Friday, January 13, 2012

Tune in to your Audience

The most important thing about any communication is to adjust what you say and how you say it, so it will please your audience. Tuning in to them is your number one priority. There is simply no point in presenting to anyone about anything unless you’ve tailored it to their needs, interests, and approach to the issue. Countless examples of miscommunication occur every day in all sorts of settings because the person speaking and the person listening are not on the same wavelength.
The first step of any talk or presentation must be to consider who they are, what they’re wanting, and how you can connect. Look for ways in which you can make them feel you and they are similar. You want them to feel well disposed towards you so they are receptive to your message. People will pay attention for their reasons – not yours. Even if there are very few connections, this is an important clue to how you should approach the task, as it tells you that you need to work hard to create the links that are essential for your message to get through.
You must also decide how you want to come across, from their point of view. Your style should suit the occasion but must also be a ‘true you’. The character you commit to showing should be real. Authenticity is most important in convincing an audience to go along with you. People have great bulls***t detectors. You may choose to be ‘authoritative’, or ‘appealing’, ‘intelligent’, ‘friendly’, ‘reliable’ - and so on. If you are the life of any party feel free to be amusing and ebullient. If you are thoughtful and introspective, by all means reveal this in what you say and how you speak. If you are everybody’s pal, popular and a team player, let that show.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Stagecraft - How to get on and off in style

Getting on and off
Getting on and off is part of the performance. Sometimes you need to arrive early and look at the venue to figure out how you’ll do this. Ask someone in charge to assist you if necessary. Where do you enter and exit? Where do you sit/stand etc. Do you have a lectern to use? Is there a water glass available? Are you going to use a microphone?

If you’re going up stairs to get on stage, do it with your body erect and your head up as much as possible (don’t fall!). Don’t run, or take two stairs at a time, especially at the end when you’re glad it’s all over. Don’t rush, just move purposefully. For some reason, a downward flight of stairs manages to make even the most mature and sensible person skip.

Being seated properly in public means knees are together, ankles (not knees) can be crossed, and there’s a pleasant and interested expression on your face. Stay still. Don’t fidget or put your hands to your face or hair. Don’t communicate in any way with someone in the audience, and if you communicate with anyone on stage remember everyone can see you. Don’t look at your shoes, it makes you look bored.

“Walk tall, walk straight and look the world right in they eye”… is the perfect mantra for poise on the podium. Be confident, look at your audience and smile at them when you arrive at your speaking position and are about to start.
When there’s applause, or laughter, pause and wait for it to subside before you continue.

Don’t walk away the second you finish. Count ‘one two’ silently and then make your exit. Eyes up, steady pace.
If you have to move around on stage you should stay out of the way of others. For example, if you get an award, shake hands with the giver and move out of the way for the next person to come forward. If you are the MC, you need to move in and out of position unobtrusively.

Sometimes, you need to have a photo taken. Stay collected and stand still, smile for the photographer, wait, then move on.
If you have papers with you, work out how you’ll keep them tidy and not drop them. A folder you can hold in one hand, or clipboard are both good ideas. You need to hold this away from your face so you don’t hide yourself from the audience.

Developing the script

Notice I avoid saying ‘write the script’. The spoken word and the written word are different, and this presents a trap for speakers. The key to success is being good to listen to. A speech is not a piece of writing. It’s something you say. It’s an oral presentation, and that’s a live gig.
A word about language
An oral presentation is dynamic and immediate. It’s happening now. A written presentation exists beyond the here and now. The language you use when you speak typically has short words and sentences, and is direct and straightforward. Vivid even. The written word can be more convoluted, with longer words and sentences, commas and clauses and qualifiers and all sorts of features that we don’t use in speech. That’s the stuff you don’t want. So my advice at this early stage is simple.
Switch the computer off!

Getting started
There are six stages to go through.
1. Define your purpose
2. Clarify a takeaway message
3. Rough draft
4. Arrange the structure
5. Write the words
6. Edit, rehearse, edit again, rehearse again.

Not everyone takes these steps in that order. For some people, the rough draft stage is where they clarify their purpose and their ‘takeaway’. Others put the structure in place first and backfill the content. By all means do what works for you – with one reservation: it is NOT OK to start out by writing the words. Only the most experienced speechwriters can do that. It’s like building a house before you’ve drawn up the plans, or commencing a car trip without knowing the route – you’ll go wrong, get lost, develop material you can’t use, and waste time making avoidable corrections.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Navigating nervousness - you can!

Prepare prepare prepare
Speaking is like playing a sport, learning an instrument or being in a play. It‘s a physical skill that takes repetition and practice till it comes right. And exactly as for sport and musical performance, being well prepared is the only way you’ll pull it off. If you are well practised, nerves may affect how you feel, but are less likely to affect what you do. Nervousness is an internal state. The audience doesn’t know your inner workings. If you could see yourself you’d probably find you look perfectly OK. They won’t even have noticed you were on edge.
I recommend that you rehearse your presentation many times. Then you should rehearse it and rehearse it a few more times.
TV chefs always have a backup dish, “something they prepared earlier”. Why? Because things can (I am tempted to say things WILL) go wrong which you did not anticipate, and you will handle them better if you are prepared.
You need to be familiar with your material and also with the venue. If you have planned how you’ll get up and down or on and off, if you have been able to check out the layout of the room, know where you’ll be seated and standing, what the sight lines are and how to work the AV equipment, you will feel much more confident – and that’s good! Be sure you have time to look at where you will be speaking on the day itself.
One you know your material REALLY well, some simple tips will help you stay calm. Choose whatever woks for you.
• Get some exercise, or a stretch or some yoga
• Arrrange some enjoyable diversions that will help you to feel good on the day. An iPod full of your favourite music, a meal or coffee break in a cafĂ© you really like, a phone call with your best friend before you leave for the venue…give yourself a treat.
• Find somewhere quiet to focus. Stairwells, lobbies and stage wings are handy for this.
• Settle yourself with deep, regular breathing. Breathe in and …..wait. Breathe out s l o w l y and ……wait. Do this ten times (don’t hyperventilate please) and you will feel more in control.

Some symptoms of nervousness can be dealt with as you speak.
• Anxiety begins to drop after you start. Once you get through the introduction, you should find the rest of the way is easier for you.
• If you are a heavy sweater, dab (don’t wipe) your face with a folded handkerchief.
• Avoid holding a large sheet of paper in a shaky hand. If you can’t use a lectern, use small palm cards, or a kindle or ipad which is too solid and won’t wobble.
• Trembling hands should be loosely clasped in front of you or hidden behind a lectern.
• A sea of faces is less scary when you eyeball people one at a time. They feel the connection and it’s more conversational.

When something goes wrong
Symptoms of nerves may make you dry up, go blank, lose your train of thought, mess up your cues or your aids, stumble over your words or even lose the power of speech entirely. I have seen speakers faint, freeze, flee the stage to vomit, drop their notes, press the wrong button and plunge us into darkness, send the slides backwards not forwards …. to name just some of the more predictable problems.

If any of these things happens, look at the audience and smile. Smiling puts you on the same side. It makes you feel better, and in control. Audiences love a smiling speaker, and it tells them that despite the blip, you’re still in charge of things. Take a break, have a sip of water, fix the problem and restart when you’re ready. In every case I’ve seen, the audience was patient, concerned and tolerant of speakers who had to manage such a public ordeal.