Tag Archives: public speaking

Avoid Canned Speeches: Grow Facilitation Organically

By Kevin E. O’ConnorKevin E O'Connor

Farmers and chefs know that we love to eat foods described as “organic,” because we know it means natural, pure and without pesticides. Most people have never seen advertisements for an “organic meeting” or one featuring an “artificial speaker,” yet meeting attendees will tell you that interactive games feel “stale,” group discussion questions seem “generic,” or many speakers give a “canned” speech. When done well, an audience views facilitation—defined as, “the act of productively making collaboration easier for an audience”—as a normal, important conversation. When you fearlessly facilitate, the audience will know that they are in good hands.

It’s easier and less expensive to bring organic content to your next meeting than you might think. Just like organic foods, organic facilitation is less known, healthier in the long run and takes time to perfect.

1. Organic facilitation is less well-known. Most organically grown food is less well-known than other brands; often it isn’t branded at all. The same holds for the activities designed for great facilitation. While “off-the-shelf” games, case studies and role-plays can certainly be used to help people learn and apply concepts, use caution. Today’s audiences quickly figure out when they are being manipulated to employ a strategy or system. When you develop customized discussion topics, surprise interventions and audience involvement from scratch, you stand a better chance of engaging people. You also bring the wonderful element of surprise to them.

Presenters today often confuse noise, repetition and ego for useful, engaging content. Traditional speakers say, “Audiences won’t want to participate,” “Facilitation is too hard!” or “All they want to do is listen.” The experienced speaker, though, knows that it’s nearly impossible to connect with a group of seated people in a windowless room by talking at them for several hours and then expecting them to learn!

2. Organic facilitation is healthier in the long run. Fewer pesticides and carefully-supervised growing conditions make organic foods healthier. The common tomato is a clear example; bright red full tomatoes from your neighbor’s garden carry more nutrients than the pinkish, waxy imports grown in a commercial greenhouse. When involvement—led by a skilled facilitator with a watchful eye—occurs naturally, conversation becomes more natural, productive and fun.

At your next meeting, consider being the skilled farmer who tends to the participants, watches them closely, and arranges them in specific ways. For a meeting with a small group, arrange attendees in a circle with no tables (yes, this is possible!) and begin the discussion at the point of their pain (e.g. current stressors, challenges, or number-one priorities).

3. Organic facilitation takes time to perfect. Fearless facilitators see perfection as the appearance of imperfection. When a speaker is too polished or perfect, audiences see the presenter as unapproachably distant. Furthermore, because traditional training emphasizes “giving” over “probing,” these sessions omit the audience’s innate brilliance, experiences and contributions. There are many ways to enhance and perfect the flow of organic discussion.

Solicit “burning questions” (i.e. what people most want to learn after their time with you). Because outcomes are vital for the meeting planner and participants, a good set of burning questions, gathered at the start of the meeting, will create an informal agenda. Meet, address, or answer those questions and you will have one happy audience! Form small groups to discuss or solve a problem and let them talk to one another. Toward the end of your allotted time, pull out one question at a time and ask, “What did we say about this one?” Don’t answer it yourself, but have them do so. Write what they say on a flip chart, and have them explain it to one another. They know more about how it hit them than you do, and it is a great way for you to discover what outcomes they really received. Ask how they will apply the skills that they just learned tomorrow, at their next team meeting and in one year.

Give your content in targeted chunks or “lecturettes” of no more than 8-12 minutes before you ask the audience to talk again with one another. If you believe that you need to talk for 45-60 minutes, know that you have lost them by the 13th minute! They may appear to be paying attention, but they are certainly thinking elsewhere.

Revise your internal mindset: Move your audiences in a direction that will engage their astute listening and creative thinking on the spot. It will not always come easily; it takes time and many imperfect attempts to discover the timing and appropriateness of the involvement.

Acknowledge what few professionals allow themselves: it is okay, and often preferred, to be imperfect and to go with the flow. Know that your audience is there for the experience together and not just for the experience with you.

When you take the stage, call the meeting to order or begin your presentation, remember that engagement is always more important than the notes that the audience takes. At so many conferences, people fill legal pads with ideas, yet rarely apply them to their everyday work. When you facilitate a dialogue that produces engagement, learning and partnership, you build connections and develop influence and you help them begin to implement which is the goal of the meeting anyway!

Kevin E. O’Connor, CSP (kevin@kevinoc.com), is a facilitator, medical educator, and author. He focuses on teaching scientific and technical professionals how to influence and lead teams of their former peers. He presents and coaches over 175 times per year around the world to corporations, individuals, associations and non-profits about how to move teams from conflict to consensus. His latest book, “Fearless Facilitation: The Ultimate Field Guide for Engaging (and Involving!) Your Audience,” is available in bookstores now and online at kevinoc.com.

Making Your Message Memorable: Five Tips That Add Value to Your Words

By Patricia FrippPatricia Fripp

Some presenters think that if they talk longer, they are giving more value or getting their point across more effectively, when in reality, audiences of any size, from 5 to 500, are eager for content presented as efficiently and memorably as possible.

One of my friends was a sales manager at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. He was a great salesperson one-on-one, but now he was facing a group of ten. “I’m very nervous,” he confessed. “How do I sell to so many people?” A professional association was debating whether to bring their convention to the city.

Below are the five tips I gave him to make his message memorable:

Build rapport. His audience was convention committee. When building rapport with an audience, you need to emotionally and intellectually connect. Think of it this way: logic makes you think, emotion makes you act. You intellectually connect with your logical argument through specifics, statistics, charts and diagrams. You emotionally connect through eye contact, stories, content that creates a visual in the audience’s mind, and “you”-focused (rather than “I”-focused) language. This is incredibly important if you want to sell your ideas, a product or service.

Don’t be polite…get to the point. “Let’s step backwards,” I said. “How long do you have for your presentation?”

“Seven minutes.”

I asked him how he would start if left to his own resources. The sales manager took a deep breath and began, “Well, ladies and gentlemen, I hope you’re enjoying our hospitality. I know…” and he was off on a stream of platitudes.

“You’re polite,” I told him when he finished, “and that’s not a bad habit, but you don’t have much time. They know who you are because you’ve been entertaining them. They know where you are. Make it about them.

I advised him to say, “Welcome and thank you for the opportunity to host you. In the next seven minutes, you are going to discover why the best decision you can make for your members and your association is to bring your convention to San Francisco and the Fairmont Hotel.”

Make your message sound valuable. How valuable does your message sound? Just for fun, I had my friend choose either to rehearse his presentation and time it or transcribe it. He calculated the financial impact of his proposal, and the investment of his prospect, and divided by the length of his presentation. That gave him a dollar value for his words.

Then I asked, “What are you actually ‘selling’?”

“Well, it isn’t the Fairmont because if they come to San Francisco, they’ll definitely use our hotel. I guess I’m selling San Francisco because they are seriously considering San Diego.”

Then I asked him a question that rarely gets asked: “How much is it worth to the Fairmont Hotel if you get their business?”

“Half a million dollars,” he said.

“Mmm,” I said, grabbing my calculator. “Let’s see. Half a million dollars divided by seven minutes—that’s $1,041.66 a second, even when you pause.”

Remove fluff and filler. Naturally you want to remove all the unnecessary fluff and filler. For example, avoid clichés like “each and every one of you in the room.” How often have you heard presenters say that? It’s adding nine unnecessary words! When you have made your message is clear and concise, divide the word count by the amount of time needed to deliver your presentation. Notice how much more valuable each word has become. Make every word count!

Watching the I-focused language, that is 7 ‘yous’ or ‘yours’ and 1 ‘Fairmont.’ He should continue with, “San Diego is a magnificent destination, and you should definitely go there in the future. However, this year you should come to San Francisco because…” and then list the specific reasons.

This is an emotional opening because it’s ‘you’ focused. And because my friend never disparages his competition, he’s acknowledging that San Diego is fabulous. He connected emotionally with his audience, and the logical specifics connect him to them intellectually.

It can be argued that those polite opening comments are necessary, because the audience is still settling down and not focused on you. This may be true, but don’t let it be an excuse. Go to the front of the room and wait until you have their attention, maintaining a strong, cheerful gaze and willing them to be silent. If needed, state the opening phrase of your comments and then pause until all eyes are focused on you, awaiting the rest of the sentence.

Logic sells, but closes with emotion. Continue a presentation with logical incentives, but end with emotion. Remember that last words linger, and your goal is to be memorable.

Finally, I told my sales manager friend, “Imagine years from now when your attendees are sitting around a convention lobby reminiscing about the best conventions they’ve ever attended, and they talk about their experiences in San Francisco at the Fairmont. And you’ll know you were part of that experience because you were on the planning committee.”

Persuasive presentations give you a competitive edge. You now have eight tips that add value to your words and make your message memorable. Use my friend’s model of how to emotionally connect in the beginning and end of a presentation and intellectually connect in between. Plus, you will be making your words sound more valuable.

Patricia Fripp is an executive speech coach, sales presentation trainer, and keynote speaker on sales, effective presentation skills and executive communication skills. She works with companies large and small, and individuals from the C-Suite to the work floor.  She builds leaders, transforms sales teams and delights audiences.  She is the author of Get What You Want!, Make It, So You Don’t Have to Fake It!, and is Past-President of the National Speakers Association.  To learn more about having Patricia do her magic for you, contact her at www.fripp.com, 415-753-6556, pfripp@ix.netcom.com.

How To Create A Successful Professional Speaker Website

By Bonnie Jo Davis

Bonnie Jo Davis

There are thousands of people who are or want to be professional speakers.  You have so much competition that you have to be creative in how to differentiate yourself.  One way of doing this is by making a great first impression with your website.

Speaker bureaus and meeting planners often book a speaker after looking at their website so there is an expectation that a speaker website be sophisticated and complete.  Following is a list of what every speaker website must include:

  • Home Page: This page should have your best photo, your most impressive testimonial and emphasize what makes you different from other speakers.  What can you offer that no one else can or what’s your unique angle or perspective?

  • Biography: Include all of your professional experience including what you accomplished before you became a speaker.

  • Services: Even though you think that people can tell you are a speaker tell them again anyway.  Let them know if you offer keynotes, workshops, facilitation, etc.

  • Topics: On this page less is more. Don’t try to offer a topic to please everyone.  Only offer topics within your specialty.

  • Client List: Include this even if your client list is short.  You may include both paid and unpaid engagements.  Make note of clients with repeat engagements to build your credibility.

  • Testimonials: Don’t hide these on a page on your site.  Add them to every page and ask clients for video testimonials whenever possible.

  • Video: If you want to get booked you need a video.  Try calling local organizations and offer to speak for free in return for bringing a camera crew.  Link to your video from every page of the site.

  • Pictures: You should offer both high resolution and low resolution head shots for both web and print use.

  • Logistics: Let potential clients know how you travel and what technical requirements you may have.

  • Content: Show off your expertise with free articles, a blog or regular social media updates that stream to your website.

  • Lead Capture: Ask people to register for your e-zine or blog updates so you can keep in touch.

  • Social Media: Display all of your social media site icons with links to your profile.

  • Contact Information: This should be on a page by itself with a contact form and then on every page at the top or bottom.

This list is a great starting point to satisfy meeting planners and potential clients but the most important point you should remember is to differentiate yourself from the thousands of professional speakers who are competing for the same speaking engagements as you.

Bonnie Jo Davis creates and manages social networking strategies for her clients. She is a published author, expert in article marketing, and feels comfortable working in a virtual environment. For more information on how she might help you get the most out of your social networking efforts, visit davisvirtualassistance.com.

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