Is Your Presentation Style Like New England Weather?

Sun-SnowThe weather on Friday was 75 and sunny. Two days later we have three inches of snow.  Flip flops one day, winter boots the other. It’s enough to throw anyone off their game. And that’s what it’s like being in the audience with an erratic presenter – someone who has no game plan, no road map, allows nervous tension to overtake their performance, all of which can make a speaker very self-absorbed.

I understand there may be a small percentage of humans who perform better without a net.  Actor John Singleton once said, “I’m so relaxed that I have to make myself nervous. I feel better when I’m second- and third-guessing myself over everything. I play with the mice in my head, all the time.”   OK, that’s fine, but John Singleton has a script, and rehearsals, and a director.  So if you have all those tools, then do your thing. Otherwise, it pays to ponder, prepare, practice and then present.

Ponder: My new favorite advice is from Craig Valentine, a Toastmaster’s World Champion who advises speakers to embrace the Mess so they can get to the Message. Spend time writing everything down – don’t worry what it reads like or sounds like, just make a big old mess. Go ahead and open up 15 tabs on your web browser and jump back and forth like it’s 1999.  This process is not orderly, but it’s a necessity.

Prepare: Now you’re ready for structure and a road map.  What works best for your audience? Have you researched your audience? No? That’s your next task. Can you make educated guesses about who will be in the room?  All of your new-found knowledge gets added to the mess you made in the previous stage, which then gets put into your storyboard.  You have to analyze now to amaze later.

Practice:  Perhaps you’ve seen my post on the perils of rehearsing in your head.  If not, here it is. The gist of it is this: unless you actually hear your voice saying the words you wrote down on your storyboard out loud (at a volume of 7 out of 10), you are not rehearsing.

Present:  Actors have a cool trick they use to ensure their best work shows up on screen. They choose a visual cue. Something easy to recall and easy to understand. For example, a friend of mine uses the visual cue of an ocean wave. He likes the energy, the movement and the grandeur of that image. That’s the last thing he brings to mind right before he hears the word “Action!”  What word, image, or phrase can you call to mind right before you go on stage that will summon your most organized, energized and edified self?

Want more great tips and tricks? This is the place:

Barbara is the author of Commit to Confidence: 30 Strategies to Help Women Step Up and Stand Out. She teaches at the Wharton School and the D’Amore-McKim School of Business.  She is also co-founder of SpeakWell Partners.

The Best Advice: Be the You-iest You

Shampoo BottlesSeth was scheduled to speak on the final day of a three-day conference. Day One was unremarkable, but Day Two was contentious. Lots of heated debates that morphed into name-calling.  Now, on the morning of Day Three, everyone was tense and edgy.  Seth walks to the front of the room to begin his presentation. Everyone is expecting him to either take a side, or just plow on as if nothing happened. Instead, he said, “I know things got a little heated yesterday. And I know it’s because we all care so much. I also know that many issues were left unresolved. I can’t make them go away. But, what I can do is highlight our common ground. For example, not more than two hours ago, we were all experiencing the same problem…”

At that moment, he reaches into his pants pocket and pulls out a mini shampoo bottle from his hotel room. He continues, “…We were all trying to wash our hair with this colored water.”  First, there was stunned silence.  No one could adjust to the hairpin turn. But then, people started chuckling, which turned into smiling, which led to eye contact, and before anyone knew it, the air had started to clear.

I myself could not pull that off.  It’s not me. It may not be you, either. But it was true to Seth. Authentic and real. One of the reasons he could manage doing a bit like that is because he had long ago conquered his fear of full expression.  I don’t mean that he stopped caring about making a fool of himself.  Rather, he was not hindered by the analytical/logical style of presenting that so many of us are forced to use in the workplace.

I thought of this story after one of my students came up to me after class and asked if his speaking style was too restrained. He had just watched himself on video playback and noticed his muted performance.  I was thrilled, of course. Presentation coaches live for these moments. I told him I agreed with his assessment. I suggested that his undemonstrative style was holding him back from fully connecting with his audience. We both agreed he would work on expanding his delivery style to be more dynamic.

On his way out of the classroom, he said, “It’s like my friend said to me the other day, ‘just be the you-iest you’.” I laughed out loud.  It’s perfect.

Do you know what the “you-iest you” even looks like?  What it sounds like?  It’s that time of year again – spring in the air – to edge out of our comfort zones. So, what can you do to find the enhanced version of your authentic self?  Here are four suggestions:

1. Word choice:  Put a little hot sauce on your verbal delivery with enhanced word choices.  It doesn’t have to rise to the level of Shakespeare. Just different from your everyday style. It just has to perk up the attention of your listeners. Perhaps you can dump the jargon. Or try using a metaphor instead of a drawn-out explanation.

2.  Vocal variety:  If you speak loudly, try a softer tone. If you speak softly, add some volume. Even small changes can enhance your goal of full expression. If you tend to speak in a monotone, add variety. Still not sure? Then try this: add warmth to your tone of voice. People like to listen to someone who is genuinely happy to be there.

3.  Use the space:  If you tend to speak from behind a podium, or even behind note cards, come out into the “magic circle.”  If you speak hands-free and in the open, then consider moving closer to your audience.  Most speakers tend to step back, not forward. And many never move toward the sides of the room.

4.  [The favorite] Tell a story:  Guaranteed you will be more dynamic when you tell a story.  One reason this works so well is that it gives even the most buttoned-up CFO-type of speaker an invitation to ham it up. You can “act out” the characters in the story – their voice, mannerisms, etc. And, you will engage your audience more fully than if you just shared facts, directions, outputs, CAGR, EBITDA, Year-over-Year…OK, I’ll stop.

If you would like more inspiration on how to be the You-iest You, and get that inspiration in your PJs at 2:0 am, hop on over to our Dynamic Speaker System. It’s all there.

Are You Remarkable?

Red TulipIt seems like every January I make a resolution to read more business books. One of my favorite things to do is bring a new book with me to a diner, and read it while having a delicious breakfast. By the time I’m finished, I’ve learned something new, enjoyed a great meal, and feel inspired to help my clients advance their careers.

A key theme has emerged since January 1st: the value of being remarkable. Whether it’s an idea, a style, a mindset, or personality trait, successful professionals have found a way to be “worthy of attention.” Now six weeks into my resolution, I thought I would share some of the sage advice I’ve learned, and as an extra Valentine’s Day gift to you, I’ve included the names of the books I’ve been reading and enjoying. I assume you already have your own favorite diner.

1. Try to look for the question that others have ignored. Dig deeper, think longer, and don’t accept anything at face value. Since we are all so busy, we tend to make assumptions because they help us get on with our day, let us tackle our To Do lists, and advance our own agenda. In that rush, we miss opportunities to make a difference; to be known as the fresh voice or valued colleague who nudges the team out of the mundane. Source of inspiration: Adam Grant, Originals.

2. Do you have a nickname? We all have job titles and given names, but remarkable people often have positive or humorous nicknames. Nicknames are like a free branding consultant. Nicknames create bonds and can help build a cohesive team. They certainly help us be just a little more remarkable. I have one client who’s nickname is the Culture Queen because she’s so good at designing team-building events that coworkers really enjoy. Source of inspiration: Adam Galinsky and Maurice Schweitzer, Friend & Foe.

3. Does your inner self shine through? When I am called in to help a leader who is derailing, I start by asking their boss, “Does his/her mind, heart and gut show up everyday, or just their body?” More often than not, the boss says, “That’s it. They’re checked out.” Being remarkable requires the ability to be fully present. Remarkable people are flexible, dynamic and most importantly authentic. Another way to look at it: does your inner and outer self align in a way that makes people want to work with you? Or follow you? Source of inspiration: Amy Cuddy, Presence.

4. Do you have something to teach others? Is it a thought process? A time-management technique? A way to handle bad news? We all have unique perspectives to share. Why do we keep them to ourselves? Stop second-guessing yourself and thinking that what you know or have learned is not valuable. Don’t we all love to be around imaginative people? That requires and open and positive self-concept and a genuine willingness to learn. Source of inspiration: Carmine Gallo, Talk Like TED.

Now back to the title of this post. I know the answer. It’s yes. It’s just a matter of deciding how to be “worthy of attention.”

Group of business colleagues celebrating over finalization of a contract

The Top Two Attributes of Highly-effective Team Leaders

Because I run workshops on team-building and conflict management, I am often asked for the best way to turn a group of people into a high-performing team. The answer, of course, is multi-faceted, but I always start with one question: Do you have a great team leader?  The truth is, you can have a functioning team without a great team leader, but you can’t have a high-performing team without a high-performing leader – even if the leader role is shared.

Here’s my “snapchat” on the continuum of teams in the workplace. If you are a team leader, where would you plot your team as it stands today?

Team Continuum

If you chose the far right box, then you very likely already possess the top two attributes. If you chose any version of the two images to the left, then you might benefit from cultivating these traits – and by the way, these are also great traits for job candidates, line managers, even online dating:

ZEST, noun, Great enthusiasm and energy.  Synonyms: enthusiasm, gusto, relish, appetite, eagerness, avidity, fervor, ardor.

ZEAL, noun, Great energy or enthusiasm in pursuit of a cause or an objective. Synonyms:  passion, love, fire, avidity, devotion, vigor, energy, intensity.

Yes, I know zest and zeal are actually synonymous with each other, but they are so important to the making of a high-performing team that I keep them separate. Manifesting and conveying zest sends a signal to all team members that you wantto be there, and each day you consciously activate your energy to advance the work of the team.

Zeal takes that investment one step further by showing your team members that you are a thermostat, not a thermometer.  There’s a big difference. Thermometers are reactive; simply adjusting to the temperature of the room. So, if the team is experiencing conflict, then you get agitated as well.  A thermostat, on the other hand, sets the temperature.  You set the expectations for healthy conflict and confidence in the face of adversity. In return, your team sees you as an energizer of team productivity and catalyst for healthy group dynamics.

Can you manufacture zest and zeal?  Not really.  You have to truly care about the work, the mission, and the team members.  Here’s the good news: if you have swung over to the opposite side of the spectrum – toward indifference or discouragement, but your true nature is generally optimistic and hopeful – then you can swing the pendulum back in several ways. You can go for a vigorous walk, watch your favorite TED Talk, have an engaging conversation with a trusted co-worker, look back over a report, email or presentation you are particularly proud of, and your natural demeanor will reappear. I have one client who uses audiobooks on the way to and from work to re-energize his spirit.

Right now, as I write this, I am listening to Lisa Gerrard’s Sanvean  (I am Your Shadow). It never fails to charge my batteries.  What’s your go-to motivator?

If you or your team needs a boost, reach out to me.

6.5 Communication Blunders to Avoid in 2016

Miss Universe BlunderThe entire world now knows about (and has seen with their own eyes) the verbal gaffe made by Steve Harvey at the Miss Universe pageant when he announced the wrong winner.  While very few of us will ever make a mistake on such a big stage, we can all make changes now that will help us avoid blunders on the small stage in 2016. Whether it’s the Board room, the speaker phone, a concurrent session, or job interview, here are six common speaking blunders that are likely undermining our reputation – and each one is very fixable.

1.  Do you start sentences with the word “um?”  Or any other word filler such as ah, so, or ya know?  As Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg once told a direct report, “When you say um so much you sound stupid.” Nothing more I can add to that advice, so I’ll move on.

2.  Do people have to lean in and cup their ear in order to hear what you’re Low Talkersaying?  Seinfeld did a whole episode on this one: “She’s one of those low talkers. You can’t hear a word she’s saying!.” Result?  Puffy shirt. Repeat yourself because you want to; not because you have to.

3.  Do people flinch the second you start to speak? If item #2 is known as the church mouse, #3 is the carnival barker – just as damaging to your brand, and possibly more off-putting.  We’re all shooting for a 7 out of 10 volume level, unless we have a microphone.

4.  Does it take you a long time to get your point across?  Some communicators use ten words when three will do. People get bored easily these days, so it makes good sense to speak in a more concise manner. If you also want to be more persuasive, and get that plum assignment this year, then why not spend these few, rare days of down time developing mad skills in brevity?

5.  Do you speak like an auctioneer?  There is an ideal pace at which the human ear can keep track with a speaker so that the words land, and we can make meaning of what’s being said.  It’s somewhere around 145 words per minute.  So, if you are looking for a fun party game for New Year’s Eve, find some text on your computer with no more than 150 words, have your party pal start the timer, and read the text.  If you are finished before the timer goes off, you know you need to slow down.

6.  Do you have enough gas in the tank?  Energy is a funny thing.  You need lots of it to be persuasive, and yet if there’s too much, you’re better off auditioning for a heavy metal band. Speaking with energy helps you convey how much you care.  You can do this in three ways: through your volume, your tone of voice, and your gestures.  People will listen more attentively, I guarantee it.

Now for the “.5” tip: My favorite Christmas gift this year is a zippered pouch that says:  Be Bold, or italic, never regular.

Here’s to a year of bold, dynamic communication.

If you like these tips and want more of them, check out the Dynamic Speaker System and get 80 minutes of coaching!

– Barbara

A Cool Trick to Decrease Performance Anxiety

grade-aAs a leadership communication coach, I am always looking for ways to help my clients manage the butterflies that can easily morph into a shaky voice, dry mouth, quivering limbs and, well, the awful feeling that comes from being “verklempt.”

As I was perusing my bookshelf, searching for inspiration, I picked up Benjamin and Rosamund Zander’s book, The Art of Possibility.  And there it was: the simplest, fastest trick to decreasing stage fright.  Before I share it, let me just say that the absolute best way of getting rid of agita lies in the physical realm:  head rolls, arm pumps, heel bounces, rag doll flops, and deep breathing exercises. Nothing trumps the benefit a speaker gets from these techniques.

The problem is that most speakers are not able to use these techniques right before they speak. They are already sitting on a dais, as part of a panel of speakers, with all eyes on them, and can’t very well start jumping up and down (though I love that image).

What to do?

Back to the Zanders’ book, and it’s wonderful message. They write about twelve strategies designed to increase creativity and expand the human spirit so that we all may radiate possibility into the world.  Sounds good to me.

Principle #3 is called Giving an “A.” This practice helps us shift from constantly calculating how we measure up to an abundance mentality. It’s based on Benjamin Zander’s teaching experience. At the beginning of each semester, he would assign all students an A.  The only catch was that within the next two weeks, each student had to write a paper outlining how they were to earn the A. As Zander says, “The A is not an expectation to live up to, but a possibility to live in to.”

The best part of this chapter is his explanation of how speakers can use this practice to ward off the Evil Gods of Self-Doubt (my words, not his).  Zander explains, “Giving an A can be done metaphorically to audiences, large or small, in the same way as it is given to students. This allows the speaker to relax and connect with [the audience] from the perspective of possibilities rather than from judgment.

I, for one, think it’s genius.  We know that our thoughts drive our emotions in this situation. We think we are not ready, that we’ll forget an important point, that we won’t impress the “VIP” in the room, and on and on.  Those thoughts trigger physical reactions in our body, and we are hooked.  Anxiety wins.

The next time you feel the buzz-killing minions marching in, give them the “talk to the hand” gesture, and take a moment to look at your audience and say silently, “I give you all an A.  You deserve it, and I am going to treat you like the excellent listeners you are.”

I am always looking for tips, tricks and techniques to help our clients become more powerful communicators. If you have any tried-and-true strategies, let me know at

If you’d like to learn more, check out the Dynamic Speaker Series!

Three Questions to Ask Yourself at the Half-Year Mark

While everyone in the U.S. was celebrating the Fourth of July holiday, another important milestone came and went: the official half-year mark. That’s right – there are only six months left in 2015. It’s a great time to take a moment and look back, and then look forward with intention. Here are three questions that never fail to provide insight and motivation to tackle the goals you set way back on January 1st.


1. What accomplishments are you most proud of? It’s very important to be in the right frame of mind when reflecting on the past, and that means summoning feelings of satisfaction. Nothing feels better than overcoming obstacles and achieving what we set out to accomplish. So, what are the one to three successes you feel most energized by?

2. What are you tolerating? This is a tough one. And so important. Tolerations keep us distracted and drain our energy. You could be tolerating a hellish commute, a demanding staff member, or putting off firing someone. For me, it’s talking to a colleague who is extremely negative. I realized the only thing I am getting out of the relationship is acid reflux. Time to make some changes.

3. Which of your goals is worthy of attention for the next six months? Lots of things have happened since last January. Goals and objectives need to be revised and refreshed. Go for a walk, or any other activity that allows your mind to roam freely. Then go back to your desk (or your phone) and look at your goals. Oh, they were never written down? Then start there. Goals that are put in writing are more substantial. Goals that are in our heads or hearts are merely wishes.

I’m very happy to say that my business partner, Charlotte Dietz, and I just achieved one of our 2015 goals: we launched our first online course called the Dynamic Speaker Series and it’s great, if I do say so myself. So we are meeting today to make plans for the next six months. If any of your goals have to do with communication, then check out the series. I am confident the program will help you achieve your goals.

Here’s to a productive and rewarding second half. This is where championships are won.


How “Conversational” Should You Be When Presenting?

Female feet from the window of a car on a background of tropical beach

I had the pleasure of meeting a former colleague and friend for dinner last night. We had a great time catching up and walking down memory lane. Lots of laughs – and some new stories were shared.

Turns out she never heard about the time when I was presenting to a group of employee engagement experts, and after the presentation, an audience member came up and handed me his card. He stood there looking at it, which signaled I was to do the same. I commented on how great it was the he, the statistical wizard of our field, had joined us for the session. He stood there, like a statue…waiting. I turned the card over, and on the back he had written, “Data is plural.” I looked up at him with what I am sure was an incredulous look on my face, and he said, “Just thought you should know.”

That was quite a moment. The computer in my head started searching for the number of times I said, “The data shows,” instead of “the data show.”  Many times. And since then, I have been listening for this grammatical gaffe, and the “data shows” the majority of speakers use data as singular and plural. Otherwise, we would all have to say “datum” which sounds so snooty.

This got us talking about the age-old advice for speakers to use a conversational tone when presenting. Be approachable, be real. Great advice. The problem is, most of us have really bad habits, favorite slang, and go-to shorthand that not only fails to connect us with our audience, but can undermine our credibility. My friend gave a great example. In a best-and-final presentation, with ten decision-makers looking at her, she said, “We get off on statistical analysis.” I laughed out loud. What a great example of conversational communication that should not be invited on stage.

What are your verbal missteps?  The only way to find out is to tape yourself and listen back, or have a colleague offer feedback. Cleaning up word choices, idioms, vernacular and jargon will instantly make us all better speakers.

If you are interested in more tips, tricks and techniques on all things spoken, stay tuned for the launch of our Dynamic Speaker Series next week!

Team Meeting In Creative Office

The Presentation Everyone Must Give


I was facilitating a meeting last week with a leadership team who was trying to advance their strategic plan that was stuck in a ditch, to the point where one of the employees asked her manager, “What plan?”

The CEO said to the directors, “Please, I beg you, don’t make a PowerPoint deck for our next meeting. I don’t want to be ‘sold’ on your ideas like I’m the big whale you’re trying to hook. Just give me an update on the four things we discussed today.”  Such a clear and easy directive, and one we should all be ready to deliver on the spot. But are we?

At some point, everyone in the working world is called upon to give an update to the boss, team leader, or customer. In some instances, it’s a subtle request, embedded in everyday conversation, so we may not recognize it as our moment to shine; to communicate in a thoughtful, brief and influential manner. Perhaps your boss likes to say, “So what’s new?”, or, “How’s it going?” In other instances, it’s a more formal request and we can plan in advance. For example, you know that every three weeks you are to attend a meeting and provide a 10-minute update on your project. One would think the latter is a much easier update to deliver, but my experience shows that many of us put it off until the last minute. 

Assuming you don’t carry Excel spreadsheets and glitzy infographics in your pocket, you are left with your ability to capture the attention of your audience, structure a road map for your thoughts, and advance your career. How well do you communicate in these moments? Do you enhance your brand or diminish it?  Do you consider these moments opportunities or rotten luck? Let’s find out. Do you:

1.  Establish a focus quickly?  Don’t wander all over hell’s half acre looking for a key message.  People are busy and easily frustrated by having to work too hard at listening intently for a crumb of relevance. 

2. Emphasize progress?  Instead of a play-by-play because it’s easier for you to keep track of your thoughts, offer an update that picks up where you left off with this person.  If you cannot identify one thing that fits under the category of “progress,” then think about what’s been learned, what’s changed, what’s different. 

3. Foster interaction?  Some of us launch into a monologue that seems like a brief amount of time to us, but an eternity to the listener. Talk in chewable bites that allow your audience to respond, to do their part to advance the conversation.  

4. Speak to your listener’s needs/interests? If you are a black belt in managing up, then you are adept at structuring your updates to appeal to your boss’s needs and preferences. If your boss likes numbers, be sure you lead with the tangible aspects of your update. If your boss is a big picture person, stay out of the weeds.

5. Know your purpose?  Do you want more interaction with this person? Less? Do you need them to remove barriers, give you more money, more authority? Whatever it is, don’t squander the moment to ask. If it’s too early or not the right setting, then plant a seed, at least.    

Opportunities to deliver everyday presentations lead to the skills and attributes necessary for the high-profile presentations. Think of them as practice – like playing at your best in the minor leagues so you are ready when you’re called the Big Show.

Flower in Asphalt_Large

What’s Your Signature Strength?

This weekend marks a special time on the calendar: Easter and Passover – two religious holidays that include rituals of eating chocolate and unleavened bread. As fun as that may be, both events have a much more inspiring purpose: to remind us of the valuable and inspiring process of renewal; to re-commit to something we let languish, or to start something new altogether.

As I was finishing up a coaching session the other day, I just happened to ask my client what he might consider rekindling this spring, and he said something profound: “I used to be a much better boss. Between the depressing winter we just had, and a really harsh merger, I’ve become just an OK boss – very transactional. I’d like to get back to using my strengths, and help my team re-connect.” If only every boss would choose this as their focus for renewal.

To paraphrase Jim Collins, author of the best-selling book Good to Great, we are at our best when we fully utilize our strengths:

“For in the end, it is impossible to have a great life unless it is a meaningful life. And it is very difficult to have a meaningful life without meaningful work. Perhaps, then, you might gain that rare tranquility that comes from knowing that you’ve had a hand in creating something of intrinsic excellence that makes a contribution. Indeed, you might even gain that deepest of all satisfactions: knowing that your short time here on this earth has been well spent, and that it mattered.”

Before the hustle and bustle of your week begins, consider what you could put back into the rotation. What skill, talent or passion can you make full use of that will not only make you more effective, but will also bring a deep sense of satisfaction?

For me, it’s listening. I was (and still need to be) a great listener. When I am at my best, my clients get more out of their time with me. And when that happens, I am a happier person.

Happy Spring!