourself the following questions: 1) Who are you? 2) What do you want to do? 3) Where do you want to go? 4) What is your end game? 5) How does it all connect to the story that sells you?

I’ll leave you with the following: the only thing that ever limited me were the voices in my head telling me I couldn’t do something or needed to do it differently. Basically, get out of your own way, ignore the naysayers and forge ahead. Find your own success.

Jeffrey Hayzlett Primetime TV & Radio Host, Keynote Speaker, Best-Selling Author and Global Business Celebrity Jeffrey Hayzlett is a primetime television host of C-Suite with Jeffrey Hayzlett and Executive Perspectives on C-Suite TV, and business radio host of All Business with Jeffrey Hayzlett on CBS on-demand radio network Play.It. He is a global business celebrity, speaker, best-selling author, and Chairman of C-Suite Network, home of the world’s most powerful network of C-Suite leaders. Hayzlett is a well-traveled public speaker, the author of two bestselling business books, The Mirror Test and Running the Gauntlet. His third book, Think Big, Act Bigger, releases September 2015. Hayzlett is one of the most compelling figures in business today.

Jeffrey is a leading business expert, cited in Forbes, SUCCESS, Mashable, Marketing Week and Chief Executive, among many others. He shares his executive insight and commentary on television networks like Bloomberg, MSNBC, Fox Business, and C-Suite TV. Hayzlett is a former Bloomberg contributing editor and primetime host, and has appeared as a guest celebrity judge on NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice with Donald Trump for three seasons. He is a turnaround architect of the highest order, a maverick marketer and C-Suite executive who delivers scalable campaigns, embraces traditional modes of customer engagement, and possesses a remarkable cachet of mentorship, corporate governance, and brand building.

Three Speaking Resolutions You Must Keep in 2015

Logos Ethos Pathos It's January 15th. Have you broken your resolutions already? In 2015, the bar has been raised. The world is watching TED Talks and TED has become the standard for all presentations and public speaking. If you want your career to soar, you'll need to play a bigger game. That means your speaking has to make an impact. Your speaking must inspire and influence.

Let's take a page from Aristotle who revealed the secret of persuasion: Ethos, Pathos, and Logos.

Ethos refers to trustworthiness, character, or reputation.

Pathos relates to emotions. It's how to empathize with the feelings of the listener; to invoke their imagination.

Logos is persuading through data, logic, or reasoning.

How does this relate to TED Talks? Analysis revealed that these presentations were:

65% pathos or emotions 25% logos or data 10% ethos or credibility.

Most TED speakers relied heavily on storytelling. Yet most other presentations are heavy on data and low on stories. Here are three resolutions that are guaranteed to catapult your speaking skills.

Resolve to Deliver More Stories. For 2015 the best speakers will be the best storytellers. The old saying applies: "They don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." First make a human connection before you present your data. Lead with a story, support it with data.

Resolve to Use the Rule of Three. When presenting data, use the Rule of Three. TED talks are 18 to 20 minutes. The brain tunes out for longer than 20 minutes. People can easily remember three big ideas or concepts - Just Do It, Yes We Can, Ready, Set, Go.

Resolve to Be Memorable. TED presenters think visually. You won't see slides crowded with text and numbers. Instead, you'll see pictures. Steve Jobs was the master of one picture per slide. The audience will remember 20% of what they hear and will retain 70-85% of what they see. This is supported by research from 3M, Wharton School of Business, and University of Michigan.

One of the best ways to be memorable is deliver something new and do the unexpected.

Let 2015 be the year that you talk like TED. Tell more stories, use the rule of three, be memorable. These are three resolutions you need to keep to get to the next level, earn more, gain influence, and to rock your speech.

10 Presentation Trends for 2014

In 2014 presentation skills will reign supreme. Leaders and entrepreneurs will need to be more visible across different media platforms. Speaking is the new competitive advantage and the bar has been raised. Here are the trends in presentations that I predict for 2014.

  1. Broadcasting skills - Whether you're an entrepreneur or employed by a company, expect to have your 15 minutes of fame.Today's presenters need broadcasting skills. Media training will become a vital success skill even for those who do not speak to the press. I'm currently coaching a client to lead quarterly webcasts. Five years ago this senior executive wasn't doing any broadcasting. This client has since been filmed for executive promotional videos. Video presentations will increase in popularity. I use to send quick video emails. Videos can be very effective or very detrimental if you have weak presentation skills.
  2. Mobile presentations - Mobil technology is exploding and the number of apps is growing. This will require adjustments in the way we communicate. Slide shows and websites must be adjusted for mobile devices.The key word in presentations is portability. On a personal note, I now videotape my coaching clients on the ipad. The quality is as good as a video camera and it's easier to transport.
  3. Increased Need for Speaker Training - The need for excellent presentation skills will increase.due to the competitive nature of the market. Products and services can quickly become commodities and in order to be persuasive, presenters will need to know how to capture and hold the ear of the listeners.
  4. Self marketing presentations - Personal branding will become even more important. In a crowded market place where good jobs are at a premium. Job candidates will have to master marketing and selling. That means understanding what makes them unique and how to position themselves, their message, and their value with clarity and impact. Lack of confidence will be the deal breaker. Speakmarketing will be a growing factor for small business success. Presently, I'm coaching  small businesses to develop webinars to grow their businesses.
  5. Storytelling - Telling stories will no longer be the domain for the talented few. Leaders will be challenged to learn the art of storytelling to develop trust, express their vision and to lead their teams. And storytelling skills will be the differentiater in the job interview.Certain companies such as Pepsico, have a culture of storytelling. The best interviewers will invest in public speaking coaching to learn to tell their story instead of presenting their resume.
  6. Authenticity - Audiences are more sophisticated and less tolerant than ever. They want to know who the speaker is as a person.Do they walk their talk? Audiences will value  presenters who are real versus a just-the-facts approach. I was asked to coach somebody who had a well-crafted PowerPoint deck but delivered it like a talking head. Listeners are thinking "Who are you?"
  7. Increased Audience Interaction - The key word is connection. In a society where there is less time for socializing and more stress, people want to have an experience and participate with the speaker. Watch for increased live polling, tweeting, live streaming,and audience participation. Technology will level the playing field as speakers can now use inexpensive polling software on their mobile devices.There will also be an increase in virtual presentations. I'm coaching more clients remotely due to technology tools.
  8. Less Fluff More Value - Motivational speakers will always be popular as long as the human soul craves uplifting messages. But today's presenters need more than a string of 'feel good" stories. They must be able to provide value, tips, strategies, action steps, a different way of thinking along with those stories. Audiences are more demanding.
  9. Shorter Keynote Speeches - The 18 minute TED-like talk will become more commonplace. This is already happening at conferences. Instead of the one to three hour breakout sessions, event planners and audiences are opting for a series of shorter talks.
  10. Continuity - The old transactional model of giving a one hour presentation and then return to business as usual,  will give way to the idea of continuity.The message will continue after the event or meeting with additional contact and add-on resources. Despite the fact that younger audiences are leaving facebook, social media will continue to be an important communication channel for staying connected. However, people will consider the return on their time and become more focused and narrow in their social media communication.

All of these trends can be summarized in one idea: Public speaking is more important than ever. The need for excellent presentation skills is not going away. It will only increase in 2014 and beyond. Just as with technology upgrades,presenters will upgrade their public speaking skills or risk becoming obsolete.

Les Brown Tells Professional Speakers to Surrender to the Story

Les Brown and Diane
Les Brown and Diane

I was the co-chair of the Les Brown mega event sponsored by the NYC chapter of National Speakers Association on February 15th. Les mesmerized 150 audience members as he taught us how to tell transformational stories that change lives.

Les Brown is one of the top celebrity motivational speakers and made a rare appearance for the benefit of local professional speakers.


Les Brown and Marquesa

Les Brown and Marquesa

In the afternoon session, he gave an interview from the stage and spoke about the business of professional speaking. Les warned professional speakers that focusing on back-of-the room sales is the wrong strategy.

"It's impact that drives income," he explained.

People have emotional memory. While content is important, it doesn't move people to action.  When speakers create impact through stories and passion, the audience will want to do business with them. A powerful public speaker creates special moments. The best public speakers create an experience for the audience.

Les revealed that "the power is not on the stage; it's in the seats." He spoke about the rhythm of speaking and advised public speakers to pay more attention to listening than to their speaking.

"Never let what you want to say get in the way of what the audience wants to hear," he stated.

His passionate presentation flowed seamlessly, appearing effortless and spontaneous. But he demonstrated that there is a structure to storytelling and public speaking. Using his storytelling structure of It's Possible, It's Necessary and It's You, he demonstrated how he could use this template for any industry.

He taught a storytelling technique calledpivot and bridge. He then demonstrated the skill using story topics from volunteers in the audience. "Never make a point without telling a story and never tell a story without making a point." But this doesn't give public speakers license to drone on. Les explained, "The best speakers use the fewest words to go the furthest".

Les left the audience of professional speakers, toastmasters, and guests cheering on their feet and wanting more.

"The goal of a speaker is to give the audience a larger vision of themselves", he said. "Surrender to the story and speak from the heart."

Words Will Die. 2013 Communication Trends

Words are dying.

According to 2013 communication trends research by Davis & Company, words will die. What does that mean for speakers and their presentations? And what will replace words?

Obviously, we won't stop speaking. But visuals will rule. And I don't mean PowerPoint. Pinterest is the fastest growing social media platform.It's usage has increased 1000%.

Engagement on facebook increases 100% when posts are visual. Photos, videos, and infographics have more impact and are quickly making written text outdated.

When coaching transitioning executives on their elevator pitch, I often go to the white board to draw visuals. Instead of scripting words, I use graphic facilitation to create visual cues (graphics, symbols) to  build a storyline and help them remember their core messages.

The transformation is amazing! Suddenly, their presentation flows as they stop struggling to remember the written words. Their presentations become conversational as the visuals serve as concept cues. The job applicant or presenter sounds natural instead of scripted. Graphic facilitation is also effective in leading groups toward a common goal and is becoming more popular for strategy sessions. The facilitator organizes information spatially and visually.

Presenters who use graphic facilitation will increase audience engagement, big-picture thinking, and group memory.

Change the way you communicate or get left behind. Improve your presentation, remember more, and stop reading your notes. Leave a message in the comment box  to learn how to use graphic communication to be a better presenter and to engage your audience.

So You Want to Give a TED Talk

TED talks are going viral and they're raising the bar on public speaking. TED stands for technology, entertainment and design. These videos feature some of the best public speakers who are spreading the most compelling content and ideas. It's tough to be selected as a TED speaker. So on a community level, presenters are forming local events called TEDx. Jeremy Donovan, the speaking sherpa, organized his own local TEDx event and shared his experience and secrets to being a TEDx presenter. Anybody can organize a local event. The caveat is that an organizer cannot be a speaker for the same event.

Donovan, who's been a TEDx organizer and speaker told the audience that speaking at TED is all about the story. Not every TEDx presenter is a top speaker but the one thing they all have in common is an inspiring story. He shared his formula for creating stories. Citing the movie Star Wars, Donovan deconstructed the hero's journey as a typical structure for inspirational stories. The two most important elements that are consistent in the highest rated TED presentations are storytelling and humor. He advised using humor within the first two minutes of your presentation.

While all TED talks are timed for 18 minutes, a TEDx talk can be 3 minutes, 5 minutes, or 18 minutes. Donovan gave one speaker a 5 minute slot because he wanted the audience to hear his story while protecting him from a lack of platform experience.

A big mistake first time motivational speakers make is to extol their own virtues. He warned that the audience must be able to relate and that being humble goes a long way.

How do you get selected for a TEDx talk? As in life, networking is the best way to make contact with an organizer. The interview process may require a video of your presentation as well as a marketing platform. When Donovan was an organizer, he expected presenters to have at least 500 linkedin contacts. As in publishing, the TEDx organizer needs help in promoting the event.

Can anybody be a TEDx speaker? Probably not-unless they have an inspirational idea worth spreading.

What Seasoned Speakers Know That You Don't

National Speakers Association convention is where you'll find the top speakers in the world on the main stage. A number of years ago, I attended a convention. One of the keynote speakers gave an inspiring and tear jerking presentation. He spoke about how he and his wife couldn't have children so they adopted a couple of boys. They were brothers who were not well treated and were put up for adoption. He told the audience about how difficult it was to gain their trust and parent them. He recounted all the troubled times. In the end, the little boys flourished and his wife discovered she was pregnant. The speaker then brought the little boys on stage. To say there wasn't a dry eye in the house is an understatement. The tears were streaming down my face. My friend looked over and said, "Are you all right?" I told him "I can't take it." The entire audience was overwhelmed by emotion. This speaker was able to pierce each person's heart and trigger an emotional reaction. It takes skill to tell a story that has so much emotional impact. This is a good thing, isn't it? Well, maybe. But this speaker did the one thing you should never do from the platform...

On Sunday morning I watched Joel Osteen, the motivational speaker and pastor of Lakewood Church. He too, had an emotional story to tell. It was about a country singer.

At a young age this singer, had strayed from his values and started hanging around with the wrong crowd.  He got involved with alcohol and drugs. His name was on billboards everywhere and Joel's mother would notice the singer's name every time they passed the billboard on the road. Although, she had never met him, she would say a prayer for him. This ritual went on for more than a year. Then one day when the country singer was feeling down on his luck, he wandered into the church where Joel's father was the pastor. An usher recognized him and alerted Joel's mother. She immediately got up and embraced him. She told him about all the times she had prayed for him.

After telling this story, Joel pointed to the country singer who was sitting in the front row. As the camera zoomed in on him, you could see the singer wiping away his tears.   It was an emotional crescendo. The audience burst into applause.  And, at that moment, Joel said, "Aw, he's not that good." The audience broke into laughter.

Joel did something the first speaker forgot to do. The first speaker opened us up, raw with emotion, and left us there. It was like a surgeon opening a wound but forgetting to close it back up.   Joel used humor to break the tension. A seasoned speaker can take you on a roller coaster of emotions. You'll experience the exhilaration of the highs and lows. But they will always bring you back to solid ground. And one of the best ways to do this is through humor.

You may be a good storyteller who can open people to their emotions. But do you finish the job by closing them back up? As a speaker, you have the power of the spoken word. Remember you have the emotions of the audience in your hands. Use your power carefully.

The Shortest Distance Between Two People Is a Story

Once upon a time...

We all loved those words as children because we knew we were going to hear a story. Last night, I attended an excellent program - Harnessing the Power of Story to Lead Change.

The speaker, Judy Rosemarin, asked the audience "What is your 'humaway' story?" Just like we leave a theater and start humming the theme song, a message tends to stick in the minds of the listeners when we tell stories. The best public speakers are storytellers.

Some speakers are known for their signature stories.  The audience loves to hear the same story over and over because it resonates with them. Stories build trust, create emotional impact, and improve retention. Stories are not just for public speakers but stories serve as a leadership tool. They can help you deliver bad news and lessen the blow.

Judy recounted a situation where a company was going to downsize. The leader began his presentation by telling a story about pruning a tree. Branches needed to be trimmed in order for it to grow. When he finished his story, he transitioned to the pruning of the organization. While people were not happy about the loss in headcount, they understood the big picture.

In networking meetings, people deliver their elevator pitch. This is a statement or a snippet. A more powerful way to introduce your company is with a success story. Stories create a safe haven and create an intimacy. When two people meet they can share themselves through their stories. As Ms. Rosemarin explained, "The shortest distance between two people is a story."