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Verbal Dexterity: Talking the Talk » 2008 »

Archive for June, 2008

Making A Sharp Left Turn (How To Change Your Speech In Mid-Stream)

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

You did the prep.
You wrote out your entire presentation.
You have practiced in the shower.
Your shampoo and conditioner were paying rapt attention.
Even your dog seemed intrigued by your transitions.

You are ready to go.
The big day is here.
The audience is primed and anticipating.

As you finish your first 15 minutes, you notice something slightly different about your listeners.

It’s a nuance.
A subtlety.
What is it?

Oh yes.

THEY ARE BORED OUT OF THEIR MINDS!!!!

…and you still have 45 minutes to go.

You have 3 choices:
1) Punt immediately and run out of the room in shame. If they are really that bored, they may not notice that you have left until after you have driven away in a disguise.
2) Be stubborn and naive and keep plodding ahead. Obviously, it’s their fault, not yours.
3) Show some Verbal Dexterity and get this presentation kicking!

Here are some things that you can do to re-invigorate that corpse of a speech:

  • Immediately stop talking. Let the silence be noticed. Then change your voice quality dramatically (volume, tone, inflection, pentameter)
  • Be self-deprecating: acknowledge that even you were bored by what you just said (and follow this with something exciting)
  • Change you location. For example, sit down in the middle of the audience and conduct your presentation from there
  • Shut off the projector and talk personally and candidly to your audience
  • Start talking about something personal that all will find interesting
  • Have an interactive “game” ready to go
  • Ask the audience to move around (change seats, clap their hands, repeat phrases after you (increased blood flow always helps)
  • Always have 2 back-up topics/points ready to go just in case
  • Ask the audience what is their top priority and address in a casual/free exchange manner
  • Today’s Tip: The shortest distance between a speaker and his audience may not be a straight line. Don’t leave home without a knapsack of options, alternatives and tap shoes…and always be prepared to make a sharp left turn!

    Hiding Behind The Slides: Who Can Put the Point In Powerpoint?

    Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

    I like Powerpoint. It’s intuitive, manageable and impressive.

    I don’t like how people use slides, and abuse them, during meetings and pitches.

    Honestly, have you ever sat through an elongated business slide show and felt your eyes go droopy as your senses were dulled into a near comatose state?

    Yes, we’ve all been there, done that.

    OK. So now you need to be the presenter and have some slides you want to use.
    What do you need to be aware of?

  • Try not to use more than 10 slides. The audience will usually not pay attention after that.
  • Obviously, get to the room early and do a quick run through.
  • Make sure that your computer’s “desktop” that gets projected onto the screen before the first slide does not depict anything embarrassing (e.g. photo of you in a compromising position or a folder marked “Porn Collection).
  • Look at and review each slide in advance-does the visual really support and enhance your message?
  • Animation and squiggles are cute–but are they distracting?
  • Avoid turning the lights all the way down during your presentation. It will allow people to close their eyes or focus on things other than you.
  • Don’t turn your back to the audience while you present-it’s rude and directs the audience to merely read the bare words on the screen.
  • Try to say something different than what’s written in the slide. Regurgitation is a big bore.
  • Have lengthier materials available after the presentation.
  • Be fully prepared to deliver your full presentation without slides (in the rare event that the equipment breaks down).
  • Recognize that giving all members of your audience copies of your slides, as a handout, in advance, is also a distractor (your listeners will be looking down, jumping ahead to your upcoming “surprise” slides and now have a nice canvass upon which to doodle).


  • Today’s Tip: Slides should be a thoughtful supplement to an already stimulating presentation. Use them sparingly and don’t make them the center of your speech. You’re too good a speaker to share applause with a screen.

    Don’t Like Carrots, Not Afraid Of Sticks (Incentives & Discipline In The Workplace)

    Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

    Sometimes workers need a little push: a push towards a goal, a push towards improvement or simply…a push off a cliff.

    HR and/or the Boss usually have only two options: 1) Incent or 2) Punish.

    Both can be effective, provided you fully understand the “carrot” / “stick” dichotomy.

    For Incentives To Work:

  • Make sure that it really is a valued motivator (e.g., “most Quarterly sales gets a plunger,” doesn’t cut it).
  • Money is always good, but recognition goes a long way (letting the incented employee park in the boss’ parking spot or making them wear a silly button all day announcing their achievement, will make them stand out in a fun way).
  • Select an incentive that others will covet (what good is a steak dinner to a vegetarian?).
  • Always tell the rest of the group who received what reward. Nothing works better (for the winner and their peers) than public acknowledgment.
  • Make sure that everyone understands, in advance, just what the incentive is and what is necessary to earn it.

  • For Discipline To Work:

  • Make sure that everyone understands expectations and knows when they have deviated from them.
  • Discipline should be prompt (within a day or two after an investigation is completed).
  • Never disciple anyone in the public. The grapevine and humiliation can be more devastating to the employee than the actual punishment.
  • Memorialize all discipline. You will never remember what you did last year and you may need it for future legal proceedings.
  • Discipline should usually be progressive (a first offense should be treated differently than a 3rd). The only exception is a violation so offensive that you must react with full measure (e.g., an employee that hits a customer or steals from you).
  • Today’s Tip: Only the enlightened Employer can properly decide how to serve the “carrots” or throw the “sticks.” Just make sure that each is serving its purpose (it’s hard to throw a carrot and no one likes to eat a stick).

    These Hands Were Made For Talking (Using your hands while you speak)

    Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008

    When it comes to speaking and one’s hands, most people fall into one of two categories: 1) they use them too much when they talk or 2) they don’t use them enough.

    There is rarely any middle ground.

    A presentation or speech can be made so much more effective when your body language supports rather than distracts. Putting your hands in your pockets may appear to be a safe option, but it is not (when you do that, we want to know if you are looking for change, are about to draw your pistol or have some other surprise down there).

    Remember Mae West’s classic line?
    “Is that a toothbrush in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?

    So, what should you do with your hands when you are speaking?

    Let’s put our finger on some handy tips:

  • At the outset, make sure that your hands are well groomed and clean (yes, your listener does notice)
  • Try to avoiding pointing directly at someone’s face (it is usually interpreted as confrontational and rude)
  • Use your hands to support and complement phrase inflection (a smooth and soft-pitched delivery should be reflected in similar hand movements)
  • Practice your gestures before you use them. Abrupt and awkward movements will distract the audience
  • Do not use your hands and arms to accent every word or syllable of your comments (you are not John Bonham playing a double bass drum for Led Zeppelin)
  • When in doubt, fold your hands on the table (remember that old policeman’s line, “Put your hands where I can see them.”)
  • Be cognizant of the jewelry that you have on (bright colors, gaudy rings and loud bracelets can be far more interesting than your content)
  • Avoid cracking your knuckles (you’re way beyond 7th grade)
  • Avoid hugging the podium (it really looks like you are using it as a security blanket)
  • If using a microphone, your free hand will need to work twice as hard
  • Pay close attention to other speakers and their movements. Note which hand gestures enhanced and which distracted. Add the effective ones to your repertoire.

  • Today’s Tip: Your hands can help or hinder your oral effectiveness. Words and gestures should complement, not conflict with, one another. Clever use of your hands will get you the handshake that you are looking for.