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This is my last new blog post.

Starting this weekend PodiumWise will become a “speaking tips library” featuring the 130+ pieces of advice I posted over a sixteen-month period.  The directory that was just added will become the new home page.  You will be able to use it to quickly find tips by their original title.

I want to thank all my regular readers for checking in every Monday and Thursday for my latest message.  I have enjoyed sharing my experience as a speaking coach.  My hope is that you found many ideas helpful in your quest to be a stronger speaker.

My last piece of advice: Never stop improving.

There is no such thing as a perfect speaker.  There is always one more thing you can do to take it up another notch.  That’s what makes public speaking such a worthy challenge.

Public speaking builds careers in a way few other skill sets can.  The better you get at connecting with audiences the more success you will know.

My work continues as President of Steele Presentation Coaching.  I invite you to occasionally visit my site www.steelepresentationcoaching.com.  My plan is to periodically offer a free report on presenting that can be downloaded.

Also, if you haven’t done so already, consider ordering a copy of my book: Presentation Skills 201: How to Take it to the Next Level as Confident, Engaging Presenter.  It can be found at many on-line book sources including Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Once again, thank you for reading my blog!

Sincerely,

Bill Steele

Over the years I have worked with many presenters who are involved in highly complex material.

This experience has given me an appreciation for that rare ability to make the complex simple.  Those who have it can deliver more value to an audience in five minutes than someone else can in thirty minutes.

Oliver Wendell Holmes clearly appreciated the fruits of this talent when he said: “I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.”

Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, spoke of a type of persuasion he called ethos.  This persuasion is based on the character of a speaker and, specifically, how this character is communicated by what the person says.

Anyone attempting to persuade an audience needs to be concerned about ethos.  Are they communicating good character?  Aristotle speculated that “personal goodness revealed” could potentially be the “the most effective means of persuasion” a speaker possesses.  This is because we believe “good” people “more fully and more readily than others.”

One way to weaken ethos and become less persuasive is to be evasive when asked a question.   I just watched a press conference where the evasiveness was so pronounced I can’t imagine   anyone being persuaded by the person behind the microphone.  Someone may argue that this person was being politically or legally smart.  Maybe so; but he did not communicate “good” character and failed, I’m sure, to persuade anyone of anything.

The people in a presentation skills workshop who exhibit the most imagination are the ones who also exhibit the greatest ability to adjust how they are presenting.  They are helped by their ability to picture (imagine) themselves acting differently.  In contrast, people who say things like “I can’t imagine myself doing that,” tend to be the ones who don’t change what they are doing.

I thought about this need to “see” change in order to make change as I read about Professor Jeremy Bailenson’s work at Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab.  He and his colleagues are using state-of-the-art (read: expensive) technology to study, among other things, learning in an immersive virtual reality.

It would be interesting to take people who have trouble imagining themselves as better speakers and give them an opportunity to be speakers in a virtual reality (i.e., a technological supplement to their imagination).  Not only might it help them break through to some needed change, they might also gain new confidence if highly-supportive, virtual audiences are included.

I’m reading Stephen King’s book On Writing.  It’s a fascinating account of his life as a writer and his writing philosophy.

In a section on re-writing he tells of one of his early rejection letters from a magazine.  It came with a handwritten message telling him that his piece was not bad, but it needed to be edited for length.  It was “puffy.”  The note ended with a suggested formula: Second Draft = First Draft minus 10%.  King made up a sign with this formula and hung it above his desk.  He soon started seeing more of his submissions accepted for publication.  He’s never stopped using this rule.

I’m intrigued by the idea of using the 10% rule on my next presentation.  But, instead of applying it to my first draft, I’d like to challenge myself to take 10% off what I might otherwise call my final draft.

I bet it would result in an exceptionally tight focus on the theme.

A speaking voice people want to listen to has something in common with music people want to listen to: It has variety.

For example, an engaging piano piece includes shifts in both volume and rate.  Strong, quick-paced portions often mix with slow, quieter segments. 

If a piece of music has no variety, if its defining characteristic is sameness, we tune it out.  It has committed the sin of monotony.

 If a speaker’s voice lacks pitch variety, and stays fixed at the same rate and volume for long stretches, we stop listening.

A few times every year someone will show up in a workshop I am conducting and they will have such a strong accent that it is difficult to fully understand them.  Almost inevitably, they will tell me that their boss recommended that they take the course.

I know what is happening.  The boss doesn’t want to go near the accent issue for fear of being deemed culturally insensitive, or worse.  Instead, the individual is being urged to attend a workshop that is not obviously about diction (i.e., a presentation skills class), with the hope that the instructor will provide some feedback about the accent. 

I understand the boss’ fear and avoidance.  This could be a delicate matter.  However, withholding feedback is unfair.  An individual can be left struggling to succeed without knowing why.  For this reason, I address the accent issue when I determine that it is preventing someone from being adequately understood.  With rare exceptions, the feedback is well received.  In fact, I have had numerous people thank me.

The goal is not accent-free speaking.  An accent can give someone’s speech wonderful color and distinction.  The only goal is effective communication. 

Everyone deserves to have his or her ideas fully understood and appreciated.  If this means they need some feedback about their English diction, it should be given—in a sensitive, thoughtful, productive way.

I once coached a presentation team that was going to win or lose a large military contract based solely on its presentation.  There was going to be no written proposal, just a videotape record.  If the procurement people who chose this format were trying to create stress, they succeeded.

The audience was going to be made up of fifty military people who had been given—believe it or not—instructions not to show any facial expressions during the presentation.  I had never heard of anything like this before and it worried me.  The team members were already stressed out.  Facing an auditorium full of expressionless people could prove to be unnerving.

The team was going to be allowed bring six associates.  I urged these people to get there early and grab seats in the middle, close to the front.  I wanted them to provide the positive body language and expressions that would be absent everywhere else in the room.  

It sounds silly but it worked.  The presenters were encouraged every time they looked at an associate who was smiling or nodding.

This was an unusual situation.  One you are unlikely to ever face.  However, being an encouraging audience member whenever an associate is presenting is always a good idea. 

Valuable team members are not just strong presenters; they are also good audience members.

(Yes, the team won the contract.)

At the end of a talk I delivered this week someone asked about challenging audience members and how to handle them.

This is one of my favorite topics, so I had plenty of advice I wanted to give.  Unfortunately, time was short so I could only give one quick tip.  My tip: interview your challenger.

Immediately asking your challenger one or two clarifying questions (i.e., interviewing them) takes some of the pressure off you and puts it back on the challenger.  In addition, it gives you some time to think while providing the clarification that is, in fact, often needed.

It’s hard to get good feedback after a presentation or speech.

Ask your associates how they think you did and they’ll give you the same answer every time: “Great!”

If you push them for something more insightful, they still offer nothing.  I’m telling ya man, you did a nice job.  They’re simply not inclined to provide a useful critique.

So, when you do get an opportunity to receive substantive feedback in training or a coaching situation—value it.

I give this advice because I have had so many workshop participants devalue feedback with explanations and excuses.  I would have done better if  we had more time to prepare.  This material is new to me, so I don’t know it well yet.  I’ll do better when I’m actually in the field talking to real customers. 

There are always extenuating circumstances.  This is certainly true in the artificial environment of training.  But to deflect feedback without consideration is to throw away something valuable—and rare.  Something you are being told may hold the key to hitting a new level of effectiveness as a speaker.

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