Appearance Is Important

20. nóvember 2009

Við birtum einstaka sinnum greinar á ensku, þessi er héðan – eftir Stephen Boyd

Certainly what you say is more important than what people see. Your appearance, however, is an important aspect of your presentation skills; you want to encourage the audience to listen to what you have to say.

Remember that your presentation begins the moment someone recognizes you as the speaker. This might be in the elevator, the restroom, or even in the parking garage. As soon as you are in close proximity to your speaking location, act as though you are on stage—because you may be. Finish your preparation before you leave your car. Avoid writing down notes at the table before you speak. People might get the impression that you did not carefully prepare.

Be sociable in the activities that precede your speech. Look pleasant. Meet and greet people and show a genuine interest in the other person. This is not the time to be sitting by yourself pondering your presentation. Show by your expression and actions that you are engaged in the activities which precede your presentation.

Wear clothing suitable for the audience you are speaking to. If you are not sure, ask the program planner when you are learning about your audience. When possible, dress one notch up from the audience. For men that might mean wearing a sport coat with an open collar if you know your audience will be in knit shirts and slacks. For women this might mean wearing nice slacks and sweater when speaking to a casual retreat where women will be in jeans. For most occasions in a hotel or event center, a suit and tie or silk blouse is always appropriate. Do not wear clothing that can be distracting, which might mean avoiding flashy jewelry or flamboyant shirts and scarves. For some people, of course, the flamboyant look is their trademark. Your appearance should blend in well with your content and the audience to which you are speaking.

I was once in a setting where the young man who was teaching was frustrated at what he perceived to be a negative attitude from the participants. Over half the audience was in suits and ties, dresses and high heels, with a few people in jeans, sweatshirts, and sneakers. The speaker was in jeans with his shirttail out and wearing sandals. There was nothing wrong with his dress if he’d been in the audience, but it adversely affected his rapport with some of the people there. Someone privately suggested he tuck in his shirt and wear a sport coat to the next session, and he wisely took the advice. He was amazed at the difference his effort on his appearance made on the attitude of his audience. His content was excellent but was overshadowed by how he presented himself.

Check yourself in the mirror of the restroom before you enter the meeting room to make sure that everything about your appearance is in place. About a year ago I was in a hurry to make a noon banquet speech and I skipped the restroom look. When I got back to the car after the speech, I realized I had unbuttoned the top button of my shirt and pulled my tie loose earlier in the day, and I had looked that way throughout the speech. I’m sure I appeared as though I’d had more than food at lunch that day!

Look confident even though you may feel nervous about your presentation. Avoid the worried, furrowed-brow look. Smile a lot. Walk with a bounce in your step. Emanate that “I am in charge” aura. You will certainly have that confident look when you are speaking and you will want to show it in the minutes before you speak as well. The incongruity of looking too serious and worried and then smiling and acting enthusiastic as you speak may negatively affect your credibility.

Finally, when you are introduced, walk to the lectern with erect posture, quick steps, and a smile on your face. Before you actually speak, look at the audience to make eye contact with several people, and then begin.

Of course you rely first on great content, but these tips can help you to reinforce your expertise with a professional manner and look.

Adapting on the spot

16. október 2009

Við birtum einstaka sinnum greinar á ensku, þessi er héðan – eftir Stephen Boyd

Once I was listening to an outstanding speaker when an audience member, succumbing to a long day of meetings, went to sleep so soundly that his head suddenly fell forward. He awoke with such a jerk that he pulled a muscle in his neck and had to be taken out of the room on a stretcher.

During that time, the speaker calmly said to the audience, “We have a medical emergency. Let’s just wait until this is taken care of.” She waited at the lectern until it was clear that the person was receiving help, then continued her speech. She became even more effective after this unexpected happening during her presentation because she knew how to adapt on the spot.

One of the concerns of the effective speaker during preparation is to adapt to the audience he or she is addressing. But to really make a connection with a specific audience, the quality speaker must also adapt during the presentation. This requires quick thinking and the willingness to go with your intuitive impulse. Here are some tips on how to make those kinds of on-the-spot decisions.

You are told ten minutes before your presentation that you will have to shorten your speech from 30 minutes to 20 minutes. The way to handle this emergency is not to rush through material hoping to get it all in. Instead, simply eliminate one of your points and support for you point. No one knows what you intended to include except you and thus they will just assume that that is all you planned to say.

Sometimes an audience may be much smaller than the planner anticipated. You have many empty seats throughout the room, and empty seats make relating to an audience difficult. When you start your presentation, have everyone stand for a specific reason, such as a stretch break or to meet someone they don’t know. Then while everyone is still standing, suggest moving forward to fill an empty seat. This provides a full audience up front. Since the back rows are empty, how few people there are is less noticeable.

You have an audience that seems lethargic or indifferent because of the length of the meeting or the time of day. What do you do to wake them up? You see people nodding off or slouching in their seats. Make an abrupt change. Move to the back of the room as you speak, or include a piece of information that allows you to punch out words loudly. Speed up your rate of speech or make quicker gestures. If you are providing lots of data, break that up with a story related to the information you are providing.

Finally, as you get into your speech, you realize that you have misjudged the knowledge level of your audience and that they don’t understand your material. Simply start providing more definitions and explanations. When possible, give a concrete example of the principle presented when you can tell by facial expressions that you are taking them into new territory. You might even stop and ask, “What questions do you have about what we’ve covered so far?” This gives the audience a chance to facilitate understanding by asking a pertinent question as well as giving you valuable feedback on what they do understand.

A key part of adapting on the spot is to avoid showing that things are not going as you anticipated. Make it seem as though everything you do is carefully planned and that you are in charge. For example, don’t say, “I did not expect to have so many empty seats. Let’s all move to the front of the room.” And refrain from saying, “I can tell this material is a little hard for you to follow, so I’ll back up and give you more definitions.”

When you adeptly adapt, your listeners are aware that you are audience-centered at all times and that you prepared specifically for them.

The Secret to Speaking Success

18. september 2009

Við birtum einstaka sinnum greinar á ensku, þessi er héðan – eftir Stephen Boyd

The single greatest secret to success in life is paying attention. Because of multi-tasking and the sheer amount of information we are exposed to, the inability to pay attention is becoming a serious problem. To communicate effectively, one must pay attention.

You may have heard the old story about a lady years ago who called directory assistance to get the number of a record shop to order a record. By mistake she got the number of a wrecker company. When a man answered, she asked, “Do you have “Two Lips and Ten Kisses in Texas?”

“No ma’am,” he said, “but I have five wives and twenty kids in Tennessee.”

“Is that a record?” the woman asked, incredulous.

“I don’t know,” said the mechanic, “but it’s sure above average.” More than one person in that story was not paying attention.

We must pay attention. One way we can do that is by making sure we understand the point of the message beyond the individual words. You can determine this by paraphrasing in your own words or by asking specifically for the person to clarify the point. You are less likely to misunderstand a word or phrase if you follow carefully the main thrust of the message.

Shut out the distractions going through your mind before you start the conversation by concentrating on an inanimate object such as the edge of a door or window or a concrete block in a wall of the room for twenty seconds. This will break the thought process and allow you to concentrate better on the message.

Focus on the face as you listen. The face is the focal part of the body. The face will help you connect to the message. I asked a caricaturist friend what he does to make each face unique and to capture the essence of the person. His response was, “I look at the shape of the face, and then the facial expression.” But what surprised me about his answer was what he said next. “And I do that by engaging the person in conversation. Hearing the person talk helps me focus on his or her uniqueness.”

I talked to the age guesser at the Indiana State Fair’s Midway recently and asked him what he looks for in a person to guess her or his age. His response was, “I just look at the person and go on instinct. I do not look at the people around him or her or anything about his appearance. I just concentrate on the face.” We can apply some of the same philosophy in paying attention.

Look for content in the other person’s message that you can especially identify with. Does the person state something that connects to your job, family, hobby, home state, or favorite sport? Even if nothing he or she says relates to you, just the mental discipline of checking on a connection will motivate you to pay better attention.

Sit so you are in line with the person you are talking to. This might mean sitting up with your knees facing your partners, leaning forward so you can make easy and direct eye contact. Show that you are paying attention by nodding at appropriate times and using facial expression that matches the content of the person’s conversation.

Finally, if you are having a hard time paying attention, admit it and set another time to continue the conversation. This lets the other person know you put a premium on paying attention.

Paying attention may not always keep you from having an accident; attention to the instructions you need to reach your destination may not help you arrive on time. But paying attention can certainly help you with human relations and help you to be an engaging and desirable person with whom people want to communicate.

Be Concise!

21. ágúst 2009

Við birtum einstaka sinnum greinar á ensku, þessi er héðan – eftir Stephen Boyd

We talk too much in our society. In recent months, for example, presidential candidates have been giving as many as twelve speeches a day. Last Friday, the Wall Street Journal featured an article, “The Hoarse Race,” on how candidates are plagued with laryngitis because of talking too much.

For our speeches to have more impact, let’s consider talking less. When we do talk, we should say what we need to say in as few words as possible. Truman Capote said, “I believe more in the scissors than I do the pencil.”

In accepting an Oscar for her 1949 role as a deaf-mute in “Johnny Belinda,” Jane Wyman said to the Academy audience: “I accept this very gratefully for keeping my mouth shut for once. I think I’ll do it again.” And she sat down.

Few of us remember the name of the noted orator, Edward Everett, who spoke two hours at the Gettysburg battlefield. Instead we remember Abraham Lincoln and his two-minute “Gettysburg Address.” Everett, in a note to Lincoln afterward, said, “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes.”

One of the great speeches in the past century was John F. Kennedy’s 1960 inaugural address when he committed the nation to go to the moon by the end of the decade. The length of the speech: 14 minutes.

Here are some tips for being concise:

  • Keep sentences short. The self-discipline to do that will aid you in making your point quickly.
  • Avoid unnecessary words. Recently I heard a television weather person, using a map, say, “This is where we are at, right now.” Just saying, “This is where we are” would have been sufficient. “We are here” would have been even better. Avoid “kind of,” “sort of,” “basically,” “actually,” “generally,” and “definitely.”
  • Always revise. When revising what you plan to say or write, you will usually be able to say the message with fewer words. When you revise, you can discover more specific words and eliminate vague referents such as “it” or “they” and substitute with more concrete terms.

Conciseness is saying what needs to be said with the minimum number of words. As Joseph Conrad said, “He who wants to persuade should put his trust, not in the right argument, but in the right word.”