I bet you never thought in a million years that I’d admit on this blog that there are things about public speaking that scare me. Well, there are. I’ve been in the speaking business for almost ten years now and while I’ve had my share of successes, I’ve also had a lot of non-successes (I’m trying to avoid referring to them as “complete failures“). Some of them were my fault while others could be blamed on other people, but these are mistakes that I’ll never forget – and that’s a good thing. You see, these are mistakes that I desperately do not want to repeat.
Let’s face it, speeches are a lot more fun to watch when the speaker is energized and engaging. Plus you also pay closer attention and learn more too. Chances are that if you’ve ever fallen asleep during a presentation, the presenter’s style had more to do with it than the content of the presentation. I’ve seen presenters take a dry topic such as software testing and make it entertaining. I’ve also seen presenters take an exciting topic like getting rich and bore the audience to sleep. And yes, I’ve been guilty of giving a less than enthusiastic talk and could feel the drain of energy in the room.
So how can you take your speech and make it more fun and interesting for the audience? Well, first you don’t want to overdo it. A lot of speakers, especially those whose speaking experience is primarily at Toastmasters clubs, tend to overdo it. They overuse gestures and body language, do goofy things to get the audience’s attention like shout or make them do silly exercises or they throw excess humor into their talks. The good news is that you don’t have to go through all that bother. Simply be excited about your talk and do what comes natural. Here are the three areas to focus on.
The late Chris Farley was an amazing actor and comedian. It’s a shame that he died so early and so young. One of his more famous roles (and one of my favorites) was Matt Foley, Motivational Speaker. If you’ve never seen the skit on Saturday Night Live, here is a short clip.
The character is interesting because he’s the complete opposite of what most of us think of when we think of motivational speakers. He’s grossly overweight, sloppily dressed, rude to his audience and speaks in a condescending and angry tone. And of course, that’s the point of the character and why it’s funny. You might be surprised, but I’ve seen a number of supposed motivational speakers that fit into one or more of these categories. And in many cases, it lessens the effect of their message on the audience.
If you asked me five years ago who I thought the best motivational speaker out there was, I would have told you Tony Robbins. Yes, he’d frequently mispronounce words like “nuclear” (as nuke-you-lure) and “produce” (as per-deuce). But his material was so good that I, even as an active member of Toastmasters, would overlook something so minuscule because the rest of his delivery and his material were fantastic. However, if you listen to Tony Robbins today he has an edgier presentation style. He uses more slang and hip words. But what really surprised me is the amount of profanity he uses. We’re not talking just words like “hell” and “damn” — he’s dropping f-bombs left and right. And the part that bothers me about it is it seems like he goes out of his way to use them.
Now, before you think I’m one of those people that is easily offended by bad language, let me assure you that I’m not. I grew up in the 80’s & 90’s listening to the likes of Andrew Dice Clay and 2 Live Crew — a comedian and rap group both known for their over-the-top language. On top of that, I find movies like American Pie and those in that genre to be hilarious — in fact, my favorite character in the films is Steve Stiffler who uses the f-word almost as much as Tony Robbins.
When I was an instructor in graduate school, the syllabus I handed out to my students had a part that said “there’s no such thing as a dumb question. The only dumb question is the one you didn’t ask.” Having just finished my undergraduate studies, I knew this statement was garbage. I explained my thoughts to the person who insisted we put it in the syllabus, but she insisted that I was wrong. It wasn’t long before my point was proven.
In one of my classes, I was explaining how we’d be learning to use the internet – a relatively new concept back in 1996. One student raised his hand and asked “are we going to look at porn?” I replied by pointing out the dumb question quote in the syllabus and thanked him for helping me prove my point.
I’m always getting asked questions about Toastmasters. Whether it’s someone attending one of my classes or watching me give a speech, when they hear that I help people with their public speaking skills, the topic of Toastmasters often comes up. While I recommend Toastmasters and the most common question I’m asked is which club to join, I was recently asked an interesting question: how should I dress when visiting a club?
Every club is different so it really does depend on the club. Community clubs meeting at night or on the weekends might be casual while corporate clubs might require more formal dress. So here are some tips:
So you’re doing some training or a workshop and you’ve got your PowerPoint presentation perfected. Now the big question: do you print out the slides and give them to your audience? I’m often asked this in my speaking classes and by clients and my answer is typical: it depends. Sometimes it makes sense to provide them to the audience prior to the presentation while other times it’s better to not. Let’s look at the pros and cons.