Thursday, 25 November 2010

Silence is Golden

We talk about presenting, speaking and performing but do we ever stop to consider the other side of the equation? How about listening?

Today I interviewed a 16 year old girl for a place in a UK school. I asked her questions, she responded and I listened. In return, she asked me questions and I responded. Rather than listening, she said "yes" every two minutes. Now, there are many ways to interpret this. If I want to be generous, I could say that this was a way of showing that she was listening (although it is tricky to listen if you are speaking at the same time) Alternatively, I could assume that I was being tedious and she already knew everything I was about to say (also possible) The third interpretation is that she wasn't listening, just waiting for me to stop talking so she could speak again. Irrespective of the interpretation, my impression of her was that she valued her own opinions above mine.

Active listening is a skill. You hear, process and respond to comments rather than just waiting for a gap in the conversation. That way, you can tailor your response to the other person.

Presentations and interview are non one way conversations, they are dialogues. Develop active listening skills and you may find that the burden of being the centre of the universe is lifted from your shoulders.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Less is more? Using language to manage reactions

We Irish have always been famed for having the "gift of the gab". Language is our currency and, when I was growing up, it was pretty much the only currency we had in any quantity! We all know what happened next...

This week, Brian Lenihan, Irish Finance Minister (and not a man who will be sleeping well in the next few days!) described the EU bailout amount requested as being "less than 100 billion euros." This is a perfect example of how, when giving presentations, speakers can frame numbers and statistics in order to create the effect they are after.

Example one: The loan is going to be in excess of 99.9 billion euros.
Example two: The loan is going to be less than 100 billion euros and substantially less than 110 billion euros.

The second example aims to minimise the perception that a large amount has been borrowed. This technique can be applied to any type of figure which you anticipate will be badly received. Alternatively, politicians use it to discredit opponents and cast doubt on their abilities to manage. I have noticed that children, who are eternal optimists, frequently use this technique; "I almost got an A!"

Language is a powerful currency but in this case, the EU are going to need something a bit more tangible to be paid back with.

Bloomberg's report on Minister Lenihan's speech

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Manners maketh the man

I had an interesting experience at Brandon Learning Centre today. We teach presentation skills to children of all ages. One of our policies is that every child who walks through our doors should learn to return the greetings they receive from our staff. Every member of staff tries to acknowledge every child and make them feel valued and we hope that our students learn to return the compliment.

Today James (not his real name!) who is seven and has been coming to us for a few months walked through the door. "Hello!" I said. No response. "Hello" I said again. James headed for the bookshelf and ignored me. Rather than ignore the incident, I knelt down next to him and started talking to him about the book he had chosen. He joined in. After a few minutes I said; "James, we still haven't said hello to each other have we? Shall we start again?" "Hello" he said. We had a talk about how it makes people feel better when other people are friendly to them and James decided that next week he would try to find me first to say "hello".

This story may sound trivial but I think that it illustrates a greater problem. If we don't learn basic courtesy and communication skills when we are little, we risk growing into awkward adults. By helping our children to learn how to respond to others, we can prevent them experiencing problems later on in life. It takes a village to raise a child and we can all help.

Here's a link to the Australian Sun Herald's take on the subject of courtesy!.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Can confidence be acquired?

You are more likely to see starlight over Hong Kong than meet to a natural public speaker.. When we try to see the stars, we are competing with light from buildings, cars and even fireworks. When you try to present, you are competing with years of fear, the belief that you are not really a presenter and even against people you perceive to be "good speakers"

So what do you do?

If you want to see the stars, you need to block out other light sources. If you want to be a good public speaker, you need to silence the distractions. So to tackle them in turn...

1: The fear. Read back in this blog to find ways of removing the physical effects of nerves.

2: not really a presenter? Record your speech, play it back,listen to it critically and work on the areas you aren't happy with. Play it again, not bad eh? Remember that feeling.

3: Good speakers? Learn from them. You don't leave the house every day expecting a battle do you? You can copy ideas, listen to techniques and even avoid failures by studying other speakers. The experts can help, not hinder.

As for the stars, they are there if you look hard enough.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Instant intelligence - interview preparation for time-pressed students

In an ideal world, you would have months to prepare for an interview. In the real world, you might have a couple of days to prepare. Perfect if you have nothing else to do but time and tide stop for no man and the fact that you have an interview looming does not mean that work/projects/assignments will stop piling up. A time saving idea; use technology!

The morning of the interview, scan the following sites:

Brilliant up to the minute news from the Economist; how do they manage to be so timely? Insightful writing and cunning layout means that you can scan headlines and first paragraphs to become informed.

A UK newspaper with a broad international flavour

Step Two: Look up the company website, identify the key players. Alternatively, if you are going for a university interview, find the name of a few members of the department you are hoping to join. Then use;

A fabulous site which scours the internet to find any references to your chosen person

Try to incorporate your learning into the answers you give and use the news on the department or company to formulate your own questions. Thus armed with up to date news and background information on your target school or company, you are ready to do battle.

Friday, 12 November 2010

The only reason that I give speeches in Cantonese!

Every year, I stand on a stage in a shopping mall and give a speech in shocking Cantonese. Why? Not because I want to be a source of general amusement for passing shopppers or because I think that it is fair to inflict my poor language skills on innocent passersby. I do it because I am on the board of Helping Hand (www.helpinghand.org.hk) a charity that looks after the poorest elderly in Hong Kong.

And there are two links to this piece. Firstly, public speaking related... When you are speaking in a different language, one thing to bear in mind is that the phrasing you add naturally to pieces in your own tongue may not apply to the second language. You may want to think about getting a native speaker to read your piece to give you the chance to listen to their phrasing and pauses. Even better; get two opinions.

Second link: we take and therefore we need to give back. In Hong Kong, the public support for charities is inspiring. If you have enjoyed reading my ideas, please can you do something in return? Vote for a project Helping Hand has proposed which is part of our campaign to help people understand more about dementia (prevention and coping strategies) How can you help? Register and vote for our project at the following site: Love Ideas ♥ HK


Thank you.. do jeh!

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Content vs delivery

There is an interesting analaysis of President Obama's five pillars speech on the Guarding (UK) website. Michael Tomasky looks at the political content of the speech and speculates on it's possible reception.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/michaeltomasky/video/2009/apr/14/tomasky-talk-barack-obama-economy

From a delivery perspective, part of the US President's distinctive style is the use of the pause. Dramatic pauses after key phrases are scattered liberally throughout the speech. Dramatic pauses don't have to be long, just enough for your audience to focus on your words. If you listen carefully, you will also note hat here is a brief pause in the middle of words, dragging them out and adding to the sense that the President is weighing each word carefully before he delivers them. The measured pace creates a feeling of gravity which (if we refer to Tomasky's analysis) matches the downbeat mood of the message.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Does anyone really enjoy interviews?

You are wearing a suit you aren't used to, sitting in a room you've never seen before, being asked personal questions by someone you have never seen in your life. yes indeed, it is.... the interview!

How can you make the process less painful? Start with adjusting your worldview. Interviewers aren't trying to weed out the people who don't make the grade; they are trying to find the candidates who excel.

School interviews are the beginning of the fun. Having been told by parents that you shouldn't talk about yourself all the time, you find yourself being told to do just that! How can parents help their child adapt? One way is to help them to identify their strengths both inside and outside school. Talk to them about what makes them special,

University interviews can be a moment of sheer panic. Calm down. Re-read your personal statement or application essays and remind yourself of why the University has chosen to see you (because you sparkle!)

I have interviewed candidates applying for jobs with me who haven't even bothered to read my website. Take this basic step and don't approach it as a set of data to be memorised; think of ways that you can contribute to the business and identify areas that impress you (and score extra points if they concern the person who ends up interviewing you!)

Do your homework.. take a deep breath... and make sure that your suit is comfortable!

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

How do you make listeners listen (without throwing the boardrubber at them)

When I was at school, one nun specialised in throwing board rubbers at girls who weren't listening. Reprehensible? Yes. Effective? Again, yes.

As presenters, the chances are that we will lose part of our audience during at least one of our presentations. This is when the presenter's toolbox comes in to play. Tools at your disposal are:

1: Movement (use your space)
2: Pace
3: Pitch
4: Volume
5: Innovation
6: Persuasive techniues

What is happening? Is your audience dozing off? Move around, raise your voice, add energy? Is your audience rejecting your ideas? Refer to your persuasive tools. Is your audience detached? Ask questions, get them to participate.

Presentations are interactive; read your audience and react to their reactions and, without resorting to the boardrubber, you will keep their attention.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Can we do it? Yes we can (even without a speechwriting team!)

"You know, when I watch speakers like Obama, I realise that I will never be a good public speaker" sighed one of my dinner companion last night. "Nor me" agreed the lawyer opposite him.

"Wait" I chipped in " President Obama has a whole team of scriptwriters working for him. They script, direct and coach him in the best way to deliver his speeches. It is like comparing a family photo to an air brushed portrait in a magazine. We can use the professional version for inspiration but reality is never as polished unless of course you have your own team hidden in the back office or weeks to devote to your presentation!"

Use the great speakers for ideas and tips on delivery but please don't compare yourself negatively to them. Every speaker has individual talents and your may find that you become more confident if, rather than thinking you are walking in the shadow of other presenterss, you focus on your strengths and on developing your own unique style.

For more information on the team who wrote Obama's inaugural address: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/12/17/AR2008121703903.html

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Do you get a second chance to make a first impression?

In any one day, we make a thousand observations about other people. Listen to a review of your mental tapes at the end of the day and you'll be amazed..."That was great the way he let the old lady get on the bus first...terrible shoes she is wearing... Interesting idea he just had..." All of these observations lead to snap judgements about character, moral choices or the urban tribe we think someone belongs to. The question is; once we have made the judgement, can it change? Imagine if the man who let the old lady get on the bus first pushes you out of the way to get to a seat? Feeling differently about him now?

It is a well worn piece of received wisdom that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Maybe so but we do get the chance to make subsequent impressions.

How does this apply to public speaking? One of the main fears I have heard from students is that they somehow mess up their presentation and lose the audience. It is possible that you forget your words, the computer doesn't work or even that you trip as you get on to the platform (I have done all three, although not in the same evening thankfully!) What do you do? How do you redeem yourself?

Easy; audiences cringe when a speaker struggles but a speaker who can pick himself up and carry on is a speaker to be admired.

Forgot your words? Pause.. look at your notes.. pick up again.

Computer doesn't work? Explain the situation to the audience, use the notes you had the foresight to print out earlier and speak directly to listeners rather than hiding behind technology.

Tripped as you got onto the stage? Blame your high heels, smile, take a deep breath and begin.

Remember: once your have made a mistake, pause, collect yourself and take your chance to replace the bad impressions with good.