It all started out so well. She was firing on all cylinders; strong voice, good eye contact, inspired writing with a personal touch, a couple of good self-deprecating jokes. However, Theresa May, giving a conference speech aimed at revitalizing her standing after a disastrous few months, found herself seriously derailed when a heckler handed her a “P45” form which is the British equivalent of a “pink slip”. What went wrong?
My feeling is she didn’t handle this guy quickly and firmly enough. Let’s see some fire, Theresa! This heckler is making a mockery of you in public, and stealing a crucial moment from you (not to mention creating a major security risk). Maybe say something like, “you may think the problems of income inequality, affordable housing, and the sinking pound are laughable, but I assure you I do not. Get off my stage, young man.” Instead, Prime Minister May takes the P45 when it is handed to her, as if she is obligated to do so, and tries to continue as if nothing has happened. After a moment or two, she makes a nice joke, and hits back a bit, but not before her momentum is lost.
What do you think is the best way to handle a heckler?
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.
So you’ve spent one hour preparing for every minute of your speech. You’ve got a unique, unconventional premise. You have data to back up your main points. You use contrasts, comparisons, quotes and analogies. You have an attention getter, a solid discussion section, and a dynamic closing section. Your PowerPoint is elegant, simple, and design-oriented. Now you’re ready to knock your audience out… and it all falls flat. Why? Did you run the speech by a colleague or coach? Or better yet, a group of colleagues?
Educators have long embraced using focus groups to elicit feedback. Why not utilize this powerful tool to improve your speeches? After gathering your group of colleagues, start with these tips:
1) Have a list of questions you’d like to ask the group. Be sure the questions are open-ended and not too specific, as you want to allow the group to talk as freely as possible.
2) Don’t interrupt… try to talk as little as possible. Hand the ball over to the group. Avoid defensiveness about your speech at all costs as it will silence the group.
3) Ask probing questions if you need more clarity; “Can you explain what you mean by that?” or “Can you give an example?” are some good questions to ask.
Finally, be sure that you pick people who can offer constructive feedback, and ask that people start by mentioning what you did well with the speech. Oftentimes, in an attempt to help us make our work better, our colleagues will leave out the moments they liked. By reminding them to mention the good as well as the bad, you can ensure you won’t be too inundated with criticism.
Do you speak on a regular basis about a dry topic? Do you find the audience’s eyes glazing over? Do you feel you are boing yourself with your topic? I once had a client who was putting together a presentation about a complex set of laws that govern rules pertaining to investing in pension funds. The presentation was heavy on statistics and facts but little else. We decided to use a simple analogy…a bar! The manager became the SEC, the patrons became the investors, and the waiters became the hedge fund executives. Suddenly, the presentation came to life, and this complicated subject became much more digestible. I had another client who used her childhood experience of witnessing the aftermath of a tornado as an analogy for the aftermath of the 2008 stock market collapse. Her presentation was excellent.
Many people think that it’s enough to simply relay the facts in a presentation. It’s not. We must challenge ourselves to make our presentations digestible, and interesting. Analogies serve these purposes.
Before making your next presentation, make a list of five analogies that might work for your topic. You can use one blanket analogy for the entire presentation or a series of analogies for multiple concepts in your presentation. Keep in mind the more personal your analogy, the more likely you will catch your audience’s attention!