Our first PodCast! The Jason Womack Interview

An interview with the author of “Your Best Just Got Better”

by Peter Watts

I recently wrote a blog about a productivity book called “Your Best Just Got Better”  It’s a book that has made a huge personal difference to how I work, where I set my priorities, and how I go about defining those priorities.

jason_stage_mustard2

As a follow-up to that review, it’s my pleasure this week to be able to welcome to The Presenters’ Blog the author himself, Jason Womack.

Jason has conducted over 1,500 seminars. To each audience he brings not just knowledge, but energy, experience, and passion.

1,500 audiences! How does he do it?

During this podcast, you’ll find out how the personal performance ideas that Jason shares in “Your Best Just Got Better” can be applied to the world of the presenter:

  • Overcoming barriers that might be holding you back, such as nervousness
  • Why it’s essential to know, and to believe, that your ideas truly matter. That you have something to say!
  • How to identify your key message: the one thing that you want everybody in the room to have heard and understood during your presentation
  • The role that dissonance plays in the hard-wiring of our brains, and why it’s essential to proactively take charge of our own post-presentation coaching
  • Why it’s important to keep every presentation delivery as fresh as the first, thereby honoring your responsibility, as a presenter, to your audience

This podcast is packed with ideas and tips from Jason. Listen to it by clicking this link for the Jason & Peter PodCast, or if you’d rather read the conversation, we’ve included this transcript as well.

In addition, Jason and I have also put together ideas to boost your presenting; how you can identify your own unique knowledge, craft your message, and then take that to the stage…. this week! It’s combined with a very short  video message.

Enjoy the Jason & Peter PodCast, and do please leave any comments that you might have.

It would be great to hear from you.

Maria Miller and the jewel of Epanodos

trilliant diamond cut

A polished performance with a cut-jewel of rhetoric

by Peter Watts

Maria Miller, the UK Minister for Culture, used a figure of speech so rare and beautifully powerful that it is seldom encountered outside the Old Testament. To speak directly into the minds of her opponents she used Epanodos; blending logic and emotion in a way guaranteed to be heard and heeded across the most passionate of debates.

The Roman writer Quintilian described figures of speech as being like jewels. We place them within our speaking so that important ideas will catch the ear as fine gems catch the eye.

Figures are word patterns that vary in some way from standard spoken language. Quintilian thought of them as jewels in a treasure chest. I think of them as spells in a book of magic. They do, after all, rely on knowing just the right patterns of words. And when the correct spell is used, the audience is moved. Sometimes magically.

This week the British Parliament passed new laws to bring full marriage equality to the United Kingdom. While the vote was overwhelmingly approved, a small minority of lawmakers had strong reservations, and the pre-vote debate, led by Ms. Miller, was heated.

As I listened to the debate, the following phrase from Ms. Miller’s speech leapt out at me.

“Equal marriage should not come at the cost of freedom of faith, nor freedom of faith come at the cost of equal marriage.

We are capable of accommodating both.”

This is Epanodos, and it is so rare that there are few quoted examples to be found outside the bible or the most classical of poetry. For example, this piece written by the poet John Milton:

“O more exceeding love, or law more just? Just law, indeed, but more exceeding love!”

Epanodos involves elements of a sentence being repeated, but in reverse order. The second half of the sentence will be almost a mirror image of the first, and as with all things seen in a looking glass, that second portion will appear magically reversed.

Listening to the debate news coverage throughout the day, I heard that phrase repeated time after time across multiple news networks. Like one of Quintilian’s jewels, this one phrase had become the single most glittering section of the debate, and had caught the ear of every professional commentator.

The key to using figures successfully is to choose the right spell for the right occasion. So why would the Minister have chosen this one?

Epanodos stands out, whereas as most figures are far less showy. It is also incredibly rare in political speeches, but vaguely familiar to those who know their bibles.

This figure therefore takes the Minister’s key message about marriage equality, and codes that message to chime particularly 220px-Maria_Miller_Officialstrongly for lawmakers familiar with bible passages. In other words, the exact same lawmakers who needed special reassurance during the debate.

The Minister’s choice of the rare Epanodos figure couldn’t have been better.

You can use Epanodos in your own presentations.

The trick is to use it very sparingly. Just once. This is a figure that stands out, and if overused will look as garish as a bling bracelet packed with paste jewels. Used just once though, it will shine like a cut diamond.

What you need to do is to identify a section of your presentation that can use a neither / nor combination. It’s for when you want to say something to the effect of;

“Proposition A, does not come at the expense of proposition B. We can do both.”

Here are two very simple examples:

“Quality does not need to come at the expense of productivity, nor productivity at the expense of quality. We can achieve both.”

“The environment need not be sacrificed in the name of growth, nor growth sacrificed in the name of the environment. Both can be sustained.”

Enjoy playing with Epanodos. With the combined qualities of logic and poetic elegance, it will make your key message leap out from your presentation.

And thank you to Ms. Miller, not just for championing equality, but also for your powerful choice of words.

Why you will fail to have a great career

by Peter Watts

Universities can scrap the scheduled speakers for this year’s graduation ceremonies. They can whack up a  screen and speakers, and play their students this TedX jewel instead.

Professor Larry Smith of the University of Waterloo, berating students about “Why you are going to fail to have a great career”.

The Professor enumerates for his audience the reasons for failure, pick-axing one after another the self-destructive excuses we feed ourselves for not reaching our dreams.

“I’m an economist, I do dismal.”

Not only does he do dismal (inspiringly), he does manic, funny, and spit-flecked passion. He does logic, structure, and crafted balancing of speech techniques. He offers a 15 minute alternate take on the tired old formula of the Commencement Address, and delivers memorable and stand-out thought provoking.

The talk veers through life stages from birth to death. From a digression on how not to propose marriage through to what your gravestone epitaph will say compared to what it could have said.

No punches are pulled in highlighting the self-destructive tropes we feed ourselves for why we can’t stand-up to achieve greatness……

Unless…….

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

Presentation Skills Training

by Peter Watts

To become a great presenter, presentation skills training might be the last thing you need.

  •  Can you read basic notes?
  • Can you speak?
  • Can you answer yes to both those questions? Excellent. You’ve got what it takes to speak in public.

Public speaking has little to do with the frills of body language taught in presentation skills classes, which often do little more than help you become a more effective PowerPoint clone.

The fact that you are Googling presentation skills shows that you have a drive to get out there and speak. Your challenge now isn’t to paddle around the edges. Your challenge is to get out there and do it!

Here’s the thing: When you stand up to speak, it’s because you want to persuade, inform, or inspire a group of people. The major focus is to forget about how you are saying things, and focus instead on what you are saying!

When public speaking works it’s about having your own thoughts, your own opinions, and the confidence to express them.

It’s about being able to think, and then having thought, be able to convey those thoughts to others. It’s about message, and knowing how to convey that message. Finally, it’s about being natural and true to your own individual style. Don’t let anyone tell you to change that style. It’s yours, and it’s your own true strength.

There is an interesting article in the New York Times that touches on this. Mitt Romney, nominee assumptive in the Republican race for the the White House, is winning the television debates by having jettisoned the starched, over-prepared approach he took in the 2007 race, and has adopted a more natural, easy going approach. He’s released the presentation skills, and reached for the message.

Let’s compare this to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in the UK’s own debates a couple of years ago. A combative and devastatingly effective speaker, Brown should have blasted his way through the debates. Instead he came across as clumsy, with an odd habit of suddenly breaking into a deaths-heads grin rather than his usual scowl. It was the exact opposite of the Romney approach. Brown allowed his normally clear, belief-led style, to be maimed by an overdose of technique; presentation skilled to the point where the presentation’s killed.

What does this mean for the best way to build your presentation skills?

The most effective way is to get out there and present! There is no better forum for developing your skills than the forum itself. Here are some ideas:

Step One: Create Your Opportunity

When pushing your boundaries, the main rule to follow is safety first. You want a safe learning environment where you can experiment a little.

 ToastMasters

ToastMasters are a worldwide group who provide an excellent practice and training environment for presenters

Team Presentations:

If you work within a team, ask the person who normally chairs your team meetings if you can make a presentation. Choose a topic of relevance to the team and one where you have something to offer

Existing Customers

To get used to making customer presentations, you can start off with a presentation either to one of your existing customers who represents a safe environment

Local Schools & Colleges

Check with your H.R. Department. You may find they have a sheaf of requests from local schools for people to speak on Careers Day.

Step Two: Create Your Presentation

Within The Presenter’s Blog, you’ll find ideas for many aspects of presenting. Try the following articles for some ideas:

Always ask: “ Why should my audience care?”

Twitter headlines creates compelling presentations

Presentation structure

Coaching yourself after a presentation

Don’t allow waiting for a chance to attend presentation skills training to delay you. The best way to become a presenter is to have an opinion and to get out there and own it. That’s what public speaking is all about; to persuade, to inform, and to inspire. To inspire yourself out onto the stage, is the all important first step.

Knowledge is power when presenting

by Peter Watts

When we make a presentation we occupy the space defined by Peter Drucker as that of a “Knowledge Worker”, someone who “works primarily with information”.

Our goal is to inform and persuade. Information is the bedrock of our ability to do that. It’s essential that as presenters we continually feed the mind in the same way we would feed the body.

We need to achieve three goals when delivering knowledge to an audience. We must enable them to: understand, remember, and believe

To achieve this requires a broader awareness of our subject than merely the facts behind the case. Although important foundations, facts alone seldom achieve a winning presentation.

The important knowledge, that is often neglected, is about the wider world around the product or cause; information that brings color and interest. Mainstream media once provided a rich source but today, chasing the quickest buck at the lowest cost, most media outlets offer a diet of celebrity-drenched trivia.

To be a successful presenter requires us to take control of knowledge-gathering to maintain our information libraries. What outlets do you actively follow in order to keep your mind fed?

The internet, and the fast developing channels of Social Media, are the most incredible source of quality information if you seek it out. Whatever your subject might be, there will be specialist news outlets, e-zines, interest groups, bloggers, and information aggregators. Let’s not forget Twitter. It can take a while to master, but well managed Twitter lists of quality Tweeters can rapidly become an incredible data source.

Make it your mission to find new quality information sources every month and then follow those sources to see where they lead you.

Knowledge is power. It’s also depth, color, interest, and background, all of which we need to be able to call upon if we are to inspire our audiences.

“understand, remember, and believe.”

Message for today, objective for tomorrow

by Peter Watts

“Tonight, I can report to the American people, and to the world…..”

To understand the mechanics of any successful speech, you must always read it. By reviewing the printed page, you see the ingenious word workings that give the speech its power.

“Tonight, I can report to the American people….”

These opening words announced the death of Osama Bin Laden. They initially slip past you until you read the script.

President Obama deliberately chose to approach his audience with the simplest humility; when we “report to” someone, we work for them. When we “report for duty”, we present our service. Contrast this opening to a flight-suit clad George W. Bush astride a battle-cruiser with a banner screaming “Mission Accomplished”, and the full style difference will become all the more apparent.

Your opening words in any speech or presentation will set the tone for everything that is to follow. They will provide the springboard for your key message, and in Obama’s presentation, that key message was not “victory over terror” as might have been expected, but “unity in the face of terror”.

In the first two minutes of the speech, the word unity, or synonyms for unity were mentioned 20 times. In the final two minutes, again, there were a further 20 repetitions.

Unity synonyms are used for pathos: “3,000 citizens taken from us, leaving a gaping hole in our hearts.”

Unity synonyms are used for society and community: “In our time of grief…. we offered  our neighbors a hand, we offered the wounded our blood, we reaffirmed our ties for each other”

And the word unity itself is used as a vital pivot-point to turn the speech from the retrospective trauma of 9/11, to the 10 year hunt for Bin Laden: “We were also united in our resolve to protect our nation and to bring those who committed this vicious attack to justice.”

Within every great speech, there is a key message, and that key message must be carefully chosen with the audience in mind. For Obama’s audiences, both domestic and global, in the defining moment of Sunday May 1st, 2011, no finer message could have been chosen than that of “unity”.

The Roman orator Quintilian, once wrote that great speeches place a “hidden dart” into the mind of the audience, and that the message encoded in that dart will remain long after the speech itself may have been forgotten.

In his speech announcing the death of Osama Bin Laden, President Barack Obama sought to use the power of oratory to not only announce the death of a terrorist, but to use that power to further advance the death of the terrorist’s cause.

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