Thursday, June 13, 2013

Video Recording a Must

It is 2013 and pretty much everyone has access to video recording equipment in the form of a phone, tablet or laptop. And while taking videos of your dog or cat doing cute stuff might be fun, I have a far better use of this technology. Record yourself practicing and actually giving your speeches.

As we have already established, practicing aloud is a must to being a great speaker. If world class athletes, musicians, and performers practice their craft, it is nothing short of arrogant to believe you don't need to.

And while practicing will help you deliver your message more effectively, seeing yourself from the audience's perspective will give you a whole new outlook on your speaking.

It's a little scary because the camera adds pounds--it's not you, you're beautiful--and doesn't couch its feedback in comforting language. It is stark, honest reality--and it is undeniable.

Video recording is most effective in bringing to our attention the flaws we are not conscious of. This includes repetitive or ineffective gesturing and the dreaded vocalized pauses ("um", "uh"). It is the camera's brutal honesty that gets our attention and inspires us to make the necessary improvements. It is one thing for a speech coach to say "you're saying 'um' too much". It is another for you to have to watch yourself saying "um" 75 times in a five minute talk! It is painful, sobering and embarrassing. But it forces us to improve that flaw, in a hurry.

When you record yourself, ideally you have someone holding the camera so they can adjust to movement, etc. However if you don't have the luxury of someone to hold the camera, rig it up so that it can record you and stand still. Keep it the proper distance away so it can see all of you, from head to toe (because if you are standing oddly or shifting your weight a distracting number of times, you want to see that). However, don't have it so far away that you look like you are at the end of a tunnel and we can't see the finer points of things like facial expressions and such.

Review your video with a critical eye taking note of thing that are within your power to change, and make those changes. It is a little uncomfortable at first (even some Hollywood stars report hating looking at themselves on the screen).

The camera is an incredibly powerful tool for speakers looking to improve. Use it for something more productive than stupid pet tricks!

That's all for today. Be well, speak well and as always, thanks for reading!

Anyone interested in learning more about Dan Leyes and his consulting work should visit Semiosphere Consulting.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Some Favorite Links

Today's post will feature some of my favorite website sources related to public speaking as well as just some general sites I find myself using and perusing,

One great source on speech anxiety is the Livestrong site. I have found it to be an excellent one-stop shopping site for reasonably authoritative resources on the topic.

Another wonderful one-stop shopping site is Andrew Dlugan's Six Minutes Speaking and Presentation Skills:  Your Guide to Being a Confident and Effective Speaker.  I can literally spend hours reading this site and it's countless links to good sources.

A personal fave is the work of Alex Rister. She is a professor at Full Sail University and I find that I basically agree with every word she writes. Her work in PowerPoint and visual aids in general is brilliant.

One site I got turned on to via Alex's site is Presentation Zen. Cool thoughtful articles, primarily focused on presentation design, but more often than not a great general read for anyone--especially for those who make their living in front of an audience.

There are a couple of other sites I feel obligated to share just because they have improved my quality of life. They don't deal with public speaking per se, and most of you will probably already know them, but for those who don't I give you Ted: Ideas Worth Spreading and

Ted talks are now a mainstream of intellectual life worldwide. I like to think of it as really smart people talking about smart stuff in ways that pretty much anyone can understand for twenty minutes or less.

And Snopes is my go-to source for debunking those annoying chain emails that some of my friends insist on sending me, as well as for recognizing scams a mile away. Favorite it. You'll be surprised how often you have to go to it to debunk the latest Facebook meme that has everyone in such a snit. Just be careful, people tend to be disappointed when you inform them that the object of their outrage is just a lie.

And of course I would be derelict in my duties if I didn't share with you the most important websites of them all: Semiosphere Consulting, my LinkedIn profile, my Twitter page, and of course my Facebook page.

That's all for today my friends. Be well, speak well, and as always thank you for reading.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Rule of Three

I saw a speaker recently who violated one of the simplest, but most important rules of speech making, the "rule of three".

When giving a speech you should always try to organize your information into three "main points" to cover in the body of your speech. Your main points are simply the major subdivisions of the body of your speech. They are the three aspects of your topic you will be focusing on. The textbooks say anywhere from 2-5 is acceptable and that is true. Two to five is acceptable...but three is ideal.

Getting back to the speaker. She was a FEMA representative talking to a group of business owners in a location that was particularly hard hit by Super-Storm Sandy. Her goal was to share the programs and support that was available to help businesses and homeowners recover from the storm damage. She had about a dozen pamphlets and handouts to provide to us, explaining various programs.

Her choice to organize her talk was to go through and explain each piece of information individually, essentially giving her 12 -15 main points. Of course her available speaking time was short so she would have less than a minute to discuss each one--and if you have any familiarity with FEMA you know it is impossible to explain one of their programs in a minute!

Of course since she was doomed to not have the time to explain all of the programs, she should not even have tried. Rather, had I advised her, I would have suggested she cover three main points. First, the types of programs FEMA offers (not every single program just the general types). Second, the assistance available via the aforementioned types. And third, where to start if you were interested in availing yourself in one of these programs, including what to expect in regards to timelines, etc.

These three points would have set the audience up well to approach her after the presentation with some idea as to the type of program they were interested in and she could have provided the appropriate literature for that person. Instead they got a small taste of 12 or more programs which they could not remember or distinguish and had to explain their whole story to her so she could advise. And as a result the line to speak with her at the end of the program was long and slow moving. She actually, in her small way, added to the complexity and confusion of dealing with FEMA!

This was so unfortunate because she was an attractive, intelligent and well-informed representative. It's just that the structure of her speech was poorly planned. A quick-fix would have allowed her to move through her presentation more gracefully (she was rushed and frustrated by the time constraints prohibiting her from fully explaining each program) and accomplished her goal more effectively and efficiently.

Ironically, when we had gone around the room at the beginning of the program and introduced ourselves and I said I was a public speaking consultant, she asked me to critique her presentation. However, the long, slow moving line to talk to her, and the need for me to get to another engagement prevented us from speaking. I subsequently emailed her and told her I had some valuable, helpful information for her--and a free initial consultation--but my emails were never replied to. I would have offered the advice I wrote about here for free, but...

There is a lesson here. Public speaking help is like a breath mint. If someone offers it, you probably need it. I truly wish I would have had the chance to help this woman. She seemed really nice and extremely competent. Her job is too important to do less than effectively.

Remember the rule of three and your talks will be easier to give, easier to understand, and easier for your audience to remember.

That's all for today folks.

Until next time, be well, speak well, and as always, thanks for reading.

For more information about Dan Leyes' consulting work see Semiosphere Consulting.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Your Pre-Speech Communication Matters...A Lot

I distinctly remember one of my undergraduate Speech professors, Dr. Barbara Mendoza of St. John's University telling me one day, "Your presentation begins the moment your ass leaves the seat". I was stunned by her use of the word ass as it was completely out of character for this ladylike figure whose charm was considerable and who was unlike anyone I had ever encountered in my blue-collar upbringing. She was the first person I ever met who had a maid!

But her words left an impression, so much so that I still share them with my students nearly 30 years later.

From the minute you rise from your seat and approach the front of the room, you are "on". The audience watches you, sizes you up, and makes judgments before you've ever opened your mouth or begun your presentation. Fairly or unfairly, that's just the way it is.

As such it is important that we send all the right messages, because they set the stage and for all that follows in our actual speech. So here are a few dos and don'ts in those oh-so-important moments before your speech.

Do smile and exude warmth and friendliness. Likability is a powerful force to have going for you. If your audience likes you they will forgive your imperfections (and we all have them). The "halo effect"--the tendency to see only the good in people we hold in positive regard--is a real phenomenon and we should do our best to cultivate it.

Don't engage in negative self talk or self deprecating remarks. Never try to set the expectation bar low with negative predictions about your performance or presentation.

Do know how to work the equipment you will be expecting to use, whether PowerPoint or document camera, or whatever. Incompetence is not the message you want to send. It wastes time, and your audience's time is valuable. Arrive early and learn to use the equipment, don't engage in trial and error on the audience's time.

Don't tell us how nervous you are.

Do pause momentarily and look at your audience before beginning. Take command of the room before beginning. Nervous people want to rush to begin. Poised speakers know that the show doesn't start until they decide it starts.

Finally, start with a genuine attention-getting device not an announcement of your topic. (For more on how to start your speech see this ).

Then do a kick-ass presentation!

Do you have more suggestions? Feel free to add them in the Comments section below.

That's all for today friends. As always, be well, speak well, and thank you for reading!

For more information about Dan Leyes and his consulting work see Semiosphere Consulting.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Practice: Read This Before Your Next Speech!

Nothing confounds me more as a teacher of public speaking than my students' reluctance to practice. As I have said more times than I can count, "Michael Jordan practiced basketball nearly every day of his career, even though he was already the best player in the world". As someone who is admittedly far from the best speaker in the world, what would make you think you can succeed without practicing?

I know, I know. It feels silly speaking to yourself out loud in an empty room (presumably you are not practicing on the public transportation system!). And to this I can only say it feels far worse to be alone in the front of the room struggling to speak clearly and effectively.

In fact, if you are speaking extemporaneously--and you should be--the first run-through is usually a train wreck. And right then you should applaud yourself for having had the good sense to practice. Better a train wreck in the privacy of your own home or office than in front of that audience, right? At this point you should just relax and run through it again. It will get better. And again, it will get better, again.

I always suggest five practice runs. However, if you have the time and feel the need to practice more, do it until you feel supremely confident in your ability to deliver the message.

I would also spend a little extra time on the introduction of your speech. Of course it is your audience's first impression and you want to make a great one, but there is another reason you should be ultra-confident with that first 10-20% of your speech. The research shows that speakers anxiety levels are the highest during that first minute or so of your speech. After that the heart rate, breathing, and adrenalin levels all begin to normalize. So if you can weather that initial physiological storm, it's smooth sailing thereafter.

A couple of tips about practicing:

1. Make sure you practice aloud. While "running it through your head" surely won't hurt you, it is no substitute for running it through your mouth. You do not use the same part of your brain to think thoughts as you do to make your mouth move and say words. Saying the words of your speech out loud strengthens the neural connections you will need to actually give the speech.

2. Break the speech up into chunks to practice, especially if it is a long talk. Five chunks is ideal (one for your intro, one for each of your three main points, and one for your conclusion). Ultimately you want to put them all together and practice from beginning to end, but early on you can just do it in parts.

3. Practice with your PowerPoint if you are using visual aids. Get in the flow of when the slide will change--put notes to yourself on your speaking outline to change slides!

Whatever you do, resist the temptation to "wing it". Trust me, it shows. And the message you are sending is. "I am not as prepared as I could and should be" and that can be interpreted in many ways by audience members, some of them very negatively.

If you practice sufficiently you should do a fine job with your speech. You may not be Michael Jordan just yet, but you will be giving that audience the very best you are capable of, and that's all any reasonable person would ever ask of you.

Until next time, be well, speak well, and as always, thanks for reading!

Anyone interested in learning more about Dan Leyes consulting work should visit Semiosphere Consulting.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Name Change

If you have visited my blog before you probably noticed the new name, Speaking in the Semiosphere.

During some research it came to my attention that there was a blog out there called "Professionally Speaking", and another called "Professionally Speaking..." and since they were in existence before mine I thought it only right that I should change my blog name.

Speaking in the Semiosphere was the obvious choice for a couple of reasons. First, my consulting company is called Semiosphere Consulting and so it was a natural fit. Perhaps more importantly it does give some idea of my theoretical foundation as a communications professor and practitioner.

"Semiosphere" was a term coined by Russian scholar of cultural semiotics Yori Lotman. It is essentially the world of signs in which we dwell. Each person is both consumer and producer of signs. A sign is anything which stands for something else and each moment of our lives we are both taking in and sending out signs. And each time two people encounter each other it is a collision of embodied sign systems, from which two distinct meanings emerge.

It's all quite complicated of course, and I'll spare you the advanced Semiotic theory. However, when I analyze a speech, speaker, or any instance of communication, this is where I am coming from. It is what makes Semiosphere Consulting unique. And it's the insight provided by this unique analytic perspective that people are willing to pay me for. The academic term is semiotic phenomenology or simply Communicology. It is better understood though as simply how people make sense and give meaning to their surroundings (including the messages being sent by others). Mostly I apply this to public speaking but it can be applied to any act(s) of communication.

If you would like to read more about it, one of my mentors Dr. Richard Lanigan maintains a site for the International Communicology Institute and lays the philosophical groundwork in this brief essay.

The content of the blog will not change dramatically, as I will continue to record my thoughts about public speaking and communication as always.

Be well, speak well, and as always, thank you for reading.

If you are interested in learning more about Dan Leyes consulting work visit Semiosphere Consulting.