Friday, April 27, 2012

Speaking Tip: Everything is Important

in your speech, which is the important element? Is it the delivery, the message, the visuals or the reaction of the audience? It's everything. Your speech will be remembered for one of two things. It may be the takeaway message, which resonates with the audience and calls them to action, or it may be the thing that didn't quite work. 

Alas, it is often the one element that fails which becomes the memorable feature of a speech. It may be poor acoustics, bad sight-lines from some parts of the room, or failing to deal properly with a question. That's why a professional speaker checks and re-checks everything. That's why they arrive early and test every piece of technology. That' why they have a backup device or procedure for every foreseeable failure. That's why they rehearse.

Murphy's Law (whatever can go wrong will go wrong) doesn't always apply. However, Stevens' amendment to Murphy's Law (the thing that you didn't test will fail) often does. Leaving any element of your presentation to chance is opening yourself up to potential disaster.
The trouble is, you may be too close to your speech to spot the errors. It's a good idea to ask someone else to check things out with you. A fellow speaker is a good sounding board (sometimes literally), and then you can help them in the same fashion.

The important thing is everything.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Claire Squires - a runner's tribute

When Claire Squires left Greenwich Park in the chill of Sunday morning, surrounded by thousands of fellow London Marathoners,  she had a simple aim. She wanted to raise five hundred pounds for The Samaritans. A few hours later, she collapsed and died in Birdcage Walk, just a few miles from the finish. Within 48 hours of her tragic death, donations to her JustGiving page approached a quarter of a million pounds.

Claire was a young woman. I was the same age as her when I ran my first London Marathon in 1984. I still remember the mixture of fear and excitement at the start, and the exhaustion and elation at the finish. I've run many thousands of miles since then, but Claire will never run another step. Her legacy is already remarkable. I hope the donations will continue, and that her family will be given her finishers medal She earned it, and helped more people than she could ever have imagined.

When I take part in the Great North Run in September, I will offer up a silent prayer of thanks for Claire, and others like her, who died raising money for causes they loved. I'm sure many other runners will do the same. Thank you, Claire.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Can you explain that to an 11-year-old?

Communicating can be tough sometimes. We know what we mean, and we say what makes sense to us. But sometimes it makes no sense to our audience.

I work a lot with CEOs and corporate boards to help them deliver clear, simple messages. I use the analogy that all media trainers know, which is to ask the interviewee to imagine they are speaking to a normal 11-year-old. That doesn't require childish language, but it does require simple and clear language. While it's easy to use over-complicated language that some audiences don't comprehend, it's almost impossible to be too simple.

One exercise that we do is to look for examples of speech that could be made much simpler. Here are a few (11-year-old version in brackets):

Let's think outside the box (We need to be more creative)

Change is the only constant (Things always change)

We need to reach out to our core demographic (We need to send our best customers a message)

Let's pick the low-hanging fruit (Let's do the easy stuff first)

In the current economy (Now)

Best of breed (Best)

Incentivise (Offer a reward)

Bring to the table

Take it to the next level (Make it a lot better)

Care to share any of your own examples?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Do you know what you are saying?

I know, it seems a silly question to ask a speaker if they really know what they are saying. The trouble is, some speakers don't spend enough (or indeed any) time planning precisely what message they are trying to deliver. They speak well, they entertain, and they may even get a huge round of applause, but when the audience filters out, are they speaking about the memorable message they received, or are they just saying "good speech"? 

I've heard people complain that their speaking slot is cut from 40 minutes to 30 minutes. "That's not enough time to get my message across" they say. Try telling that to the organisers of, where 20 minutes represents a speech that over-runs. You should be able to summarise every speech you hear, and therefore every speech you deliver, in a sentence or two. That should always be your starting point when you sit down to prepare. It may take half the preparation time, but that's fine. It's important to get it right.

If you have concerns about delivering a speech to a particular audience, or you're unsure what to say, perhaps you're not the right person for that event. A true professional will only deliver a message to an audience that they believe will understand it and benefit from it. As William Jennings Bryan put it "The speech of one who knows what he is talking about and means what he says - it is thought on fire"

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Let's meet and Tweet

Twitter chats are now becoming a very popular way of creating a community, sharing expertise and solving problems. I participate regularly in several twitter chats myself, and find them great value and great fun. If you'd like to set one up yourself, around your topic of expertise and interest, here are some suggestions to help you.

1) Prepare well. Firstly, you need to let everyone know what is happening, and how and when to take part. It's a good idea to create a hashtag (such as #prchat) and a Twitter account (such as @crisismedia) to gather around. Tell your network when the chat will happen (ideally at the same time each week), and send out reminders just before it starts.

2) Encourage participation. Ask people to introduce themselves as they join the chat, and to both pose and answer questions. Ask them to use the chat hashtag in each tweet, so that everyone can follow the discussion. It's a good idea to have a few questions planned in advance for the group to discuss. Keep an eye on the time, and have a clear start and finish of each question and the chat as a whole.

3) Facilitate follow-up. Record and publish the chat soon after it has finished, using something like Tweets disappear after a couple of weeks so you need to archive each discussion. Make the discussions available online, and set up a Facebook or LinkedIn group to continue the debate between chats.

You will soon find that a community becomes established around the weekly chat, and it will be of immense value to all participants. If you already take part in Twitter chat, or you are setting one up, let me know how it's going.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Four rhetorical techniques

One of my all-time favourite comedians, George Carlin, once said "Rhetoric paints with a broad brush". That's largely true, but there are some occasions when it can be a sharp and potent weapon in speeches. Here are four techniques you can use to make your words even more effective.

1) Anadiplosis. The repetition of one or several words that end one clause and begin another.

Example: "Some men are born with greatness , some men achieve greatness , and some men have greatness thrust upon them" - William Shakespeare

2) Praeteritio. The pretended omission of something, which has the effect of strengthening its impact.

Example: "It would be unseemly for me to dwell on the Senator's drinking problem, and too many have already sensationalized his womanizing..." - An opponent of Senator Edward Kennedy

3) Chiasmus. A very powerful effective technique where the words in one phrase or clause are reversed in the next.

Example: "Your manuscript is both good and original; but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good" - Samuel Johnson

4) Tricolon A much-used and strong technique where words or phrases are used in threes.

Example: "Never in the history of human endeavour has so much been owed by so many to so few" - Sir Winston Churchill

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

More rabbit than Sainsburys

Forgive me for borrowing a line from the blessed Chas and Dave's 1981 hit, in order to create a tenuous link to Easter. Suffice it to say that this tip is about not talking for too long on stage. This was prompted by a debate in the National Speakers Association Facebook group, where are speaker was asking how to deal with someone who spoke for too long. I'm sure you can imagine the response. So how do you make sure you don't overstay your time on the platform? 

Obviously, the easiest way is to keep an eye on a timer. That may not always be easy, unless you bring your own or there is a clock (which must be showing the correct time) visible to you. If you're the type of speaker that wanders the stage without notes, then having a timer may not work, since you can't carry it around with you. 

Another option is to have someone in the audience who will act as your timer. Agree a series of signals with perhaps ten, five, and two minutes to go. Make sure that you look at them occasionally, and acknowledge their signals. This works very well unless (and I have seen this happen) your timing friend dozes off. 

Other things that can throw your timings are:

  • Allowing extended audience debates during your speech
  • Underestimating the time for audience exercises
  • Going off at a tangent
  • Technical hitches
  • Forgetting (or not checking) the time you are allotted
Your job, as a professional, is to finish on time regardless of the above, some of which may be beyond your control. If that means cutting material out on the fly, that's what you have to do. But never, ever, cut the end of your speech, since that's the important message. Less rabbit in the middle is the key.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Less pitching in the elevator, please

One of the skills that business owners are advised to have is a good elevator pitch. Alas, it's something that is trotted out way too often. A 60-second description of what problem you solve, and who you solve it for, can be useful if you're asked to do a short intro to a group other people at an event. Otherwise, please leave your elevator pitch at home.

I don't know about you, but I've often received the full blast of a one-minute pitch at a networking event when I've asked someone what they do. Unfortunately, after the first fifteen seconds, I'm losing interest. After thirty seconds I'm looking for a way out, and before it's over I'm thinking how I can avoid this person in future.

It' not only boring, it's rude, to expect a person you've never met before to be talked at for a minute or more. That's not a conversation, it's a lack of respect.

It's great to have a short conversation starter, like "I organise prison break-outs" (from someone who helps people to start a business after corporate life) or "I create your own personal oasis of calm" (from a garden designer). They will generate a dialogue, and start to build a relationship.

Elevator pitches are broadcasts, not conversations. Those who deliver them are often so focused on getting their message out that they fail to listen and watch the signals coming back. So please, keep your elevator pitch for the occasions where it is appropriate, and focus on having a conversation instead.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Are you ready for Web 4.0?

As a journalist, I was lucky to be invited to Stockholm this week to see a presentation at the Skämta Institute. If you haven't heard about it, you soon will. It is probably the most significant change in technology since the invention of the World-Wide Web.

Much of the development is still under wraps, but what has been, and can be, revealed is mind-boggling. The next generation of access devices, known by the Swedish term
Bedra, run at speeds approximately a million times faster than current tablet devices like the iPad. They use 4D technology, delivering not only 3D images, but also touch and smell, for a complete immersion experience. Thay have to be seen (an touched and sniffed) to be believed.

The developments will make all social networking sites obsolete before the end of the year, and will require everyone to re-assess their businesses. The main developer, Nobel-Prize Winner Professor Loof Lirpa said today "Few people will fully understand the implications of this announcement. Today marks a historic event"

Will you be ready for the change?