Afraid of public speaking? Start here.

Whether you’re a good public speaker (or a terrified one!) there are ways to improve your public speaking. Below I’ve included some general tips for effective public speaking that you can focus on, no matter your level as a speaker.

  • Identify the occasion and the desired impact:  This the easiest way to know where to start even before you write your speech. This influences your style, tone and outcome. If it’s an advocacy speech you will likely use more imagery and storytelling to boost people’s connection with the outcome you want. If it’s a policy/update speech, you’ll focus more on ensuring your audience understands the topic at hand better than they did before they heard you.
  • Don’t fight your natural style+understand your strengths: Everyone has strengths as a speaker. For me, I’m good at incorporating humor and reading the room (so I know when to speed past less compelling points and dive into whatever people show an interest in). For others it’s the ability to enunciate and speak clearly, and use inflection effectively to share their speech (this is an important skill that I’m still working on). Start with what you’re good at, and then build on that, versus trying to be whoever you consider a good speaker is. If you aren’t sure what your natural speaker strengths are, ask those around you. Also consider joining a Toastmasters club as their curriculum is excellent at helping you assess your strengths and weaknesses as a speaker (I found my 7+years with the group to be exceptionally helpful with this).
  • When possible, tell a story: Build a narrative arc. The one universal speaking tip I have regardless of your industry, expertise or audience, is to tell a story. It doesn’t matter whether you’re giving an advocacy speech, a presentation for managers or a training. We are all drawn to stories and narrative arcs and you can use this to get people to listen. Here’s what I mean: if you’re giving a speech about a business problem, sharing the origins, the results and the way to move forward is a way to tell a story (the arc). If you’re lauding a colleague or giving a toast, telling a story is the easiest way to connect others to that person’s achievements or successes.
  • Practice but don’t rehearse: Some people like rehearsing their full speech over and over and refining it each time, so that when they deliver it live, they can go into autopilot and just deliver without fearing losing their spot or losing track. I personally don’t like this approach. I prefer the marathon prep equivalent of public speaking prep. Ever notice how marathon runners never run a full marathon during training? They progressively work upwards toward larger runs that come close to but not the full length of the run, and they taper toward the end of training before the actual run. So how to apply that concept to public speaking? I write the speech. I read it several times. I boil it down to highlights on a notecard that I can read later. I rehearse it in my head in the shower and each run is slightly different in my head. But I never do a full-run through out loud in front of a group before I actually deliver it because I like for it to feel fresh. I don’t overthink it right before I give it (hard, I know) and I try not to practice it until the last minute.  This likely goes against most other speech prep guides. However, I like this approach because the best speeches connect directly to the audience and make them feel as if you’re speaking live and extemporaneously to them (versus delivering a canned speech that might feel comfortable to you but doesn’t have the full impact you wanted). It’s okay if you need time to build to this approach, or if you prefer to never use it at all. But I’ve found this approach to result in the most connection to listeners.
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Managers: How to use storytelling to boost your team’s motivation+results.

As a senior leader in a DC-based association,  I can personally attest to the value story-telling and great imagery can have in boosting people’s connection to their work and the company mission.

Storytelling in this case refers to literally telling stories, incidents- in the case of business, usually real, but sometimes fictional– to transmit an allegorical message effectively. Storytelling works because it boosts people’s connection to their day to day work and the larger goals of the company. This boosts productivity and results. Many employees have a hard time connecting their day to day with the larger mission. Stories can be the bridge that make that connection.

Here are three steps to improve your storytelling skills.

  • Identify the core of your message first: if you’re naturally not a storyteller it can be hard to identify a good way to start. Figure out what you’re trying to convey first (importance of caring about customer experience, for example). There needs to be a point to the story!
  • Use real examples: Most businesses have great stories of customer complaints and how they were solved. Most people have life lessons they’ve learned from past experiences. Mine that to craft your story messaging.
  • Add detail and color: What makes stories interesting aren’t just literally going from point A (the issue) to point B (the resolution). It’s about the little asides and details (the age of a protagonist, where s/he lived, etc) that makes the story pop.

 

Need more storytelling ideas or approaches? Contact me here.

Aside

 

  • You are not your employees’ friend. Be friendly and supportive but remain an authority.
  • Never ask for more from them than you’re willing to do or give yourself. Always show that you’re expecting more of yourself than them.
  • Understand and use each individual’s personal motivation/driver to enhance his/her performance: For some it’s money. For others it’s promotion opportunities or being seen an important. For others it’s a growth opportunity in a field of future interest. Once you know what motivates each person, you can tailor what you offer to get the best out of them.

3 tips to write persuasive work emails

Most of what you do at work is conveyed through some form of written or verbal communication. Today I wanted to tackle how you can  improve your email writing skills. Here are three easy tips you can use today.

  1. Remove all types of  softener words, i.e. these words diminish the strength of your words and make you seem  tentative or weak. Softener words include “just,” “a bit,” “I think,” “maybe”  or “perhaps.” This is an easy tip that EVERYBODY could do tomorrow.
    • Weak sentence:  I think that if we did just a little bit more to increase sales, we’d see revenue growth.
    • Stronger sentence:  To boost revenue growth, we must increase sales.
  1. Use more active sentences versus passive:
  • Weak sentence: The project was going to be kicked off next week, but got delayed.
  • Stronger:  I’m postponing the project kickoff.
  1. All your sentences must serve to fulfill a clear call to action: Identify what you want the audience to do. Then ensure that every sentence you write compels them to do that, whether it’s “respond by date X” or “click here to complete the process.” Any sentence that doesn’t drive to that action or wouldn’t  convince someone to complete that action is a wasted sentence.

I’m not including the most obvious tip– know your audience. Depending on what you know about who you’re sending the email to, you’ll adjust how much info you provide and how you structure your feedback or requests.