Eyes on the Prize

As a founder of a startup, I don't have a lot of time to slow down and relax and most days feel like high stakes gambits. So, whenever I have the opportunity, I push myself to go to the gym to disconnect while my batteries recharge. Exercise is both a stress reliever and a way for me to fuel myself to endure the highs and lows of the entrepreneurial roller coaster ride.

One of my favorite classes at the gym is Burn, a mix of cardio and strength training, performed in circuits. The intensity level is very high, the pace is fast and there is simply no room to think about anything but getting through the class alive. One of my favorite instructors is Jonathan who teaches an early Saturday morning class. Jonathan comes in the exact package you would expect of a high-intensity fitness instructor - muscular and toned with a lot of energy. However, Jonathan is missing a key skill that I look for in an instructor - he never looks anyone in the eye. 

The studio at the gym holds about 40-50 people when at max capacity but, on most Saturdays, the class has an average attendance of about 20-25 people. It is a relatively intimate setting and Jonathan leads us from the front of the class, facing the group and expertly demonstrating the exercises we are to perform. While he is going through the routines, he tends to look out into space, always averting the eyes of his students which, for me, continually creates a level of disconnect. Because of the speed of the class and the demands of the participants, I find it off-putting to have the instructor, with whom I am trying desperately to connect to ensure that I am performing the exercises properly, to never connect with me. Without looking me in the eye, I feel like he never sees me and is completely disengaged. And, it is entirely possible that I am the only one in the class that feels that way but I tend to doubt it. 

Good eye contact is, undoubtedly, one of the most critical skills we employ to make a connection with another person. Looking someone in the eye demonstrates sincerity and authenticity. How many times have you heard or said "look me in the eye when you say that," as a way to provide evidence that you are telling the truth. We use eye contact as a way to ensure that the person with whom we are communicating is listening and engaged. "Look at me when I am talking to you," is a constant refrain when I am talking to my children. When we are presenting to a group of people, we can make each and every person in the room feel like we are attending to them by briefly but consistently making eye contact while sharing a thought or idea. And, we feel like our message is resonating when our audience looks back at us, rather than staring off into space or looking at their mobile device while we are speaking.

Admittedly, Jonathan's lack of eye contact is not making me perform any less vigorously in my class and I am still getting a great workout. However, I am less likely to ask him a question or request assistance because I feel like I am invisible to him and his inability to connect visually makes me feel like he is disinterested in my experience. I am sure that is likely not the case for him and, because of what I do for a living, each week I find myself a little bit more preoccupied with what barriers exist for him to look at us straight on. I'm sure he is just a little bit shy and probably much prefers his 1:1 personal training over leading a large group. Yet, for most of the others in the class, they may never give it much more thought and will come to their own conclusions. And those conclusions may keep them from returning to class the following week which is certainly not a good outcome.

For now, I am going to keep focused on working hard in my class and will try to encourage him to look at me by continually looking at him while he talks. Perhaps one day he will feel comfortable enough to match my behavior.

Swimming with the Sharks

As founders of a startup company, we live the ups and downs of entrepreneurship every day. Today, entrepreneurship has become very en vogue. According to the Kaufmann Foundation, there are 476,000 new businesses formed each month with 3 in every 100 adults becoming an entrepreneur. And this number stands to grow with baby boomers reinventing themselves as they near retirement and millennials opting to launch businesses rather than enter the traditional corporate workforce. Along with this growth comes the public's fascination with entrepreneurship and the popularity of shows like Shark Tank and The Profit, showcasing (albeit in a very watered-down and sensational way) the highs and lows of being a business owner. Shark Tank's season premiere last month attracted 8.8 million viewers, solidifying its position as the #1 show on television on Friday nights and confirming America's obsession with the pursuit of the American dream.

As entrepreneurs, our dream was to marry together technology with one of the most under-practiced and most essential skills - public speaking. Coming out of the world of training, we know how much people dread even the thought of having to speak in front of others - 74% of Americans report that they have anxiety about speaking publicly and public speaking typically tops the list as the number one fear people face - even more than death! So, with the increasing number of entrepreneurs - many of which need to get in front of prospective investors just like those brave souls who enter the Shark Tank - there is surely a great need to be effective communicators.  And, as anyone who has watched a few episodes of Shark Tank can attest to, many entrepreneurs are not at all skilled at telling their story and meaningfully pitching their product. Even before they have Mr. Wonderful or Mark Cuban dissect their financials, they need to be able to convincingly make the case that they have a good idea. Without some skill and practice,  this is where many dreams end.

In general, the greatest challenge a builder of businesses faces is inspiring confidence, getting people to believe in an idea, to sign on and work on it, or to invest their hard-earned dollars in it. The one thing you need to inspire confidence is superior communication skills. In the Shark Tank, you'll notice something that the folks who get funded all have in common. Within the first minute, they turn the investors into believers. How do they do it? Well, after watching and studying every episode, we've distilled three secrets that we're happy to reveal here. If you're going on Shark Tank any time soon, you can use these to improve your chances. And if you're not, you can use them to improve your presentation skills in both personal and professional encounters.

Inspiring speakers use non-verbal skills to build credibility with their audience.

The primary non-verbal methods of communication are:

  • Visual elements- such as body language, eye contact, movement, and gestures
  • Vocal elements- including volume level, pacing/pausing, tone/pitch
  • Verbal fluency- avoiding vocal fillers, employing correct word choice, and smooth flow of speech

Inspiring speakers are experts at what I'll call audience engagement.

  • They know they have to make an impact from the get-go, and they've mastered the opening pitch!
  • They know that spoon-feeding information to an audience doesn't engage people. They ask strategic questions that pique their listeners' interest.
  • They look to answer questions that the audience is burning to know.

Inspiring speakers focus on inspiring content that aligns with the interests of their audience.

  • They know their audience---not just the demographic but experiences they may have in common, the type of humor they appreciate, and types of statements to avoid.
  • They understand the difference between what we MUST share and what we LIKE to share.
  • They keep it simple and focus on key messaging. Everything they say, every bullet point and every anecdote, must align with the point of the presentation.

So, that's an overview of what makes an inspiring speaker. Stay tuned as we dig into each of these in a more in-depth fashion and share some examples of speakers who have done it well and others who just bombed!

 

 

Make Some Change

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We have all heard the expression that doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome is the true definition of insanity.  Indeed it is. Yet, when it comes to our behavior, many of us believe that we can have different outcomes in our lives without doing the hard work of instituting change. 

 Behavior change is a process - one that is often long and difficult. And, while there is no specific data that consistently confirms how long it takes to change behaviors or form new habits, conventional thinking suggests it can take as little as 3 weeks and as long as nearly a year. In reality, you cannot simply adopt a new behavior. Just thinking you want to change something is not enough to actually force the new behavior. Your brain literally needs some rewiring. Behaving differently takes time and practice. It requires introducing a new way of thinking, a new approach to doing something and allowing your brain to catch up.

Think about it.  If you have been smoking for 20 years and you decide you want to quit, the most challenging way of doing that is by giving up the cigarettes cold turkey. Expecting your body to stop craving the nicotine simply because you have made up your mind that you no longer want to smoke is not a realistic option for most. Your brain is still looking for not only the substance but also is conditioned to expect the behavior of smoking the cigarette in various situations. Changing this behavior requires a gradual reduction of the intake and an alteration of the behavior. For instance, no longer smoking when out at a bar. Reducing the narcotic intake after meals. Over time, your brain will stop expecting the cigarette and you will gradually see a behavior alteration.

When we work with clients to help them overcome their challenges with public speaking, we approach it much in the same way. Often, the obstacle they are most challenged by is fear. Fear is a mental state that causes behaviors that, in the case of public speaking, can fundamentally alter one’s physiology. Suddenly, you are sweating in a freezing cold room. Or, perhaps, information that typically comes easily is inaccessible in your head. In order to overcome these struggles, we work with clients to help them feel more confident about their skills to reduce their nerves and fear and allow their minds and bodies to operate in a natural and productive way. By practicing their skills – strong posture, meaningful gesturing, engaging eye contact and using your voice in a powerful way – even the most anxious speaker can learn to perform naturally and confidently. But, like any other behavior change, it requires time and commitment. You can’t just change overnight but you are definitely capable of becoming a better speaker or presenter.  Even those who claim they will never be comfortable speaking in front of groups have found that, with practice, they have been able to shift their behavior to think and act differently.

It just takes time and the first step, as in any change, is deciding you want to make the change.

 

Get a Free Evaluation of Your Presentation Skills!

We are inviting you to let us analyze your presentation skills!  

We want to help you understand how you’re communicating your messages by providing you with a FREE audio analysis of your presentations or pitches.  Just send us an audio or video recording (.mp4 format) and we will send you a detailed report card analyzing you on your volume, pauses, use of filler words (uh, um, etc).  

You can also provide us with some custom keywords you want to us to monitor.  You can provide up to 4 power words (words you want to be saying) and 4 watch words (words you would prefer not to be using) and we will provide you feedback on these.

You'll have the opportunity to try out PresentR software with this free voice analysis and learn about all the great features the tool can offer.

Please send your recordings to hello@t3interactive.com along with your list of custom keywords and your name and email address and we will provide you with your audio analysis.

We're All in this Together

Many people assume when they see a great presenter that they were born that way. There is an implication that good presentation skills or a comfort in getting up in front of an audience are built into our DNA.  I am living proof that this is not the case. 

For more than a decade, my primary occupation has been as a trainer, facilitator and presenter. I honed my craft over the years and developed a level of competence and confidence that comes from doing it again and again and again.  And, when I am teaching presentations skills to groups or individuals, they often ask if this came naturally to me. I always laugh because I can commiserate with these people. I actually understand their struggles. I was once just like them.

My story is that I have always been fascinated with communication styles and was a frequent observer of others. When I was a young boy, my mother worked in the kitchen in schools and I would often go to visit and observe her in her environment. As I sat in the corner on a milk crate, watching my mother interact with her co-workers or the children she served, I was fascinated by how she changed her style with each one of them, ensuring that she was communicating in an intentional way to illicit specific reactions. I marveled at how naturally her style shifted when she was speaking to the other ladies in the kitchen and then shifted right back when she addressed the children. I understood, even if in a very primitive way, that her behavior was defining the way each person responded to her. And so it began for me. I wanted to gain a deeper understanding of what seemed like a phenomenon back then.  I wanted to learn how to consciously use this dynamic to enable more effective communication.

Despite my innate interest in communication, I have not always been particularly good at it.  In fact, early in my career, I tended to avoid opportunities to speak in public. I would often try to be offsite when I had to present to senior leaders in my group so I would not have to be observed. I knew I was not a good presenter and I didn’t want to be seen as weak. I thought, if I was not physically present, that I could mask many of my challenges but, instead, what I was doing was manifesting a different roadblock for myself. I limited my career mobility because, even though I thought I was shielding my managers from my shortcomings, I was actually showcasing them in a bright spotlight because I was hiding.  I learned quickly that this was not going to serve me well in my career and I had to figure out how to tackle my problems.

I took the problem head on and put myself in the most vulnerable spot I could by becoming a trainer.  I knew I had to develop my skills and I also knew that by becoming a trainer, I would be forced to demonstrate these skills at all time.  And, I realized that, deep down, that this was what I was meant to do.  My fascination as a child ran deep in my veins and I recognized that I could not avoid diving into this pool.  It was only a matter of time.

I understand the challenges and fears of every single person I train. I have walked in their shoes. I have had the same thoughts, insecurities and anxieties that have coursed through their bodies and minds. Sometimes, I still do. Even with all my experience, I get nervous or insecure about different presentations.  But, for me, I know that I have my skills that I have practiced over and over, year after year, to rely upon to help get me past the difficulties.

When I founded t3, I had one goal in mind.  I wanted to create an opportunity for people to feel good about themselves, develop confidence and see how capable they actually are. I wanted to take my experience of working with thousands of people – 10 or 20 at a time – and bring it to the masses. I want to change the way people learn, communicate and feel about themselves. As a trainer, there is no greater experience than seeing people have breakthroughs - the "a-ha" moment when the lightbulb goes off. When someone walks away from one of my training sessions with just one thing that makes them feel better, they will improve. And, I would like to see that happen for everyone - not just the people who get the benefit of going through training. Everyone deserves to the opportunity to transform themselves and that's what we are trying to facilitate.

That’s just a little piece of my story that I share to let you know that we all struggle and we can all overcome.  Please share your story with us.  We want to hear all about it!  Tell us what you have struggled with.  Post a message on our Facebook page.  Please join our community of storytellers!

My Albert Brooks Moment

Here's my story.

I remember watching Broadcast News when I was in college back in 1987.  I wanted to be Holly Hunter's character, Jane Craig - the fearless, confident yet vulnerable, one-step-ahead-of-everyone-else news producer.  I was a journalism major who had dreams of being behind the scenes at a big network news show.  I dreamt about being Jane yet I related so much more to Albert Brooks' Aaron Altman.  He was second fiddle to cool, calm and suave Tom Grunick, the handsome idiot newscaster played by William Hurt.  Aaron was smarter and more accomplished but when he got his big break and got called up by the network to fill in on a Sunday night news broadcast, his classic meltdown inducing the worst case of flop sweat in history, hilariously showcased his severe lack of presence.  Those of us who ever suffered stage fright or got nauseous at the thought of having to speak in front of others (pretty much the entire viewing audience) collectively groaned.

The reason why Aaron's flop sweat scene was such comedic genius was far more than the talent of Albert Brooks or the brilliant writing of James L. Brooks.  That scene resonated with the millions of people who watched the movie because each and every one of them imagined themselves in the same situation.  Including 20 year old me.  What I quickly realized was that the reason I wanted to be Holly Hunter's Jane was because I was secretly terrified of the thought of having to endure what Aaron did during that newscast.  I was afraid to talk in front of anyone. That scene was the first time I was able to characterize my own anxiety. I'd rather be behind the scenes than step into the spotlight for fear of failing.

In the end, I never pursued my journalistic career but, instead, took a safer route getting a job in New York book publishing. Despite my editorial experience, I ended up in marketing and began a career journey that found me continually struggling when it was time for me to speak in front others - which was quite often.  Regardless of whether I was sitting around the conference table having to share an update on projects that I was working on, or if I had to give a presentation to the sales reps, I suffered from butterflies in my stomach, dry mouth and an inexplicable memory loss that prevented me from finding the words that I needed to say when it was my turn to talk. I even dreaded talking on the phone. 

I was about 10 years into my career when I had my quintessential Albert Brooks moment.  I was 6 months pregnant with my first child and had to present to a group of sales reps at Parents magazine.  I was in charge of licensing and strategic partnerships and I had to do a 10 minute presentation on a new line of children's toys we had developed with Target under the Parents brand.  I was in the conference room, standing behind the podium, clicking through the powerpoint presentation and the sweating began.  The more I felt the sweat, the more nervous I became.  I could not remember all the salient points I had practiced and was far too focused on my fear and anxiety (and my self-consciousness about being extremely pregnant and extremely sweaty) to be actively participating in my presentation.  I read the bullet points on my slides and prayed that no one asked me any questions.  The mantra in my head was "just get through this, just get through this." I wanted to get done and return to my seat.  Epic fail. This became my defining moment. From that day forward, this scene became the image in my head any time I had to make a presentation. What I now believed to be true about myself was that I could not present.  I had no presence. I had no capabilities.  And that carried through for the next 10 years of my career.

Over the years that followed that incident, I had more and more need to present to others.  As I grew in my career and took on more senior roles, it was expected that I would be able to present to clients, senior leaders, board members, or external business partners. We had company conferences where I would have to present in ballrooms filled with hundreds of people.  I became more in awe of those amazing speakers who could get up (sometimes without notes!) and capture the audience's attention for a 30-minute keynote. I studied them, trying to understand what their secret was because, deep down, I wanted to be one of them. I wanted to be able to communicate a message with poise and confidence. I wanted to be engaging and interesting and calm and confident. Despite the fact that the message in my head was that I was not a good presenter, I had a secret desire to get up there and do it - really, really well.

So began my mission to reverse my thinking and change my experience as a speaker. Because I regularly told my colleagues how uncomfortable I was speaking in public and limited my opportunities to push myself out of my comfort zone, I recognized that I had to change my course and rethink my messaging.  I began to seek out new challenges and studied those who did it well to see if I could pick up some key strategies to emulate, hoping it would give me more confidence in my own abilities.  And, over time, I found myself developing more of an ease with public speaking - although I was nowhere near ready for primetime.

Several years later, after I became a consultant and actually spent a good deal of my time leading meetings and making much more formal presentations to clients, I had the opportunity to get some individualized presentation skills training. It was a one-on-one full immersion over several days and, next to birthing my children, was one of the most painful - and one of the most meaningful - experiences of my life. When I came out the other end of the training, I was transformed. I didn't know it at the time but it became evident very quickly because I learned the fundamentals. Everything that I went in believing to be true about what was required to be a strong speaker was thrown out the window and I had a whole new understanding of myself and how to overcome the fear and challenges that plagued me from so early in my career. And, I learned that inside of me there was a talented communicator waiting patiently to emerge.

I am walking proof that there is life beyond the crippling fear of public speaking. I have lived on both sides of this fence and I am grateful that I had the experiences that I did and was ultimately able to tap into the skills that were always there and just waiting to be harvested. I relish every opportunity to stand up in front of a group and make a compelling presentation. I capitalize on every single chance I get to present and no longer shy away from it. And, while I still have not given my 30-minute keynote with no notes, I am nowhere near done and it is still on my bucket list. I think everyone has a TED talk inside of them - me included. I'm not yet sure what story I will be telling but it is sure to include how I traveled the road to become someone who even would consider getting up and telling my story.  My story is still being written.  How about you?

Please share your stories with us!  What was your Albert Brooks moment?  We'd love to hear from you.  Drop me a note at tammy@t3interactive.com and tell me all about it!

Telling Our Story

Storytelling is as old as time. While it seems like storytelling has recently become a buzzword that has permeated our society and culture, it actually dates back to ancient times before man was able to write. The only way to communicate was by speaking and sharing stories. Audiences were clamoring for information long before there was the internet, the television, the radio, the newspaper or any other form of mass communication. Storytelling was what united people. Storytelling was currency.

Fast forward thousands of years and storytelling is back in vogue. In fact, it is re-emerging and being recognized as one of our most vital forms of messaging. In the last half century, storytelling has been considered more of an underground art, relegated to communities of poets, writer and musicians. Thankfully, despite all of the access we have to information, it has become conventionally accepted that nothing is more powerful than having someone tell you a meaningful story in an engaging way. It has become defined as a critical success factor. In our information age, we recognize that storytelling is what makes us stand out. With social media, we can learn nearly everything about someone - their professional history, their personal lives.  We can see their photos of their families and vacations. Yet, only through storytelling can we actually get to know them and understand who they really are. From a business perspective, Seth Godin has been quoted as saying "Marketing is no longer about the stuff you make, but about the stories you tell."

Let's face it, we elect leaders because of their ability to deliver a compelling message. We make purchasing decisions based on how moved we are by the ads we see on television. We support our management in our jobs because of their powerful messages and dynamic storytelling skills. We share TED talks on our social media accounts because we are moved to tears or laughter or simply awestruck at how brilliantly someone managed to shift our minds in 18 minutes. Storytelling is the undercurrent of our society.

In our company, we are trying to help people be more effective in telling their stories. We understand that, regardless of your role in society, you are required to be able to communicate effectively.  And, regardless of who you are communicating to or what you are communicating about, being able to articulate your story and have your audience truly hear your message requires that you focus on more than simply the words you may craft to tell your story. In order to speak your story in a way that will allow you to capture your audience and move them, you need to understand the critical components of communication - the science and mechanics of what makes people listen and comprehend what you are saying.  It is more than an engaging opener.  It is more than charm and charisma. It is more than great visuals. It is those critical soft skills that we all have heard about and hope we are employing effectively.


So, here's our story.  At t3 interactive, we believe that learning is an experience.  And, experience is the only way to truly learn.  When we decided to create a new pathway for learning, we decided to focus on a skill that is paramount for success - public speaking. We knew the data: three quarters of the population suffers from a fear of public speaking. We'd rather be dead than have to get up in front of a group of people and speak. And, ironically, despite the value we place on storytelling, we are not teaching children or adults how to be more effective communicators. In fact, in our modern age, we have more and more opportunities to communicate electronically rather than in person which is falsely suggesting that there is less need to be able to effectively present or speak in public. Our children use text messaging as their primary vehicle, creating shortcuts and depersonalization. Yet, they still need to be engaging storytellers.  They still need to be able to look someone in the eye and convey a message. As adults, we choose email and text messaging, Facebook and Twitter rather than a face-to-face conversation because it is easier and more convenient. Yet, we only truly feel connected when we can see another's facial expression, watch their reaction to our words, show them our emotions.

We recognize the power of storytelling and understand how challenging it is for us to find ways to be more effective and hone our skills. We all have amazing stories within us, begging to get out.  Some of us write them, some of us speak them, some of us sing them, and, unfortunately, some of us keep them locked up inside in fear that when they try to share them, they will be met with dismal failure. What we know to be true is that there are key elements of successful speaking that can be learned much like you can learn to play golf, to practice yoga, or to dance.  There are mechanical skills that are at the foundation that, once learned, can be practiced and refined over and over to allow people to be incredibly dynamic storytellers.

We have set out to build a society of successful communicators. We want to help reduce the fear, debunk the myths, lift the stigma and empower people to confidently deliver their messages.  We have created new tools that will change the experience for many. Everyone deserves to feel confident and competent and nothing makes us more proud than to see someone overcome their own challenges and become powerful presenters. We are proud to be launching our new website and will be sharing lots more important information here and on our other social media channels like FacebookTwitterLinked In, and Google+. We'll continue to share our story and want to hear all about your stories. We want to hear about your challenges and successes with speaking and telling your story. We will be offering you opportunities to try out our products and be part of our journey. We are starting a movement and we hope you will join us.  Please share your story with us. Post yours on our Facebook page or email us at info@t3interactive.com. We want to hear from you and we want to help you.  Please join our community.

Thanks for letting us share the beginning of our story with you.  Stay tuned for more to come!

Debunking the Myths about Public Speaking

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No matter how polished you are as a speaker or how confident you might be getting up in front of a group to present, everyone has theories on why they are not the best they can be or why they have an aversion to public speaking.  In fact, most of the explanations typically offered up are actually rooted in myths that have been perpetuated over time. Because public speaking is the number one fear people face, there has been ample time devoted to developing the theories to support this ubiquitous anxiety.

We've lined up some of the top myths we hear and offer an alternative approach to hopefully help alleviate some of the fear so many face.

MYTH #1 - The Natural Born Presenter

How many times have you been at a conference or watched someone give a talk and say to yourself “this person was born to do this”?  The truth is that great presenters aren’t born, they are made.  The attributes that you might observe come from practicing the mechanics of the skillset. There are specific techniques that need to be refined in order to give the impression that they have innate skills or have mastered the art of public speaking.

 

MYTH #2 – “I Simply Can’t Do That”

So often, people who are asked to present or speak in front of others state that they simply cannot. Either they believe they are too shy or they think they are just not good at it. Truthfully, everyone can AND already does present. And they do it every time they interact with another human being. The real question is not whether you can do it but whether you are doing it withintention. Whether it’s in your job, at the breakfast table, at school or at a social event, when you are speaking with others, you are public speaking. And the great news is that this means you have lots of opportunity to practice! When training speakers, we tell them their first opportunity to put what they learned into practice is to try it out on their families. They are usually a captive audience and tend to be very forgiving.  Plus, you know them well and how they typically react to you which provides you with critical insights into how you are doing.

 

MYTH #3 - The Material Should Speak for Itself

When conducting presentation skills training sessions, we often hear from participants about the power of the content. In fact, most people are first focused on the need to master their knowledge or memorization of the content. The belief is that the content and your mastery of it is what you gives you credibility in front of an audience. In fact, when delivering a presentation, many speakers will often move to the side, far enough out of the way of the screen to showcase the slides.  Sometimes, they will even stand at the back of the room with a slide advancer only to be heard and never seen. In truth, if all we needed was to have awesome content, then everyone would be great presenters.  Let’s face it, we have never met a passionate slide in our lives. No offense to those of us who work hard to create compelling content but, as humans, we don’t “connect” with PowerPoint slides, we are engaged during a presentation because of the speakers who can bring the content to life and put context to the discussion.

 

 

MYTH #4 - I Can/Should Memorize My Presentation

It’s not uncommon for less experienced presenters to try to memorize, word-for-word, their presentations.  And, while some many come really close, it really is an impossibility.  Similar to the myth that content is king, it is not necessary nor really possible to memorize what it is you are going to say during a presentation.  The reality is that when presenting, regardless of what we rehearsed, we never say what we think. Our minds are perfect at creating visions of how we would deal with any particular situation, even our worst case scenarios.  But, our minds process nearly five times faster than we can speak. That leaves us with a lot of information to fit through a very small and narrow funnel. Better than trying to memorize content, we need to practice our presentations out loud. And, while it doesn’t have to be in front of a mirror, it is helpful to watch your gestures or facial expressions.  

 

MYTH #5 – More is Better

How many times have you sat through a presentation when the speaker felt obliged to share every single word that appears on the PowerPoint slide?  We call this showing up and throwing up! Some speakers have a very common urge to dump all their knowledge on the audience in order to offer a comprehensive and thorough presentation. What actually happens in these situations is that the speaker has provided far more information to the audience than they desired or needed and they have likely disengaged because they can just read the slides and tune out the presenter. In truth, every detail isn’t important to every person. The best presenters deliver their message or key takeaways in as little as five sentences per slide! As an audience we expect the presenter to deliver the information they know to be of most importance to us.  So, offering a succinct message that highlights the key points keeps the audience engaged and allows more time to interact with them. A well-delivered key message in a short and succinct manner creates an opportunity to have a conversation with the audience keeping them alert and interested. 

Michael Bay’s Blockbuster Moment

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If you've seen Michael Bay's public meltdown at the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas on Monday, then you witnessed every public speaker's worst nightmare. "I am not prepared enough, I am not really comfortable speaking in front of large audiences, I don't really have a handle on my content." We all cringed and felt that angst in the pit of our stomachs as we saw his typical Hollywood cool melt away, sending him scurrying off the stage with his tail between his legs.  Some of us felt compassion, some of us felt dread.  Some of us thought he was a total jerk for leaving the moderator and the uber-sponsor Samsung hanging because he just couldn't pull it together.

 

In truth, what Bay was really missing was basic presentation skills.  In this case, we were not counting how many times he said "um" or if he was pacing the stage like a caged tiger.  We were horrified by how a simple teleprompter challenge completely dismantled this Hollywood heavyweight.  Had Bay been properly trained in how to handle himself in this type of situation, his nerves would not have gotten the best of him. 

 

What really happened is this:  Bay lost his place with the teleprompter and all he could hear in his head was "I don't remember what I am supposed to say."  His heart rate climbed, his sweat glands went into overdrive and he no longer had any control over what he was doing.  And, while he tried to convince the audience - and moreso himself - that he could "wing it," the minute he started speaking extemperaneously, he fell apart.  His mind was too focused on the glitch and he could not calm himself down enough to speak from the heart.  Bay knows how to talk about his films.  He has been interviewed hundreds or thousands of times about his moviemaking.  He has given countless interviews and, with composure, has again and again shared his perspective on what makes his films great.

 

Everyone is talking about how unprepared Bay was.  He didn't practice the content ahead of time. That may be true.  But, Bay has also not been well trained as a public speaker.  If he had been, he would have used his skills to regain composure and volley the ball back to the moderator while he thought for a moment about what to say.  The moderator, a well-trainer speaker, deftly moved the conversation to the TV when he saw that Bay was struggling.  In fact, had Bay stuck it out, the moderator would have navigated him through the entire presentation and, hopefully, gotten him back on track with the prompter.

 

We all watched that video and imagined ourselves up there, reinforcing every fear we have about public speaking.  What we may not be thinking about, however, is that the key to successful presentations is not knowing your content but knowing how to leverage your mechanical skills.  Overcoming the fright is more about having control over yourself and getting comfortable with your ability to engage the audience.  Bay was so dependent on the content on the teleprompter because he did not feel confident about his abilities as a presenter.  If a skilled speaker, like President Obama, for instance, had lost his prompter (and this has probably happened to him more than once), he would tap into his basic communication skills to either fill the gap until he got back on script or ad lib his way to the end.

 

Our audiences receive messages from us in three main ways - visually (how we look), vocally (how we sound), and verbally (what we say).  The verbal portion only represents 7% of how the audience perceives us.  So, with that in mind, the CES audience would have engaged with Bay had he shared in a confident way that his teleprompter had malfunctioned and wanted to chat a little bit about his movies and this really cool new TV.  If he made eye contact with the audience, stood tall and spoke loudly and directly, no one would have cared if he missed some of the key features of the TV.  Well, Samsung might have but they were smart enough to have a moderator there to make sure to fill in the gaps.

 

When you look at the Michael Bay video (and it is really painful to watch) and reflect on this, relating to your own fears of public speaking, don't get fooled into believing his lack of content was his downfall.  It was his lack of training and refined skills as a speaker that crushed him.  A little training goes a long way to mask a multitude of problems.