Wednesday, March 26, 2014

How Long Should You Speak?

This is the first of several guest blog posts by my colleague Howard Miller of Brookdale Community College

A number of years ago I helped to organize a conference. It was kind of a big deal, or at least I thought so. The culmination of the three-day event was a presentation by a true expert in the field, which I wildly anticipated.

Then came the end of the third day. If you've ever organized a conference or even attended one, you know that you can get pretty conferenced-out toward the end. So I was kind of dreading something I had so looked forward to.

That dread quickly changed to excitement when the keynote began. The speaker was brilliant and eloquent. At a certain point in the presentation, I was actually thinking about it as a speech critic and considering it the best speech I’d ever heard. Then it happened. About 30 minutes into a 45 minute presentation. I heard those magic words – “In conclusion…” Not only was this the best presentation I’d ever heard, but I was also going to get out early. What a treat!

Of course, this wouldn't be much of a blog post if that’s how the story ended.

Rather than getting out early, the speaker continued for about 30 more minutes. This was both in excess of the audience’s original expectation, and it was well in excess of the time he implied he’d take when he told us he was concluding. The speech went from one of the best I’d ever heard to one of the worst.

This anecdote illustrates how critical it is for you to consider the time allotted for your presentation.

In Dan’s blog, he talks a lot about audience. Well, there’s one area where you don’t need to analyze the audience too much – time. All audiences think their time is important, and nobody wants to feel like their time is wasted. Thus, it’s your job to contain your presentation within the allotted period.

When you’re asked to deliver a presentation, always ask how long you have. Such knowledge will let you prepare properly, and it’s critical to your ability to deliver what the audience needs. If you’re expected to speak for 15 minutes and you take 20, the audience may become annoyed. If you take 30, they may become downright angry. Not pitchfork angry, but if you don’t get another opportunity at that venue, you’ll know why.

If someone has been kind enough to give you a few minutes to speak, reward them by taking no more of their time. They’ll appreciate it, and you’ll increase your chances for a return engagement.

If you have too much to say, edit your work. Never increase your rate so you can get everything in. Rather, focus on what the audience truly needs to understand. When we put hour upon hour into research and study and labor, we can begin to fall in love with our work. It’s important to remember, though, that your audience needs your information, not your every emotion surrounding your work.

If you’re in charge, you might think everything is different. It’s not. Your employees or staff will appreciate that you have respect for their time. And it stands to reason that people will work harder for someone who they respect.

And finally, if you’re an invited speaker, you know that much of the audience may be there to see you. Revel in that if you like. Once you've done so, now remember that your audience, no matter how much they want to hear from you, would rather see their loved ones when they were planning on it. So please, meet the expectations of the audience, and speak only within the allotted period.

It seems I’m running out of time myself. So as Dan would say, be well, speak well, and as always, thanks for reading! If you are interested in learning more about Dan Leyes’ private and group consulting see Semiosphere Consulting.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Creating a Meaningful Experience

What both speakers and audience members crave is a meaningful experience. One that changes us, inspires us. If I can create a meaningful experience for my audience I know they will have loved my presentation. That is my goal, and achieving it is one of the things that makes my life meaningful.

But how do we do that? Practically speaking there are countless possibilities. But there are a few basic principles that can be helpful to identify the opportunities for meaningful moments.

Get Personal
Put some of yourself into your speech. To an audience you are a strange and exotic creature, with the courage to stand up and speak. We want to know about you, who you are and if we can relate to you. Sharing some of yourself is demonstrating trust in the audience, and they will subconsciously reciprocate. That trust is the foundation of a meaningful experience.

Tell Stories
Along those same lines, tell stories. People respond to stories in an emotional and physiological manner. They excite our imagination and our brains. Stories stick with us in a way that facts and figures do not. Most importantly they hold your audience's attention and will be remembered.

Empathize with your Audience's Concerns
Your audience is the reason you speak. What do they need that you can help them with? One of those things is finding their work meaningful, both in the respect you treat it with and the satisfaction they should draw from doing it. On another level, presumably you are there to give them something they need. Clearly identify and address those needs,

Offer Strong Visual Support
This is the opposite of death by PowerPoint. A photographic image can be a powerful thing. It can anger or amuse, educate or inspire. Carefully selected visual support can leave a lasting memory in the audience's mind, and being memorable is essential to being meaningful.

Highlight Values or an Ethical Dimension
All people have values. They are relatively stable long-term beliefs about what is important in life. Tying your message to things that people value is a key to creating a meaningful experience. Furthermore people like to be reminded that they are "doing the right thing", and to be recognized for doing the right thing, not necessarily doing things the easy way. Appeal to their strong moral compass.

Inspire Toward Self-Improvement
We all want and need to be inspired, to do better and to be better people. It is the nature of all living things to grow and progress over time. Appeal to our ideals, appeal to the best within us. You will see the lights go on in their eyes because you are creating a meaningful experience.

These are just capsules of the kind of analysis a good speechwriter conducts. They can be taken in countless directions to suit the needs of most any speaker and any audience if looked at in the right way. But employ them and you will transform your communication and create a meaningful experience for both yourself and your audience.

That's all for today folks. Be well, speak well, and as always, thanks for reading! Those interested in Dan Leyes' consulting work should visit Semiosphere Consulting.