A good percentage of my client’s presentations deal with technology and science. There are numerous hurdles to overcome when presenting technology; how to make data interesting, how to use metaphor to make complex concepts digestible, how to use wit and humor to engage the audience, etc. But the most difficult aspect of talking science for many presenters is the manner in which they speak.
I think Pranav Mistry gives a good speech here despite having imperfect English. There are moments when his excitement gets the best of him, and he talks too quickly, but the bulk of his presentation is done at a measured pace. When he takes the time to breathe in between thoughts, and slow down, he is much more clear. These “micro-pauses” allow his brain to process what his articulators (lips, tongue, lower jaw, and soft palate) are doing and gives him a moment to think about language. Most of Mr. Mistry’s pronunciation mistakes (some w-v confusion, syllable stress mistakes, problems with phrasing) occur when he is speaking quickly. His brain doesn’t have time to think about pacing, articulation and the like.
You can imagine the left frontal lobe to be a little like a busy highway. The more congested the neural pathways are that connect the brain together, the less likely they are to transmit information. If you speak fast, you clog your frontal lobe with information, and it cannot do what it does best, produce language. So take your time!
The short answer is yes, but how you do it is very, very important. If you make your product the primary focus of your speech, or Q and A, you will bore the audience, or worse, annoy them. Nobody comes to a major conference like TED to hear a product pitch. People come to hear new ideas. You must be able to craft a dynamic, purposeful, wildly creative premise to your speech first, and then strategically weave mentions of your product into the speech as you develop your material.
Take Elon Musk’s brilliant TED Q and A. The premise of his talk is really the nature of innovation, but he manages to use his three current companies, Tesla, SpaceX, and Solar City, as examples. It never really appears that he is promoting his companies, because his first loyalty is to his premise (the nature of innovation). As long as you prioritize your premise and keep it innovative, inclusive, and not sales oriented, then, ironically perhaps, it is safe to do a little selling.
Most of the pundits have weighed in on the political ramifications of Donald Trump’s State of the Union address last night, but what of his public speaking craft? To be blunt, I think he does some things well, but many things poorly. Let’s break it down.
To start with, he is clearly reading off of two teleprompters. This is not a problem if you are able to coin phrases in a conversational manner, and you are very familiar with your material. Mr. Trump does neither well here. He seems unfamiliar with the language he is using, and he makes very little eye contact with the television audience or his constituents. It’s very important to be familiar with your material, and to lift your eyes off of the page, in order to make a personal connection to your audience.
As a result of this lack of familiarity with his material, Mr. Trump’s delivery is uncharacteristically tentative. When he is speaking off-the-cuff, he has some vocal variety, and punch to his language. But his voice fades when he is working with an outline, and he becomes quite monotone.
What he does well here has nothing to do with his delivery, but with his speechcraft. He utilizes personal stories well, highlighting numerous stories about heroic everyday Americans. But non-verbal communication trumps material (no pun intended), and the president’s poor delivery undermines his message.
It is completely natural to feel anxious before you speak. Why would you feel relaxed!? It can be nerve-racking to speak in front of people. We get in trouble when we fight our anxiety rather than accept it. Here are a few tips to help you control your public speaking tension:
Develop a routine of doing some progressive relaxation each day. Take a few moments each day to close your eyes, and scan through your body noticing physical tension. Just notice. Start at your scalp and move to your toes. You may find simply bringing attention in a non-judgemental way to your physical tension helps relieve it.
Try to reframe your anxiety rather than eliminate it. Anxiety cannot be forced away, but if we accept it is happening, we can redirect it. As anxious feelings arise, try telling yourself “I feel scared, but also excited. This is an opportunity to work on presenting.” The more you can label your fear as excitement, the better off you will be.
If you are speaking to a large audience, see the trees for the forest! By this, I mean learn to speak to one person in the crowd at a time. This may help you to see the audience as individuals, rather than a large group, and lessen your stress.
Consider using an icebreaker. A good icebreaker could be an interesting question, an informal poll, a well-timed joke, or a short story.
Make small talk with your audience before you speak – idle chit-chat is a wonderful speaking tool. If your audience is small, shake hands with some folks, and ask some meaningful questions before you present. Getting to know the audience personally will turn your SPEECH into a DISCUSSION. A discussion is infinitely more relaxing than a speech.
Slow your rate of speech down, especially at the top of the speech. Take plenty of time to breathe, and clarify your thoughts.
Prepare thoroughly! If you know your audience and your subject inside and out, you will feel much more relaxed about presenting! Bear in mind, it’s ok to have notes in front of you as you speak.
When we are called upon to make a speech, we can go through the motions, and pull together something that is adequate, or we can think carefully about the tremendous opportunity we have for creating change, and craft something that calls people to ACTION. Thankfully, Oprah chose the latter last night with her rousing Golden Globe speech. Here are five reasons the speech ROCKED:
She opens with a powerful, personal story – Her story about being a little girl watching Sidney Poitier win the Cecil B Demille award was deeply affecting. The reason it worked was that she shared personal details about her life, and brought us into the sensory experience of what it was like to be there; sitting on the cold linoleum floor watching the television, seeing her mom come home from a hard day of work cleaning other people’s houses, etc. It’s important to share your story, but it’s equally important to draw the audience into the experience of your story.
She had a single, powerful theme – And she states it clearly at around the 4 minute mark. “Speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we have”. It’s important to believe in your theme deeply, and to know your audience well enough, and the occasion well enough, to have confidence that your theme will resonate with them.
Most of the speech is made of stories that dovetail with her theme – Her story about how Recy Taylor endured a horrible sexual assault, and how it is time for such behavior to end, dovetails beautifully with her theme.
She finishes her speech with apowerful call to action– With a minute remaining in this relatively short speech, Oprah assures all the little girls watching her that a new day is arriving, returning thematically to the beginning of the speech, the image of her watching Sidney Poitier on tv as a little girl. The conclusion mirrors the introduction; we have come full circle.
She uses language powerfully – Notice the way that Oprah engages language. She hits her verbs, uses her full vocal range, and projects her voice.
Don’t waste speaking opportunities, folks. Each one, even the most mundane, can encourage change in people and organizations around you. Oprah’s speech is just one example of the power of the spoken word. Speak your truth!