As a speech coach in New York City, I am frequently called to help people who are preparing to moderate a panel. I often see the same two mistakes made as clients prepare; the first is making the panel discussion too long, and the second is making it too complex. Here is what you can do to avoid these critical errors.
First, make sure that you’re panel discussion is ONE HOUR, and ONE HOUR ONLY. Even the most lively panel discussion will begin to drag after an hour. Science has shown that our attention span is worse than that of a goldfish, so be sure to keep things moving!
Second, don’t muddy the water by having presentations woven into the event. If you find dynamic enough panelists, and you are careful to be sure they represent opposing viewpoints (conflict and controversy are good!), your panel should be interesting enough.
If you want to moderate a successful panel discussion, keep it simple; dynamic panelists with opposing views, great curated stories (you do the curating), and a single, simple powerpoint slide to display your event information.
I recently poised the question, “is it possible to speak too slow while presenting“? My answer was “no”, but Brian Little’s pace of speaking would challenge that assumption. I think he picks up the pace adequately around the middle of his TED Talk, but I found my mind wandering off at the beginning. This is because he is speaking just a bittoo slowly, and because he doesn’t have a good story up front in order to attract the audience’s attention.
This changes dramatically half way through the speech. At about the ten minute mark, we get a series of wonderful, hilarious stories, starting with this gem, and the speech really comes to life. Its amazing how a few small changes can lift a speech from good to great. When it comes to presenting, the devil is in the details.
Simon Sinek is one of the most watched TED Talk presentersof all time. An introvert by nature, Sinek honed his public speaking craft through hard work and trial and error. His speeches are a favorite of many of my public speaking clients in New York City and New Jersey. Here are some of the techniques he learned to perfect his craft, and speak with confidence:
Wait to talk – Sinek says that most people begin a speech by speaking out of a sense of nervousness and anxiety. It’s best to pause at the beginning of your speech, settle, take a breath, and then speak. The silence may seem like an eternity to you, but it won’t feel that way to your audience.
Make eye contact with audience members one by one – It’s a simple truism to say that making eye contact is important, but do you really look into the eyes of those you are speaking to? Or do you just pan across the audience, as if they were so many heads of cattle? Sinek says it is best to give each person you are speaking to an entire sentence or thought.
Speak VERY slowly – I’ve always said that if you are ok with a pause onstage, your audience will be ok with it as well. Sinek believes it’s impossible to speak too slowly on stage:
“It’s incredible that you can stand on stage and speak so slowly that there are several seconds between each of your words and people… will… hang… on… your… every… word. It really works.
Turn nervousness into excitement – Sinek learned this trick from watching the Olympics. Every time an athlete was interviewed, he was asked if he was nervous. “No, I was excited.” was the answer. The athletes interpreted the bodies’ response to stress as excitement rather than anxiety. This gave them the competitive advantage.
Always thank the audience – This should be a no brainer, but it is often overlooked. The audience is there to support you, they deserve your attention. Give them the respect they deserve! A simple “Thank you for your time” at the end of your speech will do.
At a recent presentations skills workshop I gave in New York City, I asked an executive with a thin voice to rate the loudness of his voice on a scale from 1-10. He picked an 8, the rest of the room picked a 3. I see this over and over again. For some reason, most of us tend to imagine our voice is louder than it actually is.
Try rating the power of your speaking voice. Ask a friend to evaluate your voice on a scale of 1-10 while you’re presenting. Is their perception of your voice the same as yours? If so, how is it different? When you speak, does your voice “go to the walls”, but not beyond them? Are you able to fill the room with sound? Really engage the diaphragm?
If your perception of the power of your voice is an 8 and your colleagues think you’re at a 3, trust their feedback, and make some changes. Try speaking at an 8, even if it seems like you’re shouting. Again, test the results in front of your colleague. If they feel that your volume is adequate, really challenge yourself to stay at an 8 while speaking. It may feel awkward to you, but it’s likely fine for your audience.
Do you think public speaking has to do solely with what you do behind the podium? Are you aware of your body languagewhen you are onstage but not presenting? According to Bloomberg Politics, Hillary Clinton nodded a whopping 406 times during Bernie Sanders endorsement speech, which proves a very simple public speaking truism: be aware of your body languageanytime you step on stage. Keep this in mind if you are leading a Q and A, or taking part in a roundtable.
Gesture is very important when giving a speech; using definitive hand gestures are provento enhance our impression of a speaker. But gesture is less important while listening to another speaker. It can pull focus. Mrs. Clinton would have been bettered served by utilizing stillnessin this context.