public speaking

presenting like a rock star

Rock and roll2Does anyone else go to concerts and try to figure out how to do your job better? No? A side effect of being a presenter and facilitator is that I cannot attend any training, speech, or event without noticing what is done well, what could be better, and what I can learn from it.

Eighteen months ago I wrote a post called “Rock and Roll Presentation Skills” after seeing one of my favorite European bands perform. As a presenter, this band inspires me more than any other with their stage presence, energy, and connection to the crowd. By sheer coincidence the same band was performing in Dallas the same weekend I was there to attend HRevolution and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see them again.

Reflecting on what I took from this performance, the presentation lessons hold true with what I learned from their last performance.

1. There is a huge, gaping chasm between “pretty good” and “great”. Three local bands opened up and they were pretty good. But there was a big contrast between the opening and main performances and, oddly, it had little to do with musical skills. Some of the local bands had outstanding musicians, but it wasn’t enough to close the gap. They did a “good” job, but not one that made me want to hear more from them.

That has me wondering what I need to do to leap to the next level. Obviously, a presentation has to be well written and delivered with reasonable skill. But, content and technical skills only get you to good. What are the components that move it to great?

2. ALL presentations matter.Although largely unknown in the States, the main band headlines festivals in Europe, playing to tens of thousands of people. In stark contrast, the show in Dallas was in a bar that held maybe a couple hundred people. They could have viewed Dallas an unimportant show and just gone through the motions.

Instead, they played as though it were the most important show on the tour. Full out, completely committed, pouring sweat, not an ounce of energy held back. Even with their relentless schedule of touring around the world they showed no signs of boredom, exhaustion, or the sense that it was just one more gig. Instead, they radiated joy and enthusiasm.

For me the big question is: How do I structure my life and mindset so I have the energy and focus to be at 100% for every presentation? How do I ensure I’m always treating every presentation as though it will define my career?

3. Engage the crowd. Rather than being the untouchable rockstars up on a pedestal, they interacted with the audience at every opportunity. The headlining singer continually and sincerely referred to the crowd as “friends”, showed off signs held by audience members, offered choices of what songs they’d play next, celebrated the energy of the crowd, and thanked the audience for coming out to see them. Sounds obvious, but the local bands did little of this.

What are the obvious things to connect with my audiences and classes that I’m not doing enough or at all? How can I better create a feeling where I’m speaking with the audience rather than at them? How can I connect with as many people as possible on as individual of level as possible.

4. Make it about the audience, not the presenter.The local bands kept mentioning the CDs they had for sale in the back, reasons they weren’t at their best, where they were playing next, blah, blah, blah. Any words between songs were few and focused on the band. In contrast, it would have been easy – almost expected – for the headliners to show up with rock and roll egos completely unchecked and gripe about the venue or small crowd. They could have bragged about the shows they normally do or made it clear a bar gig was beneath them. Yet, everything the headliners said – every single word– was focused on audience and how fun and great they were. It was clear the band was thrilled and grateful that everyone had showed up to see them.

Our words reveal our focus – as a speaker, is the concern for the audience and participants or for ourselves? This is a subtle, but really powerful difference. The audience knows and responds accordingly.

5. Keep it simple. One would think that less experience performers would keep it simple and focus on walking before they run, but it was the opposite. The local bands had five and six string basses and seven and eight (!) string guitars, using sophisticated techniques to play complex lines. The headlining musicians used a traditional instruments, straightforward techniques, and played comparatively simple songs.

As a presenter it’s tempting to show off with technology, complicated materials, fancy language, credentials, etc. But that’s all about the presenter. Complex is the lazy route. Simple is difficult, it takes more time to do, and it often feels unprofessional to the novice. What beginning presenters often miss is simple requires expert level judgment, effort, and refinement. Simple keeps it about the message connecting with the audience.

6. Have fun. It’s hard to travel day after day, connect with the audience, be grateful for any opportunity to get your message out there, and have a blast while doing it. Despite near continual touring schedule and the small venue the headliners were smiling, playing, joking around, and giving full effort like there’s nothing else they’d rather be doing. The headliners seemed to be doing their dream job, the local bands seemed to be showing up for work.

The differences between good and great are small, but significant.

It’s funny how the things that set us apart are often not all that big on the surface. Notice how none of this is about their musical ability. The gap between the opening bands and the headliner was much more about approach, attitude, and connection. Could the local bands have done all this? Yes. Did they? Not really. They were more than skilled enough, but in the end were no more memorable than the background music the club played over the PA between the sets.

It’s a nice reminder to continually step up my intention, focus, and connection. I need to make sure I’m creating a great user experience and not getting between my message and my audience.

For you, what’s the difference between a great presentation and one that’s merely good?

Advertisements

what’s stopping you?

What’s Stopping You?

In the late ‘90s, Fox Racing put out a poster and magazine ad of legendary motocrosser Doug Henry removing his jersey after a ride. The centerpiece is an ugly scar running down and around his side, a visible reminder of a nasty crash where his back broke on impact from an 80-foot fall. While still coming back from that injury, another crash broke both wrists (think about that for a second). Yet, he persevered to win a historical championship. Grit, toughness, and determination don’t even begin to describe what it took. The simple caption to the ad and poster was, “What’s stopping you?”

This was a hugely inspiring poster for me. Every sport has its share of similar stories of athletes pushing far beyond what we think the body is capable of and gutting out wins against the odds. And so what? The further along life I get, the more I’m inspired by the amazing spirit and determination of ordinary people. People without multi-million dollar contracts to fight for, people who don’t have the one and only career they are qualified for on the line, people whose grit goes unnoticed by ESPN or CNN.

I love public speaking and joke that, as an introvert, it’s my version of bungee jumping. But I get that I’m kind of weird and most people hate, hate, hate even the idea of being in front of a group. People fear speaking more than death so, as Jerry Seinfeld once pointed out, most people would rather be the person in the casket at a funeral than the one giving the eulogy. Few want to be the scrutinized center of attention. Fewer still enjoy it and seek it out.

My kids recently tried out for a school play along with 150 other students. They all had to do a short monologue and sing part of a song. One of those trying out was a 7th grade girl who stutters. Her name starts with “S” so she was struggling to introduce herself before she even attempted her monologue. Imagine that. Really put yourself in her shoes. She didn’t have to be there, she chose it. Putting yourself out in front of peers and risking rejection is tough enough when you’re an adult. What she did? Courage. Pure courage.

I know you have some things you want to attempt, some things to be accomplished. Unfulfilled personal and career goals. What’s stopping you?

presenting and playing bigger

Would you do it again?

I had just finished my second presentation in two days. In a rare moment of down time at the recent Illinois State SHRM Conference (#ILSHRM13), my friend and fellow presenter Doug Shaw (@dougshaw1) was asking if I’d ever again pitch two brand new presentations for one conference.

Sitting there with both presentations finished, I was in a bit of a post-event daze. The past several weeks had been a huge push by me and my co-presenter to have both presentations ready. In truth, they’d been ready to go weeks before but I couldn’t get happy with them and kept making significant changes right up until it was time to present. That perfectionist streak plus personal issues, work issues, and an ever-present desire to play bigger took their toll and left me drained. Even though I was extremely pleased with the participants’ responses, energy, and feedback, my initial thought was, “No, it’s too much effort.” But I know better. I’d do it again in a heartbeat and I’d relish the challenge. The tiredness I was feeling was the good exhaustion that comes from giving your all.

Most of my inspiration as a presenter comes from athletes and musicians. Both fields require tremendous mental and physical preparation. There is a Hollywood myth that the truly talented just show up and are naturally great because of their heart and desire. Reality plays out different. Legendary motorcycle racer Bob Hannah once said something to the effect of: “On race day it doesn’t matter who wants to win more. Everyone wants to win. What matters is who wanted to win most six months ago.” Results go to those who gutted out the prep work and practice far away from the glitz and glory.

Several months ago I had the chance to see the Swedish metal band Sabaton and I wrote a bit about the show in rock and roll presentation skills. They are a relatively unknown in the US but big enough to play at and headline festivals in Europe. They’ve performed to audiences of thousands and thousands, yet I saw them in a large bar with maybe 100 or so attending. Rather than being discouraged or thinking it was beneath them, they played like it was the most important show in their careers. Dripping sweat three songs in, there was an enthusiastic, bombastic joy to their playing and an amazing connection with the audience. Big crowd, small crowd, it didn’t matter, they held nothing back. Since then, that performance has been my inspiration when I’m preparing to speak.

I love presenting. Love as in I want to be among the best, yet I’m so far from it that the gap hurts. Love as in it is painful to not yet be able to write and deliver the presentations I see in my mind – I know the beauty of where it could be and I see where it is and get frustrated at the space between the two. Love as in I’m perpetually on an emotional pendulum swinging between the cockiness of thinking I’m pretty good at it and the despair of thinking I’ll never be good enough. Love as in I enjoy that pain, frustration, and heartbreak because I know it’s pushing me to be better.

Although I’ve been a facilitator for years and lead classes in six countries, I’d never really spoken much at conferences. Facilitating and presenting are similar, but different and this has been an amazing year so far. Huge thanks and appreciation to the folks at Louisiana SHRM, Illinois SHRM, Voice of the Customer (VoC) Fusion, and Central Texas HR Management Association for the opportunities to speak, share ideas, learn, and be a part of moving HR and business forward.

I’m excited for the opportunities 2014 will bring. My co-presenter and I both have day jobs so our participation is voluntary and has to be balanced against all of our regular responsibilities. But that’s no reason not to play bigger. In my dream world, we will return to all the conferences above plus some, do a keynote or two, and speak outside the States.

But enough about me. What’s your love? What are you needing, wanting, desiring to do that you may never get paid for doing, yet tickles at your brain? What pushes, drives, burns, torments, and taunts you to be better and play bigger?

rock and roll presentation skills, pt 2

I see many, many parallels between musicians and presenters. Both groups are faced with the challenges of building connection with large groups, of creating interaction, of sharing messages, of standing apart from their competition and creating their own unique identity. Both are in the spotlight and build and create energy from the crowd, and both can be very uncomfortable if the crowd isn’t on their side. So, as I try to sharpen my presentation skills I look to live music performances for inspiration and ideas. A few months back I wrote Rock and Roll Presentation Skills after attending a live show. Today I want to learn from two specific video clips that really resonate for me as a presenter.

The first is from AC/DC playing on a British music show in about 1977. This is before they were global stars and they are on a musical variety show so it’s unlikely that more than a few in the audience had heard of them or were excited to see them play. This is very clear in the expressions of the crowd. Some look horrified, some bored, some confused, and only a few look interested, let alone enthused.

So, it’s a semi-interested crowd at best. You’ve got a sound (message) that won’t connect or resonate with many in the audience. In fact, you’ve got a sound (message) that’s different than everything else that’s popular at the time. You have a small time slot and then you’re done. What do you do?

The “safe” way would be to play it safe, tone down the sound (message), do a song that most would be familiar with, and try not to turn anyone off. OR… you can turn the amps up to 11 and play like you’re trying to blow the roof off of the place. Unapologetic full force rock and roll. Do the unexpected. Send the strong message that this is who you are, take it or leave it. Don’t let the crowd bring you down, just play bigger than ever and leave everything on the stage. Don’t even acknowledge the doubters and haters, just build love with those who are interested. This has been Seth Godin’s message for years – ignore the masses, build your tribe.

 

The second video is Arch Enemy playing at the Download Festival a few years back. A warning: they are not for everyone. The vocalist has a style practically all her own and is one of the very few women to bring that sound. And, no apologies, she doesn’t care if you don’t like it. The band has a style full of paradox that brings out the haters, even among those who like heavy metal, but they aren’t trying to please everyone. Again, this is playing to the tribe, not to the masses. But what really stands out for me as a presenter is her stage presence. Turn the sound off and watch her body language. Her presence is huge and she owns the stage like few others. Yet, she also clearly has a connection with the audience which is tens of thousands of people strong. That is a deep certainty about who she is and what she’s doing. There is no hesitation, no “I hope you like me”, just full ownership of the message and performance.

(Second warning: there is one brief bit of swearing at the end, but if you make it that far, I doubt it’s an issue for you.)

What’s my lesson as a presenter? Learn from the best but be myself. Play to my strengths. Trying to please everyone is counterproductive and actually pleases no one. Bring myself 100% and don’t hold back – never finish a presentation thinking I could have done more. No matter the size or interest of the audience, present like it’s the most important presentation of my career. Push myself and the presentation to 11. Preparation matters. It’s impossible to give my full self without knowing the presentation at the sub-conscious level because thinking about it builds barriers between me and the audience. Oh, and go where the moment takes you.

What have I missed? What other lessons are there for us presenters?

 

rock and roll presentation skills

A side effect of being a presenter and facilitator is that I cannot attend any training, speech, or event without mentally taking note of what they are doing well and what I could do to improve my own skills.20130205_234003

The other night I saw a concert with two local opening bands and a European headlining act on a world tour. A middle of the week show, in club with maybe 100 people, this was clearly not going to make the band rich – it was likely more of a chance to make some gas money to get to the weekend at a much bigger venue.

The local bands were good. For local bands. But there was a big contrast between the presentation skills of those who had day jobs and were musicians on the side and those who were full-time musicians. Lots to learn for anyone who gets up in front of others:

1. Engage the crowd. Connect with as many people as possible on as individual of level as possible. The headlining singer continually referred to the crowd as “friends”, pointed out people in the audience, brought signs people were holding up onto the stage to show them off, gave the audience a choice of what song they’d play next, repeatedly told the crowd how crazy/enthusiastic/loud they were being, and thanked the audience for coming out on a weeknight. Sound obvious? The local bands did none of this. What are the obvious things to connect with my audiences and classes that I’m not doing enough or at all?

2. Recognize ALL presentations matter. Whether in a stadium or a small bar, all shows matter. The headlining band had played 200 shows around the world in the past 10 months – that’s a show two nights out of every three. Yet, they showed no signs of boredom, exhaustion, or the sense that it was just one more gig. They played as though it were the most important show on the tour. Full out, completely committed, pouring sweat, not an ounce of energy held back. The local bands showed up and played as though it were just another show. Compared to the headliners, they were restrained, half-hearted, and holding back. As a presenter and facilitator it would be easy to fall into the trap of thinking I’ll just wing it, it doesn’t matter, it’s just a little presentation.

3. Make it about the audience, not the presenter. The local bands kept mentioning the CDs they had for sale in the back, that you could download them on iTunes, blah, blah, blah. Any words between songs were few and really focused on the band. Everything the headliners said – every single word– was focused on audience and how fun and great they were. It was clear the band was thrilled and grateful that everyone had showed up to see them. It would have been easy – almost expected – for the headliners to show up with rock and roll egos completely unchecked and complain, gripe, and moan about the small venue, small crowd, lack of attention they get, etc. This is a subtle, but really powerful difference. Our words reveal our focus – is the concern for the audience and participants or for ourselves? As a presenter I have the choice to punish the few that are fully engaged OR be thankful and build their commitment even further – guess which one leads to success and which one leads to rapid obscurity.

4. Keep it simple. Interestingly, both local bands had bass players with five or six string instruments, using sophisticated techniques to play complex lines. The headlining bass player used a traditional four string bass with a pick and often played just one note repeatedly or used comparatively simple bass lines. As a presenter it’s tempting to show off with technology, complicated materials, fancy language, credentials, etc. But that’s all about the presenter. Complex is the lazy route. Simple is difficult, it takes more time to do, and it feels unprofessional when you’re a novice. What amateur presenters miss is that simple often requires expert level judgment, effort, and refinement. Simple keeps it about the message connecting with the audience.

5. Have fun. It’s easy to get jaded and burnt out and feel like you’re not getting the respect you deserve. It’s hard to show up, connect with the audience, be grateful for any opportunity to get your message out there, and have a blast while doing it. Presenting is the greatest job in the world IF you enjoy it. If you’re not having fun, it’s a private hell. 200+ shows into the current tour and the headliners were smiling, playing, and connecting like there’s nothing else they’d rather be doing.

It’s funny how the things that set us apart are often not all that big on the surface. Could the local bands have done all this? Yes. Did they? Not really. They were more than skilled enough, but in the end were no more memorable than the background music the club played over the stereo between the bands.

A nice reminder I need to continually step up my intention, focus, and connection. I need to make sure I’m creating a great user experience and not getting between my message and my audience.

What thinks you?

Guest Post: Corsets come off in Downton Abbey. Time they come off for us as well

A special event today – my first guest blogger! Today’s post is from Peter Watts and it originally appeared on The Presenters’ BlogPeter is also a fan of Downton Abbey and his post coincides nicely with the one I did a little while ago on leadership lessons from Downton Abbey. Enjoy!

 

Poor Lord Grantham. He has no idea what’s coming. Corsets are about to start coming off all over the place.

World War 1 has changed the Downton landscape of Season Three socially, morally, and economically. Old certainties no longer count. When individuals both upstairs and downstairs within the Abbey try to use those old certainties to exert control over others, the consequences are seldom what they intend.

As presenters we too live in a changed world; one changed by mobile technology.

When audiences can simply film or photo their way through a presentation, it is no longer realistic to pull up an intellectual drawbridge and attempt to hide behind a © copyright symbol. While we may have been born into a world of Intellectual Property fiefdom, the walls that held that fiefdom together crumble a little more each time somebody lifts a smartphone.

Of course one way to handle this might be to ban the use of mobile phones within the audience. If you have ever tried this then you will already know how unsuccessful the approach is.

The corset of “please turn off your mobile phones” no longer works. It’s time for collaboration, not corsets.

When we ring-fence our IP it is because scarcity mentality tells us that if we release this precious idea, we’ll never get another one. Better to lock it away.

Abundance mentality however would tell us that where that idea came from, there are plenty more waiting to be born. Your idea might trigger thoughts in somebody else, and yet another person’s ideas might trigger thoughts in you.

This only happens though, if we let go of © for corset and for copyright, and instead embrace © for collaboration.

Will Lord Grantham learn his lesson by the end of Season Three, because even the Dowager is loosening up her laces.

 

two secrets for better public speaking in 5 minutes or less

[Ok, just had to use an infomercial style title this morning. Seemed like a fun way to kick off a Saturday]

Public speaking is a crucial career (and life) skill that requires practice and persistence before most people feel comfortable. And, no matter how good we get, there is no finish line – there is always room to develop our skill even further. It can be a tedious and painful process, but there is a way to short cut it a little.

Use your video camera (differently)

Videotaping yourself presenting – and actually watching the video – is the only way you can see how your audience is experiencing you. We all know that. But it can be lengthy, tedious process. Here are two “secret” ways to shortcutting the process and picking up on nuances you might otherwise miss.

Different way #1: It’s not what you say, it’s your body language

Shut the sound off. That’s right: watch your presentation without listening to it. Communication is 55% body language and with the volume down all your attention is on your presence. In just minutes (5 or less!) you can easily see how confident, energetic, enthusiastic, charming, engaging, etc. you are.

Different way #2: Did you really mean to move like that?

Watch it in fast forward. It’s amazing how much you can pick up about your presence and body language that you don’t notice at regular speed (but your audience is noticing subconsciously). Are you flapping your arms about, pacing like a lion in solitary confinement, or stuck in a repetitive gesture? You’ll see it right away (that’s right – 5 minutes or less!).

Don’t words matter?

Yes, sort of. Words are about 10% of the message received by your audience. It’s an important 10% that can either be supported or completely undermined and negated by your presence and body language. Shutting the sound off or watching on fast forward removes the distraction of your words and lets you really focus on how you are coming across.

nerves of steel or just nervous?

I recently did a post on public speaking called the one skill to develop. Yesterday I was asked, “How do you not get nervous when doing a presentation?” It’s a great question that got me to thinking and I realized the answer is not what one might expect. I don’t have any tips to not be nervous because, for me, it’s all part of the process. The trick is living with it and using it to your advantage:

Nervous is normal: you are going to get nervous when doing a presentation. This is the big one. Everyone gets nervous and excited when doing something significant. Trying to not be nervous is only going to draw your attention to how nervous you are and make you even more nervous. It’s like trying to fall asleep by thinking about how much you need to fall asleep. Accept your feelings as normal and go do a great job.

Never compare yourself to how you think others are.The problem is, we look at people who are good at speaking and presenting and think that not being nervous is the way we should be. But we don’t see the practice, and fretting, and worrying. We don’t know that they felt like they were going to puke adrenalin right up until they started. We didn’t see them all jittery. We don’t even know what nervous looks like for them.

There is a very fine line between nervous and excited. Very fine. For me, the physiological response is the same – shaking hands, butterflys in the stomach, my attention span shortens, sometimes I start to sweat. I suspect that we often confuse being excited for being nervous.

Nervous does not equal failure. You’re nervous – so what? Don’t judge your presentation on how you felt. Judge it on the end results and the impact that it had on the audience.

Use your nerves to your advantage. I get nervous/excited when I’m looking forward to something, when I want to do a really good job, when there’s some consequence. There’s a ton of energy coursing through your body. Channel it and use it to put life and passion into your presentation.

Look forward to your nervousness. We’re all different. I used to race motorcycles and bicycles and developed a habit that’s served me well when speaking. No matter how nervous I was before a race, sitting on the starting line always created intense calm, focus, and confidence for me. All the internal chatter gets quiet and my whole being was laserbeamed on the first corner. I find speaking is the same for me. No matter how nervous/excited I am, experience has taught me that once I get started it all comes together. I look forward to those first moments when I stop being scattered and my brain quiets down and I get focused. Over the years, I’ve simply trained myself to look forward to those opening moments.

Experience helps. No lie. The more you do anything, the less awkward you’ll feel. You’ll never get better if you stay on the sidelines kicking yourself for getting nervous. Get out and do it.

Have fun. In a weird way, the audience will reflect your state of mind. If you relax and have fun, they will too.

 

Anyone else have some favorite tips to help deal with nervousness when giving presentations?

the one skill to develop

Want a leg up professionally? Need a career boost? Become a better public speaker.

I can hear the collective response: Ohhh, ugh, groan. Not public speaking. Yawn. That’s lame. Give me career advice I can use. Maybe more school or certifications. I hate public speaking.

And that’s a big reason why it’s such a powerful skill. So many people hate and fear public speaking that even a mediocre speaker really stands out.

Why public speaking?

It’s valuable in all fields and every position I can think of. Any position that involves speaking to another human benefits from better communication.

I have met leaders from numerous countries and cultures and cannot think of a single one who wasn’t an adequate public speaker. Speaking and communication skills are crucial to being an effective leader.

Your skills get noticed much more quickly. Who does leadership remember: the talented wallflower or the talented person who speaks up, interacts, and leads discussion?

It’s (relatively) easy to learn. You’ve already been speaking to people almost your entire life.

You can use it personally and professionally. In fact, if you are involved in community, school, or church groups, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to put your public speaking skills to use.

 

Suggestions?

This is a big topic and books can and have been written on it. That said, there are a couple of things that really helped me:

1. Your audience is pulling for you. Most of the people listening hate public speaking so they empathize strongly with you. They feel your pain and want you to succeed. Unless you are a professional speaker, they are very forgiving of mistakes.

2. They don’t know what they don’t know. This was the most freeing realization for me. The audience doesn’t have a script. They aren’t verifying that you are saying what you intended to say. They will never know if you make minor mistakes or leave something out. Relax.

3. Know the central point and always speak from there. There’s two sides to this. First, when preparing, always stay focused on the central point and strip away anything that doesn’t directly support it. Second, if you get off track, don’t worry about what you had intended to say, just speak from the central point and you’ll be ok.

4. Put some heart in it. No matter how dry the topic, you can find ways to connect to the audience’s humanness. People respond to their emotions, not logic. You are speaking for a reason – to offer insights, inspire, persuade, influence – otherwise you could just send an email.

5. The audience is always asking themselves, “Why do I care about this? What’s in it for me?” so you should always be answering that as you speak.

6. Introverts can have a great advantage as speakers. Never confuse being introverted with being shy because it’s not the same thing at all. And being talkative can be counterproductive when it comes to public speaking. Introverts seem to be good as staying on track, keeping it concise, and providing great insights and analysis.

7. Good speakers work hard at it. You never see all the preparation that went into even a short presentation. That speaker who looks relaxed and glib and gives a great presentation likely spent hours preparing and practicing and worrying and sweating. Very, very few can ad lib a good presentation. Those who can are almost always relying on years of experience. Rest assured, it is completely normal to need to invest a lot of time getting ready.

Like any skill, no one is great at public speaking right from the start. It takes time and practice and patience to improve. But, it is also well worth the effort because it’s a skill that sets you apart.