Hi, I’m back with three more public speaking tips that I can dash down in fifteen minutes. I promise not to run long. (Remember, sticking to time was one of the first three tips I gave you.) Here they are:
Tip #4: Don't accuse your audience with the word "you."
Don’t accuse. Most of my presenting these days is done for colleagues, many of whom are senior to me. They’re already taking a leap of faith to listen to me: for some, I’m twenty years their junior and ten or twenty years less experienced in real estate (I’ve been in this industry for 11 years now).
So when I show up with suggestions, tips and guidelines for how they market themselves and their business, you can imagine that a bunch of finger-pointing doesn’t get me very far. The word you stands out as an accusation: “You should do this!” and “You aren’t doing it right.”
Changing my language, I could say, “We can do this,” and “Our company does this,” and “We’ve found this works….”
One of my mentors alerted me to the nuance of this language pattern and it absolutely floored me. I found myself crying, choked up over the idea that what I was delivering was not education, but accusation. It took me the rest of the forty minutes before my speaking segment to just recompose myself and think through how to use that critical (but painfully mistimed) advice.
Ever since then, my ears prick up whenever I hear a speaker say you.
It was never so obvious to me how poorly it came across than several years later in a live session that I was observing. Several senior managers were lounging in the back of the class, speaking up from time to time with comments on the speaker’s content for the class: “You should do this.” You, you, you.
Their intention was merely to support the speaker’s points, but they completely failed. I felt the audience withdraw. The air was seriously chilly.
When accused, do you dig in your heels? Do you get defensive? Yep, that’s what this language produced.
Connect back. Often, speakers arrive shortly before their session begins, present their dog and pony show, and then pack up for their flight out of town. I see this as a huge mistake, a missed opportunity.
When presenting at a training camp in Prague, I was planning to sit in with the managers to hone my own leadership skills. But when it was decided that I’d be presenting to the sales team instead of the managers, I immediately switched tracks and sat in with the producers for every session.
By being engaged and alert for all the teaching that came before me, I could make notes and build references into my own presentation. These connections made a huge impact, amplifying the “ah-ha” factor of my message.
I also got a sense of the tone of the room—who speaks up? Who hangs back? Was I going to have to manage an energetic, rowdy group, or a passive or tired group of people? Understanding where the group’s energy is at allowed me to change my game plan for presenting to ensure people were most engaged.
Try an object lesson. In college as a senior resident adviser, one of the cardinal rules in programming events and presentations was “serve food.” Add that element, and I could pretty much guarantee the attendance of thirty hungry students, no matter how dull the subject matter.
Now, in the corporate world, I see that this kind of bribery works sometimes—and sometimes it doesn’t. I watched one executive try to drum up participation by handing out gift cards to people who asked questions. Nice tactic (if you’ve got the funds to do it), but not memorable. I remember more about the gift cards than I remember about the presentation itself.
In another presentation, I collaborated with a senior executive who was talking about work styles and identity. We were thinking about how to really engage people, how to get them “off their dot” (another way of saying “out of their comfort zone”) to declare their identity.
We made cupcake flags (like these pirate flags) with various messages for the event. I said, "Choose a cupcake that speaks to you."
Here’s what we did: I spent $40 at Costco to bring seven dozen cupcakes to the office. I laid them out beautifully with fresh strawberries on a tablecloth. Then, in the top of the cupcakes, I inserted little flags on toothpicks. Each flag had one of sixteen different messages, such as “I make work more fun,” and “I never let a detail slip through the cracks” and “I’m the visionary.”
It was so fun to see more than sixty colleagues choose a cupcake that spoke to them, and then watch as the senior executive wove that into his presentation. It made an impact. I still see those little flags up in cubicles around work. People still remember his talk.
Do you love or hate public speaking? Do you have tips to share with me? I love observing talented speakers (I’m addicted to TED talks!) and I’m always learning from them.
What have you got to say? GO.