Round. Nick Clegg’s Conference Speech Problem

by Peter Watts

Nick Clegg of the British Liberal Democratic Party, chose yesterday to forgo the stage for his leader’s speech at the Party Convention and to instead speak from a little round podium that had been placed in amongst the audience. He spoke quite literally in the round, with people all around him.

Was this a good style for conference speaking?

In one word: No

It was a horrible, horrible mistake for anyone performing a keynote. If an organizer ever suggests it to you, fire them immediately and get someone who knows what they’re doing.

Here’s why:

Leader of the Band

We want leaders in both politics and business who look like they’re capable of striding the world stage. To speak from a little raised podium makes you look more like the guy conducting the village band in the park on a Sunday afternoon.

While speaking from “amongst the people” might appear to create a nice contrast to the big staging of the big political parties, the contrast fails because here it merely suggested that the Liberal’s are a little party. The corollary thought to this is that they are a little party, with little ideas. And having merely little ideas they are all the more likely to be shoved-around, sat-on, and eventually sliced-off by their far larger and more aggressive coalition partners, the Conservative Party.

They’re Behind You….

Golden rule of speaking: Always look at your audience. Speaking “in the round” like this guarantees that at any given moment, there are a chunk of them that you can’t see.

If you do ever find yourself in a position where you have to speak in the round, then one approach to still being able to look at the whole audience can be the Square Dance.

Rather than revolving on the spot, which looks odd, the speaker moves through the four points of a square. It’s walk two steps, speak 60 – 90 seconds. Walk two steps to 90 degrees, speak 60 – 90 seconds, and repeat. Just be careful with your movements. Get the timing or direction wrong and you fall off your platform.

For Nick Clegg however, the Square Dance wasn’t an option. The TV cameras were the true target audience, and because they were all pointing in one direction, the speaker had to do so as well.

I don’t know how Nick Clegg felt about having all those people behind him, but had I been the one speaking, they would have been making me feel mighty uncomfortable.

To speak from the floor and achieve that amongst-the-audience feeling is a tremendously powerful technique. Don’t throw away the stage though in attempting to achieve it.

Keep the stage. Come down from it. Stand immediately in front of it.

And keep the whole audience, immediately in front of you.

Changing minds, when minds are set

Don’t give battle in vain. When audiences hold entrenched views, full frontal assaults only deepen the entrenchment.

by Peter Watts

King Richard III causes just such entrenched reactions here in the UK, and it looks like we’ve just dug him up from his resting place of 500 years beneath a public car-park in the northern English city of Leicester.

When “bad King Richard” was originally interred, the poor chap had just suffered a particularly fatal piece of Tudor military hardware to the back of the head before being tied naked to a horse and put on public display for 48 hours. By that time very dead, the ex-King had been buried in what was then a Priory.

The rule of the Tudor Dynasty saw Richard III’s reputation buried along with him. Chief among the cultural stars of the period was William Shakespeare, and when he wrote his play, Richard III, it was with both eyes firmly set on pleasing his Tudor sponsors.

Shakespeare’s Richard was penned as as a dwarf and hunchback, with one arm shriveled to a stump. In the cultural shorthand of Tudor England, all three conditions were cruelly synonymous with evil.

The image stuck, and came to be regarded as fact. A neat demonstration that it is always the victor who gets to write history. Despite this however, a tiny minority have always continued to claim that Richard III was a good, if short-lived monarch. That he passed laws to protect the poor, and made early moves toward enshrining freedom of speech. The cult of good King Richard has always been regarded as a perverse, minority view.

If you wanted to stand up and present that minority argument for good King Richard though, how would you go about it when audiences have been conditioned to have closed minds?

Hyperbole will fail. Force will fail. Every blow you make will be met by an equal and opposite counter-blow.

Gentleness is the only solution, along with structural use of facts in such a way that they can create doubt.

For example, let’s take that skeleton of Richard III. If it turns out to be consistent with the physical descriptions of Shakespeare, then the Shakespearean portrayal may be true, but if the skeleton is that of a strapping man, then the Shakespearean version must be questioned.

We can express this with the rhetorical form if A equals B, then C. If skeleton equals twisted, then Shakespeare equals true (or at least more likely to be so).

If B however can be proved invalid, so that A no longer equals B, then the preposition C must also fall, and Shakespeare’s Richard III along with it.

There is a saying “tread lightly on my dreams, for they are my own”. The same logic applies to people’s deeply held opinions.

When you need to challenge those opinions, do not, as Richard III is said to have done, do battle in vain.

Tread lightly, carefully position new facts, and whereas it would be too much to expect to effect change in one blow, know that you may have opened up cracks that allow new insights to shine through.

PS: That skeleton? It turned out to be a tall, muscular man, with both arms very much functional, and only a slight deformation of the left shoulder, causing it to appear slightly higher than the right. Maybe that perverse minority were right, all along.

Held up? Time to resource a presentation web library

Turning stuck-time into presentation research time

by Peter Watts

Technology used well can bring extra impact to your presentation.

Take a look at TED and you’ll find people using laptops, tablets, and phones in new ways to help them tell their stories.

The trick to using technology is to reach beyond PowerPoint. Start by watching some TED talks and pick up ideas about how people put digital devices to dynamic use.

On first glance you wonder how these individuals get their ideas. Then you explore and realize that the web is swimming with creative possibilities, and that brings me to the point of this blog.

You can use moments of unexpected downtime to go out there and build your library.

At this precise moment I’m in Johannesburg, sitting in a hotel lobby, and waiting for my hotel room to become available. Housekeeping are currently attempting to wrestle the existing occupant out of it before the cleaners can go in and I can finally take up residence.

The hotel has WiFi. I have my iPhone. In just a short time I’ve been able to find new inspirations on TED, some new resources on YouTube, and a couple of press cuttings that I can build into my South Africa presentations to give my content a fresh feel.

I’ve also located several resources that although not applicable to what I’ll be doing on this trip, I can file away for possible future use.

Once you start to find dynamic new toys to build into presentations, your next goal is to build them into the presentation structure.

Any web-derived resource, such as TEDTalk, will operate in the same way as an anecdote would. Its deployment needs to be planned:

  • How does it support your story?
  • How will you introduce it?
  • How will you integrate it’s message into your presentation once the video has finished?

Once you’ve built the resource into your structure, the next step is to build it into your style. If you’re not used to deploying web resources mid-presentation, take it slowly. Build in a single item and be successful with it. You can scale-up as your competence grows.

Finally, you need to become comfortable with the technology itself, and in particular with downloading the resources from the web directly onto your presentation device. Sure you can always run video live across WiFi, but WiFi has an unfortunate habit of running slowly when you least want it to.

So next time you find yourself with an unexpected delay and an Internet connection, go on a web-hunt and find new ideas.

fool (with a plan)

Want a leg up professionally? Need a career boost? Become a better public speaker.

I can hear the collective response: Ohhh, ugh, groan. Not public speaking. Yawn. That’s lame. Give me career advice I can use. Maybe more school or certifications. I hate public speaking.

And that’s a big reason why it’s such a powerful skill. So many people hate and fear public speaking that even a mediocre speaker really stands out.

Why public speaking?

It’s valuable in all fields and every position I can think of. Any position that involves speaking to another human benefits from better communication.

I have met leaders from numerous countries and cultures and cannot think of a single one who wasn’t an adequate public speaker. Speaking and communication skills are crucial to being an effective leader.

Your skills get noticed much more quickly. Who does leadership remember: the talented wallflower or the talented person…

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https://speak2all.wordpress.com/2012/09/04/1585/

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