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.

 

What’s Your Proudest Presentation Moment?

Did you recently have a bad presentation?  Feel out of touch with your audience?  Maybe you’re thinking, “I can barely form sentences when I’m speaking in public.” If you are in need of some motivation, let me tell you the story of one of my first clients, Leslie.

Leslie was a hardworking master’s degree candidate at the School of Social Work at Columbia University. She had graduated at the top of her class, and was asked to give a major commencement address. She was thrilled…and terrified. That’s when she called me.

When I showed up at her office, her brow was knitted, and her arms crossed. Her floor was scattered with public speaking textbooks. Drafts of her speech were littered about her desk. Leslie felt that she did not have a solid structure to her presentation, and she believed her material would not connect to her audience. She was stuck, and the commencement was days away.

I suggested that she view the speech as a major opportunity to change lives, and craft a thesis that reflected that ambition. I gave her a simple, effective structure she could use for the speech. I suggested she use personal stories, analogy, contrast and comparison. And then I gave her a healthy dose of encouragement.

Leslie rose to the challenge. She dug into statistics and stories about homelessness in New York. She calculated the number of times the homeless in New York could fit into the venue for the commencement address, and added the figure to her speech. She worked with me on her non-verbal communication, and her voice. I taught her to hit her content words, and breathe from her diaphragm.  We worked on calming her nerves, and envisioning success.

On the day of the commencement, Leslie stood in front of two thousand students brimming with optimism, and called them to be active and engaged citizen.  She received a standing ovation. Then, she came off the podium, and was greeted by her husband who had tears in his eyes. To this day, she still hears from former students about how much her speech meant to them.

The most powerful speeches come from people who want to make a positive change — whether it is through an improved social condition, an improved product launch, or an improved business relationship. Does that sound like you? Leave a comment below to share your proudest presentation moment.

The Science Behind Successful Presenting

I was recently asked by a fantastic education company in Silicon Valley to teach a module on customer presentations for one of their workshops.  I decided to dig a bit into current trends.  I was quite shocked at some of the information I unearthed.  Did you know…

  1. Between 80 and 90% of the information that our brain processes comes in through our eyes.
  2. In a study conducted by the Management Information Systems Research Center at the University of Minnesota and the 3M Corporation, researchers found that the simple act of adding visuals to a presentation can have a dramatic impact on audience response.
  3. Personal stories make up 65% of our conversations—a fact that is rooted in the ways that stories engage our brains.
  4. Research has shown that people are more likely to remember which brands are  associated with certain products when first presented with the information in an  interactive format versus a static format.

Hmmm. So what does this research tell us about presenting?  A few things. First, visuals are a must.  So break out your PowerPoint, right? Well, sort of.  Keep in mind, the type of visual matters.  Bullet points don’t count as “visuals” and, research shows, detracts from our ability to process information. Using full bleed pictures that stimulate the senses, however, is a great way to engage your audience.

Next, storytelling is key.  But what types of stories?  Science tells us that stories that stimulate the senses, and use phrases like “smelled like perfume” or “skin as soft as velvet” tend to stick more than “static” stories that do not engage the senses.

Finally, flexibility is imperative.  You are more likely to impress a customer if you give them options.  After you’ve determined what information is most important to your audience, create a “road map” of your presentation, and let them drive.  Choose three products they might like information on, and then ask which ones are most pertinent to them.  Make an interactive game out of the choice by allowing your audience to choose the topic from their Ipads.

To illustrate, if I were giving a customer presentation on a new line of cars, I might start by researching what types of cars my client might need.  From there, I would design some sexy visuals, using sleek imagery that engages the senses.  Next, I would unify my visuals under a few theme words that link to each car, like, “in command” or “on the road”, and build stories around each theme.  Finally, I would give my customer the option of choosing which cars, and thus which presentation, they would like to view.   By utilizing storytelling, visual aids, and an interactive format, I’ve upped my game, and crafter a stellar presentation.