Posts Tagged ‘presentation skills’

Do Your Hands Sabotage You When You Speak For Business?

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

In my last blog, I opened with two compelling statistics about the impact of non-verbal communication and addressed three behaviors that influence face-to-face interactions:  smiling, the head nod, and placing the fingers in front of one’s mouth while speaking.

Here are four additional aspects of body language (specifically, the use of your hands) related to general tendencies in perception within United States:

  1. Helplessness and/or an urgency to be understood are communicated when you speak with your hands open at chest level and spread sideways with the palms up.
  2. Speaking with the hand(s) up and palm(s) facing outward can communicate messages influenced by gender:  When a man does this, it sends a placating message; when a woman does it, the message is flirtatious.
  3. Pointing with a finger (and especially with an object, such as a pen) sends a message of aggressiveness.
  4. A subtext of disagreement is sent when your arms are crossed over your chest.

Here are some tips regarding your body language during business communication, whether you are speaking informally or giving a formal presentation:

  • Keep your hands open and available for natural gestures; do not plan or rehearse gestures!
  • A waist-level position for the hands (with palms relaxed and fingers slightly curved) is often appropriate.
  • When gesturing, use both hands whenever possible.
  • Put pens and pointers down when you are not using them.

Savvy business speakers think about non-verbal communication the way that actors do:  they remain conscious of the fact that listeners who can see you are watching you very carefully and interpreting meaning from every aspect of your body language.

As you speak for business, be mindful of any physical behaviors you exhibit that may be sending unintended messages, and make appropriate changes (even if it initially takes you out of your comfort zone).  The results will have a dramatic impact on your projection of confidence, warmth, and authority — as well as your ability to persuade.


What Does Your Body Language Reveal? (part one)

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

A Harvard Business School study revealed that that 55% of the success of your business speaking is dependent upon your non-verbal communication.  A 2007 study by the American Optometric Association found that vision was the number one sense that people would not want to live without.  Dr. Vince Young, an opthamologist at Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia, says, “Americans tend to fear vision loss more than anything – more than memory loss or heart disease.”

Savvy business speakers, like actors, are always mindful of the fact that their face-to-face listeners are watching.  They are observing four basic non-verbal communication pathways, and one of these is your body language/gestures.

Messages communicated through body language vary according to culture.  Here are a few things to remember about general perception among people raised in the United States:

  1. A smile is the most direct way to say, “I’m happy to be in your presence.”
  2. The head nod is very important in communication and tells the communication partner “I understand” and/or “I agree”.  It elicits a positive response in the partner and is particularly effective for salespeople and anyone involved in business discussions or negotiations.
  3. Raising your hand or fingers in front of your mouth during business discussions can communicate a withholding of information or reluctance to be completely forthcoming.

Remember that your face-to-face listeners are not just passively seeing: they are watching you carefully and interpreting meaning from every aspect of your body language.  As you speak for business,  maintain awareness of these three  aspects of your body language and gestures, and strive to make any physical adjustments necessary — even if it takes you out of your comfort zone.  The more you practice new behaviors, the more comfortable these behaviors will feel “on your body”.

And look for my next blog, which will provide information about three more aspects of body language/gestures — to help you project a positive and professional image when you speak for business.

Mirror, Mirror On the Wall: Rehearsing Your Business Talk

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

Some clients tell me that they have been advised to practice in front of a mirror when they are rehearsing for a business talk. I discourage this strategy because it trains you, the speaker, to place focus on thoughts that can hinder your power to persuade and your projection of a positive, professional image.

When looking at ourselves in a mirror, most people become preoccupied by the way we look; this is probably human nature and unavoidable. Rehearsing for any business talk should be a process of training oneself to focus the mind correctly:  focusing on your purpose, goals, and objectives that are concerned with and directed toward the listener.

Rehearsing in front of a mirror actually trains you to focus on how you look; it develops and reinforces a preoccupation with self: a very unproductive habit.  The best speakers, conversely, focus outward:   they have trained their minds to do so.

Consider the slow-motion films of Olympic runners crossing the finish line, drenched in sweat, their faces distorted with effort, expending every last ounce of energy to achieve a goal. In their passion to win, they don’t have the slightest care about how they look.  They simply cannot waste their energy on such a concern.

Correct focus and a lack of concern for one’s appearance while speaking also applies to actors.   Unless the character she is playing is preoccupied with how she looks, the actor cannot spare any energy thinking about her physical appearance.  In order to be convincing, she must use all her energy to pursue her acting objectives: to get what the character wants in a given situation.

This is exactly what the business speaker must do:   focus on the needs, desires, and interests of the listeners – and, most importantly, on the actions that the speaker is taking towards those listeners.

Of course, at some point, business speakers must consider facial expressions, gestures, physical demeanor, and attire, etc.  This must occur before the talk begins: during the planning/rehearsal stages.   After you have done the correct internal preparation and rehearsed effectively — and once your physical demeanor matches your focus on the listener — you should forget about your appearance in front of the audience.   At that point, you are free to forget about it, because you are focusing on your objectives and your listeners.

But rehearsing in front of a mirror reinforces the habit of thinking about yourself while you are talking to your audience.   And consider this: a speaker’s preoccupation with self is usually detected by the listener and often projects arrogance or a lack of confidence.

So, rehearse constructively, and rehearse aloud:
• Keep your face up and out
• Focus on spots(s) on the wall or in the room in front of you
• Use the power of imagination: “paste” a friendly face on those spots as you speak, and direct all of your underlying communication actions outward: toward your listeners

This will have a dramatic effect on your power to persuade.

Act “as if” When You Speak For Business

Sunday, July 3rd, 2011

So much business speaking today is ineffective because speakers unnecessarily fear being perceived as “phony”.

When business speaking is lifeless and boring, it is often because the speaker mistakenly believes that using a higher energy level is dependent upon his/her experiencing a certain emotion.  When these speakers don’t feel that emotion, they settle for a humdrum demeanor, play it safe, and avoid the kind of energy for speaking that truly engages the listener.

Business speakers should adopt the attitude that actors take: a specific feeling does not have to be present in order for you to behave a certain way.  Acting “as if” you feel or think a certain way is the surest way to project the qualities you choose (poise and passion, for example) and increase your persuasive power.   Stanislavski (the great Russian director and teacher) called this the “magic if”.

Shakespeare was advising the same thing when he wrote, “Assume a virtue if you have it not.”

Speakers shouldn’t wait for a feeling of happiness before smiling, for example.  With the act of smiling, they are acting as if they are happy.  (And behavior can certainly induce a feeling).  Actions and feelings go together; feelings are not subject to direct command, behavior is subject to direct command.  Therefore, behaving a certain way, whether one “feels” that way or not, is paramount.  Behavior is king, particularly when the business audience is watching.

Finally, a second quote from Stanislavsky has relevance for your business speaking:  “Show me what a person DOES, and I’ll show you who he/she IS”.

Who does your business audience perceive YOU to be?  Your speaking behavior holds the key.


Three Ways to Engage Your Business Audience

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

Every person connected with the theater knows that an audience must become engaged with the action on stage as soon as possible, in order for that stage effort to be successful. The same is true for your business presentations. You can start by applying three simple strategies at the beginning of each talk.

1. Maintain good eye contact.

Eye contact means “eyeball to eyeball”:  not looking at foreheads, to the tops of heads, or looking in the general direction of individuals. Make eye contact with people within audience sections:   for example, focus on individuals on the left side of the audience, then the right, then the center – or in any order you choose.   Be sure to cover the whole audience territory and remember to include people seated in the back rows.   Depending upon the size of your audience/venue, it may be challenging to make eye contact with people who are furthest away from you, but seek out as many eyes as possible.   Contrary to common fears, maintaining good eye contact actually helps relax you as a speaker.   Seeing people’s eyes will remind you that the audience is, after all, made up of regular folks just like you, and that they do want you to succeed. They are usually hopeful and expectant; they want to believe that they have made a good choice by attending your presentation!

2. Use a conversational tone, vary your pace, and be sure that conviction and passion are visible on your body and audible in your voice.

Most listeners respond favorably when a speaker communicates gratitude and humility, and a conversational tone helps project these qualities in you. It lets your audience know that you are approaching them as an expert who is an equal, not as a professor or pontificator.  Speak as you would during a one-on-one conversation, with the slight adjustment of a heightened energy.   Take the attitude that you are pleased to be sharing an important secret with your audience; that you are speaking confidentially to each individual listener.  Vary your pace, to generate interest and convey enthusiasm.  Take time to allow you thoughts to “land”, and occasionally pause for dramatic effect.  Audiotape your rehearsals; when you play back the tape, take special note of the moments when you sounded most authentic, most conversational; moments when your voice and YOU were “one”; when your voice is the true YOU. Analyze what you were doing that caused that authentic sound, and strive to replicate that underlying behavior (rather than the sound).   Your sound in any given moment is the result of your intention and communication behavior.   You can achieve an authentic and effective sound by doing something; pursuing an appropriate objective.  The degree of conviction and passion in your voice and gestures is within your control. Gestures and body language should match the intensity of your voice, as well as your content.

3. Ask questions and ask for volunteers.

Involve your audience by asking questions and inviting individuals to come to the platform area to participate in simple tasks/exercises related to your topic.   When you pose questions to your audience, people invariably answer them, which immediately makes the responders a part of the presentation. Audiences enjoy this. Ask questions that you know they can answer, and be sure that everything you ask is directly related to the purpose/main idea of your talk.  For pure engagement and entertainment value, nothing beats demonstrations by your audience members.   Create simple tasks/exercises for individuals or pairs that will illustrate your points. Ask for volunteers from the audience to come to the platform area; if people seem shy at first and no one immediately volunteers, wait. WAIT.   Have the courage to tolerate silence or hesitation from the audience, and during the silence, make strong eye contact with a broad smile and open arms.   Avoid all temptation to recruit individuals; allow them to volunteer. (During the hundreds of presentation I have made in all industries, I have never faced a situation where we lacked volunteers.)   Audiences include those who enjoy receiving attention and will rise to the occasion!   Audience members who remain seated become immediately captivated: this is theater, the drama of watching a situation unfold in the here and now, where anything can happen.  It is compelling and irresistible because of its immediacy.

When you involve your audience early in your talk in these three ways, you set the stage for the audience to bond with you.   The sooner they bond with you, the stronger their connection with you will be.   This is true engagement.

When Your Mind Goes Blank in Front of Your Audience

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

During a Q & A session that followed one of my recent presentations, a successful business women reported that, even though she was well-prepared and well-rehearsed, her mind had gone completely blank in the middle of a business presentation.  She asked what can be done in such a situation, to save face in front of her listeners.

Here is a strategy to get you back on track as seamlessly as possible, if your mind suddenly goes blank and you are not using notes to deliver your talk.

Do what actors do:  improvise your way back.

1.  Think about the last sentence that you said before your mind went blank, and remember the final word, phrase, or idea you uttered.  Generate a new sentence using that same word/phrase/idea as the first word/phrase/idea of your new sentence.  You will be “riffing” on your own previous idea.  For example, consider this sentence:  “Many CLOs believe that podcasting is oversold because few people are auditory learners.”

2 .  Take that last phrase “auditory learners” and begin a new sentence, such as “Auditory learners are in the minority and respond best when the auditory input is varied.”   While you are stretching the time by improvising on this idea, think about your planned speech and try to recall the idea you originally forgot.

3.  Continue this process (using the last idea of a sentence to generate a new sentence), until your original point returns to your memory.  Your improvised sentences may not be the most fascinating, but you will  be able to hold forth and gain time to compose yourself and think.

Practise improvising in this way on a regular basis, so that you will increase your comfort level when you have to do it in front of an audience!

This technique of improvisation is very useful in getting you back on track as seamlessly as possible and saving face during a moment that is often considered to be one of the most harrowing and dreaded for any speaker.

Your Persuasive Power: Three Acting Techniques

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

Persuasive power increases dramatically when business speakers use acting techniques.  I help my clients incorporate techniques I honed during my many years acting on Broadway and as a spokesperson on national television.  I love the transformation I see in executives at Fortune 500 companies when they “convince like actors”.

Actors use many techniques to convince the audience.   In today’s blog, I will summarize three of these techniques. 

It is the actor’s job to make the audience believe that the make-believe situation being witnessed is happening for real for the first time ever, and that the human beings who are acting/speaking ARE the characters and MEAN what they are saying.  This allows the audience to have a genuine, emotional experience that will hopefully shed greater light on the human condition.  Whether audiences articulate it or not, this is what brings them to the theater.

What brings the business audience to a speaker’s business presentation?  It may be a desire for business information or to learn a new skill, or it may simply be the need to fulfill a professional obligation to be there.  But none of that is what keeps the listener’s attention, keeps them riveted to the speaker, and leaves them wanting more.  The business audience, too, wants a genuine, emotional experience that will hopefully shed light on the “business condition”.

Business speakers must convince their listeners that what they are saying is real (true) and meant fullywith every fiber of their being.  They must speak with conviction, passion, and poise.

To deliver your business message with a conviction that is visible on your body and audible in  your voice, do what actors do.  As you speak in front of your listeners (and as you rehearse aloud), focus on the communication actions that lie underneath the words you are speaking.  Remember that words are only the surface layer.  The same words can be delivered in hundreds of ways, and each way can communicate something different.  Your manner of delivery can even communicate the exact opposite of the literal meaning of the words.  So, think about what you want to do to the listeners with your words.  Make plans about this before you begin to rehearse; use words the way an archer uses a bow and arrow; the way a pool player uses a cue stick; the way a golfer uses a club.   Be sure you know your underlying purpose for using words; focus on the purpose, not the words.

To speak with passion, do what actors do.  Become deeply and personally engaged with your message.  Connect to your own life experiences that relate in some what to the ideas behind your words.  As you rehearse, find a way to make that conscious connection a positive one; it should lift your spirits in some way.  Experiment with various elements from your personal life, to find the ones that are most useful for your purposes.  Rehearse with a focus on the connections you are making.  Preparing in this way will have a strong impact on your energy level and your projection of passion.

To minimize performance anxiety and nervousness, use one of the many strategies that actors use.  Take a point of view about your listeners that will feed your confidence.  These thoughts should be formulated before you begin to rehearse and may take some creativity, depending upon the nature of the audience for any given presentation.  Cultivate positive ideas about your listeners and endow them with qualities that are harmonious with the goals of your talk.  Practice viewing each audience in a way that nurtures your feelings of authority.  Preparing in this way will have a strong impact on your ability to project warmth, relaxation, and poise.

When you use these acting techniques, you will increase your persuasive power with any business audience.

The Underestimated Benefits of Successful Speaking

Sunday, July 25th, 2010

While many people are quick to agree that being a good public speaker enhances one’s business life, fewer consider capitalizing on this skill when they possess it.  This is a mistake; the benefits of good public speaking skills are often underestimated and deserve greater attention.Being a good public speaker helps you persuade listeners to take actions you want them to take, makes you a valuable asset to any organization you are connected with, and is one of the best ways to generate business.There are few aspects of professional success that are more important than the power to persuade.  Whether you are trying to convince your executive vice president of HR to adopt your latest initiative, or you are a business owner trying to close a deal, skill in public speaking allows you to organize your message, deliver it with an effective style, and defend your position with poise.If you are a professional working in the corporate arena, skill in public speaking is one of the best ways to demonstrate that you are ready to become an active spokesperson for ideas and initiatives of interest to your organization; it makes you a key player.  When you make a dynamic impression by speaking on a given topic, you allow top executives to view you as someone with leadership qualities:  an “idea” person who has the ability to persuade.  So, find opportunities to speak within your organization:  at meetings, forums, and company events.  There is no better advertisement of your value or leadership qualities.If you are a business owner, using your skill at public speaker is one of the best ways to generate new business, because it positions you as an expert in your field.  When you begin your journey as a public speaker (whether or not you are paid to speak), “high profile” speaking opportunities need not be the goal.  What matters most is value and volume:  speak as often as you can, to generate interest and build a following.  Contact associations whose memberships may be interested in your topics, and offer to create seminars for them.  Provide valuable content, and over time people will seek you out for your expertise.Whatever your career objectives, you should view your skill as an excellent speaker as one of the best strategies to reach your professional goals.

Part Two: Persuade Your CEO

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

In my last blog, I presented some visual strategies that will increase your persuasive power with upper management, no matter what department you work in, and no matter how little time your are given to make your case. I focused on how you can build belief visually. In today’s blog, I will offer a few tips for building belief with your voice.First, some background information. In his article for CLO Magazine, Kevin D. Wilde (VP and Chief Learning Officer at General Mills) suggests that, when you have just a few minutes to win over the CEO, it is crucial to make your message “executive crisp”. Although Wilde’s strategies are useful, they fail to address two key ingredients in the art of persuasive speaking: visual and vocal impact.My response is supported by the findings of a Harvard Business School study: only seven percent of the success of business speaking is based upon content. A full ninety-three percent of the impact that business speakers make is based on their visual and vocal impact: how they deliver their message to build belief within the listener.The vocal component of your presentation is crucial. Be sure that your vocal “performance” supports the value of your ideas:1. Vary your pace: when you begin, speak slowly; when you come to information that is less important, increase your pace; when you come to your most important points, pause and then slow down.2. Vary your pitch, and be sure to end your statements with a pitch glide downward (not upward, as we do when asking a question).3. Whenever possible, rehearse what you are going to say by glancing down briefly at note cards. Internalize your content; don’t memorize it. Pick a spot on the wall to direct your eyes during rehearsal, and never practice with a mirror (it will distract you from your message and from the audience you should have in your mind, and it will keep you focused on how you look — a poor strategy).No matter how many minutes upper management can spare, your best content will have persuasive power only when your visual and vocal performance convey your own conviction, poise, and passion.

Persuading the CEO

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

I recently read an article by Kevin D. Wilde (VP and Chief Learning Officer at General Mills) about the shortness of time that managers get when they need to persuade their CEO’s of the value of proposed initiatives.  Wilde suggests that, when you have just a few minutes to win over the CEO, it is crucial to make your message “executive crisp”.Wilde makes excellent recommendations for advance preparation before speaking with upper management: (1) boil the message down to its essence, (2) communicate that the need is real and that the solution is practical, and (3) make a logical connection between the need and the proposed solution, etc.  While very useful, these strategies fail to address two key ingredients in the art of persuasive speaking:  visual and vocal impact.According to a Harvard Business School study, only seven percent of the success of business speaking is based upon content.  A full ninety-three percent of the impact that business speakers make is based on their visual and vocal impact:   how they deliver their message to build belief within the listener.In this blog, I will offer a few visual strategies that will  help increase your persuasive power with upper management, no matter what department you work in, and no matter how little time your are given to make your case.   In my next blog, I will address the vocal strategies that will help. Be sure that your visual performance projects poise and passion.  Whether you are seated or standing, imagine that your legs are tree trunks and that your feet are the roots of a tree extending deep into the ground.  Stand away from furniture and resist any temptation to lean for support.  If you are seated, sit tall, leaning forward slightly from the waist up (to help convey interest and enthusiasm).  Make eye contact throughout your talk, and maintain a smile that is varied in accordance with your content, moment to moment.  Gesture with both arms/hands whenever possible, rather than one.No matter how many minutes upper management can spare, your best content will have persuasive power only when your visual and vocal performance convey your own conviction, poise, and passion.    Stay tuned for my next blog, to read about vocal strategies that will give you real persuasive power.