Public Speaking Skills in the Digital Age
Public speaking skills are even more critical for leaders in the digital age

Public Speaking Skills in the Digital Age

This week I read an interesting article on Inc.com talking about how terrible webinars have become. (Why It Is Time to Kill the Webinar) Reading this article highlighted to me that it’s not necessarily the technology to blame here, but  that great public speaking skills are even more critical today in the digital age. Effective leaders need to be able to communicate their message and vision through any medium or forum. Here are some tips for public speaking that are just as applicable in an online forum as in an auditorium:

Don’t read your slides!

Nothing will get your audience to tune out faster than reading your slides. Using your slides to remind you of the points you need to make on each topic is okay when you’re just starting out in public speaking, but to truly get the impact of your message across, your slides should be complimentary to the points you’re making, not a duplicate or substitute for them. Effective use of visual aids in public speaking begins when you start to put together the presentation. Each slide should be designed to complement your points and add something of value to the words that you are speaking. As a general rule, I try to only have one slide for every 3-4 minutes of my talk. Sometimes I’ll use more depending on how technical the topic is and if I need to be able to present data or graphs.

Know your material

Another factor that results in poor presentations is that the speaker isn’t as familiar with the material as they should be. This often results in “reading the slides” as described above. If you are giving a presentation, become as knowledgeable as you can on the topic and the material as you can in the time you have available. You may need to do more than just review the slides you are presenting. It’s often beneficial to dig into the source material that was used to build the presentation or position you are advocating for. Interview subject matter experts on the topic and continue to ask “why?”, “what?” and “how?” until you can’t think of any more questions to ask. To really hone your public speaking skills, apply your critical thinking skills (see our post on Critical Thinking) and understand the alternate and opposing viewpoints that others might have on your position.

Practice, Practice, Practice

This is the best thing you can do to improve your public speaking skills and build your confidence as a speaker. Stand up in the room you’ll be presenting in (or sit at the terminal you’ll use for a webinar) and give your presentation. Go through the whole presentation out loud (I can’t emphasize this enough) and make all of your points, paying close attention to your transitions. Fully sound out long, complicated words to ensure they are coming out clearly to the audience. Do this several times and if you have problem areas, go back and try expressing the message a different way. Try to bring some colleagues in to watch your practice session and give you candid feedback what helped make your points effectively and what areas you can improve upon.

Pre-flight your equipment

If possible, do your practice sessions in the actual room you will be speaking in and get familiar with the equipment you’ll be using, whether that’s projector and microphone or computer or VTC equipment for a video conference.  If you’re not going to be operating the equipment yourself, talk with the person who will and make sure they understand the flow of your presentation and any transitions from slides, to video, etc. as well as the timing that goes along with them. Dry run together a day or two ahead of time if you can and make adjustments based on what you learn in the dry run. Show up early to the presentation room and ensure all the hardware and software is configured properly for your presentation. I know all of this may sound obvious, but I’ve watched many presenters get derailed and lose their audience by forgetting to do these simple things.

Be aware of tone and body language

I realize for brand new speakers this is the furthest thing from your mind when you’re up in front of the crowd speaking. This another way that asking colleagues to watch you practice can really help out. Ask them to pay close attention to your volume, tone and body language as you speak and just give you their broad impressions. Keep this feedback in mind as you practice more and give your actual presentation. Don’t worry if you don’t notice a lot of specifics about this at first, if you keep it in your mind even a little bit as you speak, you’ll find yourself noticing it more and more as you get more experienced. Also, keep this in mind as you watch others speak and see if you recognize similar or different traits in your own presentations. Incidentally, this is just as important for a webinar or video teleconference. If your tone or posture comes across as bored or disinterested, you’ll lose your remote audience just like you would lose one that’s in the same room.

Speak with your own voice and engage with your audience

The steps above are practical things you can do to prepare well for giving your next presentation. Another important item to remember is to speak as yourself and not try to speak as someone else might. Speaking at a pace that works for you as well as using language that you are comfortable with will help you come across as genuine and create a better connection with your audience. Finding ways to relate the material of your presentation to the audience in a personal way will help keep them engaged on what you are saying. Pay attention to how the audience is reacting to you and adjust accordingly. Making eye contact, changing up your tone and repeating points for emphasis are effective ways to bring back audience members that may have tuned out.

Hopefully these tips will help make your next presentation a success, whether that’s in a huge auditorium or with a small audience tuning in to your webinar. It can take a while to find your voice and a style that works well, so don’t be afraid to experiment with different techniques to see how they can improve your public speaking skills. Good luck on your next talk and let me know how it goes!

 

Photo credit: “Ronald Wright Edmonton 2007 cropped” by Nick Wiebe – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ronald_Wright_Edmonton_2007_cropped.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Ronald_Wright_Edmonton_2007_cropped.jpg

Innovate in a Stagnant Environment

Innovate in a Stagnant Environment – Here’s How!

Every boss claims they want innovation, but many don’t live up to the words they preach. For some it may be an aversion to risk, for others it may be out of their comfort zone to make improvements when the status quo is already working. How can we continue to innovate and improve our products and team members’ professional lives when faced with stagnation or resistance? How do we help improve the organization while still being good followers to senior leadership that is reluctant to innovate?

Small Changes/Small Victories

The most effective thing we can do is make small improvements that are within our own authority. Listen to your own team and see what suggestions they have that sound like they will make even minor improvements to effectiveness, productivity or communication. If it’s within your own purview to make the change on your team, go ahead and do it. Set a short fixed timeframe (a week, a month, 3 months) to evaluate it and the next leader in your chain know that you’re doing a trial evaluation of the initiative and you’ll let them know the results when it’s over. If it turns out to be unsuccessful, return to the old way of doing things and call it a learning experience. If it does work, share your results with your peers and other team leads.

Choose your opportunities wisely

There may be times when very senior leaders put out a call for innovative ideas or ask informally how you think the organization should be improved. These can be great opportunities if handled properly, but dangerous traps if they aren’t. Don’t leave your boss out in the cold when these situations arise. By pulling your boss in you can show that you have fresh ideas for the company but also show him and his superiors that you are looking out for all of them and trying to find ways to solve their problems. It can be as simple as telling that senior leader, “I have this great idea about X and my boss and I will get on your calendar to come fill you in on the details when you are available.”

Show the impact!

Showing tangible improvements is the best way to make sure your innovative ideas get adopted across the organization. If you can show a reduced cost, shorter time, or higher performance as a result of your initiative you’ll have strong evidence that you and your team have the organization’s best interest in mind. Being able to use metrics and data helps make your case, but be sure that you’re using the right metrics to show cause and effect. Many people lose credibility by trying to force data to fit their conclusions or apply metrics they don’t really understand to the situation. One of the best questions you can ask yourself before adopting an innovative idea is “How will I know this is successful and how can I measure it?”

These are ways I’ve seen innovation be successfully implemented from the bottom up, but the results may vary in your organization. If you think that these steps might work for you, but you want to talk through your strategy and the personalities involved with someone before taking the big step, feel free to contact me. I’d be happy to discuss and see if we can set you and your boss up for success!

 

Photo Credit: Alexander Blum (www.alexanderblum.de) [Attribution], <a href=”http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AStau.jpg”>via Wikimedia Commons</a>

Delegation

Evil Genius Q&A: First Steps for your Startup Business

Today’s question comes from a young web designer looking to start his own business.

Hi ..

I’m thinking to start a web design and development company, the problem is investment and project leads. Help me out with some suggestions. Tell me some ways to get through it.

P.B.

 

Hey P.B.,

Thanks for writing in! The first thing I would recommend that you do to make your startup business successful is to assess the people and companies in your area who might be interested in your web design services. You can do this very simply by doing internet searches for people in your area looking for web design. You can also do this the old-fashioned way using your contacts and network to find people looking for your service.

Also take a look at the existing web design and development companies in your area to get an idea of the services they offer and what their pricing is.  Figure out what you would like to offer potential clients that is different or better from what the others offer. Determine what the message is that you’d like to get across to your potential clients about why they should choose you.

As far as investment goes, the sources you might look into depend on how much investment you’re looking for. I would recommend making an estimate of how much you think the startup costs for your company would be. A good rule of thumb is to double or triple that estimate to determine how much the initial investment should be.

Another factor to consider is how much you want to share the decision-making authority of your new startup business. Outside investors will not only expect return on their investment but may also expect to have a say in how the company is run.

I’m a big believer in bootstrapping, so if you already have a computer and software suitable to do the work, your initial investment may be able to be as small as the cost for getting a web domain and hosting service and you may not need outside investment.

Thanks again for writing! Good luck starting your new company!

 

Jason LeDuc

Founder and President, Evil Genius Leadership Consultants