More great public speaking advice from Nick Morgan

Nick Morgan keeps giving away solid advice about public speaking. If you speak in public ever, you really should be following his blog. (And his book, Give Your Speech, Change The World, has been required reading for my team.)

Today he posted an excellent list of twelve public speaking rules.

Rules three and four on his list particularly resonate with me:

3. By the end of the hour, you should be talking love. You get attention by identifying a problem and playing it up. Look at the current American presidential candidates; you’d be pardoned for thinking that Armageddon was around the corner if you took them seriously. But by the end of the talk, you should be covering what it is that you love and what’s working in your world. Long-term careers are based on positive trajectories, not negative ones.

4. You put your ideas out there; you can’t control what the audience does with them. It’s your job to present your case with passion. The audience has its own issues, and you have no control over the extent to which they take up your ideas or not. Success is making your case, not in getting the most votes – or even a standing ovation.

Indeed, “you should be talking love” as you make your call to action. What’s the point of standing in front of an audience if not to give them something you care about that can send them away transformed for the better?

It’s called “giving” a speech, right? Have a gift to offer. Talk about something you truly care about, that you love, and leave your audience with that gift, whether it’s awakening them to new possibilities or calling them to action in a worthwhile pursuit.

And Morgan’s fourth rule can be magical for not just your speaking events, but for all that you do.

Don’t be attached to the outcome. Focus on what you can control—your effort, your energy, your emotion, your authentic in-the-moment presence. The intrinsic rewards should take precedence over the extrinsic ones.

Give your speech with as much craftsmanship and energy as you can. Offer your gift. Then let it go.

Every audience is unique. Some may not give you the feedback you hope for or the smiling, engaged expressions that let you know they’re with you.

I’ve had audiences that seemed to just stare blankly at me only to find out later that several found the experience to be transformational.

Regardless, do your best. Give the audience all you have. If you don’t feel a bit drained when you finish, you probably didn’t summon enough energy or uncork enough emotion.

When in doubt, especially when facing an audience that’s not showing you the love, ramp up the awesome rather than scaling it back in self-defense.

Put out more energy, connect more intently, and be bigger on stage than seems reasonable to you.

Spread your love. Give your gift. And be content with that.

 

Presenting? Rehearse, out loud.

  
I gave a new presentation at a conference last weekend. I had been unsure about how it was going to be received. The topic was more esoteric than I usually do for a conference session. And in the days leading up to the session, I still wasn’t “feeling” it. My ideas and the narrative structure were not quite clicking into place.

But, the morning of my session I got up early, went out to breakfast with my iPad, and made a couple of tweaks to the structure that did begin to make it all click. It was a “Duh, why didn’t I see that before” moment. Weeks of stewing on a topic can have you just treading water, but the urgency of a shipping date can force clarity.

Then I found the meeting room where my presentation would take place later that morning. The projector was already set up and on for a session that was to start in the room an hour later. So I dicconnected the hotel PC, hooked up my iPad, and quietly rehearsed with my slides, working an empty room in my t-shirt and shorts. And I walked out finally “feeling” it, ready to go on just a couple of hours later. 

I used to scoff at the thought of rehearsing a presentation. But a college speech professor emphasized it so much I gave it a go for a speech in his class. And I was surprised at how transformational it was. Saying my presentation in advance, out loud, just as I would with an audience, helped smooth out the transitions and find flaws and opportunities and even good jokes that I wouldn’t have if I had just gone over the notes in my mind. 

And that happened last weekend again. I should have started talking this presentation out much earlier in the process, especially with new material. If I had rehearsed even a few days sooner, I doubt I would have struggled as much with having this talk click for me.

If you’re giving a talk or leading a meeting or performing for others in any way, make time to rehearse it, out loud. Find the room you’ll be in if you can. If not, any space will do where you can practice without feeling self-conscious.

I don’t know if my audience last Saturday left any better for having been in my presentation. (Surveys will come in later.) But I left feeling that I had given good energy and thoughtful insight, and it seemed I had made a genuine connection wtih the people in the room. 

Leaving with that feeling wouldn’t have been likely had I not walked in with the confidence that only solid preparation and rehearsal can provide.

Don’t hold back when you present

I gave a couple of presentations already this week. Both were somewhat informal. No slides. Fewer than 25 in each group. 

Today I was Skyped into a student staff meeting at Stanford. That was a first for me. It’s an odd experience to not be physically in the room with the audience. It was a challenge to read the room as I was staring at a fuzzy image on my computer screen while talking in a louder voice than normal, trying extra hard to be heard far away on the west coast. The faces were somewhat pixelated (or maybe that’s just how people in Palo Alto look), so I couldn’t rely on the subtle feedback cues of expressions and body language that I usually adjust my energy to during a talk.

I left both presentations this week, though, feeling satisfyingly drained. I don’t know if what I said connected, or if I made a difference in any way. There were no surveys to give me direct feedback. I seemed to be received warmly and thanked enthusiastically, but the satisfaction for me was intrinsic. I just enjoyed the experience and felt that I gave both audiences something worthwhile. 

If I finish a presentation and don’t immediately feel the need to sit and chill for a few minutes, then I know I probably didn’t give enough energy to the effort. And energy can make up for a lack of eloquence or clumsy structure or even lame slides. (But don’t make lame slides.)

Care enough to uncork enthusiasm and give your audience all you can. It takes courage. Enthusiasm and caring somehow seem risky and vulnerable. But it’s a low risk and one, unfortunately, too few presenters take. 

Don’t hold back next time you present. Don’t give in to caution and the inner voice of resistance that wants to keep you safely mediocre and forgettable. Be awesome instead.

Be the audience

Filmmaker Christopher Nolan (Inception, the Batman trilogy, Interstellar) had this response recently when asked how he thinks of the audience when creating films:

“Every stage in the process, I try to be the audience,” he answered. “I don’t think of the audience as someone else. We’re all a part of the audience.”

I’m in the process of putting together a presentation for an upcoming conference, and I’m stuck. Well, not really stuck. I just haven’t started.

I’ve been futzing around in my mind with what I want to say and coming up with little that excites me.

But who cares what I want to say? Instead, I should focus on the audience. What could I offer that would awaken possibility in them and send them out better and happier for our time together? If I were in the audience, what would delight and fascinate and challenge me?

Make the audience the hero of the story. It’s not about you. You’re not the focus, even though it’s you standing on stage. The point is the potential transformation and the heroic potential of those in the room that you’re serving.

Put yourself in the audience. Be the audience. And see if that unsticks you.

TED inspired speaking advice

It seems the fundamental advice about how to give a good speech is pretty obvious by now. How often can you repeat the basics of effective public speaking?

But I saw two articles recently that had fresh takes worth reading, both inspired by the TED Talk experience.

5 Secrets of a Successful TED Talk highlights solid evidence that how you say what you say trumps even the most meaningful content in its impact on an audience. In a survey of viewers watching TED Talks with the sound turned off, those talks that had the most animated, confident looking speakers rated the highest. And that actually correlated with the popularity of those talks when the sound was on as well.

Smile, use your hands, turn your physical energy up, don’t come across as scripted, and you will have the best chance of connecting with your audience. And it starts immediately. The audience is making a judgment about you and your message in just the first few seconds.

And this article, A TED speaker coach shares 11 tips for right before you go on stage, is filled with thoughtful tips about the mental and physical approach the most successful speakers adopt.

Here’s tip #3 from the list:

Use your body’s nervous energy for good. Don’t try to contain all your nervous energy. Let it move through you and energize you for your talk. Do isometrics while you waiting backstage if it helps. Shake your hands out. Barnett remembers one TED speaker who found a private corner backstage to put on headphones and dance — and that speaker walked onstage feeling like a rockstar. And, if nothing else, always remember TED star Amy Cuddy and how to power pose.

I remain convinced that anyone can have charisma in front of an audience. Care about something enough to have the courage to fully express just how much you do care, and you will be charismatic.

Speech season

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Someone tweeted this photo of me on stage a couple of weeks ago

I’ve given six presentations on three different topics over the past two weeks. I’m always a bit surprised when I get an invitation to speak. How do these groups find me, and why do they want me on their meeting agenda?

I’m not exactly hustling to get gigs. But do enough gigs and word spreads. Groups need speakers. And, well, I work cheap.

But the truth is I enjoy the opportunity to put together a talk and think through what would be worth saying to a particular audience. Preparing to express myself in public focuses my mind in a unique way and summons ideas that otherwise would never appear on their own.

And then, there’s the rush of being in front of an audience of live human beings. I still feel a twinge of fear before beginning. Public speaking makes you vulnerable in a very, well, public way. Giving a speech will heighten your senses and quicken your pulse. It’s a thrill ride of fear and excitement and will tax you physically and mentally and emotionally. We all need more of that in our too safe and mundane lives.

My usual routine at the beginning of a presentation is to greet the audience, smile, and then pause for a long two seconds, centering myself in the moment and taking the measure of the audience as they do the same of me. That tends to calm me and settle me into a more relaxed and confident groove. Often, I get into a zone, a sort of flow state, even, that’s hard to replicate off stage. I draw energy from shining eyes in the crowd and from those that seem especially engaged. Seeing those in an audience who actively energize me makes me want to be a better, more encouraging, smiling, nodding audience member when it’s my turn to sit instead of stand.

My aim in speaking to a group is to awaken possibility, to spark something that wasn’t present before I spoke, and to change the world by possibly changing even just one audience member’s perspective.

Most people seem to generally have low expectations for public speakers. Unfortunately, considering all the bad lectures and sermons and speeches and meetings we’ve all had to endure, mediocrity, or worse, is what we’ve come to expect when a speaker stands before an audience.

There’s a low bar for what most consider a successful speech. If you’re in front of an audience, then, it’s easier than you imagine to surprise and delight by preparing thoughtfully and by just putting some genuine emotion into the effort. Unleash your charisma. Let them see that you care. Have the courage to uncork some energy and passion and give the audience the gift of your fully engaged presence.

I don’t know if the audiences I’ve spoken to in the last two weeks have benefitted much from hearing me, but I certainly am better for having stood before them.

Drew Dudley and “lollipop moments”

Life can turn in a moment. A seemingly small gesture, an act of simple kindness, can make a big difference. In a world of people busy distracting themselves, being present and attentive and kind has become a superpower. You can be a hero for others just by paying attention and caring.

I was reminded of Drew Dudley’s excellent TED Talk today and sent it to my student staff. It’s a call to be excellent in the little things that make up what he calls “everyday leadership”, to be kind and present and to acknowledge those who have made a difference for you. Awaken possibilities where you can and pay forward the kindness you have received. Consider the “lollipop moment” that inspired Dudley’s talk:

Dudley is a terrific speaker with a simple, yet powerful message. It doesn’t take much to be a transformational leader. No titles or degrees are required. No need to seek permission. Just look for opportunities, no matter how small, to be helpful and to be kind.

And what if you thanked those who created lollipop moments for you?

Consider picking one day each week to find someone to thank – Thankful Thursday, maybe. Call or write a note or send a text, whatever works for you. Think of a teacher or former colleague or an old friend or family member. Even a random acquaintance who might not know you personally or even remember your shared moment would appreciate being thanked.

“We celebrate birthdays where all you have to do is not die for 365 days, and yet we let people who have made our lives better walk around without knowing it.”

–Drew Dudley

And just thanking someone for a possibly forgotten lollipop moment might create a new lollipop moment given back to the original giver. You can change the world – which really just means changing a person’s world – simply by creating meaningful moments, moments of kindness and hope and courage.

 

Keep it simple, make it clear

A story from Ken Segall’s book, Insanely Simple, about his experience as part of the advertising team working with Apple:

At one agency meeting with Steve Jobs, we were reviewing the content of a proposed iMac commercial when a debate arose about how much we should say in the commercial. The creative team was arguing that it would work best if the entire spot was devoted to describing the one key feature of this particular iMac. Steve, however, had it in his head that there were four or five really important things to say. It seemed to him that all of those copy points would fit comfortably in a thirty-second spot.
After debating the issue for a few minutes, it didn’t look like Steve was going to budge. That’s when a little voice started to make itself heard inside the head of Lee Clow, leader of the Chiat team. He decided this would be a good time to give Steve a live demonstration.
Lee tore five sheets of paper off of his notepad (yes, notepad—Lee was laptop-resistant at the time) and crumpled them into five balls. Once the crumpling was complete, he started his performance.
“Here, Steve, catch,” said Lee, as he tossed a single ball of paper across the table. Steve caught it, no problem, and tossed it back.
“That’s a good ad,” said Lee.
“Now catch this,” he said, as he threw all five paper balls in Steve’s direction. Steve didn’t catch a single one, and they bounced onto the table and floor.
“That’s a bad ad,” said Lee.
I hadn’t seen that one before, so I rather enjoyed it. And it was pretty convincing proof: The more things you ask people to focus on, the fewer they’ll remember. Lee’s argument was that if we want to give people a good reason to check out an iMac, we should pick the most compelling feature and present it in the most compelling way.

Keep it simple. I often struggle with a “kitchen sink” approach when I speak, wanting to throw in everything that might be useful. But what is most important and how can I make that stick? What do I need to cut so that I can give more attention to what matters most? Make it clear.

And consider how many people use Powerpoint and fill their slides with multiple points. Lots of points, no power. One point per slide is much more effective.

Kill the bullet points. Hone your idea to the essentials, and craft your message with simplicity and clarity.

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The near win

Reaching a goal can derail you. Accomplish it and then what? New goals, I suppose. But a life built around systems and process and thoughtful routines will bring more excellence and more consistent satisfaction than the ups and downs of goal-setting.

There’s something transcendent about striving, reaching for what you know may actually be unreachable. It keeps you hungry and sharp and makes you open to change and growth.

Success is an ending, and can leave you feeling lost on a regular basis. Mastery, though, is a pursuit. It’s a journey, not a destination.

I enjoyed this brief TED Talk by art historian Sarah Lewis, who champions the merits of the “near win”, of falling short, yet, or consequently, continuing to strive and improve and ending up further along than success would have propelled you.

Seeing this resurrects the desire in me to find some sideline activity that I can pursue in an attempt to achieve mastery. A hobby or craft or physical discipline that has no end other than a path of excellence.

By the way, I appreciated Lewis’s speaking style. Her stage presence is not effusive, not charismatic, and not quite conversational. But she’s quietly solid and impressively clear. It seems like it’s more of a spoken-word essay than a talk, but it works for her. This seems like who she is, and she clearly cares about what she’s saying and what she’s learned.

Seeing her on stage reminds me that there is no one best way for speakers to connect. Well, there is one way, and that is authenticity. That works for every speaker.

Offstage beat

The excellent public speaking coach and author, Nick Morgan, encourages speakers to do as actors do and master the offstage beat before beginning a presentation.

Actors are trained to get the emotion and perspective of their character fully in mind before walking on stage. If your character is angry in a scene, feel that emotion before you appear. If you’re supposed to be amused or confused or delighted or sad, find that state just before facing the audience. (Some actors have been known to inhabit their character’s personality for long periods off stage or throughout the filming of a movie. Heath Ledger’s Joker is a notable, maybe infamous, example.)

As someone who speaks regularly, I’ve sort of accidentally done this kind of mental preparation without being particularly intentional about it. However, since reading Morgan’s post, I have begun making a tiny ritual of capturing my offstage beat just before beginning a presentation. Before I go on I find a quiet place to be alone and put in mind just who I want to be when I begin my talk. I put my body in the posture I want to have and breathe deeply and smile and feel the emotion that is right for the occasion. I fill my mind with the happiest of thoughts and envision a deep connection with the audience. Then I can go on and hopefully begin with the energy and emotion I desire.

Doing this helps calm pre-talk jitters, too. If you’re focusing on the state you want to be in, it’s harder to dwell on your fears. Filling your mind with emotions you choose makes less room for unwanted anxiousness.

This is a good strategy for other situations as well. Before asking someone on a date or walking in to a job interview it would be wise to get yourself mentally and emotionally where you want to be.

I can even see myself doing this before working on a creative project or tackling a challenging task. What have my most productive flow states felt like, and what if I just acted like I was in such a state before sitting down at my computer? This would be the no-audience, no-stage offstage beat. 🙂

“All the world’s a stage”, right, so don’t feel there’s anything insincere about mastering your role in life’s grand play. Act like you are who you want to be, or need to be, and you just might become the character, the person you’ve only imagined yourself to be.