7 Reasons Why You Should Improve Your Public Speaking

Improve Your Public Speaking

 

Over ten years ago, I found myself in a class for leaders and managers. After building rapport and working to create a safe environment of trust, the class facilitator decided to have us go around the room and share our insecurities and fears. The coach was specifically homing in on our weaknesses and asking for us to be transparent with others in the room.

As we worked around a small circle, one woman was visibly nervous. When it was her turn, it was as if someone flipped a switch and turned her red. She stumbled over her words as she explained how fearful she was to speak in public. Even in a safe situation with supportive friends, she still was nervous to share. We learned that she even had nightmares where she was in front of a room, perched behind a podium, and she misplaced her notes and looked out at a sea of unforgiving faces. Another attendee encouraged her and told her that she was better off avoiding these events so she didn’t trigger her fears.

The fear of public speaking grips many people who avoid it at all costs.

I want to share why this “avoidance thinking” is toxic to aspiring leaders.

 

“Fear the fear of public speaking and do it anyway.” –Arvee Robinson

 

Recently, I spoke to my local chapter of Toastmasters and shared 7 reasons why learning to speak in public is vitally important.

 

1. Overcome your fear.

There’s enormous power in mastering and overcoming a fear, whatever it is. I can recall the smile on a new rock climber’s face when he conquered his fear. “I have never felt so alive and free,” he said to me soon after completing his climb. That same feeling happens if you overcome a fear of public speaking, and – at least to me – it’s a whole lot easier than climbing a mountain.

 

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak, and to sit down and listen.” –Winston Churchill

 

2. Boost your self-confidence.

When you not only are able to overcome your fear but also become proficient at it, then your confidence soars. Confidence is often more compelling than competence. I don’t know what happened to the nervous woman after the class ended, but during the few days of our classes, she saw remarkable improvement. You could feel her confidence building.

 

“Competence without confidence just doesn’t cut it.” –Derek Lewis

 

3. Attract opportunities.

Great public speakers attract opportunities. Why? Speaking makes you visible. You’re in front of the room, so that’s rather obvious. But the fact is that your credibility is enhanced. You become an expert.

 

“It’s all right to have butterflies in your stomach, just get them to fly in formation.” –Rob Gilbert

 

4. Influence others.

Leadership is all about influence, about persuasion, about taking people from one point and moving them to another. Speaking is part of that process of persuasion and often the most powerful part. Anything that helps increase your influence is generally a good move.

 

“All the great speakers were bad speakers at first.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Discover Your Unique Communication Style

Know Your Presentation Persona

 

What if each of us has a unique presentation style?

What if you could discover what it is and use it to your advantage when giving a speech?

 

FACT: 30 million speakers take the stage every day

 

Have you ever messed up a presentation or speech?

It could very well be because you didn’t know your natural style. By not knowing your unique strengths, you missed the opportunity to tap into what works for you.

If you want to be a better speaker or just improve your comfort level in front of groups, this post is for you.

Scott Schwertly is the founder and CEO of Ethos3, a presentation design and training company with clients ranging from Guy Kawasaki to Fortune 500 Companies. In fact, I personally utilized Ethos3 for two major keynote presentations. I can speak from personal experience that Scott and his team are exceptionally talented at creating memorable presentations.

I recently spoke with Scott about his new book, What’s Your Presentation Persona?

 

Build Your Self-Awareness

Why is self-awareness so important for presenters?

Self-awareness is absolutely critical for presenters because it means they are aware of their strengths and weaknesses when giving a presentation. It also showcases that they are clearly aware of which audiences will adore them or challenge them. Without this knowledge, a presenter can only guess and assume, which is a dangerous situation.

 

“Self-awareness is probably the most important thing toward being a champion.” –Billie Jean King

 

There are sixteen different types of personas. Would you share just a few of them? (would love to include the graphic of the 16 if it is available).

That’s correct. There is a total of 16 presentation personas. All are different and each consists of its own unique set of advantages and disadvantages. A few of my personal favorites are the Liberator, Activator, and Scholar. The Liberator is someone who is incredibly well rounded where they score high in all 4 quadrants of the Badge assessment. The Activator is your classic sales personality where this type of presenter excels in front of a room, and people love them. The Scholar is the exact opposite of the Activator where they are a verified expert and have a durable message but they may not be great in front of a room.

 

Where can I take the assessment?

Anyone can discover their presentation persona right now. They can do so by visiting Ethos3’s Badge page. The assessment takes about 10-12 minutes to complete. It’s super-fast. Also, readers should pick up a copy of What’s Your Presentation Persona? to understand their results/profile.

 

Stop One Thing

What’s a presentation stop-doing list?

Most people today are constantly trying to add items to their plate. They want to read more books, take more courses, exercise more frequently…the list goes on and on. Most presenters are no different. They are trying to do too much, and it simply is not sustainable. Instead, I would suggest instead of adding 7-8 proactive items, why not just stop one. Let’s say a presenter wants to read one presentation book a week, subscribe to 30 presentation blogs, practice 10 times before every presentation, and attend a presentation training course every quarter. That’s admirable, but it may not be doable. Why not just stop being lazy with your presentations or stop short-cutting your content development process? Stopping one thing is much easier than adding ten items.

 

Speaking Tip: stop one thing to improve your presentations.

 

What are some common presentations mistakes you’ve seen over and over?

Revolutionary Techniques to Become a Master of Persuasion

A Revolutionary Way to Influence

What separates effective communicators from truly successful persuaders?

Since I read hundreds of books each year, I am always talking about them. Some books are quickly forgotten and others stay with you. And then there are a few books that are so extraordinary that they merit a second read and deserve a prominent place on your closest shelf. Not to impress, but to be there when you need to refer to an idea or refresh your mind.

 

“Every battle is won before it is fought.” -Sun Tzu

 

The book I’m talking about in this post is in that rare category. The author, Dr. Robert Cialdini, is best known for his groundbreaking work, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, which is a perennial bestseller. It’s so good that it’s become part of our collective thinking. From social media to sales to leadership techniques, it’s a classic.

When I heard that Dr. Cialdini wrote a new book, Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade, I couldn’t wait to read it. And I’m certain it’s one you’ll want to read again and again.

I enjoyed the opportunity to ask him about his research and his new book.

 

“If you want to change the world, change the metaphor.” -Joseph Cambell

 

What High Achievers Do Differently

You spent time infiltrating the training programs of numerous companies. What was the biggest surprise for you during this time?

You’re right. As a kind of secret agent, I once infiltrated the training programs of a broad range of professions dedicated to getting us to say yes. In these programs, advanced trainees were often allowed to accompany and observe an old pro who was conducting business.  I always jumped at those opportunities because I wanted to see if I could register, not just what practitioners in general did to succeed, but what the best of them did.  One such practice quickly surfaced that shook my assumptions.  I’d expected that the aces of their professions would spend more time than the inferior performers developing the specifics of their requests—the clarity, logic, and desirable features of them.  That’s not what I found.

 

Research: high achievers spend more time than others preparing before making a request.

 

The highest achievers spent more time crafting what they did and said before making a request.  They set about their mission as skilled gardeners who know that even the finest seeds will not take root in poorly prepared ground.  Much more than their less effective colleagues, they didn’t rely merely on the merits of an offer to get it accepted; they recognized that the psychological frame in which an appeal is first placed can carry equal or even greater weight.  So, before sending their message, they arranged to make their audience sympathetic to it.

 

Surprising findings from Dr. Cialdini:

You are more likely to choose a French wine if you’ve just been exposed to French music.

You are more inclined to buy inexpensive furniture if the website wallpaper is covered in pennies.

You will likely be more careful if you just viewed a picture of Rodin’s The Thinker.

You are more likely to feel someone is warmer if they have just handed you hot chocolate.

You are more likely to purchase a popular item if you start to watch a scary movie.

 

How Seating Arrangements Influence Your Perception

Let’s talk about our point of view. Even the subtle change of seating arrangements or the view of the camera changes everything. What are some implications of this finding?

Imagine you are in a café enjoying a cup of coffee and, at the table directly in front of you, a man and woman are deciding which movie to see that evening.  After a few minutes they settle on one of the options and set off to the theater.  As they leave, you notice that one of your friends had been sitting at the table behind them.  Your friend sees you, joins you, and remarks on the couple’s movie conversation, saying, “It’s always just one person who drives the decision in those kinds of debates, isn’t it?”  You laugh and nod because you noticed that, although he was trying to be nice, it was clearly the man of the couple who determined the movie choice.   Your amusement disappears, though, when your friend continues, “She sounded sweet, but she just pushed until she got her way.”

Dr. Shelley Taylor, a social psychologist at UCLA, knows why you and your friend could have heard the same conversation but come to opposite judgments about who produced the end result.  It was a small accident of seating arrangements:  You were positioned to observe the exchange over the shoulder of the woman, making the man more visible and salient, while your friend had the reverse point of view.  Taylor and her colleagues conducted a series of experiments in which observers watched and listened to conversations that had been carefully scripted so neither discussion partner contributed more than the other.  Some observers watched from a perspective that allowed them to see the back of one or another discussant and the face of the second; other observers’ perspectives allowed them to see both faces equally (from the side).  All the observers were then asked to judge who had more influence in the discussion over its tone, content, and direction. The outcomes were always the same:  These ratings of responsibility corresponded with the visibility of the discussants’ faces. Whoever’s face was more visible was judged to be the more influential.

This means that, if we can get people to direct their visual attention to a person, product, or event, it will immediately seem more influential to them.  People believe that, if they’ve paid special attention to an item, it must be influential enough to warrant that attention.  But that’s not true because attention can be channeled to an item by factors unrelated to its significance, such as distinctive colors, which nonetheless increase observers’ estimation of the item’s significance.

 


Research: directing visual attention can influence perceptions.

 

Your What Depends on Your Where

I love the personal example you share about the geography of influence. When you wrote on campus, it was radically different than when you wrote at home. It immediately resonated with me, too, because I’ve seen styles change when writing at a courthouse, in a corporate office, or at home. Based on your research, to maximize effectiveness, what recommendations would you share?

When I began writing my first book for a general audience, I was on a leave of absence at a university other than my own.  Of course, I filled my campus office there with my professional books, journals, articles, and files. In town, I’d leased an apartment and would try to work on the book from a desk there, too.  But the environment around that desk was importantly different from that of my campus office–newspapers, magazines, tabletops, and television shows took the place of scientific publications, textbooks, filing cabinets, and conversations with colleagues.

Writing in those separate places produced an effect I didn’t anticipate and didn’t even notice:  The work I’d done at home was miles better than what I’d done at the university because it was decidedly more appropriate for the general audience I’d envisioned.  Surprised, I wondered how it could be that despite a clear grasp of my desired market, I couldn’t write for it properly while in my university office.  Only in retrospect was the answer obvious.  Anytime I lifted or turned my head, the sightlines from my on-campus desk brought me into contact with cues linked to an academic approach and its specialized vocabulary, grammar, and style of communication.

 

Research: what you say or do immediately before the appeal affects success.

 

It didn’t matter what I knew (somewhere in my head) about the traits and preferences of my intended readers.  There were few cues in that environment to spur me to think routinely and automatically of those individuals as I wrote.  From my desk at home, though, the cues were matched to the task.  There, I could harmonize with my audience much more successfully.  So here’s my recommendation for leaders:  When writing for any particular audience—clients, colleagues, employees—put a photo of a typical member of the audience in the corner of your computer screen as you write.  That photo will be an automatic, unconscious reminder of your audience and their communication styles, which will allow you to write in a way that is aligned with those styles.  I do that regularly now, and it works for me.

 


Writing Tip: put a photo of a typical audience member on the corner of your screen.

 

Relationships Determine the Result

How to Become Impossible to Ignore

Be Impossible to Ignore

“Memory matters because it influences action.” -Carmen Simon

 

How do you stay on people’s minds?

How do you craft your message in a way that stands out above the noise?

Since audiences forget most of what you communicate, how do you stay on their minds long enough to influence decisions?

 

I’ve read my share of books on speaking, on marketing, on crafting messages that will resonate. Dr. Carmen Simon’s new book, Impossible to Ignore: Creating Memorable Content to Influence Decisions, is one that I appreciate for its uniqueness. It’s not only about how to craft memorable messages but also about the science behind doing it.

Carmen Simon, PhD is a cognitive scientist who helps brands craft these memorable messages. Messages crafted based on how the brain works stay with us and influence our thinking long after we experience them. Her firm, Rexi Media, is a presentation design and training company based on her research.

 

“Familiarity wins over novelty when our conscious mental processing is distracted.” -Carmen Simon

 

Become Memorable With Distinction

Audiences forget up to 90%. What do most presenters get wrong?

First, let’s debunk a myth around the “90%.” It is not true that people only remember 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see…and up to 90% of what they say and do. There is no scientific study that provides evidence for such conveniently increasing stats (and what is the difference between “reading” and “seeing” anyway?).

When analyzing messages we share with a business audience, it is practical to consider a theory and formula that has been around for more than eight decades, called the forgetting curve. Simply put, according to the forgetting curve, we forget fast at first and slower later. After about 48 hours, people will forget most of our messages, particularly when they attend to them without the intent to remember, which is typical in business contexts. In academia, students attend to messages with the intent to retain (ideally). But in business, audiences are often in a state of partial attention, multitasking, and likely sleep-deprived. We are lucky if they remember anything at all. The practical advice for any business communicator is to ask, “What is my 10% message?” and consider the “10%” a metaphorical number, not a strict one because in business, it is difficult to attach a precise stat on how much people remember days or weeks later. We just know they retain very little and at random.

Regarding the question about what goes wrong for business presentations where memory is concerned: Most people worry about not remembering the past. In business, what we should be worried about is whether our audiences remember us in the future, because that’s where decisions happen. Let’s say you’re sharing content at a certain point in time, Point A. Your audiences are likely to make decisions about you (hire you, promote you, read your content, like it, etc.) at a future point, Point B. This point can be minutes, weeks, or months later. The key ingredient to business success is people remembering us in the future, at Point B, and making a decision in our favor.

 

“Everything you have ever achieved in business is a reflection of how much your audiences remember you.” -Carmen Simon

 

Retrospective memory (remembering the past) is still useful. But it is prospective memory (remembering to act on a future intention) that keeps us in business. This means that at Point B, we must enable people not only to remember but also to create for them a memory that is strong enough to compel action.

A common mistake that business communicators make is not building in audiences’ minds strong associations between the content shared at Point A and actions they must take later, at Point B. Simply having a nice PowerPoint presentation or an ad with a “call to action” at Point A is not sufficient. Take for instance the ad that Colgate released at the Super Bowl this year. The ad reminded us that when we brush our teeth and leave the water running, we waste about 4 gallons of water, and that’s how much some people around the world have access to in one week. The main message was: “every drop counts” – indeed a humanitarian message. The strength of the ad is that the conditions at Point A and Point B are the same, in the sense that we saw the water running when we watched the commercial, and that’s what we see a few hours later, and each day after that in real life, when we brush our teeth. What the ad missed was instilling a stronger association between the message and what we’re supposed to do at Point B. At least a few shots in the video could have zoomed in a bit more on the action of turning the water off. And the main message should have been, “Every drop counts, turn the water off.” Too often, we leave it to the audience to derive the message and, unfortunately, people are too busy and too tired to extract messages and change their behavior. We often decide what to do next out of habit. And changing habits requires cognitive energy, which we may not have at the time when we need it. Think about it: When are you most likely to brush your teeth? Early in the morning and late at night. What’s the likelihood that you’re still tired in both those circumstances? Quite high. The ad relied too much on the emotion of the stat (“some people in the world do not have enough water”) and too little on solidifying the link between the message and the action needed at Point B.

 

“Memory paves the road from intention to execution.” -Carmen Simon

 

Memory works on the concept of associations. Our brains take in the world through our senses and process that information in specialized regions (e.g., visual, auditory or motor cortices). These are considered primary sensory areas. However, our brains are capable of more complex mental functions than simply detecting basic sensory details, like color or pitch. We don’t just see a color or a contour or light. We see faces and cars and toasters and shoes. Each primary sensory system has its own association areas; the human brain also has higher order association areas, which are not linked to a particular sense but combine input from them to generate complex actions, like thinking and planning and producing language and deciding what to do next. Our association areas take up most of the cerebral cortex. Scientific studies are now revealing for instance that what differentiates creative people from non-creative people is greater activity in these association areas of the brain.

The key message is that the stronger the associations we enable between various inputs in the brain, the more likely the action. Sometimes people think that a strong, emotional message at Point A is sufficient and it’s not. By the time Point B comes around, the initial emotion can wear off. Think of the many times you may remember the humor from an ad, but have no idea what the ad was for. This is because the advertisers failed to establish a strong association between the content at Point A and the action at Point B.

 

“Having information about someone else ahead of time is a source of power.” -Carmen Simon

 

Control What Your Audience Remembers

What steps should a presenter take to become intentional about what the audience remembers?

The first step is to be clear about what you want others to remember. This can be one of the easiest or hardest steps, depending on your messaging. Sometimes it can take weeks, months or even years to get to the essence of a message you want others to remember. And sometimes we forget our own messages. Take Abercrombie & Finch, for example. For a while, the message they wanted us to remember was about a highly sexualized, bare physique. Then they changed their mind and asked their models and sales reps to wear shirts. This shift in brand identity was not only costly but it moved away from an older (and original) set of core values, which were “personal freedom and rustic simplicity.” The switch to the concept of athletic and sexual was meant to appeal to young Americans, who were in perfect physical shape and had disposable income. Unfortunately, once this demographic started to face the worst job prospects in American history, the brand stopped thriving. A focus on nature and personal freedom would have been a more enduring message, one that is remembered even in tough economic times.

If we forget what’s important, how do we expect others to remember?

 

Speaking Tip: Appeal to the senses to activate multiple parts of the brain and memory traces.

 

Be Intentional With Your Audience

How to Improve Your Communication by Leaps and Bounds

No Cape Needed

Do you know the most common communication mistakes leaders make?

What practical steps can you take right now to be a more effective communicator?

What is the most common mistake we make when using email?

 

“True communication comes from a shared understanding of meaning.” -David Grossman

 

David Grossman is a communications expert. Both David and the firm he founded in 2000, The Grossman Group, have received numerous awards. Prior to founding the firm, he was director of communications for McDonald’s, and he teaches the only graduate course on internal communications in the U.S. at Columbia University.

What you notice when you pick up David’s latest book, No Cape Needed: The Simplest, Smartest, Fastest Steps to Improve How You Communicate by Leaps and Bounds, is that it’s stunning as a physical book. Full of colorful graphics, gorgeous photography, and digestible information, it is one of the reasons I still enjoy the physical book. Not only is it a gorgeous book, but it is full of immediately actionable, useful information. I recently asked David to share some of the wisdom from his book and his consulting practice.

 

“Communication really is a superpower.” -David Grossman

 

Communication is a Superpower

Question: As a kid, you wanted to have superpowers. As an adult you say, “Communication really is a superpower.” Explain why you elevate communication to that status.

I wholeheartedly believe that effective communication is really a way to make a difference.David Grossman

You can use communication to make others feel good about their jobs, to be engaged and excited, to help someone who’s having a hard time get through a rough patch, or to inspire a team. And in essence, you can use communication to make substantial changes that aren’t just about helping a company or team go from ‘good to great’ but instead create a lasting legacy through a new strategic direction.

A lot of people don’t think they can communicate well or don’t think they can develop the skill. But the truth is that it just takes practice. If leaders at all levels of their organizations come to realize that, then great things can happen for their companies. And they can become heroes of their own.

 

Cut-Through-Clutter-No-Cape-Needed-David-Grossman

3 Steps to Improve Your Communication

In your new book, No Cape Needed, what are the top three steps you recommend for improving communication?  

1. Understand your audience.

To truly move employees to action, we have to know what they care about and get into their mindset. As leaders we spend much of our time and effort setting business goals and developing plans to achieve them. Yet the most important element behind everything is your team. If they don’t understand where they fit in, all of our lofty goals will go nowhere.

2. Plan, and then communicate regularly.

Leaders often mistakenly assume that as long as they have ideas, a vision, and a sense of purpose, that will be enough to lead the way forward. If only it were that easy. In truth, good leaders know the importance of planning and clearly spelling out the path ahead. You can wing your communications and take a chance on the results or be planful and purposeful to increase your chances of success ten-fold.

3. Listen and create dialogue.

True communication comes from a shared understanding of meaning. Ask open-ended questions. Listen. Listen some more. Check for understanding.

 

“Leaders become great not because of their power, but because of their ability to empower others.” -John Maxwell

 

3 Common Communication Mistakes

What are some of the common mistakes leaders make when they communicate?

1. They don’t set the context.