Unaccustomed as I ham

Rejoice, for the season of the office party is upon us

by Peter Watts

You’re used to presenting right? These are folks you work with every day right? What can go wrong when it comes time for you to stand up and….. “say a few words”?

Lots!

Informal social speeches can prove slippery beasts. Unaccustomed, we attempt light-hearted, delivered under the influence of alcohol. A cringe-inducing serving of Christmas ham is the unintended result.

The Holidays are memorable, staff parties are memorable, and your speech is the keynote party address. It needs to be memorable too, and for the right reasons.

Here’s the instant guide to the perfect four-minute ham-free party speech.

  • Control for your comfort zone. Speak early, before noise or alcohol levels have the chance to rise
  • Keep it short
  • Please, no PowerPoint
  • If joke-telling is not what you’re known for, avoid!
  • Plan, practice, & memorise

The Perfect Office Party Speech:

The goal:

  • Generate team-wide feel-good about success achieved in the past year
  • Spread the love, showing how everyone contributed to that success
  • Project success forward into the year to come

Ingredients:

One team triumph from the year just passed. Of the achievements your team produced, which are you proudest of? It could be new contract, a product launch, a project completed, or a challenge met.

The chosen triumph must allow glory to be spread. Make sure it involved teamwork. Remember: spread the love!

Process and Timings:


Step One:
Open with the significance of your chosen triumph. Why are you proud of it?
60 seconds

Step Two:
Detail three examples of how everyone worked together to achieve that triumph. If your party includes staff family members, be sure to include them too.
Keep it short and punchy.
90 seconds

Step Three:
Conclude by projecting forward into next year. Talk about the next challenge on the horizon and how this year’s triumph is a perfect spring-board.
60 seconds

Step Four:
The call-to-action: “Ladies and Gentlemen…. the bar is open. Enjoy!”
30 seconds

Receive applause. Bask in goodwill. You just made a highly effective holiday-season speech!

It was a speech about teamwork. A speech that acknowledged and valued people, and that pointed-up the values of endeavour, persistence, and hard work. A speech that issued the first battle cry of the year to come and set your team looking forward to challenges ahead.

It was a speech in under four minutes flat!

It was a holiday speech they’ll remember, and for all the right reasons.

More Sources:

Office party speaking appears to be something a lot of people  are interested in, especially come the Holidays. Here are a few additional resources from around the web:

Max Atkinson’s Blog

Max is a leading UK blogger about speaking and communication. Here is his guidance for Holiday speaking: The Office Christmas Party Speech: roads to failure and success

And for ideas about what to put into the script, try write-out-loud.com’s Christmas Speeches: Short, Simple, and Sincere

Virgin peeps in at party. Slowly gets turned-on

by Peter Watts

My first Twitter attempt occurred a year ago. All dressed-up, I entered the Twittersphere to join the party.

One weekend of searchings and followings accessed such a deluge of comedians, politicians, business-people and journalists, all careening in a tweet-out riot that it left me clear of the dance-floor and glued to the wall. It was all one way, over-whelming, and confusing. Flashbacks to nightclub nights in the 90’s. All reminiscently shallow, and what was more, no-one was talking to me! (Sadly, that bit too was reminiscent).

I retreated.

Twelve months later and there on my iPhone the blue birdie still beckoned. Maybe have another go, and this time, be more selective.

An initial 25. A comfortable number. Off starts the conversation again. I limit my followings. Still though, no-one appears to be talking to me.

I make my first few cautious re-tweets to see if that stirs anything. Zilch! Don’t give up. Try posting a few comments. Nope, still zilch. My eyes drift back toward the exit.

I get a message! Someone liked a post! Huge and joyous celebrations. I exist after all!  I have my first new follower who I swiftly follow back, sharing connections. We have similar tastes, many of whom I decide to follow in turn. Brand new connections tweet lines of thought I haven’t played with before. The riot seems to be breaking-up a little. Rather than a writhing mass it now resembles multi-branching conga lines dancing to their own mysterious rules.

One month in and I no longer feel glued to the wall. Inspiring people appear and new conga-lines of ideas open up. New opinions, new topics, new thoughts.

For a presenter, the ability to surprise an audience with novel thinking creates a memorable presentation. In order to surprise others, you must first embrace the chance to be surprised yourself.

It’s early days, and I’m still figuring out the moves, but I now see that the information orgy of Twitter rewards curiosity with new ideas, and new ideas are always worth turning on.

Resources:

For a useful guide to starting out with Twitter, try “The Bare Bones Guide to Twitter” published by Adam Werbach in The Atlantic.

For comfort in those early weeks, this wonderful blog post by Annie Andre. As newbies, we are not alone!

And for a cautionary tale of Twit-Addiction, Larry Carlat’s “Confessions of a Tweeter” from the NY Times

Does my but sound big in this?

by Peter Watts

Using “but” in business presentations reduces your influence.

    • It raises defensiveness in others by implying disagreement or excuses
    • The word sounds dull; consider it’s phonic counterparts: gut, cut, hut, shut

In business presentations, it’s fundamentally a defensive, whiney word to avoid

Wherever you use “but”, the word “and” can usually be deployed instead. As a tool “and” is a constructive joining word, as opposed to the wet blanket “but”.

Consider these examples to see how the deployment of one or the other changes the tone:

“We want to expand but competition is increasing. How do we do it?”

The use of “but” depresses the call to action: “How do we do it?”

Instead try:

“We want to expand and competition is increasing. How do we do it?”

Replacing “but” with “and” shifts focus from let’s whinge, to let’s win

Now consider these two:

“Our community is growing but our infrastructure can’t keep up” = Whinge

“Our community is growing and our infrastructure can’t keep up” = Call to Action

“Climate change is a threat but we need fossil fuels” = Whinge

“Climate change is a threat and we need fossil fuels” = Call to Action

While the b-word does have it’s uses when consciously deployed in speech-writing, it’s the unconscious usages that we aim to zap.

Try recording your next piece of public speaking. When you play it back, count how many instances of “but” that you bought into your speech, especially during Q&A sessions. If there are more than five, then your influence level will be improved with a but-reduction.

Handling the question that mustn’t be answered

by Peter Watts

Have you stopped beating your wife?

Where do you go with a question like that? Only two equally damning answers appear open, but you would be cursed by a yes or condemned by a no.

Sometimes as presenters, questions are put to us such as the famous “have you stopped beating your wife” example, that are based on false prepositions. Whether intentional or innocent, they are unanswerable, and indeed, must not be answered. If you do, then you confirm the preposition, and the trap snaps shut around your ankles.

The first discipline when dealing with false propositions is to identify them. Pause before you answer questions. From a stage-craft perspective it makes your answer appear considered. From a thinking-time perspective it gives the opportunity to consider the question and check that it’s basis is factually correct.

Listen-before-you-leap. Expose questions that you shouldn’t answer. For example, watch a political interview to observe masters at work:

“How do you explain the failure of your administration’s economic policy?”

If the interviewee attempts to answer this question, they create a talking point around perceived economic failure. Therefore the legitimate route, is refute:

“I don’t agree with the proposition of your question. Amongst the many economic achievements we have produced are………”

The interviewee is now telling the audience what they, the interviewee, wants to say. They effectively answer their own made-up question. Is this fair? Absolutely. It’s not just fair, it’s essential.

Media Consultant Ann Wright, from Rough House Media, comments that the same techniques are equally important in both presentations, and during media interviews:

“Aim not to repeat the question as you refute the answer. If you reply with ‘I don’t accept that I have ever beaten my wife / I have never beaten my wife’ then this will re-enforce the question in the listeners mind. They could miss the fact that you are denying it.”

Like strategic chess-moves, false preposition questions are placed to trip us into check-mate. It’s fully justified to respond by pivoting back out of the trap.

Ann Wright of RoughHouse Media can be followed on Twitter at @roughhouse01

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