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Posts Tagged ‘audience’

Expectations

My grandson hates his school picture. Of course he hates them; he’s a teenager. It would be a big surprise if he came home and said “Wow! Look at this great picture of me. Doesn’t it make me look good? Thank you for buying the set of pictures for me.”

Our expectations of people have to be realistic, otherwise we set ourselves up for disappointment. When you stand up to speak the audience has certain expectations of you. These may be grounded in previous experience – they know your style and how interesting you are likely to be.

If you are to grow as a speaker you should try to at least achieve and maybe exceed these expectations. You have worked on structure so the speech hangs together better and flows better.You’ve beefed up the content and you are putting ore life into your presentation.

And you have added stronger stories:

  • you have found new stories
  • you have added detail or depth to previous stories
  • you have found a new perspective for a story – you tell it from a different viewpoint that uncovers new meaning
  • you dig deeper into he story to discover a new layer of understanding

The audience, or some members of it, may not have heard you speak before. They may not know your reputation, or level as a speaker. For these people you are establishing your benchmark as a speaker. They will establish their expectations of you based on this.

So you always have to do better as a speaker to exceed that benchmark. This is how you grow.

There are people who will say “I don’t care what other people think – I only have to meet my own expectations of myself.”

But what if you are too easy on yourself, or too hard on yourself, or you have somehow managed to rationalize that fact that everyone yawns through your speeches?

Sensitivity to the expectations of the audience gives you additional data from which you can gauge your progress as a speaker. As you tell your new – or newly-adapted – story you can tell from the expressions in front of you whether it worked.

Are you getting smiles, Aha expressions, nods? Or is there more than one ‘I don’t get it’ look?

If you have trouble speaking in English a Toastmaster audience will usually support you as you gradually improve your fluency. They expect that each time you will speak a little more clearly than the time before. Their reward for this is the unique stories you can tell them from a life experience very different from their own.

Stories are easier to express, easier to get into and understand than more abstract ideas. Your stories increase the expectation of you as a more and more fluent speaker. Well-told stories also increase the perception of you as an interesting and increasingly accomplished speaker.

Grow the expectations of you with stronger stories

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Change it Up!

This week I had the privilege of interviewing Carol Carter, who is one of the top 18 speakers world-wide within Toastmasters International.

She was just back home after competing at the International convention in Florida. I asked her what advice she would give to people who wanted to improve their public speaking.

Her advice could be summarized in the phrase “Change it Up!” Often speakers speak in front of the same people in the same place almost all the time. They get comfortable there. They know the audience and the audience is comfortable with them. And especially with good speakers, they start to overlook any weak points.

Even if you are a beginning speaker, try to speak in different venues. A speech can come across very differently in a board room, on a  stage, in the rec. center or the library. It isn’t just a matter of projecting your voice more, or having more or less room to move around.  It’s that the place feels different. The lighting will be different, the audience distributed differently, there may or may not be a podium or a table.

These  differences throw you  a little, even if you get there ahead of time to check them out. (And you will get there ahead of time to check them out, right?) Good speakers are used to a wide variety of venues.

Good speakers also realize that the audience makes a difference. What resonates with one audience will fall flat with another. What makes your home audience smile may produce long laughter from a different group. You need to speak in front of different audiences to get a sense of what is universal versus what is part of your home group.

Humor, emotion, an outlook or approach that might be offensive to some people changes from group to group. A good speaker has a handle on that.

The suggestions you get, or speech evaluations will vary with different groups. What one group sees as delightfully animated might seem overdone to another group. Neither is necessarily ‘right’ but you need to take all the feedback into consideration.

Use your experience with different groups to help you adapt and improve your speeches. If you have a speech with three main points and three good anecdotes, change the anecdotes to different stories. How does  that work out? What if you change the sequence of the main points? Or if you change the focus of the points slightly?

All the experiments above will help enrich you as a speaker and develop skills and nuances you didn’t know you had. And they will give you confidence – confidence in the strength of your speech and confidence in your ability to face any group in any venue.

That’s what makes speakers professional.

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You get this terrific idea for a humorous speech. You write it, hone it and practice it. Then you practice it some more, build in the gestures, practice it some more with longer pauses. And practice it again.

A funny thing happens along the way. All the humor seems to drain out of the speech. That strong funny conclusion you were so pleased with? Now it feels like just an exercise in body language, enunciation and pausing. The part you thought was so brilliant when you started? Flat.

You need to practice, especially for a contest, to refine the humor and bring out every little nuance in the stories. However, it does tend to leave you feeling overdone and flat. What to do about that?

One solution is not to practice the whole speech every time. Have shorter practice sessions where you practice one segment. Practice it not to become word perfect, but to reach into and develop the essence of the humor in it.

Practice making each little humorous anecdote or one-liner a tiny perfect masterpiece of humor. Practice it with its introduction and its bridge to the next part, so you keep the continuity in your mind.

As you do this – bearing in mind the essential humor of that particular segment – you will come to feel the essence of it more deeply. That deep feeling of humor is what you must carry over to the audience.

Humor is appreciated at many different levels. There’s the quick laugh but there can also be a deep appreciation of the human foible being held up for examination. There are fast belly laughs as well as smiles and nods that say “Ain’t that the truth!”

You will hear giggles and you’ll see rueful smiles that they “Oh yes! That happened to me once. I made that mistake. Now I can see the silliness of the situation. I never saw the funny side before. Now I can laugh about it.”

There’s a whole gamut of humor between introspection, belly laugh and clever topical one-liner. As you work on your speech feel the quality of the humor. Sense how the different levels might hit home in the mind of the listener. Can you add in another level?

As you polish each humorous moment feel the way it might reach its target. Then expand it. If it’s a quick belly laugh, can you add depth? If it’s a deeper reminiscence can you add a quick laugh to back it up and carry it one step further?

When it comes time to deliver your speech these feelings and insights that you have built in will come across to your audience. You will have full-value humor and a multidimensional speech.

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If you are the leader, then you are the most important person in this situation, right?

The others are just followers. They have their skills and their uses – you’d be the first to acknowledge that. But, bottom line, you are the leader, the one who has the ideas, the vision, who holds the whole thing together. so it’s all about you, your vision, your plans. When they succeed , it will be your success.

In the first 73 words of this I’ve used the words ‘you or ‘your’ 8 times. More than one word in ten is about ‘you’. Did it make you feel that you are focal to what this article is about?

That is the feeling you want your people to have when you are speaking to them. People will not think that the talk you are giving is all about them if you use ‘I’, ‘me’  or ‘my’ all the time.

“My vision is…

“What I want to do first is…”

“I’ve always found that…so I want to…”

“My experience has shown me that…”

‘We’ is a good step forward. It’s inclusive but as you outline plans for what ‘we’ are going to do the sceptics in the group will be aware that ‘we’ comprises you in your air-conditioned office and him/her doing the scut work.

The surest way to bring your group onside is to speak to ‘you’. If nothing else it changes your mind-set from yourself as the central, important figure to remembering that other people are involved and they have mind-sets too.

Their mind-set -and your mind-set are not the same. As you address the group your job is to align mind sets so that their thinking about this project pretty much mirrors yours.

What is their mind set? They may be apprehensive – newness tends to create apprehension. Talk to some of the group ahead of time and get an idea of what they are thinking. What are their concerns? What positives or negatives are taking up mind space?

Perhaps they already know that you have an MBA from Harvard and a twenty-year brilliant career with XYZ company, but how  does this affect them personally?

Your vision may be superb but does that mean I have to work overtime, and will I be paid for it?

Get the ‘I, me,myself’ moved from your mind to the mind of each person who is listening to you. This is not a weakness; you are not giving up some of your  power. You are tying into the thoughts and ideas of others. Understanding their ‘I’ thoughts and turning them into ‘you’ phrases in your leadership speeches connects you faster and more effectively.

That’s what you are aiming for.

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OK, You’ve delved deep into your memory and all the events, stories and characters in your life and come up with a theme. In your head you’ve cobbled together a reasonable outline. So now you have a healthy skeleton to flesh out. Then comes the fun part: dressing it up.

Your carefully chosen anecdotes have people in them that are larger than life. They have qualities that most of your audience can easily identify with – impatience, talking too much, exercising too little. But the characteristic you choose to develop is going to be larger yet again. How big can you make it? Good! Now make it bigger.

And while you enlarge it in words, in word pictures and in anecdotes, rehearse it so that your whole body expresses this characteristic in all its ridiculous glory. Is the person hyper? Up the ante, make it more hyper than that. and bigger again, so hyper that…

How is your body conveying hyper-ness? You have to show it to get full value for the humor. How does it look if you pace in all directions, short steps, hands going, arms going, head in movement. As you list off all the major tasks this person completes before breakfast can you represent them with your body language?

Put the person in a setting where hyperactivity is either inappropriate or highly visible – a solemn church service or kindergarten at nap time. What might the consequences be? Now make the consequences worse. Logical in a topsy-turvy way but worse to the point of being ridiculous.

Make your character do something against all reasonable judgement – a serious person (math professor?) who does something incredibly flighty. Show someone defying common sense – enjoying to the hilt an experience that might be thought negative, or vice versa – struggling to escape he miseries of a happy situation.

Write the unexpected, and twist it again, but make every person, every setting, every word vivid so the audience gets the picture.

Jot down one liners that made you laugh. You might not want to copy them, but you can use  them as a basis for your own unique one liner.

Pack your humorous speech full of all the humor you can collect, invent or devise. Then write it a bit shorter than your usual speech – allow people time to laugh.

Making people laugh is such a gift. Do it well and the rewards are huge.

 

 

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The only way I will care about your story is if you make me care. You can’t expect your reader or audience to care unless you make it happen. You are in control. You create the emotional link. Think of three basic steps.

1. Your idea

Your story can be stand-alone or it can be illustrating a point. Either way, the basic idea is one that your readers or audience can relate to. It seems obvious. A group of women with small children will relate to a story about toilet training but a group of business men will think that a waste of time.

Let’s look at those businessmen. Are they entrepreneurs? Franchisees? Local business? International? Well established?  Focused on a product or a service? In other words you need to know more about this audience as you formulate your ideas. Define as precisely as you can the concept of what this audience is looking for. What is their primary interest? What are they hungry to know more about?

Once you can state what they are hungry for you have found your basic idea.

2. Your perspective

You are speaking or writing about this topic or idea because other people want a piece of the experience and knowledge you have. Experience and knowledge add up to an educated perspective. Some people may have the knowledge – they may have read lot about it. Some people may have hands-on experience but feel they lack the theoretical background that would give them a wider understanding.

Your perspective melds these two together to  unite the best in both those worlds. And you have stories and anecdotes from your experience to bring this to life. Every point you make you will be illustrated by a carefully chosen story from your experience. This is the story that vividly adds context and meaning to your basic idea.

Your  story or anecdote and your perspective are closely linked. The story supports your idea and your perspective – it it doesn’t do this, then pick another story.

3. Your words

Once you’ve found an idea that will draw people in and a perspective that offers your unique knowledge and experience you can start building your story to give that idea depth and meaning. A story is built from words. Try to use simple direct words wherever that is possible.

Tell your story through the senses. What do you see in the story – a landscape, a streetscape, a room? What components can you see? Trees, parked cars, a bookshelf crammed full of books?

What can you hear in the story – bird song, the screech of brakes, heavy metal music? Is there the smell of cedar, garbage or furniture polish? Do you feel the wind, the elevator button or the smooth leather chair? Can you taste the tomato in the sandwich, the popcorn, the repulsion of milk turned sour?

All the senses draw people into your story, bringing your idea to life and making your perspective real to audience or readers. and we haven’t even started on the immediacy of dialogue.

So, to make people care about what you have to say choose and hone your idea with care, present it through the lens of your own knowledge and experience and spend time selecting the words that will bring it to life.

 

 

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Have you ever noticed how some speakers can make the most interesting topic dull, and others can bring the most boring topic to life? You and I, of course, are the latter. But how do we bring a topic to life?

How do we find the meat that makes an audience feel that was a good, filling meal of a speech? Yes, we have a dynamite opening and a memorable conclusion. Yes, we are animated and we are either knowledgeable or we have done our research.

Ah, yes! Our knowledge and our research. We know so much about it now. We are like a fox in a rabbit warren – so much to choose from. Which  information will we choose to share?

Most topics can be approached from a variety of different angles. Child poverty, for example. Third world, first world, from the point of view of an NGO, a government, an educator, a nurse, a hospital administrator? Shall we take the child’s point of view or a parent’s, or perhaps a volunteer’s viewpoint. Shall we look at reasons for childhood poverty or possible solutions? That’s just for starters.

You can use facts (sparingly – most of them will be forgotten anyway) A few dramatic facts will hit home most forcibly – x million children go to bed hungry each night, in Africa x % of children die before the age of five.

Tailor your approach and the facts you select to your audience. Spend time deciding which information, presented in which way, will most strongly pique their interest

Are they engineers who want to hear about the wells that were dug in the desert, the depth and the diameter of the pipe, the pressure of the pump? Are they teachers who can see how education can improve nutrition? Are they parents who will feel the despair of a parent with a dying child? Are they possible donors who need to hear personal stories so they understand how they can help?

Whatever your topic find time for a little humor and a little emotion to add spice to the speech.

Remember that the way you see the issue is not necessarily the way others see it. Filter your knowledge, your research for different eyes and ears. Look at the topic from several points of view, and through several different lenses.

Different people will take different things from your presentation.  Make it easy for them to discover the essence of the topic, to enjoy the feast you have prepared.

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So, by now you’re facing the Area contest or even the Division contest. Good for you! Congratulations! You’ve done well to get this far.

Now you’re starting to feel the pressure of the competition. How can you bring your speech up a few notches so you can stay ahead?

Here are some ideas, based on my observations as I judge contests:

– look at the structure of your speech. Is it logical or does it jump around? Make sure that the ideas follow logically

– make sure your jokes or humorous lines build so that the strongest comes last, as a climax

– hone those anecdotes and the transitions between them so that every word is exact and carries strong meaning

– sell yourself and your speech to the audience with your first words. At this level many of the people will not know you and they may not be pulling for you the way your home club members do. Give them an immediate reason to like you as a speaker and to find you funny

– start people laughing early in your speech, and keep them laughing. Don’t rely on a humorous theme that only has one good laugh at the end

– a humorous theme is not enough to carry your speech past club level unless the anecdotes that illustrate it are themselves funny. If they are stand-alone funny that’s good. If they are support-the-theme funny that’s even better.

– poking fun at yourself almost always works well. Try to make the mistakes be your mistakes, show how you bumbled your way through, going from bad to worse, trying to correct, just getting further into the glue.

– smile, share the joke with an open face, invite the audience to laugh with you

– go for big gestures, movements, wide voice variety. It doesn’t matter if you overdo it a bit – it’s all part of the humor.

– build a really strong ending. I know, I’ve said this before. And I’ll probably say it again – it’s so important.

And Good Luck! Break a leg! You’ll do great!

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Your speech is mostly about words. You’ve chosen them carefully, and that’s a good thing. You say them clearly, and that’s good too. But that only engages one of the five senses. Your audience is hearing you.

You can double your impact if you bring in another of the senses – sight. As your audience listens to your words, what are their eyes doing? Is your audience’s visual attention wandering  around the room. Are they taking in that dress of Wanda’s that’s a bit too tight? The fact that Mark and JoAnne are sitting together so they must have got over their quarrel? And Mrs Black is looking very tired, maybe she has been ill.

These people are not fully focused on your speech. They may be listening but part of their focus is elsewhere. They are missing much of what you hoped would have impact.

How do you keep their visual attention? Give them something to look at. Start with your clothing. Women – forget dulland appropriate. Wear colors and accessories that are bright and attract attention. They should make a statement – “Look at me!”

It’s more difficult for men, but if you are going to wear a tie,  wear a bright one. If you are dressed less formally, wear a brighter shirt rather than a conservative one. (Personal preference here – if your gut hangs over your belt, cover it up with a jacket. The yuck factor does you no favors.)

Walk on to the stage as if you can’t wait to get started, as if you are dying to share this terrific story. Let your body portray that sense of  “This is going to be such fun, you won’t want to miss it!”

Sometimes our bodies have a different agenda than our minds. Unconsciously we pick up odd little traits that are distracting. (Someone told me last week that when I speak I lean over to one side and she was wondering if I was going to fall right over. How embarrassing.) Practice in front of a friend and have them point out every distracting little physical thing you do. Once you know them you can start eliminating them.

At the same time, ask the friend to tell you where you can intensify your movements to bring more life to your stories. Practice those short segments until you get more physical bang for your story buck. Make your movements so intrinsic to the story that the audience won’t want to take their eyes off you.

Reciprocate by giving great eye contact. People are looking to connect with you as a speaker. In the beginning everyone is looking at you. If you look at them, give eye contact with the group and the individuals in it, you will keep them looking at you.

It seems like a lot to remember when you are trying to remember the speech as well. The best speech advice anyone ever gave me is “Go in there and have fun!”

If you can go on stage with the attitude of  ‘I’m having fun,’ your posture, your smile, your stance will pass that message to your audience.  They will start to have fun too. So will the judges.

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First, the big idea! The speech should be funny. The audience, judges included, will forgive a lot if you make them laugh.

Let me repeat the big idea. The speech should be funny.

There are different kinds of humor – anything from fat-lady-slipping-on-banana-peel to that quiet, understated British humor. What makes people in your club laugh? You have to win at your club first so you need to consider the type of humor that will appeal to your own people.

Yes, but mine’s a corporate club, you say. We’re all techies. What makes our guys laugh might not work at a higher level.

You have to win your club first. Go for the techie humor. Go for what you know works with this audience. You can change the speech later if you win that first one.

Second. Facts are hardly ever funny. About the only exception is when two completely different statistics are put together in a way that makes one or both sound completely ridiculous.

Stories are (or can be) funny. So can anecdotes or metaphors (my mother’s purse is the size of Texas) or even vivid word pictures (…so there was pompous Uncle Henry running down the street with his toupee flapping down over his left ear).

Third. Selection of detail makes a difference. …”his left ear”. Was it really his left ear? Who cares. It is funnier than a simple ‘hanging down’.

Fourth. The basic idea of the story can be funny, or it can be an unexpectedly funny take on what might have been a serious topic. One perennial favorite is the differences between men and women. It appeals to just about everyone in the audience. We’ve all been on one side or the other, we’ve all felt the frustration, we all buy into the humor.

Stereotypes are fine in a humorous speech. Of course the husband is lying on the couch with the beer and the potato chips. Of course the wife is nagging him to take out the garbage. Want to change it up a bit? What about the wife with the beer and the husband trying to clean the house? The unexpected can be twice as funny.

Fifth. Be very aware of political correctness It goes without saying that you don’t pick on any age, sex, creed, physical characteristic or ethnic origin. In your battle of the sexes you pick on men and women equally, otherwise half the audience might be heckling you.

But enter the contest. Give it your best shot. You’ve got everything to gain from the experience.

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