What Do You Do If You’re Heckled During a Major Speech?

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?

The Third Debate Between Hillary and Donald Trump from a Public Speaking Perspective

The third presidential debate is now a thing of the past, and many are glad it is!  Interruptions, name calling, viscous allegations...this has been one of the most tawdry debates in recent history.  But let’s take a moment to put all that aside, and analyze the candidates on their debate skills starting with Hillary Clinton.

I think Hillary won this one.  One of the surest ways to win a debate is to consistently pivot difficult questions back toward a topic of your choosing.  A prime example of this was the way Hillary turned a question about her stance on open boarders to an indictment of Donald Trump’s cozy relationship with Vladimir Putin.  She does this time and again in the debate to excellent effect.  From a non-verbal perspective, I think she had mixed results.  She has an odd tendency of bringing her eyes down when answering a question.  It may be that she was looking at notes, but making eye contact with the audience and the camera is very important.  I would suggest she look up a bit more.  Additionally, she tends to use her left hand to gesture while speaking, and could probably benefit from using both hands a bit more.

I think Donald Trump did a good job of identifying when Hillary Clinton was evading questions and holding her feet to the fire, especially with her answer on open boarders.  He had a powerful delivery while debating, and used his voice to great affect.  His tendency, however, to talk over Hillary, and put her down outright, is, of course, outrageous.  We will see if it will happen, but the Donald would benefit from boning up on foreign and domestic affairs and limiting the personal attacks, which only aid Hillary Clinton’s candidacy.




How to Use Timed Gesture to Enhance Your Speech

Jim Hemerling gives a great speech here.  What he does most effectively is use pacing, breathing, word stress, and gesture to accentuate his points.  He pauses after each thought group, takes a nice relaxed diaphragmatic breath, and speaks with deliberate intention, often hitting content words (nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs) to make his points.  Notice how each of his gestures is timed with a content word.  This deliberate pacing really helps him pull out key concepts.

If I were to quibble, I would argue that Mr. Hemerling could benefit from keeping things a little more conversational while he speaks.  It’s possible to be both deliberate and easy in your delivery.  When speaking, it’s best to balance the two.

Test out timing gesture and word stress with a colleague.  Read a passage from your presentation with timed gesture, moving your hands in unison with your words, and then try reading without any movement or word stress.  Ask your colleague which is more impactful.

How Accurate is Your Perception of Your Speaking Voice?



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.

Analyzing One of the Most-Watched TED Talks of 2016

This is one of the most watched TED talks of 2016.  What makes Tim Urban so engaging?

To start with, his speech is about one simple subject: procrastination and how to beat it. From there, he gives us a great opener.  He contrasts two mock-charts: one that analyzes his flow of work when he procrastinates, and one that analyzes his flow of work when he does not.  What’s cool about this is it allows him to use his PowerPoint slides as punch lines to his jokes.  And there are a lot of jokes.  Little, pithy, observational-humor-type jokes.  These self-directed bon mots keep his material light, and engaging.

This does not mean he skips out on philosophy and data.  A good TED talk should be well researched, and very thoughtful.  Mr. Urban has thought (and read) a lot about his subject, and he comes up with some interesting conclusions, specifically on the topic of long-term vs. short-term procrastinating.

Finally, what makes this Ted Talk so delightful, is Mr. Urban’s use of gesture, and pacing.  If you are going to craft a lot of jokes in your speech, you need to know how to deliver them.  Notice the way he emphasizes content words (nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs) in his punch lines, and pauses at the ends of his jokes to give his audience time to laugh.  All this craft makes his call to action well earned.