Three "Don’t" Tips from a Public Speaking Coach

Three “Don’t” Tips to Remember for Any Speech or Presentation

I’ve been a public speaking trainer and coach for more than twenty-five years and have helped hundreds of clients overcome a variety of public speaking challenges. Often the task is not so much telling a client what to do, but more what not to do. Below are three major rules to keep in mind if you want to be perceived as a credible and confident communicator in any professional situation:

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Simplifying complex message – Part 2

Revisiting the scenario from last week: Recently, I was listening to a radio news program where a medical scientist was attempting to explain how mosquitoes transmit the Zika virus. The long, technical, response from the doctor sounded just like that: extremely technical as if he was presenting to a panel of medical students. If the show’s host had not forced him to break down his explanation, the audience would have been lost and tuned out within the first 10 seconds. This all boils down to two points: Know your audience and present “what is in it for them” upfront.

If you are the subject matter expert on a complex topic, your knowledge on that topic is appreciated. But, any time you are speaking to an audience outside of your peer group, it should never be assumed that the audience fully understands all of the terminology and insider acronyms that you would use with your colleagues. You want to present the information in a way that is relatable and relevant to your audience. In the case of the medical scientist explaining the transmission of the Zika virus to thousands of people across the U.S. on national radio, it would be safe to assume that the majority of the listeners had little knowledge on this topic. The solution: Keep it simple.

The best way to explain complex messages to a broad audience is to use relatable, everyday examples and analogies that the audience is familiar with. And, use simple language. Lose the acronyms and jargon. The audience already knows you are smart, this is not the time to impress them with your extensive vocabulary. This is the age of very short attention spans. You must capture the attention of your audience quickly, so get to the “what’s in it for them” information as soon as you can. That is why they are listening to you; they want to quickly know, from an expert, how your topic will impact their lives.

Next week I’ll discuss an approach on how to break things into essential concepts and how to communicate them efficiently during a media interview.

Confused woman
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Simplifying complex messages

Recently, I was listening to a radio news program where a medical scientist was being interviewed on the Zika virus. The question was, How do mosquitoes transmit this virus? The three minute response from the doctor sounded like he was reading a PhD theses on the molecular biology of infectious diseases. The show’s host kept saying, “So, in simple terms, how would you explain this to our audience who aren’t scientist?”

This is a common scenario and often a huge challenge for subject matter experts speaking to reporters on complex topics. Whether explaining technology, astrophysics, medical breakthroughs, or other intricate processes, most experts feel they must explain every step of a process in order for everyone to “get it.” And, naturally, they lapse into using insider acronyms, words, and phrases that leave listeners looking like a deer in headlights.

When acting as a spokesperson or subject matter expert, it is important to remember your primary responsibility is to clarify and explain the topic. A media interview, broadcast or print, is not the time to break out the academic, engineering, scientific or technical vocabulary. This is the time to keep things simple and explain basic concepts.

But, how? When you are so immersed in a topic/subject/product/technology, it’s easy to skip the foundational elements, and jump right into the details. While you may think you will sound really smart and knowledgeable, you are  most likely confusing the heck out of the reporter and the audience – neither of which is ever a good thing! Over the next three weeks I’ll share a few quick, but highly effective, tips that will help you  simplify complex and multifaceted topics and specific key points: Here are today’s tips:

  1. Support statements with simple facts, charts, or visuals that are relatable to the general public.
  2. Use analogies and metaphors. Using comparisons to something that people do, see, or experience everyday  will help with comprehension.
  3. Tell a story. Storytelling that relates to the topic helps keep your audience engaged when the topic is technical and dry.

Next week I’ll share three more techniques that help provide clarity and eliminate confusion when the topic is complex.

I’ve been invited to speak!

In a few weeks I will be a panelist at Capitol Communicator’s annual conference in Washington D.C., Friday, June 10, 2016 at the NAHB Conference Center. I’ll be co-leading a session on an important topic: “Media Training: How to Simplify Complex Messages.”

Over the past month, I posted a series of articles about what to think about when you’ve been invited to speak: audience, logistics and format. Check, check, check. I’m ready to rock and roll.

The topic of simplifying complex messages is one that is near to my heart as a former TV reporter. When a reporter interviews someone on a complex topic, the one job of the interviewee is to clarify and explain, versus create more confusion. Getting too into the weeds on a topic is a common challenge with most subject matter experts, they are experts after all; so they have a tendency to bypass the basics and get into the grit of the topic. Not only have they confused the reporter even more, but they have also just lost the reporter’s attention.

That is why I am so excited to be participating in this workshop! I’m putting on my old reporters hat and providing PR professionals with techniques for streamlining intricate messages for their spokespeople.

The Capitol Communicator’s PR Summit is an annual, one-day conference for PR and communication professionals in the Mid-Atlantic Region. If you are in the area and would like to attend, you can register at http://www.prsummitdc.com/tickets. It promises to be a day filled with useful insights and information for PR pros at any level.

The specific details of my session are as follows:

  • Workshop – Media Training: How to Simplify Complex Messages
  • When – Friday, June 10,2016,  2:45 – 3:30 p.m.
  • Where – Auditorium,  NAHB Conference Center, 1201 15th Street NW, Washington, DC 20005.
  • Who – Carmie McCook, President, Carmie McCook & Associates, and Karen Addis, Senior Vice President, Van Eperen

Based in Washington, DC, Carmie McCook is a nationally respected, award winning executive communications expert, who has taught thousands of high-profile professionals, from CEOs of global 500 companies to small start-ups, how to become more powerful and credible communicators for media interview, B2B presentation, or public speaking event. For a full list of training services offered by Carmie McCook of Carmie McCook & Associates visitwww.carmie.com.

Establishing Credibility and Likeability
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Establishing Credibility and Likeability

Two necessary goals when being introduced as a keynote speaker

Imagine this scenario: You were just selected to be the keynote speaker at a conference. This is a great opportunity for you to establish yourself as an authority in your field to a captive audience of potential clients. Of course, developing a short speech that grabs and holds the audience’s attention is essential. But, to make an even stronger, positive impression, you need to actually grab your audience’s attention before you take the stage. That means you must establish credibility and set the stage for likeability. How? By always writing your own engaging introduction and sending it to the emcee or speaker coordinator.

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You’ve Been Invited to Speak. Now What? Part 3: Three things you need to know about the event’s format

Quick recap: In my last two posts, you’ve accepted the invitation to speak, you’ve done the research on your audience, you know the logistics about the room, and you’re finally ready to present. Just hold that thought one minute, though. What is the format of the speaking opportunity?

The term “format” is vague, but in this context I am referring to time factors and the overall agenda of the speaking event. Whether you are a solo presenter or part of a panel, all of these elements can make or break your success – and you want the odds stacked in your favor!

  1. Time allocation – It is critical to understand how much time has been allocated for you to speak. Typically, conferences schedule more time than is necessary for a memorable and engaging presentation, especially when the audience has already been sitting in other speaker workshops and presentations. Fifteen to twenty minutes is about as long as audience can remain attentive just listening to a single speaker in without having a lot of interactivity with the audience. For example, if the organizer gives you 45 minutes, tell her you will speak for 15-20 minutes then open the floor up to Q&A for 15 minutes, then suggest a 10 minute break. Or tell the organizer you only need 20 minutes to speak and let the organizer decide how to fill the additional 25 minutes. They can adjust their schedule by planning a break or bring the next speaker up earlier. Just don’t set yourself up for “wearing out your welcome” by speaking too long just to fill up time.
  2. Speaker/session schedule – If you are the solo speaker at an event, ask about what the audience will be doing just prior to coming to your presentation or what is on the agenda for right after you speak. If a pre-speaker networking reception is scheduled before you speak, get there early and mingle with the crowd. Ask questions: What do you hope to learn from my talk on XX today? What is the biggest question you have about XX? This gives you the opportunity to include some comments made to you by members of your audience, which always helps build “likability” between you and them.

When you are making a presentation of any kind, meals are you worst enemy. If you will be speaking during a meal, the challenges of holding any audience’s attention are quadrupled! Your energy level and content have to be at an extra high level from opening words to closing statement. Keep your presentation short. Ten minutes is as long as you can reasonably expect hungry people to remain attentive when their stomach is growling. When possible, ask that the serving of food and drinks be halted while you are speaking. Trying to talk over wait staff milling around with trays and coffee pots immediately diminishes the impact of your message.

If attendees just had lunch, you will be fighting the “post-lunch siesta” problem. You definitely want to keep your presentation short. But, if there is any way you can get the audience physically doing something, it will help keep their attention. Use your imagination and think of some activity that will tie in with your presentation: Ask everyone to write down something, stand and introduce themselves to a person near them, look under their chair for an envelope with a prize or something else in it, stand if they know the answer to a question you pose, etc. Incorporating physical movement always makes you stand out to an audience but it also helps combat “audience fatigue” when you have to speak right after a meal or at the end of long day.

  1. Panel discussions – This deserves a separate post (hint, hint!), but here are three quick questions to ask when being a part of a panel.

How many are on the panel? I advise my clients to avoid being on panels with four or more panelists. In my experience, three is the best size. A group of four can work if the moderator is a real professional and intervenes when someone goes over the allotted time for speaking (a topic for another post!). Otherwise, most panels with more than three speakers start causing problems: The panel discussion either goes overtime in an effort to accommodate every panelist, or the time for the discussion is too short for that many speakers and the moderator rushes everyone, giving some very little opportunity to speak. Either scenario is a recipe for the audience to quickly become disengaged and uninterested.

Who is the moderator and other panelist? Ask who the other panelists are and on what area of expertise they will be speaking. Ask for copies of their bios and Google their names and learn as much as you can about them. Ask who the moderator will be and get his contact information. To ensure a nice flow on event day, a good moderator will host a conference call with all of the speakers to review the format for the discussion. If one hasn’t been arranged, take the initiative to arrange one yourself. At this time you should discuss the general format of the panel discussion, agree on which speaker will address specific topics and the order of speakers, and review the rules on how long each person should speak when responding to questions.

May I speak first? If there is no obvious flow to who should speak first, prior to event day, ask the moderator to be the first to speak so you can set the tone and pace of the discussion. Even if Long-Winded Louie goes over his allotted speaking time and the discussion is running behind schedule, at least you have had the opportunity to connect with the audience before their attention drifted to picking up the kids from school or the cocktail reception awaiting them after the discussion!

Over the past three posts you learned what you need to know about your audience before you plan your presentation content, questions you should ask about the logistics of the room, and what you should know about the format of the event. Now, as long as you have followed my previous advice on developing and delivering fantastic content, you are ready to give a presentation worth of a TED Talk! See you on the stage!

 

You’ve Been Invited to Present, Now What? Part 2: Three Big Questions You Need to Ask About the Room Before You Present

You’ve accepted the invitation to speak, you’ve done the research on your audience, and you’ve just finalized your content. All done, right? Not necessarily.

While you have completed the bulk of the work for preparing to present, two things which are often overlooked are the setup of the room and technical logistics. The layout of the room and the technical components can have a huge impact on how smoothly your presentation goes. Everything from not being heard because of a poor microphone, to not being seen well because a huge support beam is blocking the view of part of the stage, will instantly cause your audience to tune out.    Read more

You’ve Been Invited to Present, Now What? Part 1: Four things you should know about your audience before giving a speech

Being invited to speak or present is an incredible professional compliment and opportunity. While the content of your speech is of course key, so is being relatable to your audience in an engaging way. A one-size-fits-all speech is never as effective as one tailored to your audience. Engaging your audience is extremely hard to do if you do not do your research. You wouldn’t present on a topic you know nothing about, so why should you treat your audience any differently? While it isn’t realistic to believe that you can know everything about your audience members beforehand, here are four general questions you should ask the event host before developing your content so you can plan a presentation that will better connect with your audience:

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Web Conferences, Meetings and Interviews
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Web Conferences, Meetings and Interviews

How to look and sound your best in the virtual world

As seen in Commpro.bizTechnology has fueled the “connected” employee and has empowered the workforce to transition from physical to remote offices without skipping a beat. Even though instant communication such as email and internal messaging systems is the new way of “walking to someone’s cube,” for quick exchanges of information, talking “face-to-face” via WebEx and Skype has become a lot more common for more in-depth discussions and even job interviews.

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fear-of-public-speaking

Fear of public speaking?

Seven easy steps to help get you on the road to recovery

Recently I’ve come across several articles about communication skills in early education settings. One that stood out to me was by Erik Palmer in EdWeek titled “Why Schools Need to Do a Better Job of Teaching Speaking Skills,”  which surmised that if there was more of an emphasis on oral communication skills during formal education years (K-12), the fear of public speaking would be lessened as an adult. The second article by Stacey Roshan, titled “How One Teacher Champions Student Reflection with Technology and Public Speaking” appears in EdSurge. Roshan discusses how Zaption, the video-based, interactive learning tool, can be used to help students improve public speaking skills.

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