The Power of a Single Sound

Let’s give Benedetta Berti her due.  Her TED talk is packed with fascinating information about the way that terrorist states operate, and how to effectively combat them.  I love her inventive Power Point slides, her creative use of statistics, and her rousing call to action.

But as is the case with many Ted-talkers, there is something to be desired in the way she is delivering her speech.  To begin with, she is speaking much too fast.  Keep in mind folks, the audience does not know nearly as much about your topic as you do.  It’s important to take your time, so your concepts can really land.  She also appears to be reading her speech, rather than coining her ideas in the moment.  Since she is so knowledgeable about her topic, it might have been a better idea to bullet point her speech, rather than write it all out, so she could keep things loose.

I’d like to call your attention to her articulation.  She is mispronouncing the “th” sound consistently throughout the speech, lending to some confusion.  Is that “den” or “then”?  “That” or “dat”?  This single mispronunciation is a major flaw in the speech.  Yes, native English speakers will probably be able to translate, and understand the mispronounced word, but what about non-native English speakers?  Will they be able to parse her speech, identify the mispronunciation, and figure out which word she is really getting at?  Maybe.  Maybe not.

If English is not your native language, and you have a speech coming up, run it by a friend, or a coach, or your spouse… anybody who has good speech.  This will allow you to identify where your articulation problem areas lie, and correct them before your big day.

Great Speech, Bad Body Language

Intellectuals like professors, students, scientists, etc, tend to give great speeches.  They have a firm grasp of their topic and they are used to thinking about an issue from a creative perspective.  This is certainly the case  with Mr. Flynn’s TED talk on society’s upward I.Q. progression, but there’s a key component missing.

What Mr. Flynn does extremely well is use metaphor and analogy to build his points during the discussion section of his speech.  A wide variety of strange and creative contexts become organizational tools for Mr. Flynn’s thesis; a sharpshooter hitting a target and a martian archaeologist sifting through human artifacts to name a few.

But what is missing from this speech is body awareness.  You can tell the good professor has spent a lot of time in his head!  His voice is booming, stentorian even, but he puts his hands in his pocket, shuffles about on stage without clear direction, avoids eye contact, and muddles his gestures.  Not so good.  It’s a statistic that has been trotted out quite a bit, but it bears repeating; 80% of our impression of a speaker is non-verbal.

The first step toward improving the way you present, is to be aware of what your body is doing while you present.  I don’t mean being self conscious.  I mean simply being aware.  Do I saw the air when I present?  Do I fold my arms across my chest?  What is my body saying about me?  When you fidget on stage, make a mental note, and write it down later.  Build awareness, first, and build power and nuance later.  One step at a time!

A Speech Coach’s Big Secret

A few days ago, I taught a big presentation skills workshop for a large advertising agency in New York City.  As I got through the section on sales pitches, and started moving toward accent reduction, I felt my hands shake a bit.  I could feel my breath shorten.  I could sense the eyeballs on me.  “I’m a speech coach!”, I thought, “I can’t get nervous.”

Well, guess what? I did.  I took an awkward pause, pretended my throat was dry, took a sip of water, and then resumed.  I stumbled on a word or two, but overall I was able to ace the job.

I still wonder if some folks noticed I was anxious.  I assume they did.  The truth is being a speech coach doesn’t exempt me from suffering from the same issues my clients face while presenting.  Everyone feels anxious before they speak, or while they speak.  The question is what do we do about it?

For me, it depends on whether I am at the beginning, middle or end of my speech.  If it is the moment before I am about to speak, I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and remind myself that the speech is not about me, but rather, about the people I am speaking to.  I put my attention on them.  I think, “How can I help?”.  If I am in the middle of the speech and I feel anxious, the first thing I do is think, “don’t fight it”.  My years of being a speech coach have taught me that anxiety, if properly directed, can be a powerful tool.  It can energize your speech.  I usually think to myself “I’m excited to present” and the nerves disappear.  I also give myself permission to take a break, stop speaking, and allow for silence.  Silence is powerful when it is embraced.

You should consider what type of person you are when deciding how to manage your speaking anxiety.  Some people are naturally confident, and need only to reassure themselves to feel better.  Other people tend to chronically doubt themselves.  If you are of the latter, trying to reassure yourself will backfire.  It will put you in conflict with your thoughts.  Try agreeing with your doubts, without believing them.  By saying to yourself, “yes I am thinking that I am going to blow this, fine”, you can then move on, and focus on the task at hand.  Again, you don’t have to believe the thoughts; you just need to acknowledge them.

So take it from a guy who knows, it is possible to manage your speaking anxiety.  You just need to know what type of person you are, and what tools you would like to use.

 

Job Training Directly Linked to Employee Satisfaction

Are you an HR rep or manager?  Do you feel like your team could use a morale boost but don’t know how to provide it?   A recent study found that there is a high degree of correlation between job satisfaction and on-the -job training:

 A convenience sample of 552 customer and technical service employees in nine major organizations in the United States and Canada were given the Job Training and Job Satisfaction Survey.  A major research finding in this study was the high degree of relationship between job training satisfaction and overall job satisfaction among employees.  This means that training received is related to a significant portion of the satisfaction experienced on the job .

But what kind of training is best? And how should it be tailored?  According to the study, there are a few things that need to be considered.  To start, instructor led training is key:

 It was found that the methodologies involving an instructor or coach were preferred significantly more than the more solitary type methodologies (computer-based training, or self study including video-based training).

Ok, good to know.  But should your employee’s receive the same training?  Length of employment matters:

Employees in their first year of employment were significantly more satisfied with the training they received than employees with job tenure of more than one year (regardless of the amount of tenure beyond one year). New employees (those within their first years on the job) also received significantly more training than employees with job tenure of more than one year.

It’s important to distinguish between training newer employees and experienced employees as they are going to have different needs.  Most training tends to favor temporary/contract employees who are younger.  There is a need for training opportunities for experienced employees.

Does presentation skills training work well for experienced employees?  I would argue “yes” for two reasons.  First, unlike technical training, speech training is not finite.  There is always something more to learn!  Even your most experienced employee may still have trouble with pacing, “um’s” and “ahh’s” and organizing material.  Second, presentation skills workshops tend to be highly collaborative, and benefit from the experience of legacy employees.  This collaborative environment helps bond younger and more experienced employees.