How to Gesture Naturally (Take Stage! Part 2)

June 27th, 2017

When you make business presentations, would you like to gesture effectively, without worrying about your gestures when you rehearse?

In today’s blog, you will learn how to take the worry out of gesturing.  This is Part 2 in my series called “Take Stage to Engage Your Business Listeners”.

Clients sometimes tell me that they don’t know what to do with their hands when they speak for business, and that this adds to their nervousness.  Here are a few guidelines about gesturing and how you can “take stage” in a way that looks and feels natural.

  • Your hands and arms should be open and available for natural gestures – not in your pockets, clasped, or behind you.
  • Your hands should speak;  movements should match both your content and the energy in your voice.  And your gestures should come from the waist up, for a feeling of expansion and authority.
  • Use both hands to gesture whenever possible and put pens and pointers down when you’re not using them.

Most importantly, do not rehearse your gestures!  Allow your gestures to be the organic result of your focus on your listeners and their needs.

Some of my clients tell me that they rehearse in front of a mirror, to monitor their gestures.

Don’t do it!

Looking into a mirror trains you to focus on what you look like, rather than focusing on your listeners and what you want them to do or feel.  It puts you in the habit of being preoccupied with yourself.  And audiences always know when you’re preoccupied by yourself.  They interpret this as either egotism or a lack of confidence.

So, instead, when you rehearse, choose a spot or two on the wall to place your focus.  As you speak your content aloud, speak AS IF you were talking to a close friend.  This will help you “take stage” organically and authentically.  You will project confidence, a spirit of ease, and a true concern for your listeners and their needs.


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Grab/Keep the Attention of Your Business Audience: Take Stage (Part 1)

May 29th, 2017

Would you like to grab your business audience’s attention and keep them riveted to your presentations?  Do what actors do:  take stage!  Inhabit the space with a “do or die” purpose and an attitude of complete belonging.

Your physical demeanor speaks volumes about you, and your business audience is sizing you up before you even say a word.  Here are three basic strategies, to make your physical demeanor enhance your presence:

  • Whether you’re seated or standing, begin speaking with both feet planted firmly on the ground.  Imagine that your legs are tree trunks and your feet are roots extending deep into the ground.  This initial grounding helps you claim the space as your own and helps give weight to your subsequent movements.  It helps you project confidence and authority.
  • If you’re standing, stand away from furniture and resist any temptation to lean for support.  If someone offers you a podium, politely decline it, if you can.  Whenever possible, you want to eliminate any physical barriers that could come between you and your audience.  If you must use a podium, stand tall and don’t lean on it!
  • Whenever possible, give any handouts you may have after your presentation has ended, not before or during the presentation.  When you give people material to read during your talk, you are inviting them to focus on a piece of paper and inviting them to ignore you.  Giving your audience material to read also suggests the idea that they could just as effectively have read your content, and that they didn’t need to come hear you live and in person!

When you apply these strategies, you’ll be well on your way to taking stage; you will make your physical demeanor enhance your presence, and you will get buy-in faster.


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Elevator Speeches, Part 3: Distinguish Yourself & Get Remembered

March 26th, 2017


Would you like to deliver an elevator speech that sets you apart and helps you get remembered?  Your elevator speech can distinguish you when you apply the following three strategies.

1:  Create an element of suspense.
When you’re satisfied that you have addressed the basics in writing your elevator speech, 
add a bit of expense:  postpone telling your listeners how you do what you do.  You want you listeners to ask questions, so that a conversation will develop.  Your objective should be to intrigue your listeners, so add a bit of mystery.  Talk about the benefits you provide and don’t tell listeners how you do what you do, until they ask.

2:   Provide a short, memorable phrase that can be quoted about you.
Include a phrase that will be easy for your listeners to remember and repeat when they speak about you with others.  They themselves will be helping help you carry your message.  One way to do this is with alliteration:  repetition of an initial sound, usually in two or more words of a phrase.  If you listen to this VideoBlog, you’ll hear me do it.  I say that I work with leaders who want to develop power speaking:  to be more persuasive, productive, and profitable.  The repetition of the /p/ sound in the final phrase makes it easy to remember and easy to repeat.  Try this technique with your own content.

3:  View your elevator speech as a work in progress!
Crafting an effective elevator speech is a process.  This means that you should always be fine-tuning and editing, depending upon the responses you are getting from people.  Does your elevator speech motivate listeners to ask questions?  Does it generate conversation?  If not, you may need to revise.   And remember that, as your business grows and changes, you’ll want to continue fine-tuning your elevator speech, to remain current and effective. 

Follow these steps, and you will be well on your way to delivering an elevator speech that sets you apart, generates conversation, and helps you get remembered.


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Elevator Speeches: Demonstrate Your Ability to Solve Your Prospects’ Problems

February 27th, 2017

Does your elevator speech project your interest in your prospects and their needs?  Or does it project your interest in yourself?

During networking situations, your conversation partners may be wondering “What’s in this for me?”  Here are three basic steps to help you focus on what your prospects care about most – which should become what you care about most!

Step 1:

Identify the benefits that your products and services have for your listeners and their organizations.  It’s all about the benefits:

  1. Increasing profits
  2. Improving productivity
  3. Reducing the cost of doing business
  4. Enhancing their competitive edge

Mention the benefits that are of greatest interest to your listeners at that moment.

Step 2:

Edit your content to be as concise as possible – 30 seconds is a good length.  One way to hook listeners is to identify a problem that you can solve: a problem that makes them think,  “I have that problem, too, and I really want a solution!”

Step 3:

Use phrases that help you sound authentic and conversational:  language that is “mouth and ear friendly”:   easy for you to speak and easy for your listeners to hear and repeat.  Your elevator speech should be memorable.

To summarize:

  1. Focus on the benefits that your listeners care about most
  2. Mention a problem that you can solve: one that they want solved!
  3. Make it conversational, brief, and easy for listeners to repeat

Create an elevator speech that demonstrates your ability to address the needs of your prospects, and they will be interested!


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Elevator Speeches: Leave ‘Em Wanting More

January 29th, 2017

During networking events, would you like to captivate your listeners when you introduce the value of your products and services?   You can create a compelling elevator speech with an old tip from the theater:   leave ‘em wanting more.

Shakespeare said, “Brevity is the soul of wit.”   Today, it’s obvious that attention spans have become shorter and shorter.  Business listeners are demanding that we be even more concise than ever before.  So, you have very little time to make your listeners interested.

For an effective elevator speech, the key is preparation.

Write your elevator speech the way you would speak it.  If you find it challenging to write a script that sounds like your natural speech, record yourself speaking about the value of your products and services.  Then, play back the recording, and write down what you hear.  This is an excellent way to begin the process and make your elevator speech sound conversational.

Once you have transcribed your content, review the sentences you’ve written.  Simplify.  Shorten them, wherever possible.  And remember that while we often write in complete sentences, spoken communication usually includes sentence fragments, simple phrases, and even one-word sentences.

Next, examine your content to be sure that it’s invitational in some way:  stimulating a need within the listeners to ask questions.  Don’t try to tell your whole story:  tell enough to create a desire for more information.  This will help generate future conversations, to build and strengthen relationships.

Be savvy.  Be brief.  And leave ‘em wanting more!

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Project Authority by Reducing Your Filler Words

January 9th, 2017

During business conversations and presentations, would you like to reduce your filler words, to sound more authoritative and get buy-in faster?  You can do it with a technique that actors use when they are preparing to speak extemporaneously.

You already know that filler words (um, uh, so, well, like, you know) rarely add meaning and are usually just a distraction for your listeners.  And that they jeapardize your ability to project confidence and commitment.  Reducing your use of fillers will help you enhance your credibility and your leadership presence.  Borrow this practice technique that actors use:

Set a timer for increasing time periods of time, two or three minutes to start, and record yourself as you speak in extended sentences on a topic of your choice.  Choose a business topic that you know well, something you enjoy speaking about (but not your elevator speech or a sales pitch).

As you speak into the recorder, imagine that each word that comes from your mouth is connected to the next one, which is connected to the next one, and so on:  the way pearls are connected on a string of pearls.  When you feel the urge to use a filler

  • Stop yourself
  • Pause
  • Say the filler silently to yourself

When the timer rings, play back the recording and notice your fillers.  Then repeat the exercise, with new topics of your choice.

As you become comfortable with this exercise, increase the setting on the timer, perhaps starting at five or seven minutes.  Then, continue the practice until you can speak extemporaneously on new topics of your choice for fifteen or twenty minutes straight, without the use of fillers.

I guarantee:  when you practice this on a regular basis, you will find that, over time, you are decreasing the number of fillers that you use.  You will sound more confident and more authoritative.  And you’ll increase your ability to influence!

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How to Use Your Voice to Build Trust: Apply This Acting Technique!

December 5th, 2016

When you speak with clients and prospects, would you like to build trust faster?  You can do this by projecting warmth and a spirit of caring with a technique that actors have been using successfully for decades.  It’s called “Endowment”.

The Endowment technique involves the process of endowing your conversation partners and business audiences with qualities that will help you treat them in a way that builds trust.  Rehearse with the Endowment technique with the notes that you have for any business talk.  This will help you feel and project warmth spontaneously, even with challenging prospects and clients.

Here are three steps for rehearsing with the Endowment Technique:

Step 1:   Think of a person from your life in whose presence you feel cared for, trusted, admired, and respected.   This person might be male, female; any age; alive or not.

Step 2:    Use the power of imagination before you begin rehearsing aloud. Choose a spot on the wall to place your focus, and in your mind’s eye, “see” that person, right there in front of you.  Most importantly, take time to become flooded with positive feelings that you have about this person.

Step 3:  As you speak your content aloud, imagine that the person is right there with you, and speak as if you were talking directly to that individual.

Rehearsing with the Endowment technique will have a very positive effect on the tone of voice that you use.  The more you practice it, the easier it will be for you to project warmth and spirit of caring.  Rehearse with the Endowment technique, and build trust faster.

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How to Engage Listeners with the Power of the Surprising Pause

October 25th, 2016

As a business speaker, would you like to learn how to use your voice, to keep your listeners riveted to your message?

Like a good actor, you can use your voice and the power of the surprising pause to command attention and add depth to your business message.  You may be interested to know that the great Shakespearian actor, Sir John Gielgud, said that the pauses are the most important moments of a speech!

Pausing at meaningful and unpredictable moments will enhance your speaking power in three ways:

It will create variety in your delivery:  A moment of unexpected silence provides the greatest contrast to a stream of words.
It will create suspense:  It teases your listeners for just a moment, making them want to hear more.
It will enhance listener understanding:  A surprising pause, filled with meaning, allows your listeners to observe a difference quality in you and highlights the subtle nuances of meaning within your message.

Watch this video to see and hear my demonstration:

Right now, I’m going to speak an excerpt from a play called Other People’s Money by Jerry Sterner.  The dialogue is spoken by a character who is a CEO of a company.  As I speak,  I’m going to pause in spots that are logical and fairly predictable.  Here I go:

“One day, / when the dollar is weaker or the yen stronger, / or when we finally begin to rebuild the roads, the bridges, the infrastructure of our country, / demand will skyrocket.”

Now, a more interesting and more engaging choice would be to pause in spots that are less predictable; like this:

“One day, / when the dollar/is weaker / or the yen / stronger, / or when we finally begin to rebuild the roads, the bridges, the infrastructure of our country, / demand / will skyrocket.”

Isn’t that more interesting?

As you rehearse and deliver any business talk, take some meaningful pauses at less predictable moments.   Use the power of the surprising pause, and make your delivery truly compelling.

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Perfectionism Kills Your Leadership Presence

September 3rd, 2016

When you prepare for your business presentations, do you try to make everything perfect? It’s great to get personal satisfaction from excellence. But trying to make your presentations perfect can actually jeopardize your leadership presence and success.

Here’s a case in point:  a story about my earliest years as a professional singer.

I always loved singing on Broadway, but what I really wanted to sing was jazz. I feel in love with jazz after I had been singing other styles for a few years. And I can tell you why I fell in love with it: it forced me to dare to sing with a kind of freedom that I had never known before.

Until that time, my singing was about executing everything in a certain way, locking it in – duplicating over and over my idea of how something should sound. My attempt was to freeze what I thought was my best performance. I was trying to be perfect. And the quality of my singing suffered.

My perfectionism went hand in hand with a preoccupation with the audience’s response; would the audience think that I was “good”, or good enough? I thought that perfection would give me their approval. Perfectionism kept me in bondage, because it robbed me of the freedom and spontaneity I needed, in order to be truly creative with a song. And it took the fun out of singing, until I was able to learn to let go.

So, how does this relate to your business presentations and your leadership presence? Leadership presence is an energy that says, “I am so happy to be with you, and I have a message for you that you’re going to value. And during our time together, whatever happens, I can handle it!”

The purpose of your preparation and rehearsal for a business presentation is to give you a solid foundation for the delivery of your message, so that by the time you get in front of your business audience, you will have the ability to project gravitas while being spontaneous, conversational, and authentic.

So, take this tip:  When you rehearse for your business presentations, internalize your content. Don’t memorize it. The only parts to memorize are the opening and closing sentences, bearing in mind that you will always need to be “in the moment” and ready to be flexible at any time.

When your business listeners see that you not only “know your stuff”, but have the confidence to be spontaneous, your leadership presence will skyrocket.

Being flawless or slick is not always engaging. Being “in the moment” is compelling.

Perfection is an illusion. So, take the risk. Let go of perfectionism when you speak for business

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Decisiveness Enhances Leadership Communication & Presence

August 1st, 2016

Are you a decisive person? And how can decisiveness enhance your leadership presence when you speak for business?

You can see the importance of decisiveness every day in the realm of business speaking.  Take business presentations, for example.  I’m sure that you’ve seen presentations that were lifeless or boring.  Sometimes this happens because speakers are afraid to use their top energy to engage their listeners:  afraid that using their top energy will make them appear phony if they’re not feeling a big emotion underneath the words.

Don’t be afraid of appearing phony.  You don’t have to have a big feeling in order to take a strong action.  Be decisive!

Here’s a story from my own professional life that provides some insight about the fear of appearing phony and the importance of being decisive.

Years ago, I had the happy privilege of being directed by James Earl Jones in a play called The Road to Rome, by Robert Sherwood.  It was an anti-war comedy, set in ancient Rome.  Hannibal’s Carthaginian army invades Rome.  I was playing Fabia, the wife of the Roman Emperor.  At one point in the play, Jimmy (we called James Earl Jones “Jimmy”) directed me to feint. My character was supposed to be so overcome when Hannibal’s army invades our home, that I fall onto the floor in a dead faint.

Now, as a young actor, I wanted this feint to look authentic.  I did not want to look phony.  And I was worried that I was not going to be able to do realistic-looking feint.

At every rehearsal, I was unable to fall onto the floor.  At every rehearsal, I said to James Earl Jones, “Jimmy, I’m so sorry; I’m having such trouble; I want this to feint to be realistic;  I don’t want to look phony!”  At every rehearsal, James Earl Jones said to me (in his beautiful, resonant voice), “Maria, just fall on the floor!”

I couldn’t do it.  Finally, on opening night (it wasn’t until opening night!), I made a decision.  I decided to throw caution to the wind and let go.  I decided that when it was time for the feint, no matter how I felt, and no matter how phony it might look, I was going to fall on the floor.

And that’s exactly what I did.  And the audience bought it.  And, not only did they buy it, but they laughed so hard that they almost fell onto the floor!

So, back to your business.  Ask yourself:  Are you waiting for a big feeling to hit you, before you

• use your top energy to engage your business listeners?

• speak up at a meeting to voice your own perspectives?

• make a difficult recommendation to senior management?

Don’t wait for a big feeling to hit you!   Be decisive.  Just fall on the floor!

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