Why are audiences tricky to work with? We misunderstand what is happening when we are in the audience. Audiences have blank faces when they listen. They listen passivelyRead More
Recently I got this letter (I should really call it an email but I'm old fashioned)
“I am doing the eulogy at a close friend's funeral next week and I have been so overwhelmed with sadness that I wondered if you had any tips about how not to cry. I am going to do it but I'm struggling with crying”
Here is my reply...
The day before my dad's funeral 12 years ago in May 2007
I spent an hour with him in open coffin. I did a lot of crying with him by myself. I referred to him as daddy for the first time in 40 years. I cried buckets (I had missed my mum’s funeral, so in a way it was a double funeral for me. I was away in Greece when my mum died and the Greek police did not track me down)
So by the time I did the eulogy I was mostly all cried out but I did have a little sob. But I told the congregation “Don't worry about my tears, it's alright to cry – it’s a funeral and it’s my dad!”
I was letting the audience know that although I was crying I could cope.
I do know a lot of my public speaking clients who didn't speak at their dad's/mum's/friend's funeral and they regret it because they were afraid of crying. As Victor Frankl says “Courage is the realisation that there is something more important than fear”. Maybe we should change that to “more important than tears”
I do feel that tears are fine at a funeral. My first tip is about letting the audience know that you are ok with the tears, that you can speak with the tears and that crying is part of loving. And not to be ashamed by something so human.
I do know that when we feel vulnerable, the audience will often see our vulnerability as courage.
My focus and intent at the funeral wasn't my personal grief, it was a speech about him, it was about representing the family and telling his story. So that shift of focus helped me the bigger picture. And that's the second tip, if you can, see the bigger picture at the funeral, you are speaking on behalf of the family or for his friends. Thinking less about you. But don't worry if you cry.
However I do know that if you tell the audience that you are ok with tears, you will get a huge amount of love and often comments about how moving your speech was. The third tip is that I know it helps sometimes to have someone close standing next to you to gently support you.
My fourth tip is not to wait to the funeral to see your relative's coffin. My visit to see my father was my preparation for the funeral. A time for my private grief. By seeing him in his coffin, I knew it was time to let him go. He was no longer there.
We are humans. We are vulnerable. That’s who we are. We live short lives and the tears and sobbing are the price of living and loving.
I wish you all the best
In January 2019 I attended my father in law’s funeral. The most moving moment of the whole day was when my brother in law took two minutes to compose himself enough so that he could continue his speech about the love his father had for his mother. Those two minutes were full of love, courage and tears.
This blog was re-published with additions on May 7th 2019
You probably get all sorts of answers and lots of advice when you ask your colleagues how many slides should you use. . So I thought why not see what the top seven ted speakers tell us about that question. Of course they are doing keynotes rather than a standard company presentation but these people have spent a lot of time thinking about their presentation.
I watched the top 7 Ted talks this morning and did some simple counting. You might be surprised at the answer. So here is the basic research followed by some conclusions
Ken Robinson who is top with 57 million views, he has no slides. Yes, no slides. You don’t have to have slides to have a compelling presentation. Ken’s talk is like a chat. A very funny, focussed chat.
Simon Sinek, is third most watched speaker with 43 million views again with no slides, simply writes on two flip chart pages. Simon builds his ideas of “Start with the why” by using a big pen and a large bit of paper. It’s compelling
Amy Cuddy’s talk, with the second most viewed with 52 million views and she does use 42 slides. Twenty of those slides have NO words – just pictures. In fact, she only has 91 words in total. The most words on a slide was 14 words. She is near tears at 18 minutes and ends with a standing ovatio
So far, I’ve watched an hour’s worth of presentations with no bullet points. Hurray. And only 42 slides in total
Coming in at 4th, Brené Brown,with 39 million views. She uses only 25 slides with ten of them with NO words. 53 words spread over the 15 slides with eight words been the most wordy slide. It’s a presentation full of stories and fabulous insights for anyone interested in how we handle shame and vulnerability. It comes up a lot for me when I work with people and public speaking
The fifth talk, has climbed to this position because it’s about sex. Nothing wrong with that of course. Sex helped me get here on earth! Mary Roach’s “10 things you didn’t know about orgasm” with 26.9 million views. Who knew that you could have an orgasm from your knee? It’s a more basic talk than some of the others,using a simple 1-10 structure. Only 13 slides, two slides with no words, 55 words in total. Most wordy slide has just nine words!
Julian Treasure’s “How to speak so that people want to listen”.
33 million views, 15 slides in total, nine slides without words and 53 words in total. Julian has the most wordy slide out of all seven talks. A massive 16 words on one slide!
The final talk of the morning, Jill Bolte Taylor and finishes 123 minutes of presentations of watching. 23.5 million views. Just 8 slides, three slides without words. But she brings out a real brain. She’s only person to use a real thing as part of her visuals. And the audience groans. Total 25 words on all of those slides and the slide with the most words has five words on it.
So just some quick thoughts
They are keeping the slides really simple.
Slides do not equal the presentation, the slides support the presenter
The best slides are just one idea per slide
Lots of slides are without words
Pictures are better than words
Stories are really important
The presenters are concentrating on connection with the audience and building their ideas in the audience minds.
You don’t have to use slides at all, two of the best speakers don’t use them at all.
Personal pictures connect you with the speaker more. Jill Bolte Taylor's picture of her brother with a mental illness brings it home.
Real things have drama. So think about using something real instead The actual brain that Jill brought onto the stage had massive impact.
Even when slides have words, there are often just one or two words on them. The presenters don't overfill the slide. (this point has more words than the most wordy slide)
It takes discipline to plan a presentation well!
No bullet points or big lists. Unlike this article. Sorry about that...
I'd love to know what are your thoughts are?
We put a lot of pressure on ourselves around delivering presentations and public speaking. The more pressure we put on ourselves, the more uncomfortable we feel.
In my public speaking workshops I regularly come across five really common beliefs about presentations that really don't help. And some rethinks are in order.
I've got to know everything about a subject before I can present
If you had to know everything then every presentation would take 17 years to prepare (just a guess - not scientifically proven). That's plainly ridiculous! And to be honest there is far too much information in the world anyway.
So what do you do?
Well, I'd love you to see presentations as your contribution to the subject. This is your particular take, your own angle rather than the whole encyclopaedic explanation.
Your job is to digest the information in a way that the audience gets it rather than overwhelming your audience.
You might have a massive report to present on. You could frame it it like this: “ It's really important for us to concentrate on, is this bit of the report, it will have profound impact on our department…
Or maybe you could see your presentation as starting the debate rather than being the complete answer. So you could do a quick presentation and then start a group discussion! So less material to handle, less to remember and better for your audience.
I've got to tell everything I know about presentation in order to give my audience value
You open your laptop, fire up PowerPoint and the first question you ask yourself “What do I know about this subject?”. And it all goes on your slides. Your 120 slides!
What you have forgotten is what it's like to be in your audience receiving all that information. It's tough to stay awake.
Presenters seem to forget about audiences. Presenters give too much information. If you say 10 things in your presentation you're probably not saying anything at all. They won't remember it.
So the radical re-think question is “What is the ONE thing you want the audience to take away or to act on?. That's right, just one thing.
Part of your job is to rebuild your one idea in their brains. In order to do that you need to work out why they should be interested in your idea and speak to their interests.
If I pause, they will think that I’ve dried up and/or about to collapse
Pauses seem to be a real stumbling block for presenters. Nervous presenters think if they deliver their presentation really fast then they will get off really quickly and perhaps hopefully no one might notice them. Pauses for them are full of panic. But I'd love you to do a rethink about this.
The most powerful part of the presentation is the audience thinking process.
They need to be able to think about what you're saying. If you give them a machine gun delivery there are no gaps for them to think.
Audiences need pauses.
And you can see pauses as thinking time for you.
So I'd love you to move from panic pauses to Jacuzzi pauses, pauses where you can relax and think. (I know this will take practice but good pauses are about putting your audiences needs first)
I can't make a mistake
The flipside of I can't make a mistake is I've got to be perfect. Anxiety around public speaking is full of excessive pressures on ourselves. This combination one is a biggie!
Organisations that have really good customer service know that they are going to make mistakes so what they do is get better at recovering from mistakes. They will treat you really well, they will apologise and remedy the situation quickly and maybe even give you something extra.
What public speakers need to do is to get better at making mistakes and more especially recovering from mistakes. This probably means being fully present and dealing with what's happening in the room. So when Steve Jobs’ presentation clicker failed during an apple presentation, he came up with a story about the beginning of Apple whilst someone got a new clicker for him.
The research shows that if an organisation handles a mistake well, then the consumer often has more trust in that organisation afterwards. I think it's the same for public speakers. The audience will relax if you take mistakes in your stride. Have the courage to be imperfect. It certainly helps me!
I won't be able to answer people's questions (see bonus tip below as well)
Maybe you won't.
I was in the audience for a lecture by Daniel Pink in Bristol awhile back. Some very clever person (i’m being polite) asked a very clever question. He paused, he thought and his reply “mmmm, I haven't done the research on that. Has anyone else here done the research on that?"
He look around and waited.
“We don't know, none of us knows. Next question please”.
He didn’t fluster or bullsh*t. He wasn’t rude to the questioner.
It’s okay not to know, in fact it's far better to be honest. You can always add "Normally I would know but I've got my stage fright head on. Talk to me at break"
I found another elegant addition to this approach in Simon Raybould’s blog. He gave a formula for answering a question you don’t know:
a. I don’t know, but it’s a good point
b. so I’ll find out
c. and if you give me your email address I’ll get back to you about it
d. by lunchtime on Thursday
Bonus tip about questions is one that I use all the time.
When I ask an audience “Have you got any questions?”, quite often no one says anything. So I wait. Audiences are slow to do most things. I'm not blaming them, its just what audiences are like.
And then I say "normally at this stage I get asked this question” I have a couple of questions up my sleeve and that gets things rolling. It also gives the audience time to think about questions.
It's very simple, it's very useful.
We focus on the wrong things when we speak publicly. We need to shift our focus away from the fear onto different things. I offer 6 re-thinks for public speakingRead More
The problem with the vast majority of public speaking tips and advice is they are centred solely on the speaker. The idea seems to go “Please fix me as the individual speaker in some way . Please help me “control” my nerves.”
For example, the tips for nervousness from the just published TED Guide to Public speaking by Chris Anderson, Head of TED, are as follows
• use your fear as motivation – that’s what its there for
• let your body help you – breathe
• Drink Water
• Avoid an empty stomach
• Remember the power of vulnerability
• Find friends in the audience
• have a backup plan
• focus on what you’re talking about
8 tips and they are mostly about preparing the individual speaker.
I love TED but with the greatest respect (and this time I really mean that) I think the speaker is the wrong place to start. And that’s because of a fundamental misunderstanding of what is going on when we speak.
I think we need to tell a different story.
To understand public speaking, the first place to start is to understand audiences, NOT from the speaker’s point of view. But from when YOU are in the audience.
So next time you are in an audience of over 10 people, I want you to notice what you do and what other people around you do when you listen to a speaker.
I’m going to bet that;
• You listen passively, you nod far less than when you are in a normal conversation
• Your face tends to show few approval signs so your face looks blank.
• You just allow people to take the space when they speak – without too much thought at all. Speakers can just have their turn without you going “They don’t deserve that space” or “They are not worth it”.
• You listen to the speaker for a while but you also think about other things. “Do I need to shop on the way home?” “Do I need to apologise to my wife when I get home?”. (yes is the answer btw) and other thoughts. We occupy a private world in our heads.
• You just look gently at the speaker – you are not actively trying to stare down the speaker
• If the speaker makes a mistake or misses something out we don’t notice or don’t care -unless it’s a significant mistake.
• We are not thinking poisonous thoughts about the speaker. Not usually. We might get bored or frustrated with them but we are not wanting them to die, to fail. We are not criticising their body parts. (By the way I’m not talking about listening to the likes of Donald Trump here but a normal business/organisational presentation).
Being in an audience is a relatively benign place. We just listen or we don’t
But when it’s YOUR turn to speak, suddenly everything changes.
The audience has become hostile, judgemental, bored, is staring at you, is thinking bad thoughts, they have massive expectations of you. Audiences have angry, blank, judgmental faces.
But the audience hasn’t changed – YOU have.
We think we see threats that are not actually there. We assume we can read any audience without any actual proof. If we are afraid we assume they are ALL thinking negative thoughts about us.(inverse ego)
And yet moments before we were just in a gentle audience.
We misread the audience massively. We interpret lots of signs as threats. We forget that we have brains that are hard-wired for spotting threat over millions of years. When we speak we are suffering from evolution! We are operating on false information about the audience because we are anxious. So a yawn is because I’m boring, not because they had a bad night.
So when we speak we need to understand that speaking to audiences is different from a normal conversation. Audiences have blank faces – and that is normal. We may need to practise seeing audiences in this different way before a big event. So it’s worth finding a safe place to practise seeing the audience in this way. You can start of course by looking at what you do when you are in the audience.
The idea then is to understand more deeply what is really happening in an audience. We can learn to connect to those rows of people in front of you with more ease. We can be more ourselves because we are calmer. And then we have more chance to change the world.
Now I think that’s the idea worth spreading.
When people are scared they often leave things to the last moment. Somebody rang me up a couple of weeks ago and wanted immediate help – he had to speak to 500 people the following week. Let’s call him Simon; it’s not his real name. He wanted one to one training in the next two days. But I was already very busy and the only time I had was there and then on the phone. So I spoke to him for 20 minutes.
Amongst other things I said to Simon was “The audience wants you to be real they want to know who you are. They want to be able to trust you. Just be yourself”
But I also knew this to be frustrating advice. It’s not very helpful because it doesn’t tell you how to be real. I don’t think it’s easy; there isn’t an authenticity switch. We do need to think it through.
Which self should you be during the presentation? The self that says, “actually right now I’m constipated” or the self that says “I’d really rather be drinking right now” or “I’d rather be in jail than doing this”.
Probably not a good idea.
So who do we bring to the fore when we stand there with everyone’s eyes on us?
Caroline McHugh in her Ted speech talks about our 4 selves. (The notes in brackets are my stuff not Caroline’s)
a. The most visible you that you represent to the outside world. What do others think of us?
b.The "you", you wish to be. The you that you construct and that changes.
(In a recent survey by the future foundation only 16% agreed that ‘presenting an image true to self’ on social media would also be considered a good moral value. We curate how we want people to see is.)
c. What you think of you - the ego
(In my work I notice that this is where a lot of people get stuck. They are incredibly critical of themselves. This is where they stop themselves because they are not good enough)
d. The fundamental ever present unchanging you.
It’s hard to know which mix of the four (or more) selves we bring when we speak if we haven’t done some work with ourselves. So paradoxically we need to learn how to be ourselves and how to manage our authenticity. Not from Celeste Holm’s standpoint of “if you can fake honesty you’ve got it made."
But from an intention to be real, to connect with the audience, and to be passionate.
4 steps to speaking authentically
1. The basic one of being present or learning public being. We need to be able to stand in front of an audience and be ok with that. Getting comfortable just BEING there. We need to calm the storm down of nervousness and self-critical thinking. We need to be able to NOT get entangled with what do I think the audience is thinking of me. So we practise simple things like being looked at, breathing normally, connecting, pausing, speaking and get our brain back in front of the audience. We need to learn how to just BE in front of our audience. You can do that in a safe group but unfortunately for Simon not over the phone.
2. Speakers need to know what is important to them, what do they personally value, we need to develop self-knowledge. What were there turning points that got them here? Where do they come from?To collect and be able to tell stories about their lives and tell them from a place of service and humility rather than ego.
3. Vulnerability We need to accept the importance of being vulnerable when we speak. It’s a key skill for a speaker. To realize that vulnerability goes with the territory. Accepting that you are going to be there, to be fully seen. Allowing yourself to be passionate, being emotional, to say "I think this is important to me" when others might disagree.
4. Practice in small ways first. Play with these learnings as you build trust in yourself. Find ways to manage the levels of authenticity and what you reveal. I don’t mean rehearse, rehearse, rehearse but get experience of being the authentic you in conversations, small meetings and smaller presentations. Jumping from nothing to 500 is hard.
So I’m still saying “just be yourself”. But in order to do that, please, please. please give yourself a little more time to prepare than Simon had.
I work with people who hate public speaking. It’s clear that we think far too much about it. Especially if we are scared and anxious when we are the centre of attention.
We think about; where to put our hands, what people are thinking about us, we remember the times we got it wrong, we worry who is in the audience, we catastrophise what might go wrong. To adapt Mark Twain “My speeches have been filled with terrible misfortunes – most of which never happened!”
To cap it all, we often have an internal observer giving a commentary about how badly we are doing in the moment. Let’s listen in;
“You’ve just pronounced that word wrongly, why are you speaking about this right now, omg they can see that I’m nervous, my feet are too big…”
The more we act as our own highly critical commentator, the more we sabotage ourselves.
That is a lot of “stuff” to take up with us. No wonder its hard to be there.
For me, it is obvious that the fear of public speaking is layered – its not just one thing. It’s not just a matter of changing feeling nervous to feeling excitement – although later on that can be a useful.
I think we have to calm ourselves down, to learn how to be in front of people and get used to the fact that our brain that has an evolutionary biased for spotting threat. Over-seeing threat is something our brain excels in. Our brain is evolutionary designed over millions of years to over-think, to spot patterns of danger, to react quickly to them.
Often we blame ourselves for our weaknesses around public speaking. I think we should be kinder to ourselves – we are still using a brain that’s defending us from potential threats from million years ago. When did you last get attacked by a lion during a presentation? But we behave as if the lion is there in the audience. This is our evolutionary legacy rather than something broken with us as individuals.
Part of the answer to the fear of public speaking is to learn how to be ok with lots of people looking at us and how to calm our inner storm so we think a lot less.