Four Things You Shouldn’t Do from the Podium

Several years ago I watched a governor deliver a State of the State speech, trying to shore up citizens during a difficult time for the state and the country.

The address itself was mostly on target, addressing important issues and allowing the governor to showcase leadership and poise.

That is, until a member of the audience sneezed.

 Here are four things speakers should avoid doing from the podium.

Here are four things speakers should avoid doing from the podium.

The sneeze itself wasn’t remarkable. But the “Bless you,” that followed was.

Why? Because it came FROM THE PODIUM!

While the intention may have been to appear folksy or approachable or even just considerate, the effect went far, far beyond. Instantly, the governor shattered any aura of leadership, reducing our esteemed dignitary to the status of, well, everyone else.

Sure, deep down, we know governors and presidents and all public speakers are mere mortals. But when they’re standing before both chambers of the legislature or even just at the front of the room, we assign them special status. In return, we expect them to embrace it.

The next time you’re at the front of the room, be aware of the special role you’re filling for the audience and “own” it. Specifically, here are four behaviors you’re probably better off skipping if you want to preserve a commanding leadership presence:

1) Speaking directly to any one member of the audience. Don’t break from your remarks to acknowledge sneezes, coughing or other bodily functions. For that matter, don’t engage in any conversation with a lone audience member. EVERY audience member is making YOU the focus of their attention. Make sure they feel you’re returning the favor.

2) Clapping. While it’s OK to solicit applause for something or someone from the podium, don’t take part. You’ve done your job by rousing the crowd; now just stand back, smile and look pleased. Not only will you spare the audience the ear-splitting sound of hands clapping into a microphone, you’ll appear more poised.

3) Scolding bad actors. While it’s acceptable to refocus a noisy crowd once, if you spend any more time than that asking people to pay attention, stop talking or mute their phones, you’ll come off like a frustrated lunchroom monitor. Stay presidential and let someone else assume the role of “mall cop.”  

4) Managing the logistics. It’s the speaker’s job to awe the audience with great content, not to make sure the mic levels are recording-studio-perfect or that seats are re-arranged to accommodate latecomers. Once you begin, focus on engaging the audience and let your host, the AV crew or even another audience member tend to logistical details.

None of this is to say that you should assume an air of superiority.  Not at all. In fact it’s crucial that all speakers connect with their audience. But do so with powerful content and well rehearsed delivery. NOT by answering every sneeze with a “Gesundheit.”

 Give it a try and let us know how it works or what else might work better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, check out our blog “Let’s Be Clear," visit us at bluestoneexec.com, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec. 

Pssst: Your Key Messages Sound a Lot Like Everyone Else's

If you’ve ever worked with a media trainer or PR person, you’ve likely been coached to identify and then stick to your key messages.

This is the fundamental rule of media training--and for good reason. Neither a reporter nor any other audience can reasonably remember more than three or four main points from any conversation. So we organize our thoughts into bundles of three or four messages and repeat those over and over.

But here's a media training secret:  Most company messages sound a lot alike.

It’s true!  So while communications teams may be pleased when executives “stick to the messages,” reporters and other audiences are frustrated that they can’t get beyond the predictable, abstract and boring rhetoric they’ve heard time and again. 

Not only is that bad for the reporter, it’s bad for the executive who will either be quoted saying something forgettable, or more likely, not quoted at all.

But here’s the rest of that media training secret: Most company messages sound alike until we back them up with interesting stories, examples, analogies, metaphors, etc. At Bluestone, we call these “message enhancers.”

Imagine a reporter asking, “What sets your company apart from the competition?”

You might be inclined to answer with any of these common key messages “Innovation is at the heart of all we do,” or “Our location well positions us to serve customers,” or “Our strength is in our people.”

Zzzzzzzzz.

While all of those are excellent key messages, when they’re used with no supporting points, they seem cliché, trite and hollow.

But imagine if instead the conversation went like this:

“What sets your company apart from the competition?”

“Our strength is in our people---and how far they will go for customers. We like to say we’re a global company operating like a corner store. In fact, just this week I received a letter from a customer who said he called us trying to track down a discontinued machine part. When he hung up Friday afternoon, it seemed hopeless. Then he got a call Saturday morning from one of our people who had located it at a warehouse in Oklahoma. She called Saturday so he wouldn’t worry all weekend. And that happens every day.”

Suddenly, the reporter can picture the executive opening that letter and imagine the grateful customer and the helpful employee and perhaps begin to think, wow, they DO have great people.

With catchy phrases like “global company operating like a corner store,” and memorable details like “a warehouse in Oklahoma,” suddenly the abstract message "Our strength is in our people" starts to have meaning and credibility.

Though of course they must be vetted first, stories, examples, analogies, metaphors, and snappy one-liners can all serve as powerful message enhancers. And when organized around your three or four key messages, they're almost certain to resonate, be remembered and, with just a little luck, get repeated. 

If your organization needs help crafting compelling messages and unforgettable message enhancers, give us a call at 248.514.7085. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, check out our blog “Let’s Be Clear," visit us at bluestoneexec.com, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec. 

 

The One Thing You Must Do to Become a Stronger Speaker

If you're like most professionals, you recognize the impact strong speaking skills have on your organization, your causes and your own career---and you're looking for ways to improve.

 One of the quickest ways to improve as a speaker is to videotape, playback and critique your own performance.

One of the quickest ways to improve as a speaker is to videotape, playback and critique your own performance.

There's one tactic above all others that can help you do that. But if you're like most people you're not going to like it.
 
Here it is: Get out a video camera, put it on a tripod or stack of books and deliver your entire presentation front to end. Then play it back, watching and taking notes on the whole ugly thing.
 
I know, I know. This seems like a painful step for which you don't have time or energy. But it's critical and here's why:
 
So much of what you need to correct will be so immediately obvious to you (just as it is immediately obvious to your audience) that you can vastly improve merely by recording, watching, reviewing and trying again.
 
Of course, self-critiques are not a substitute for professional speaker coaching. But they can go a long way toward helping you pick up on poor content, a lack of energy, nervous gestures and vocal tics.
 
I know there are plenty of excuses for NOT doing this so let's address a few right here.
 
"I don't have a video camera." These days EVERYONE has access to a video camera. If you don't have a camera devoted to video, use your iPad, your laptop or your phone.
 
"I'm better when I wing it." Trust me, you're not. When you avoid scrutinizing your performance, YOU might be blissfully unaware of your flaws, but your audience is not.
 
"Practice only makes me nervous." This is legitimate and true of most speakers. In fact, the first performance after you critique the video may be worse than the first, as you struggle to make changes. But you will quickly improve. And after a few cycles of taping and reviewing, you'll almost be able to see your mistakes before you make them and avoid them outright.
 
"There isn't time." Consider how much time you typically devote to collecting info, chasing down every last detail and refining your slides or other visuals. Without question, some of those minutes or hours would be better spent on video rehearsal. (Often, the first on-camera take reveals that much of your content ought not to be re-worked, but rather slashed!) Regardless, don't squander the significant time and money you've already invested by skipping this important step that can make all of those efforts worthwhile.
 
Instead, do yourself, your organization and your audience a favor: Get out that camera, find a place to prop it and hit record. Those first few takes may make you cringe. But before long you---and your audience---will like what you see.
 

Give it a try and let us know how it works or what else might work better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, check out our blog “Let’s Be Clear," visit us at bluestoneexec.com, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec. 

After All That Work, Be Sure to Finish Strong

 If you're organizing a program that includes a list of speakers--or even just one--don't underestimate the importance of a strong finish.

If you're organizing a program that includes a list of speakers--or even just one--don't underestimate the importance of a strong finish.

A few weeks ago a friend invited me to a lunchtime presentation his company was sponsoring to update existing customers and woo new ones. The company obviously had put great effort into a top-notch guest list, menu and lineup of speakers.

Which is why I was so surprised by the way they  brought the program to a close, or more accurately, didn’t.

When the last presenter finished, the person who began the program took to the podium once again to say “OK, folks, it looks like that’s all….” Then feebly added, “If any of you have questions, my colleagues and I will be walking around…” And then sensing the lameness of THAT, added again “Also there are cards on your tables if you want more information or ….”

I’m not really sure what was said after that, due to the clatter from half the audience sliding back chairs and starting conversations, while the other half—like me—still sat there wondering, “Is that it?”

After an hour-long pitch perfect performance at the worst possible time the program hit a flat note.

I wonder how many guests’ opinions of the program—and worse, the company—plummeted in those final few moments.

Think how much more effective the entire program would have been if only that last speaker had taken a moment to prepare a closing statement that left the audience thinking “These guys are ON it.”

The next time you’re given the honors of tying up a roster of speakers, make sure you devote due time to crafting a simple close that at the very least accomplishes these three things:

  1. Leaves the audience feeling their investment of time or money was worthwhile, either by succinctly summarizing the program’s highlights or putting them into a broader context.
  2. Makes it clear the event is over. The last thing you want is people wondering “Is that all?”
  3. Gets applause. To feel like it’s a hit, your event needs this final burst of emotion and energy. If you can’t think of any other way to accomplish this, at the very least offer the tried and true “Please help me once again thank our panel” to get the crowd clapping and ultimately out the door on the positive note your event deserves.

Give it a try and let us know if it works for you or what else has worked better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec.

 


How to Nail the “Morning After” Call

 A follow up call to a reporter can be a tricky thing. Here are some ways to make sure it goes well.

A follow up call to a reporter can be a tricky thing. Here are some ways to make sure it goes well.

It’s always nice to follow up with a reporter after a story runs or airs, especially if you’ve established a rapport and want to keep it going. But those “morning after” calls can be tricky and if you’re not careful, unravel a lot of good will.

A follow up call to a reporter can be a tricky thing. Here are some ways to make sure it goes well.

In newsrooms where I’ve worked, reporters welcomed calls from sources saying thank you and offering feedback on the story. Often those calls helped fortify the reporter-source relationship. But once in a while they had the opposite effect, making the reporter think twice about trusting the caller as a future source or worse, prompting negative coverage the next time around.

Here are some tips to on how not to blow the morning after call.

Don’t complain about the tone of the story without specifics: If you do, you’ll annoy the reporter, gain nothing and be written off as a whiner.

Instead, bring up any actual errors or significant imbalance. Be clear about whether you think the issue needs correcting now or simply for future stories. And be sure it’s significant enough to even mention. As much as reporters pride themselves on accuracy, they don’t appreciate nitpicking.

Don’t thank them for making your side look great. Reporters strive for accuracy. If you caught a break and came off better than deserved, don’t gush. The last thing you want is for the reporter to second guess the charitable portrayal or worse, overcompensate by burying you the next time.

Instead, thank the reporter for a FAIR story. “Fair” may seem like lukewarm praise to you, but fairness is the Holy Grail to journalists.

Don’t forget that you are talking to a reporter. Just because one story ran, doesn’t mean another one isn’t already or couldn’t soon be in the works. Don’t use bad language, badmouth someone or confess to anything you’ll later regret.

Instead, be professional.  And know that everything you say is still on the record.

Don’t ask for anything. Most reporters are extremely busy. If you want to stay in their good graces, avoid asking for copies, reprints, raw tape, or anything else that requires administrative legwork that someone else can better provide.

Instead, give something. No, don’t send an actual gift. But you can offer something of value: their next story. Pony up a fresh and worthwhile story idea or provide a heads up on something coming down the pike and you’ll lay the foundation for a beautiful relationship going forward.

Give it a try and let us know if it works for you or what else has worked better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec.

Why You didn't Get Quoted

 Wondering why you didn’t get quoted after your last interview? You may have Unquotable Executive Syndrome.

Wondering why you didn’t get quoted after your last interview? You may have Unquotable Executive Syndrome.

A few months ago I met with an executive from a large bank who was frustrated that his boss’ repeated media interviews almost always had the same disappointing outcome.

“Is he wandering off message?” I asked. “Giving up company secrets?”

No, my pal responded. The problem was, he rarely made the story at all.

Ah. Unquotable Executive Syndrome.  It’s a widespread malady, usually afflicting higher level executives.

Unquotable Executive Syndrome is the result of a failure to articulate messages in a way that resonates with the reporter and in turn the reporter’s audience.  There are three specific mistakes executives make that almost guarantee they’ll be cut from the story. Here they are, along with some corrective measures to prevent Unquotable Executive Syndrome in the first place.

Mistake #1: Talking too much. Ironically, the more anxious an executive is about an interview, the more likely he or she is to blather on once it starts. Sometimes the reporter only gets in one question before the exec launches into a filibuster, running out the clock. By filling the silence, interview subjects might feel they’re in control. But if the reporter doesn’t get what he or she needs, everyone’s time is wasted.

Remember the interview is a conversation, not a monologue. Responses should be complete, but not exhaustive. Shoot for 30 seconds for a video response, 45 seconds for radio and 60 for print. Live audience answers should be about 60 to 90 seconds. And all responses should always include a message.

Mistake #2: Not answering questions. The premise of any interview is that one person asks questions and the other answers, or at least addresses them, even if they’re not pleasant.

While it’s acceptable (actually imperative) to bridge or transition from an answer to a message, it’s not OK to ignore the questions and spew message after message with disregard for the interviewer. Interview subjects who do will at best be cut from the story. At worst, they’ll find their entire evasive interview uploaded to YouTube for public ridicule.

Mistake #3: Being boring. By far this is the most pervasive cause of Unquotable Executive Syndrome. It’s typically observed in executives who are so afraid of straying from their messages that they come off like robots programmed only to recite industry jargon and clichés.

Reporters need sources who bring to life the key points of stories with interesting, memorable language. They don’t want forgettable rehashes of predictable positions. Of course, “getting real” on the fly is more than a little dangerous. The best course is to prepare ahead of time with three or four messages and a number of “message enhancers” for each. Message enhancers include colorful language, short stories, personal examples, quippy one-liners, meaningful stats, contemporary references or pithy analogies.

Executives who load their interviews with interesting message enhancers will almost certainly guarantee a spot in the story—and likely more stories in the future. Even better, they’ll be quoted on message and in ways that resonate with the reporter’s audience. And after all, isn’t that the whole reason for investing time and money in the interview in the first place?

Give it a try and let us know if it works for you or what else has worked better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec.

This Holiday Season, Please Use Apostrophes Responsibly

Friends, friends, friends. (And no, we don’t mean “friend’s.”)

It’s time we have a talk about the apostrophe. As professionals who help executives look and sound their best, we feel a duty to remind professionals everywhere that reckless, irresponsible and incorrect use of the apostrophe is making them appear… well…not smart.

Please use your apostrophes responsibly and only in the two cases for which they have been approved:

·      To show possession, as in “Nancy’s report was better than John’s.”

·      To indicate letters have been omitted to form a contraction, as in “Don’t touch that,” or “I can’t find my pen.”

 That’s it. There is absolutely no other reason to unleash that tiny piece of punctuation and certainly apostrophes are NEVER used

·      To make a singular word plural, as in “I gave the gift’s to my niece’s.” (Correct is “I gave the gifts to my nieces.”)

·      To make a singular word that ends in “s” plural, as in “The Jones’ have two parking pass’.” (Correct is “The Joneses have two parking passes.”)

In fact, it’s those pesky surnames (whether ending in “s” or not) that seem to give us the most trouble. I think about half the holiday cards that come to our house include an errant apostrophe in either our name or that of the senders. It’s not the possessive “To the Smith’s, from the Ross’s” but rather the plural, “To the Smiths, from the Rosses”---no apostrophe needed.

If all this seems a little hard to remember, take heart. National retailers everywhere botch the rule, dropping much needed apostrophes on signs for the “Mens,” Womens” and “Childrens” departments. Those words don’t even exist. They should be “Men’s” and “Women’s” and “Children’s.”

And poor Victoria’s Secret somehow let this apostrophe error make it all the way to the front window of stores nationwide. (Psst, Victoria. It’s “bodies,” not “body’s.”) Hmm. Maybe they don’t think anyone is actually looking at the words.

Give it a try and let us know how it works or what else might work better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, check out our blog “Let’s Be Clear," visit us at bluestoneexec.com, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec.

 

 

The Right Way to Read a Speech

 It’s possible to  READ  a speech and still have impact. The trick is making eye contact at just the right times.

It’s possible to READ a speech and still have impact. The trick is making eye contact at just the right times.

We all know that when delivering a speech it’s always best to learn the material cold and deliver it from the heart. But let’s face it: For busy executives with frequent trips to the podium and little time to prepare, that’s not always an option.

So today I’m giving away the best tip I know for connecting with your audience while READING a speech. Ready? Here it is:

If you must read a speech, make it infinitely more impactful by looking up NOT in the middle of each sentence, but rather at the beginning and, more importantly, the end.

That’s it. Sounds simple enough, yet it’s actually counter-intuitive and requires practice to pull off. But for anyone who doesn’t have time to internalize a speech or simply can’t, mastering this technique for reading remarks is the next best thing.

Here’s why.

In normal conversation, we typically stack the most important words at the ends of sentences and when we speak them, if it’s important, that’s when we’re sure to make eye contact. But somehow when we put ourselves behind a podium, that natural inclination gets flipped and our delivery comes out exactly opposite, depleting our words of impact and making us appear disconnected or insincere. Maybe worse, if we read the way most people are inclined, no matter how great our speechwriter is, we’ll squander every good line by breaking eye contact at exactly the wrong time.

Not convinced this subtle difference matters? Compare the two approaches reading one of the best speech lines ever, borrowed from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s. “I Have a Dream.”

First, the wrong way:

(Eyes down) I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation

(Lift eyes) where they will not be judged by the color of their skin

(Eyes back down) but by the content of their character.

The impact of the sentence is almost completely lost when we drop our eyes while delivering those critical last few words.

Now try reading for impact:

(Eyes up) I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation

(Eyes down) where they will not be judged by the color of their skin

(Eyes back up) but by the content of their character.

What a difference! We’ve made a connection at both the start of the thought and at its inspirational end. It’s as if that sentence takes on all new meaning!

And we can pull this off without memorizing the speech. We simply use the least important part of the sentence—the middle—as an opportunity to glance down, catch our place and gather up the words that will drive our point home.

Though making this adjustment requires practice, the effort is worthwhile. After all, connect with the audience and we’ll win their hearts, we’ll spread our message and who knows? We may even change the world.

Give it a try and let us know how it works or what else might work better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, check out our blog "Let's Be Clear," visit bluestoneexec.com, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec.   

"We Begin Tonight with What's Boring."

 Newscasters like NBC's Brian Williams know better than to start the show by talking about themselves. 

Newscasters like NBC's Brian Williams know better than to start the show by talking about themselves. 

Imagine Brian Williams starting the NBC Nightly News with “We begin tonight by telling you about me. I was born in Elmira, New York…”

Once the shock of his unbridled narcissism wore off, we’d hear “click,” “click,” “click” across the country, as viewers registered disapproval with their remote controls.

TV newsrooms have spent decades and billions of dollars researching how to deliver important information in a format that is concise and compelling. They know it’s NOT by starting with what’s boring or by talking first about themselves.

For the business presenter, the evening news offers some great lessons on how to verbally communicate information, make key details stick, and keep audiences engaged from start to finish.

1) Forget chronology and lead with what’s new. In other words, don’t begin with deep background about yourself, your company or your industry---or a chronological tale of how the problem came to be. Get to the good stuff. If major news breaks at 4:30, that’s usually the lead on the 5:00 news. The important Senate hearing that started at 9:00 will still run, just toward the middle of the newscast. In business presentations, decide what’s new and most interesting and make that your “lead.”

2) Respect the medium. A broadcaster covering the same story as a print reporter will get about 1/20th the words to do her job. She can’t possibly communicate the same volume of information. But rather than bemoaning the limitations of the medium, good TV reporters embrace its advantages, using visuals, sounds, vocal tones, even timing to convey a few key points with lasting effect. (Think of how the nation recalls the first man on the moon, the tumbling of the Berlin Wall or even 9-11.) In business, understand that a live presentation is different than a written report and find ways to exploit those differences to your advantage.

3) Don’t forget sports, weather and the lotto. No matter how big the news day, there always will be some viewers who still want the day’s high temp or the baseball scores. In business, no matter how creative or compelling your presentation, someone in the audience may still want to see an industry standard chart or graph. So go ahead and include that. But keep in mind sports and weather usually get just a few minutes toward the middle or end of the newscast---and lotto numbers run during a break. Concede, if you must, some airtime to what people EXPECT to see. But if you want to engage your audience and make your presentation memorable, do what newscasters do: Focus on what’s UNEXPECTED, what’s most interesting and what’s new.

Give it a try and let us know how it works or what else might work better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, check out our blog “Let’s Be Clear," visit us at bluestoneexec.com, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec. 


 

Killing It on Stage in Your Non-Native Language

Killing It on Stage in Your Non-Native Language

A while back I attended a breakfast at which a brilliant economist was slated to share insights on a growing industry segment. The topic was compelling and drew a large and captive audience. Unfortunately, our speaker was only half way through his remarks when eye lids began to droop and heads started to nod. The audience was trying hard to stay tuned in. But our speaker's weighty material, sing-song cadence and thick accent could have lulled the fussiest baby to sleep.

As consultants who assist leaders and subject matter experts at global companies, we frequently work with professionals who are presenting in their second or even third languages. I am always in awe of these brave souls. 

 

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What Would Dylan Do? Alternatives to PowerPoint

What Would Dylan Do? Alternatives to PowerPoint

A few months ago I attended a professional event at which I knew a well-respected and charismatic CEO would be speaking. Sure enough, he started things off with the stage presence of a stand up comedian and quickly had us all laughing and leaning in.

But then it started: The dreaded PowerPoint presentation.

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How to Give a Pretty Good Speech on the Fly: P-U-N-T

How to Give a Pretty Good Speech on the Fly: P-U-N-T

A while back I was at a friend’s baby shower, chatting with the other guests, when it became clear someone should say something to mark the occasion. This was a long awaited pregnancy and these women wanted an emotional outlet, a chance to shed a happy tear and at long last applaud our expectant friend.

Just then our hostess popped over and asked me to do the honors. ME? “Well,” she pleaded, ”You’ve known her longer and I’m no good at speeches.”

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