Beginning Your Speech – Tell Me More

Pleasantries and excuses for any reason are nonstarters.

fb_img_1573652958802The first moments of your speech are often the most critical. In those opening moments, you have the full attention of your audience. They are sizing you up. If that audience have never seen or heard you speak before, expectations are heightened. Your opening will often determines if you will hold that attention to take your audience to another level or fall flat, leaving everyone uninspired and disappointed. In those opening moments, you want to grab the attention of your audience. You want to introduce your topic. You need to establish rapport, or check in with your audience before transitioning smoothly into the body of your presentation. You want them to think quuietly -tel me more.

Your introduction and speech title should create anticipation, add drama and suspense to your opening. In the interest of time and to avoid boredom, what was said in your introduction should not be repeated. Your speech title will still be in the minds of your audience. I often try to have my title function like a light switch. Ask yourself the question, would this title switch my audience on – off – or perhaps do both. I have found that both works best when it makes your audience think – “tell me more.” Take time to decide on a title that does not give away your presentation but offers a hint of what’s to follow, whets their appetite, and inspires your audience to think as they increase their attention, to you and your presentation, “tell me more.”

Pleasantries and excuses for any reason are nonstarters. With that type of opening, you will surely lose your audience most likely, for the rest of your speech. Your introduction must hold on to the gift, the initial attention and spotlight drawn to you and your presentation by your presenter. A smile, good eye contact, enthusiasm, or a follow up comment about your introduction, if appropriate, are good audience ice-breakers. However, remember to stay focused on your purpose and topic. Begin your presentation. When your listeners understand your topic and why they should listen to your speech, they will always pay closer attention. One technique I sometimes use to hold on to my audience is to make a promise early. Remind them of that promise a few times during the presentation and fulfill the promise before closing.

In your opening, take a moment to establish rapport with your audience. If you appear to be angry or frustrated, your demeanor will negatively resonate with your audience. If you appear to be all positive or all negative, that too can be a turnoff. Strike a balance with what you are presenting. You can begin by stating a vital statistic, shock your audience with an outrageous comment, arouse suspense or curiosity or, tell a moving story. Balance works best. If you built tension, resolve it. Contrast is also an excellent technique to pique your listener’s interest. Whatever you do, your gold should be to draw your audience to you and the value of your presentation. First impressions are lasting. Often, you will only have one chance to create that first impression. That one chance is the first moment of your speech may very well be when your audience is thinking quietly – Tell Me More.

Your Feedback Partner

Training your feedback partner to evaluate you is a good idea.

20191212_131721Do you have a feedback partner? We hear it repeatedly; we learn through feedback. Still, it is one of the most problematic aspects of bringing a speech to the platform. What do you do with all that feedback you receive? How do you separate feedback from opinions. We all know, not all feedback is useful; however, all comments are worth careful examination.  Constructive criticism is helpful; they make you take a more in-depth look into what your audience may be hearing, thinking, and feeling. To help you develop those analytics, a feedback partner can be a tremendous asset to your development as a speaker.

Training your feedback partner to evaluate you is a good idea. You know what you are trying to achieve as a speaker. Find someone with whom you share similar goals and would tell you precisely what you need to hear and not what you want to hear. Sure, it can be disheartening to hear the speech you worked on for months or years still requires a tremendous amount of work. I know the feeling very well. However, my feedback partner has always been the one I would turn to before being judgmental about any feedback I receive.

Take turns giving and receiving feedback from your partner. Become familiar with each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Discuss all weaknesses and be specific about what each other is trying to achieve. A well-prepared speech is just the beginning of the delivery process. Discuss the many aspects of your delivery to determine where you need the most help. Address one of your concerns in each evaluation. One evaluation can be about your breathing, transitions, or vocal variety. Be clear about what you want your partner to focus on. A feedback partner, who is familiar with your speaking style, is the best person to provide you with their observations.

It is also essential to look for repeated comments in your evaluations. Discuss those comments with your partner. When you are receiving the same observation from different evaluators, at different times, that is most likely an alert to a habit worth avoiding. It is common to resort to what comes naturally when we are under pressure. Even when we know that habit is substandard, but feels good, we will more often than not, resort to it when it is in our comfort zone. Breaking those bad habits do not come easy. Find that special someone with whom you are comfortable, and over time, you will achieve the success you are seeking to become someone’s, super feedback partner.

Chairmanship

Excellent Chairmanship is ensuring all contributors are heard. 

20200319_122011_001We all participate in hundreds of meetings each year. We will belong to many different organizations and will participate in various types of meetings. If you are to give your best when you attend these meetings, if you are to be respected and your opinions heard, you need to practice the basic principles of Chairmanship. How is your Chairmanship?

Members of organizations are busy people. The amount of time they devote to the organizations to belong to is limited. They expect the meeting they attend to run efficiently with no time wasted. When you are the Chairman, it is your responsibility to ensure that your objectives are achieved. The productive meeting starts and ends on time. The following are some best practices to follow when you are the Chairman.

A written agenda is a must. The agenda should also be distributed to all the attendees before the start of the meeting. Making the agenda available allows everyone to focus on the topic to be discussed. It also allows everyone to prepare and time his or her presentations. Your agenda plays a significant role in making sure your meeting ends on time. If you don’t have an agenda, what you may end up having might just be a free for all party. An agenda will keep everyone on the straight and narrow.

Respect the time and efforts of those who show up on time. Why wait for those who are not present. The scheduled time on the program is when the meeting should begin. If you don’t have a quorum, the Chairman can call the meeting to order and call for a recess of five to ten minutes, at which time, adjustments should be made to the agenda to make sure the session ends on time. The members who show up on time should not be punished for their due diligence.

Make sure the program proceeds at a pace that is acceptable to all attendees. Rushing through topics to complete the agenda is unacceptable. This is where your Chairmanship will be tested.  When a discussion wanders off subject or is taking more time than expected, this is when a chairman must exercise Chairmanship. Keeping participants engaged but not allow anyone to dominate the meeting.  A good chairman also recognizes those who seem reluctant to speak up.  Excellent Chairmanship is ensuring all contributors are heard. 

Ending your meeting on a positive note is very important. Sending everyone off at the end of a meeting feeling drained and asking did we accomplished is unacceptable for any organization. If a significant issue cannot be resolved, the problem can be assigned to a committee or place on the parking lot for more discussion at a later time, at that meeting or another. A good Chairman ends their session with a summary. They also make sure everyone understands the decisions made and actions to be taken. Follow these steps, and you will be respected by all your attendees for your wonderful Chairmanship.

Polishing Your Speech

Removing some of the glitter allow the speaker to shine.

20200216_112006Polishing your speech is a critical process all speakers should perform before you take their speech to the platform. You have answered all the essential questions – You have written and rewritten your speech – You have practiced, edited, and reedited your presentation. Now your decisive moment has arrived. You must now polish your speech for presentation. What is going to be your strategy? Are you going to stay polished all the way, or are you going to leave a little rust for the finished product to appear original, genuine, and authentic? That is a question you must now answer.

One approach is to look for power statements in your speech. Power statements similar to your foundational statement speech can have a lingering effect on your audience. They should be one of your prime targets. Practice the phrases and stressing the keywords in those statements.  Tell your story to make a point. Those words will bring your statements to life. Make sure that statement is relevant to your message. Ask yourself how I can spotlight that statement as I practice my delivery. I have known speakers to use the familiar green, yellow, and red highlighters to highlight and serve as reminders as they practice their polishing. Try it – it works.

The part of your speech that has universal appeal should also be your focus. Polish but also keep in mind that old saying, all that glitters is not gold. As you approach critical portions of your presentation, ask yourself which of the three H’s apply. The three H’s are Head, Heart, and Heavy lifting. What am I appealing to – the Head, Heart, or do I now want my audience to do my Heavy Lifting. When you can engage your audience by polishing your point just enough to touch their three H’s – you would have achieved your goal. You have made a connection.

Removing some of the glitter allow the speaker to shine. As you complete your polishing, it is wise to make sure you did not sacrifice that which is most important to your audience – clarity. When your polishing can help your clarity your point, it is most effective. At times, all it takes is replacing a verb or an adjective in a sentence. Some toastmasters use speech brighteners, which I have mentioned in previous postings. Brighteners can make your point stick. For example – He was the kind of person who has had a lifelong romance. At an early age, he fell in love with himself. Also, they can also reinforce a point – He is the boss who was seeking a secretary in her thirties with forty years’ experience.

Polishing can be fun. I learned years ago that when you are polishing and don’t wear gloves – your hand can get dirty – so be careful. Once the exercise is over, remove your gloves and, with clean hands, give that presentation. It is now a presentation you wrote – rewrote, edited, re-edited, polished, and is now ready, like a well-prepared dish, to be served to your audience on the platform.

The Preacher and the Farmer

Our bounty is the spoken word

20200326_105949There is an old story often told about a Farmer and a Preacher both standing side by side, admiring the bounty the Farmer’s farm had produced. The preacher said to the Farmer, “Wow – what a beautiful farm you and the Lord have here.” The Farmer smiled and replied – “yes, for sure, my skills helped, but you should have seen it when the Lord had it all to himself.”

There are many lessons one can glean from that story. However, my take was the Farmer, in his wisdom, was referring to the preachers who often comment on the results. Many have no idea of the humble beginning, which leads to that end. I do believe the Farmer was also making the point that the skills you develop are your blessings, but its hard work that produces your bounty.

Many years ago, I was asked by my first coach, if you had the choice to be mentored by an MBA or a Farmer, who would you choose. Completely forgetting that old story, I selected the MBA. My coach favored the Farmer. But over the years, my coach made me realize how much Farmers and Public Speakers have in common. Time made me realize why my coach chose the Farmer and not the MBA. He also felt that some of the latter are fake and full of it, fertilizer if you wish to be kind.

If you were to take some time to examine the work ethic Public Speakers and Farmers must possess, you too will recognize the similarities and their differences. Both the Farmer and Public Speaker are well aware of the importance of being prepared. They both are mindful of how critical it is to practice best practices. Also, they both are aware that the bounty they produce is not for themselves, but their audiences and customers.

Farmers and speakers know, to succeed, you must supply the market with what it needs. They both know you must bring your best products to the market. They know the importance of rotation. Long before they plant that first seed, they know their soil has to be well prepared. They also know better than anyone; that it is not if, but when things go wrong, you must have a solid backup plan in place. Public speakers require a different set of skills; however, their objectives are all the same – Excellence! Excellence that demands that you always do your best and not that you always be the best.

A common mistake some speakers make is, believing they must always give a new speech each time they face an audience. That is like asking the Farmer to bring a new product each time they go to market.  Time has shown me that the repeated performances of a task will more often than not result in improvement over past efforts. I highly recommend the good, better, best approach, which I regularly use. Good better best, never let your good speeches rest, until they become your better, and your better speeches your best.

The gift of speech is one of the remarkable skills we possess. It is a gift we must not take for granted. Our bounty is the spoken word. Language in all its beauty is our gift to all humankind. As a Public Speakers, I believe when you dedicate your life to be of service to others, just as the Farmer does daily, you too will one day be able to say to the preachers admiring your bounty, yes it took some skills – but you should have heard me when I did my very first icebreaker.

Challenging Speeches – The Roast

The Roastmaster – no easy undertaking. 

20181207_093125How do you become a Roastmaster? The tradition of roasting those we love, usually the guest of honor at an anniversary, retirement is called a Roast. The person roasted is called the Roastee, and the speakers are the Roasters, The master of ceremonies is the Roastmaster – no easy undertaking. 

A Roast is perhaps one of the most challenging speaking occasions which many speakers avoid because of its nature. How do you praise someone with comedic insults and negativity? In addition to the jokes which are common at these types of events, the roaster must also include genuine appreciation and tributes fitting for the occasion. It is a tall order; however, the Roast of that special someone for their talents, dedication, and commitment to excellence is a unique event that is usually remembered fondly for a long time, especially when the event is successful and is well presented. 

Unlike speaking in praise, the Roasters responsible for bringing the heat, are usually close friends and relatives. They are the ones who will deliver the jokes, the satire, and anecdotes about the Roastee, who has agreed to subject themselves to the impending abuse. The expectation is that their material will relate only to the guest of honor for the body of work, for which they are roasted. No good deed goes unpunished. Almost nothing is off-limits, Real and exaggerated stories punctuated with wit, fun and humor must not be hurtful or embarrassing to anyone present. Producing a roast takes research excellent humor writing skills and guidance from the Roastmaster. However, the Roasters must decide what should or should not be included in their speeches and are fully responsible for the good, the bad, or the ugly they present.

It helps when many of the attending guests know and like the Roastee. When everyone is familiar with their quirks and peculiar personality, that is an excellent place to start gathering material for a fun-filled speech. Certain areas of one’s personal life should be respected and be off-limits, like children or spouses. If the guest of honor agrees to include any of that type of material, care, grace, and sensitivity should prevail. Remarks not considered relevant to the purpose of the Roast may be regarded as inappropriate and should be avoided. When you are in doubt, leave it out.  As you will not be the only one delivering a roast, decide if your delivery is going to be medium-rare or well-done as it pertains to your relationship with the Roastee. Stay in your lane. Leave the well -well-done to the headliner or the Roastmaster.

Opening your delivery with “he or she is the kind of person who” – is generally a good opener. Here are a few examples of the types of persons we all know. The perpetual latecomers – He is the kind of person – Who is always very punctual on his own time. The flip-flopper – She says she knows where she is going, but always end up somewhere else. The professor – He may not always be right, but is never wrong. The procrastinator – She feels that you should always put off for tomorrow things you should never do at all. The crusty grandma  – She trusts everybody, but still brings and cut her own cards. She is also a careful driver who would even drive on the sidewalks to avoid traffic. He is the kind of person who thinks twice before saying nothing. He believes there is nothing wrong with him being a pessimist. He is a real pessimist, an optimist with information. My dear friends can trace her family tree back to the time when their family lived in it. She is such a responsible person. No matter what goes wrong, she is always responsible. He is a true friend. He stabs you in the front and never forgets a favor- especially if he did it.

Roasting the ones we love is an oral tradition all speakers should try. Writing good clean humor is challenging. It is a dying art that we must preserve. When the roasting is all over. When the Roastee is well-done. If everyone can still laugh and took the jokes in good humor and not as a severe criticism or insult, you are will on your way to achieving that prestigious title that is one of the highest for all speakers, the prestigious title of Roastmaster.

 

 

Dare To Be Different

When you follow the herd, you will never be heard.

20190726_172024Do you dare to be different, or do you follow the herd? May speakers often ask how do you stand out from the crowd. Over the years of competing, I came to realize that you will gain a great deal of experience by taking risks or doing the unexpected when you are on the platform. You must dare to be different when you are on the platform. When you follow the herd, you will never be heard.

I adopted those words of wisdom I got from one of my mentors as my mission statement when I first entered the competitive public speaking arena many years ago. I also began to observe that evaluators, judges, and audiences took note and rewarded those speakers who dared to take the road less traveled and stood out from the crowd. They always reward the few who are not afraid to be different.  I know of cases where speakers have gone against the advice of feedback and have been greatly rewarded.

Good coaching and feedback are essential. However, I came to realize that your success as a speaker starts with good writing. Editing, re-editing, and a willingness to follow your inner feelings takes courage.  In my early years of competing, I, too, believed that by hiring a great coach, you would find that magical formula to turn your club and district speeches into masterpieces. Over time, I came to understand hiring a coach was the next step after you have written something worth editing. In the words of a past world champion David Brooks, you cannot edit what you have not written; he affirms that “great speeches are not written, they are rewritten.” And it is in the editing and re-editing, you will find that final version that will make you a champion speaker.

Editing and reediting is a process that can and will be challenging for all speakers. Speakers should resist making changes based on the feedback received after each delivery of a speech. Speakers should develop a process by which they validate the slew of comments and suggestions they will receive after even what they thought was an excellent delivery. I often use the rule of threes. If you hear the same thing, three times from three different individuals, it is time to take steps to resolve that issue with help from a coach or someone you trust.

If you are committed to being different, some of the feedback you receive from your peers will require second opinions, third and sometimes even a fourth opinion. When you dare to be different, you are the one who should make the final decision about what you are taking to the platform. If you are willing to take a risk to try what you believe has never been done or said before on the platform, go for it. If it works, you will be greatly rewarded, and if it didn’t, you would have learned a valuable lesson. Dare to be different, and you will always be heard, when you choose not to follow the herd.

 

Your Signature Speech

Do you remember cursive.

20200208_165442_resized (1)Do you have a signature speech? One, you can jump out of bed at any time, any place, anywhere to deliver with substance, style, and confidence. Every speaker should have one. While this may sound difficult for most speakers to do, especially those who try to create their masterpiece in a single sitting, I do believe developing  Your Signature Speech is achievable when you make a commitment to gracing the platform over a fair amount of time. It takes stage time, failures and you paying your dues before you begin racking up successes.

If you were to ask any speaker you admire, how did you manage to get to where you are today? If they were to truthfully share their secret, you will realize their Signature Speech was not something they did or sat down and created; it is something they achieved by developing their speaking muscles over time.  And what are those muscles?  The messages you develop, the ability to connect with audiences, and the willingness to go that extra mile.  With the blood, sweat, and tears you put into achieving Your Signature Speech there is always the hope one-day it will pay off huge dividends. And the earlier you open that account, the better. 

Long before I even had my first bank account, I began developing my cursive writing signature skills – Do you remember cursive. Is it still around?  I knew the day would come when I would have to face a banker to sign my first check. Who wants to look stupid doing that, I thought? I worked on that signature until I felt it was unique, authentic, and worthy of representing me. I felt proud of what I had produced. I felt and still believe it is the symbol of my identity to the world. Yes, I’ was moving on up. 

As I got older and began using that signature, I  continued experimenting with different versions of my signature, until I settled on one which I could identify immediately. I kept working even further until I decided on a version I felt one day would be worth a million dollars. Not there yet, but still working on it. However, when that day came to face that banker, I looked him in eye and proudly delivered, and you know what he said? One day that signature will be worth a million dollars – Not there yet – but I’m still working on it.

By applying the same principle I used to refine my cursive signature to speech writing, I  began developing my Signature Speech. Today, I am still a work in progress. As my journey continues, I am getting more and more comfortable with my ability to speak anytime, anyplace, anywhere with substance, style, and confidence. The more I take my Signature Speech to the platform, the more stage time and little tweaks I make along the way, consciously or sometimes subconsciously, the more I see that speech developing into my masterpiece. In that Signature Speech, my audiences also immediately recognize my style, my rhythm, my cadences, and even my isms – the symbols of my identity to the world – Just like that cursive signature, I use almost every day of my adult life. And, who knows one day, that signature speech may also be worth a million dollars – I have a dream – Who said that?

One of the many challenges speakers all face while developing their Signature Speech is? “Making it modular”. Speakers should be able to add or remove modules from that speech at will or at a moment’s notice.  You may prepare a ten or fifteen-minute presentation for your audience. But upon your arrival at the venue, you discover that is a change in the schedule and you are now asked to speak for five or perhaps twenty-five minutes. What do you do? You add or remove modules from your speech. It happens not to some but to us all. I have seen some speakers try using pauses to turn their five-minute speeches into seven or into a ten to fifteen and fail miserably. However, when you know your subject matter well enough to make significant changes to your presentation instantly and make it appear seamlessly, you are ready to face any audience, anytime, anyplace, anywhere with Your Signature Speech.

Checking-In With Your Audience

A lingering question can be the ultimate Check-In.

20191014_145242Do you ever check-in with your audience during your presentation? Checking-In is critical because when you may not realize when some members of your audience are Checking-Out from you, your presentation or even the room without you even realizing. Some speakers Check-In with power statements, phrases, or quotes. Check-Ins have the power to awaken your audience. However, they should not be confused with salutation. They are not the same. Your first check-in should be placed within the first minute or two of your presentation, depending on the length of your speech. So what is a Check-In, and what does it achieve?

Think of it as a silent HELLO or a virtual handshake with your audience. Your Check-In can shift the focus from you, the presenter to them, the audience for just a moment. At that moment, you are inviting everyone present to get involved. Some audience members may feel the urge to answer your question silently. Others may recognize your quote as one to which they can relate. Audience members may also feel so inspired by the question you posed; they may think and rethink quietly, tell me more. Whether you choose a question, quote, phrase, or statement, we should always remember it’s the “pause and your pause look” following your Check-In that sends the message. The silence draws the focus back to you and your presentation.

Speakers often use statements, phrases, and questions as Check-Ins to their presentations; however, some speakers favor using quotes. Quotations are an easy and effective way to attract attention. Quotations should be short and relate directly to your speech topic. We all speak to be heard, understood, and repeated. Admittedly, it is quite pleasing to hear someone repeat what they heard you say in one of their presentations. Benjamin Disraeli, an eighteen-century British statesman and novelist, said it best with this quote of his: “Those who never quote are in return, never quoted.” The do’s and don’t of quotes are many. Here are a few.

The first rule of using quotes is don’t refer to any author with whom you are unfamiliar or uncomfortable quoting. The second, your quote should be instantly recognizable, relatable, and brief. And the third don’t -John Smith once said – Be creative when introducing your anecdotes and citations. Your Check-Ins at the end of a presentation can also make your closing memorable. Questions are most effective when left as your last words to linger. That silence after your applause can become the most critical moment in your speech. When you end with a lingering question, it can be the ultimate Check-In. If that question can inspire others to think, feel, or do something different in their lives, or the lives of others, you have hit your mark — Check-In early, Check-In during the body of your presentations, and Check-In at the end. Keep Checking-In, and audiences will never stop Checking -In with you.

Brainstorming – Making Your Good Great

The phrase that pays stays

20190726_172121Brainstorming is a worthwhile exercise that never ends when you are creating a speech. It can make a good speech great. Feedback is always incoming; however, it is how you manage your feedback that determines the outcome of your presentation. Once you have decided on a topic, the next step is to begin searching and researching for relevant data. Like an open faucet, I let it all flow -the – who – what – where – why – I write it all down. I recommend that you keep writing until you have much more material than you will have time to include in your speech. Then comes the million-dollar question, what are my keepers? What should I do next, and in which order? I write my FS, my Foundational Statement – to anchor my message.

Start asking yourself questions like what don’t I know or what I know about this topic that I could address with passion? Another critical concern should be, what is going to be the takeaway line for my audience – the message, the Magic Moment that will linger long after l leave the platform? Many of the foundational phrases I use today are ones I inherited from my parents. Some of their favorites, which I still remember, “hang with the buzzards; you’ll never fly like an eagle.” Son, there is nothing new under the sun! And one of Papa’s favorite, “a jack of all trades is a master of none.” Craig Valentine, the 1999 World Champion of Public Speaking, is a master of developing great phrases. I am sure your parents also gave you many gems you can still remember. Use them.

I stress the focus on your foundational phrase when you are brainstorming because of the many times I have seen it produce great titles and Magic Moments. A foundation phase should be no more than ten, single-syllable words that anchor your story, clarifies your point, and can even make your case. There is no more significant example I could offer than this phrase from that famous case from a few short years ago: “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit!” The more you use your foundational statements in your everyday conversations, the more you will begin to own them. Make them a part of your communication style. Keep what supports your message and your goal. Also, focus on what you want your audience to think, feel, or do at the end of your presentation. Tailor your presentation to their needs and interest of your audience. If your purpose is to sell products, my FS phrase of choice is: “the phrase that pays stays.”

Once you are happy with your talking points and your foundational statement, the next step is to begin testing to see what are your keepers. I also recommend focusing on these two bits of wisdom I learned from David Brooks, the 1995 World Champion of Public Speaking: “Great speeches are not written; they are rewritten! Great speeches are not read; they are delivered.” With that in mind, start writing your speech for the ear, and not for the eyes. When you are writing a novel, you write for the eyes. Write for the ear, the listener. Remember, your speech has to move from your head to paper for editing. Then from paper, back to your head. You cannot edit what you have not written. Next, you must get that speech out of your head and into your heart for delivery on the speaking platform. The next time a version of that speech is presented, you will get even more feedback, and the process begins all over again. Great speeches are never final – What makes them great- Good feedback and Brainstorming.

%d bloggers like this: