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Alberta, Canada
Family Law Lawyer, Professional Speaker & Author

Friday, 30 November 2012

Thank You Very Much, Mr. Roboto

Many people try to adhere to rules about proper professional speaking, how to stand, how to speak etc.    Nonetheless, you should remember that the essence of public speaking is that you bring energy to a presentation that is simply not possible with a written document.
You can study all the public speaking tips available (and there are many!), but, in cultivating a polished speaking demeanour, you should not lose your individual style.  We enjoy speakers with charisma and find that great speakers are those who can allow their personalities to enhance their words.  We naturally tune out monotonous, robotic speakers.  This must surely be a part of the reason why computer voices (like GPS systems etc.) have been vastly improved to sound more ‘human’ and less ‘robotic.’  We prefer to listen to a voice that has a less predictable, more interesting quality.
Imagine the most poignant speeches in your own memory.  You may be recalling Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, Churchill, Trudeau, Queen Elizabeth II, for example.  Maybe what came to mind is a particularly excellent wedding toast by a friend or family member.  Certainly, though, the speech that you remember as having such an impact on you was delivered with strong character.
The “great” historical speeches can be recalled not only because of their important messages, but because of the speaker who delivered them.  When we recall “I have a dream” we vividly bring to mind Dr. King’s eloquent, powerful manner of delivering the epic speech.  His unique energy brought the words to life and therefore they resonate in the memories of everyone who has ever heard the speech.
Similarly, although you can improve your public speaking skills through learning proper techniques and avoiding certain pitfalls, don’t lose your own unique expressional qualities.  The impact that you have on your audience will be greatly enhanced when your personality is woven throughout your presentation.
 For more information on public speaking training, go to .

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Audiovisual Technology: Use the Power Wisely, Grasshopper

The power of your slides or audiovisual aids can be a potent enhancement to your public or professional speaking presentation.  However, like all power, when this is in the wrong hands, things can turn ugly!  

Your speaking is the main event.  Any AV additions that you use must  not detract from you or your presentation.  Always ask yourself if every slide, sound clip, video etc. is supporting the delivery of the fundamental message that you wish to leave with your audience.  You should not have to compete with your slides for the attention of your audience.  Here are the most important rules for using AV with your presentations:

1.  Keep it simple:  don’t have too much technology as it simply become overbearing.  Too many bells and whistles come across like a restaurant covering up low-quality food with heavy sauce.  Let your message shine and don’t cloud it out with too much glitz.

2.  Keep the numbers down:  powerful speakers use less slides and enhancements. Each audiovisual use must emphasise the key points of your message.  If you’re clicking to a new slide on every sentence, your presentation will look less like a professional presentation and more like Fred and Martha’s “trip to France” slide show circa 1977.

3.  Make it fun:  use AV to do what you as a speaker cannot – audio clips of other speakers or music, video clips, or imagery like a clear graph that truly is ‘worth a thousand words.’

4.  Know how to use it:  if you’re uncomfortable with any technology, keep it out of your presentation. The general rule is that you are a complete package simply as a speaker.  If adding a power point presentation throws you off your game and reduces your confidence, keep it out!

5.  The “Snooze, yawn” Rule:  Never cut and paste your text into your visual presentation. Well, go ahead and put your text up there if you’re trying to get your audience to ignore what you’re saying and fall asleep.  Otherwise, see Rule 3 and use “visual” aids for pictures and images.

There are many great programs, apps and technologies available to us that can help to make your message more easily and clearly received by your audience and will make your presentation more exciting and more memorable.  Use this power wisely, Grasshopper.  

Friday, 2 November 2012

Don't Hold Your Questions, Please

The essential key to captivating public speaking is the ability to attract your audience’s interest and sustain it throughout your presentation.  Monotony is the enemy of dynamic and engaging speaking, regardless of your public or professional speaking context.  One of the most successful methods of elevating your audience’s interest during your presentation is to respond to questions throughout your presentation.

While there are certain contexts in which taking questions throughout your presentation may not be appropriate, if you are delivering an informative or educational speech, you should incorporate intermittent questioning into your delivery.  A question from the audience during your speech drastically reduces the march towards monotony that may occur if you are the only speaker. 

More importantly; however, you can use the audience’s questions to gauge the reception to your presentation.  A question is a form of feedback, and you would be fortunate to have the opportunity to receive such valuable feedback during your presentation as it will allow you to modify your presentation to better accord with the needs and interests of your audience.

You may, for example, find that a particular point that you have already put forth has not been well understood by your audience and you may need to spend some additional time on that topic.  On the other hand, you may discover that you are laboring over points that are well-known to your audience.  If this is the case, your audience will tune you out the material that is mundane and may well miss your novel and exciting material.  In short if the goal of your presentation is to educate and inform, you will have missed your mark.  

Not all speakers like to take questions during their presentation, as some may find that the disruption throws them off course.  Nonetheless, you should not be reading from a script, but rather you should be focused on delivering specific points.  The “script reading” approach to public speaking is boring and unnatural.  

Training yourself to respond to your audience’s questions during your speech will enhance the energy and effectiveness of your presentation.  As a bonus side effect of your ability to respond to intermittent questions is that you will have the opportunity to truly show your expertise and command of the material.  You may need to practice your poise during questions, but I can guarantee that the rewards will be well worth your effort. 

Friday, 12 October 2012

Strike a Pose! Improve your Public Speaking with "Power Posing"

New studies prove that once again, Mom was right.  You should be standing up straight when you speak!  Standing with a strong posture can increase the power of your public speaking, make you feel more confident and may enhance the effectiveness of your message to your audience.   
According to a new study, when you stand with power and purpose, these kinds of qualities develop and increase within you.  The researchers,  Amy J.C. Cuddy, Dana R. Caney and Any J. Yap, have presented their findings in “Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuroendocrine Levels and Risk Tolerance” in the journal Psychological  Science (online reference at 
Using “power posing" may lead to others perceiving us as more confident and authoritative, but the study focused on the way these postures lead to changes in our own bodies and minds.  Just like the old adage “fake it ‘til you make it,” our body chemistry changes accordingly as a result of the power posture.  Thus, when we hold a power position, our bodies release higher levels of testosterone and decrease the level of cortisol (the “stress hormone”) in our system.  The result is that we actually feel ourselves to be more powerful and we become more risk-tolerant.
The research suggest assuming a power position for a cumulative two minutes, to give your body enough time to make the hormonal shift to enhanced power.  You can go directly to the article to read about the various “power postures” that are suggested.  One of my favourites is the classic “Wonder Woman” pose.  Just like the classic superhero herself, stand with your feet shoulder width apart, hands on your hips, expand your chest and make sure that your chin is at a comfortable but confident height.  How could you not feel more powerful?
I would suggest that you adopt the practice of using power postures prior to your public or professional speaking engagement.  The neurochemical changes in your brain will decrease your feelings of stress and increase your feelings of confidence, both of which will greatly enhance your performance, particularly if you feel any anxiety or fear about public speaking.  That way, when you take center stage, your presentation will shine with your superhero confidence.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Vocal Wobbles: How to Ease your Shaky Voice during Speeches

Do you ever find that your voice wavers when you’re delivering a speech or during professional presentations?  Have you noticed that this problem is particularly troublesome at the beginning of your public speaking presentation?  Just like with any physical exercise, you need to make sure that you’ve properly warmed up your voice before your public or professional speaking event. 

In an ideal situation, you will be able to spend a few minutes immediately before your presentation engaged in some vocal warm ups.  Depending on your venue, you should take time right before you take the floor to sing as loudly as possible or recite poetry.  If Lord Byron and Wordsworth escape your mind at that moment, recite nursery rhymes.  If you know that you will be unable to have a few minutes to warm up immediately prior to your presentation, do so as close to your time as possible.  This may mean that in the hotel room in the morning, or during a break in the proceedings, or in your care on the way to the venue you’re belting out the tunes or reciting the words of your favourite poet.  Either way, make sure that you’ve warmed up those vocal chords.  Just as an athlete must warm up before the big game or race, you as a speaker must warm up before your event.

Unfortunately, often you will not be able to erupt in song during a board meeting or conference so that your voice is ready to go for your presentation.  In those cases, you will need to be prepared to start your presentation on a solid vocal grounding without the benefit of a warm up.  Of course, you will have done as much talking (or singing) prior to your presentation when you had the opportunity, even if it was a few hours before your time. 

When you take the floor, take a moment to take a grounding deep breath – just don’t make it too overt.   If you are in a training or workshop session, and if it is part of your plan, you can then launch into an introduction round where your participants briefly introduce themselves.  As they do so, you are able to greet each one, therein giving yourself a bit more time to get familiar with your role and your voice.  At the end of the introduction session, you will most certainly feel comfortable, confident and clear of the vocal wobbles.

In other situations where there will be no introductions and you need to launch straight into your presentation, use your first couple of sentences as introductions to yourself and to your topic.  You will be more comfortable with saying your name and the subject of your presentation then you would be simply launching directly into the substance of your presentation.  You should use those first few sentences to develop a vocal grounding and familiarity with the microphone and acoustics of the venue, and make any necessary adjustments to your delivery. 

Don’t forget to watch your audience for cues about how you sound to them.  If you’re unsure, and think that the people in the back row can’t hear you, you’re better off addressing your volume at the outset of your presentation.  Your goal is to find the appropriate volume for your audience, venue and the subject of your presentation.   Aim to sound neither like the town crier nor the audience whisperer.  You will project your knowledge of your subject through your confident, warmed-up voice, so get singing!

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Fear of Public Speaking? Congratulations, you’re normal. Now start talking.

The fear of public speaking, is a shockingly common trait.  Of the numerous studies devoted to the topic, one can find support that the fear occurs in 50-75% of the population and rank it as the number one fear held by people (above the fear of death).  There is no shortage of articles about both causes of and tips for overcoming one’s fear of public speaking.  Regardless of the reasons why you might feel anxious before or during a public speaking presentation, you would probably take comfort in knowing that not only is this kind of anxiety prevalent in our society, but also that such a fear is not a barrier to being an effective public speaker. 
We could fill a library with books written to assist individuals with overcoming their fear of public speaking.  I would agree that there are many excellent and helpful tactics that can help a person learn to address and overcome the fear.  Of all the methods, tips and techniques available, some will likely resonate more greatly with you while others simply won’t work for you.  Nonetheless, there is one very simple technique which is extremely effective and universally applicable.  Everyone can do it and it takes no special training.
In order to utilise this simple technique, you must understand that when you feel anxious about public speaking, you are perceiving a fear of something that is actually not threatening.  Being chased by a lion is threatening and one would justifiably be afraid in such a situation.   In contrast,  you may perceive the act of public speaking as threatening, and hence you may be attempting to legitimise your fear, but there is nothing inherently dangerous about public speaking.  Instead, sometimes our brain sends us messages that something is scary when there is really nothing to fear, and after we feel the fear, we will justify the fear with what we feel to be logical statements (“I will sound like a fool and everyone will laugh at me.”).[i]
When this brain trick works, you believe that your fear of public speaking is reasonable and consequently, you act accordingly.  Thus, you avoid public speaking because you believe that you have a legitimate fear (one that falls into the same category as being chased by a lion).   The reality, of course, is that avoiding public speaking is probably far more detrimental to your professional reputation and image than actually delivering the presentation or speech. 
So, what’s the simple and effective technique?  Deliver the speech.  Just step onto the stage, or stand at the front of the boardroom and start talking.  Don’t give any credence to the fearful messages in your brain.  Have you ever just jumped into the water, all at once, before your brain told you that the water would be cold?  The longer that you wait at the side of the water, the more messages of fear will be flooding through your brain.  The same principle goes for public speaking.   The more you listen to the fear messages in your mind the stronger the fear becomes and the more you believe it.  You will become “paralysed with fear.”  To counter this, you must act.  Don’t try to think your way out of this mess of fear, just get up there and talk before you convince yourself otherwise.

[i]   One great resource for helping you to put fear in its place is the book   Feel the Fear . . . and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers. 

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

The Power of the Pause

We all know to avoid using fillers in our speech, such as “um,” “uh,” or “like.”  Think of these word fillers as the public speaking equivalent of junk food.  Although you’re making sounds when you utter these fillers, they are devoid of content.  Sometimes, the use of fillers can become a habit that we may not even be aware of during public or professional speaking.  I’m sure that you know of some people who pepper their speech with “like” and “you know what I mean.”  You may also find that you use fillers when you are thinking of what to say next, how to respond to a question or have forgotten what you were about to say.  Regardless of the reasons, when it comes to public and professional speaking, you must train yourself to never use these sorts of fillers.
There is a very easy and effective tool for eliminating fillers from your public and professional speaking.  If you train yourself to use this tool not only will your speaking appear more professional, poised and polished but you will actually increase the level of your audience’s interest.  The trick to replacing filler with substance is to learn to use a powerful pause.  Whenever you feel the itch to utter a filler, simply take a deep (but not perceptibly deep!) breath to regain your focus and rhythm.  Don’t make any sound and don’t utter any fillers, just pause and be silent.  The time of your pause will usually feel longer to you than your audience, so don’t worry about telegraphing anything negative by the use of a pause.  Ultimately, a commanding use of a pause exhibits confidence, unlike the use of a filler.
If you find that your nervousness causes you to speak a bit too quickly, then you must try to infuse more frequent pauses between your sentences or phrases.  This technique will give you greater time to allow your thoughts to catch up with your words.  It also helps you to stay more focused and in command of your speaking.  Training yourself to comfortably use the pause will prevent the use of repetitive fillers.
An additional benefit of the pause is that a well-placed pause in your speech is a cue to your audience to intensify their focus on you.  The change in rhythm and lack of sound automatically causes your audience to look at you.  Your listeners will become more curious as to what you are about to say next.  By using the powerful pause instead of a filler, you have actually heightened the energy in the room and have drawn attention to you. 
Next time you give a professional presentation or deliver a speech, use the pause to your benefit.  Experience the power of the pause to captivate your audience in public speaking.