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Apr 18

The Secret Sauce for Top Presenters? Try Eye Contact

By Briohny Williams | Body Language

It's Showtime!

If you've been following along at home, we started by building eye contact into our preparation and have asked for feedback to improve before the big day.

Eye contact is one of the most powerful tools at your disposal.

On the day, ensure you’re in the room in advance of the presentation to familiarize yourself with the set up and nail down any final logistical details.

Once you’ve done this, if the format allows, talk to people that will be in the audience, and any of your “supporters” that are in the room. Even if you freeze, your supporters are not going to mind you pausing and taking a moment to remember where you’re up to in your presentation.

And breathe..

When it’s time, take a deep, calm breath and take your place.

Do not start speaking until you have your feet firmly planted shoulder width apart, you have the audience’s attention and you have your opening lines ready.

Depending on the size of your audience, you will need to use different movements, however let’s think about 2 common scenarios:

  • 1
    The boardroom / meeting room, up to around 20 people seated around a table. You may be seated or standing at the front of the room, or perhaps you’re around the table too. Wherever you are sitting, consider that the “front” of the room and look to the “back” of the room, and then at various points down both sides of the table. Alternate which side of the table you are looking at, and then to the back of the room again.
  • 2
    Theatre or auditorium seating, with rows of chairs in front of you. You are standing at the front of the room, perhaps with a lectern (though preferably not to make the most of all your body language tools).
  • Visualize a clock, and look first at the front row of the seating (6), move your eyes to the left (10), to the far back (12), to the right (3) and then towards the front again (5). 
  • No matter where the audience is sitting, if you move through these five points in random order throughout your presentation, everyone will feel your gaze at some point. 
  • Before too long, you won’t need to use the clock system, however this is handy when you are establishing new habits.

Read the Room

Let yourself really look at the audience, observe their body language.

Are they leaning back, checking their emails, talking to their neighbour? Time to change your volume, pace or ask a question.

Or are they looking back at you, leaning forward, nodding? Add emphasis, pause and let your message sink in. 

There may be moments of both throughout your presentation, and if you’re not looking you will not notice! The key is to know when you may need to adjust by keeping an eye on your audience and knowing how to adjust based on the messages they are sending you.

Don't Send False Messages

No matter how well you know your topic or how well regarded you are for the other work you do, if you do not make eye contact there is the very real chance that others will mistake this for lack of confidence, potentially lowering your credibility, and almost definitely boring your audience. Look up, look around, and make sure you use this extremely powerful tool at your disposal.

Radiate confidence, connect with your audience and boost your credibility and authenticity through the roof.

If you missed how to prepare and rehearse with eye contact, learn how you can anticipate and overcome nerves and anxiety by visualising your audience while you rehearse. 

Apr 12

Speaker Style: Pico Iyer, The Worldly Professor

By Briohny Williams | Speaker Style

There's nothing more interesting and exciting than an idea presented brilliantly.

We're not all born with the ability to jump up on stage or hold the whole rooms' attention with a story, however the great news is, we all have the ability to learn great public speaking.

So, where do we begin to master speaking techniques and develop our storytelling? And if it's not too much to ask, feel great when we are in the spotlight?

The people that capture our hearts and minds have all spent time on their public speaking skills, strengthening over time with practice and good habits. We can do that too by watching other speakers to see what you like, what you don't - and hopefully learn something new along the way.

Our first Speaker Style is Pico Iyer's Where is Home TED talk

Speaker Style

The Worldly Professor

Equal parts teacher and philosopher, you can imagine the worldly professor the lecture halls of a celebrated university by day, and penning their memoirs by night. They reflect on the world around them, asking great questions and rubbing their chins in deep, deep thought.  

Biography

Pico Iyer has spent more than 30 years tracking movement and stillness — and the way criss-crossing cultures have changed the world, our imagination and all our relationships. Read more at TED.com

Quotable Quote

And home, in the end, is of course not just the place where you sleep. It's the place where you stand.

What To Watch For

  • The use of storytelling to hook and re-engage his audience throughout
  • Clear connection made to the objective of his talk (where home is) multiple times during the talk
  • Use of humour to relate to and include his audience
  • A succinct and thought-provoking conclusion

TED Talks are a maze that I could happily get lost in for days, as there are so many amazing ideas and speakers to explore. And, if you're interested (read: a little obsessed) with them too, there's an entire book dedicated to the art of the TED talk, Talk Like TED, if you really want to nerd out.

If you've got a talk you love, pop it in the comments below!

Want to work on your Worldly Professor skills?

Book some time in to discuss your speaking goals today.

Apr 09

How To KISS In Your Next Presentation

By Briohny Williams | Delivering Presentations

Keep It Short and Simple (KISS)

We’ve all experienced the snore-fest of a long and winding presentation or speech. It may be the self-important colleague, the best man’s endless tales of when Dave used to be fun and single, or the overly detailed, highly technical explanation of the inner workings of the laptop, when all you wanted to know was the price.

We all know what happens next. You get bored, your mind wanders and you start switching off. They’ve lost you.

Avoid any cringe-worthy experiences when you’re next in the spotlight by planning ahead with these 6 tips for simple and concise public speaking.

Be yourself.

The slightly more polished version. Use the words and expressions that are authentic to you, and show you’re enthusiasm and knowledge of your topic. If you care about your topic, your audience is far more likely to care too.

Be brief.

You rarely hear complaints about a speech being too short! Mention critically important details, and work your way up to additional details as your audience shows interest, referring to supporting documents and using the Q&A.

Stick to your time limit.

When you rehearse, allow time for pauses, and if that’s what you’re going for, applause and laughter. Respect your audience and other speakers by not throwing the agenda into chaos and running over time.

Prepare short sentences.

Quite simply, they are easier to remember, easier to deliver and easier for your audience to understand. If you need to take a breath mid-sentence, it’s too long!

Aim to be conversational. 

Do not use longer words if you know shorter ones, you’re not impressing anyone! Public speaking is a dialogue between you and the audience, so use words that would be natural when chatting in the coffee break. Avoid acronyms and jargon, unless 100% of the audience understand 100% of the words you’re using.

All killer, no filler.

Rehearse until you can present with minimal filler words (um, ahh, to be honest, actually, etc) as this will undermine the audience’s confidence in your message. Instead of a filler word, simply pause. The silence will allow your audience time to absorb what you are saying, and allows you to use emphasis and speak with conviction, i.e. you show you really believe what you are saying. 

When you next plan a presentation, rehearse from start to finish and record the whole thing on video. When you watch the video back ask yourself;

"What will I change before I next go live?"

Preparation is key to an effortless looking presentation. As Mark Twain once said;

"I … NEVER COULD MAKE A GOOD IMPROMPTU SPEECH WITHOUT SEVERAL HOURS TO PREPARE IT"

A few thoughtful changes will improve each rehearsal and your final presentation on the day. 

Would some feedback be useful?

Book some time in to discuss your speaking goals today.

Apr 02

Public Speaking Is Not A Soft Skill, It’s A Life Skill

By Briohny Williams | Delivering Presentations

Public Speaking Is Not A Soft Skill, It’s A Life Skill

I looked around, and all I saw were zombies. You know the kind – head down, walking slowly, eyes fully focused on.. their phone. OK, maybe not the walking dead exactly, however if you’ve walked down a street in any major city at lunch time, you will know how difficult it is to cut a straight line between point A and point B without dodging people distracted by a phone. Catching up on messages, making plans or checking the latest news, there’s not many places we go without our phones these days.

Technology has made so many things so much easier.

Online shopping delivered to your door at a time you choose? Yes please!

Talk to family on the other side of the world, without paying a cent? Essential.

Pay bills, book plane tickets or build a website on your lunch break (or let’s be honest, whenever no-one’s looking..)? Absolutely amazing!

However, there are moments in your life when the best way to get your point across, lead others or get the job done is to speak to people. Face-to-face.

Warren Buffett agrees. You’ll often find him quoted when it comes to the value of public speaking, and as he is the third wealthiest person on the planet (at the time of publication), he is considered an authority in investment. When it comes to investing in yourself he places an exact value. 

“The one easy way to become worth 50 percent more than you are now — at least — is to hone your communication skills,” Buffet says.

Why public speaking is essential today

The ability to educate, inform and inspire is prized in the age of information. Knowledge, and the ability to communicate knowledge, in a rapidly changing and shifting world is a new form of currency.

There are plenty of studies into how our communication skills are eroding, even in children, due to the advancement in technology. You will read that the constant distraction of technology is dulling our social skills and our ability to read emotions in others.

On the flip-side lies the argument that technology can enhance our communication, you just need to be aware of how to do it. We can connect people on video over great distances for free or next to nothing, it’s hard to remember what it was like making a call from a phone booth or sending a postcard - if you’ve lived through that time at all.  

These arguments will no doubt carry on, and likely mature as we begin to understand the long and short term effects of how we are interacting, consuming and learning through technology.

Wherever you sit on that argument clear communication is vitally important for everyone to consider and take action on. So unless you’re considering a life of solitude on a mountain-top.. no, wait, there’s even blogging monks now. There will always be circumstances where you will need to stand up, and speak up.

Where your communication skills matter most

Wherever you are in your life right now I’m sure there are times you remember where you didn’t speak, but wanted to. There are undoubtedly times that you spoke, but the right words only came to you after the heat of the moment.

Whether you’re in school, going for a job interview, interacting with friends and family, trying to sell an idea or product or leading a team, it makes sense to prepare for important moments where you want to have the right words, in the right way, at the right time.  

How to move past worry and inaction to improve your speaking

It is not enough to simply read about training for a marathon, you need to run! Communication skills are like other skills in life. You have to practice them to get better.

There is no “perfect” speaker, or one singular way to get your message across. There is a long list of things that people don’t necessarily love, though, and it pays to understand the fundamental building blocks of good communication and public speaking.

Culture can play a big part in what is considered polite or, to use eye contact as an example, assertive vs aggressive communication. Do your homework when it comes to potential employers, clients and even new friends from around the world.

Practice, build your skills over time and put yourself in situations where you can “stretch” new techniques and try them out for size.

Gain feedback and self-assess where your development areas lie and create a feedback loop where you can quickly determine what you want to change and address it.

You will feel you are communicating effectively when you see the reaction from those around you. Be authentic and tackle fears and anxiety by working from the inside to out, to transform fear into focused energy, and help you be your most effective self when you are communicating.

Would some feedback be useful?

Book some time in to discuss your speaking goals today.

Mar 30

Raise Your Visibility With Executive Presentations

By Briohny Williams | Delivering Presentations

The Opportunity You've Been Waiting For

They're the meetings you prepare the longest for with the shortest air time. High pressure, with potentially big results waiting on the other side. You're all set with your rehearsed remarks and the CEO asks "What would happen if we do nothing?". Hold up, you're not prepared for "nothing".. just all the "somethings" in your presentation!

A common chorus from professionals looking to move on and up in their careers and in business is how to raise their visibility within their company or their standing with clients.

Whilst it is fairly easy to gain experience in presenting your ideas, progress reports, even short training sessions if you look for opportunities within your business, there is little opportunity to practice presenting to a group that is used to making high stakes decisions on a regular basis.

What do we already know about an executive audience?

The high-level observations are fairly obvious; they need to make huge decisions, based on accurate information that is normally delivered in short-burst meetings and presentations. You're presenting because you have the knowledge they need, or have gathered information from subject matter experts. 

C-Suite executives could have a completely different perspective to you. However when you're the person at the front of the boardroom, you're suddenly the storyteller, the problem solver, and ultimately have to think quickly if the conversation goes in a direction you have not prepared for.

The great news is, most people in this position will improve over time, given the opportunity. The not-so-great news.. if you don't do a passable job the first time around, you might not get another chance with this particular audience.

To accelerate your learning curve and proactively anticipate common senior level questions, follow this simple structure to prepare your next executive presentation and always feel ready when presenting at the highest levels of business.

Be Brief

Let's think about the agenda of the executive team in real terms, these folks are pretty heavily scheduled. If you've been asked to present, it is likely that you are one of multiple people presenting to this group today. And you may be last on the agenda.

In the short amount of time you have, you have to be confident, credible, memorable and competent. Easy, right? The reality is, the shorter the time you have to present, the more you need to prepare.

Set expectations and let the group know how you'll spend your time and what you'll be covering. They will be more likely to let you continue your presentation and not interrupt your flow if they know what's coming up in a couple of minutes.

We are not magicians working up to a big reveal at the end of the show. Summarize your 3 main points (or less) at the beginning of the presentation and come back to supporting detail as the conversation progresses. Your slides should reflect this with a lean presentation, with supporting detail in the appendix so you can flip to details and supporting visuals as you need.

Be Bright

You can take the "bright" to represent 2 main ideas in this context; being a bit clever, and also knowing how to best communicate your ideas to this group by presenting what they will be looking for.

Be clever by providing a new take on data that the group may have seen before, a (hopefully) new perspective, alternative solutions with clear benefits and risks and a recommendation, if you are asked to provide.

It's important, though whilst you may be presenting information the group hasn't considered before, you stay entirely on topic by providing the information requested of you before moving onto other topics.

Do sweat the details. Many an executive presentation has been derailed by an "off" detail being mentioned in the opening minutes. This detail has distracted an audience member and either caused them to disengage from the following information or prompted side discussions. Meanwhile, you're standing patiently waiting to get to the next slide.. and then time runs out. They've got to move on to the next agenda item, and your amazing ideas are trapped in Powerpoint forever.

It pays to rehearse multiple times in advance of the presentation to ensure that you can present all the information you have in the time you've been given, factoring in Q&A time. If there are any words that you tend to stumble on, either eliminate them by replacing with another word or take a minor pause before you say the word and really concentrate on pronouncing correctly (the words quantitative and qualitative come to mind for me, you will have your own tricky words!). Run your presentation past someone who has had ideas adopted at an executive level who will provide honest and constructive feedback.

Be Gone

If you can't save them money, save them time. You may be a subject matter expert in your sector or industry, which is perhaps why you have been asked to present on this topic. No-one will be looking to gain in-depth knowledge from your presentation, you need to remember to "level up" and not go into intricate detail unless requested. Long-winded and overly detailed presentations will not likely cover the details that this group is looking for, and you may find yourself interrupted if you don't focus on highlighting the problem or topic, high-level findings, a recommendation, the conclusion and a call to action.

These presentations provide decision points to move a company forward. Although you are the messenger, the purpose of the presentation is to consider initiatives that will make the company more successful, and success usually requires getting others involved and on-board to make it work. Be curious and open to the discussion that ensues rather than anxious and defensive about protecting your work.

Building Visibility Beyond the Boardroom

If you're not getting the call up to present to the board, there are still plenty of ways that you can build visibility and be known within your organization when the opportunity to advance comes around.

  • Prepare for meetings by looking over the agenda and making note of questions or points to raise and then speak up.
  • Build self-confidence, knowledge, and skills by taking a public speaking course and put your skills to work by applying them whenever you can.
  • Offer to train new team members in your area of expertise and volunteer for high-visibility projects.
  • Grow your network internally and externally. When you receive the opportunity to work on new projects, introduce yourself to anyone you haven't met before and demonstrate your expertise by speaking up in meetings. Do what you say you will do in these meetings!
  • If you meet someone at an event, ask if you can connect with them. Connect on LinkedIn or email so you can easily find each other again and then occasionally send them an article or note topics of interest to keep the connection fresh.
  • Find a mentor that can provide you with advice, feedback on your personal presence, communication skills, building expertise. This should not be a manager or someone with any link to your performance appraisal.
  • Focus on the contributions of others and don't be afraid to highlight their achievements.

Visibility is about your character as well as being the first person to mind for new opportunities and advancement. If you're the most qualified person for the job, you do great work AND people like working with you, that's a pretty winning combination.

Mar 30

Make Eye Contact Your Secret Weapon

By Briohny Williams | Body Language

Why is public speaking so terrifying?

The nerves, not knowing what to do with (undoubtedly sweaty) hands, and not knowing where to look when you’re are in the spotlight. Trust me, it’s not staring at your notes or at the projector screen behind you!

If any of this sounds familiar, chances are you could improve your presentations, and start to use the opportunity to have a conversation with your audience and really land your message.

Eye contact is one of the most powerful, and totally within your control, weapons you have at your disposal.

Not only will you be able to “read the room”, you can also use eye contact to connect with your audience and boost your credibility and authenticity through the roof.

So, how to complete this terrifying task? Let’s split it into two; preparation and showtime.

Preparation

Prepare your presentation and once you have pulled together your content, which may include slides, it’s time to create your notes and rehearse. Not only will you be able to hear how your words are coming together, you can ensure your notes are going to work for you on the day, and also practice the all-important eye contact.

Try this eye contact exercise

  1. Find a space to rehearse your presentation. Ideally, you should have a mirror, plus 2 post-it notes that you can place at least one meter on either side of your mirror to give you a few reference points for your “audience”. Place the notes at a height that will replicate the audience eye level (or just not really high or really low if you’re not sure where the audience will be).
  2. Try to replicate the presentation environment; if you will be standing on stage, rehearse standing up. If you’re on a panel or presenting a webinar, you may be sitting down.
  3. Set up your smart phone camera to record your presentation, ideally next to the mirror so it captures your full body from the front on.
  4. Time to present! Scan your eyes to the mirror and notes you’ve set up during the presentation. Preferably, move your eyes in a controlled but natural scan around the room. If you continuously move your eyes from point 1, to 2, to 3, it will likely look staged and unnatural. Do a full run through your presentation, including the introduction, middle and conclusion.
  5. Watch your video. Yup, it will initially be the most horrible thing you’ve done all week. But tell me, once you get past seeing yourself on camera, what do you see?

When you review your video

  • Are your notes clear and summarized to a point that you are not reading them?
  • Do you need to practice your content more to refer to your notes less?
  • Are you feeling confident and interested in your topic? If you don’t have conviction in your topic, why should other people care? Perhaps you need a stronger introduction or think about the structure of the presentation.

If you’re happy(ish) with how you did first time, up the ante a little by asking one or two colleagues, family members or your dog to listen to your next presentation rehearsal.

  • Be sure to record the presentation again, and when you review your latest rehearsal also watch your first rehearsal again. Have you made progress, what else could you tweak?
  • Ask for feedback. Let your reviewers know that you are open to any feedback (structure, content, body language), however you are specifically looking to improve your eye contact so you will definitely want to hear about that. Your dog will find a way to let you know what she thinks!

Next, it’s showtime! Now that you’ve prepared with extra focus on eye contact, you’re feeling good, right?

Check back here tomorrow to read all about to put this all into action!