My photo
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.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Know Your Audience Part 2: The First Step to Captivating Speaking!

It is absolutely critical to your speaking success that you captivate your audience’s attention.  In order to successfully captivate and sustain the attention of your audience, you must maintain an ongoing awareness of your audience during your presentation.  However, you ought to have been considering your audience long before you take the floor.  In fact, it is important for you to spend some time thinking about your audience prior to preparing your material.  As it is true that a comedian should not tell the same jokes to a class of elementary students as she would to a group of night club patrons, it is just as true that your material and delivery should be as tailored as possible to your particular audience.  Here are the three key steps to zeroing in on your audience’s particular characteristics in a manner that will help you to deliver a speech with impact that keeps everyone’s eyes and ears on you the whole time.
Step 1:  The Background Research
Know Your Audience
Although it may not always be possible to know who will be in your audience, it is most probable that you will have a general idea of the number of people attending, their general backgrounds, their goals and interests for attending and perhaps even some general demographic information.  Take some time to think about who will be in your audience and why they will be listening to you.  Will the audience be looking for entertainment, education or inspiration?  Do the audience members share a similar professional background? 
Know Your Context
You should also be sure not to dismiss the importance of gathering information on the context of your presentation.  Will you be appearing at a professional conference or a casual gathering? As you prepare, always keep in mind the appropriate tone for your context and audience.   Will your presentation be one of many, or the only one?  If you are presenting at an event with many speakers, what time of the day will you be presenting?  If you are at the end of the day, or just before a meal break, you may need to pay greater attention to ensuring that your presentation starts out lively and maintains a very high level of energy.  How many people will be in attendance?  Will you need to use a microphone or multimedia?  Will you have time to have a question and answer component and if so, how will you structure it given the number of audience members?
Take the time during your preparation to imagine how to ensure that your presentation will be relevant, informative, entertaining and appropriate for your audience.  Good speakers never deliver the same presentation with the same style of delivery in different situations
Step 2:  Preparing your Material and AV for Your Audience
Have you decided that you will be using a microphone or multimedia?  If these details are your responsibility, you must communicate your needs to the event co-ordinator.  Ask about the size and set-up of the room, and be detailed about the type of equipment that you require.  Make sure to follow up on the confirmation a few days prior to your presentation.  When you arrive at the venue, try to have time to test the equipment with your materials to ensure that everything runs smoothly, the visual aids appear properly on the screen and that the sound volume is appropriate for the room and audience number.  If possible, travel with your own back-up equipment in case the venue’s equipment fail to work or synchronise with your equipment.
If you will be circulating documents, make sure that you have thought about a system for this or will be using assistants.  Don’t  let paper shuffling detract from your performance or interrupt the flow of your delivery.
Decide if you will be presenting from a podium or if you’ll be moving around.  If you are doing a very short presentation, if your context requires it, or if you like to have written materials in front of you to present from (more on that in a later post!), you may want to use a podium.   If you don’t want to be stuck standing stationary behind a podium, and you’re presenting in a large room or to a large audience, ask for a lavalier microphone so you can move around.   You can still have your notes set on a podium or table, but this way you can stray from one spot during your presentation.  Just don’t forget to take it off before you take a break or go to the restroom - there are already too many audio clips of that scenario! 
Step 3:  Observing the Audience
The importance of knowing your audience doesn’t stop once your presentation begins. I guarantee that if you don’t pay attention to your audience, they won’t pay attention to you.    As you speak, you should be monitoring your audience very closely to note their interest level and their reaction to your material.  Watch to see the signs that your audience is drifting away such as, looking around the room, watching out the windows, talking to each other, moving around or generally not focusing their attention on you.  Do not ever make the mistake of focusing only on one or two people in the audience, unless you have an audience of only one or two.  You can gauge whether you need to pace faster or slower, leave a topic, spend more time on a topic, inject some humour, or even take a break depending on the energy level and attention of the audience.  Be dynamic and responsive to your audience and they will respond back by listening to you.  Just like any good relationship, public speaking is a connection between you and the other party.  To captivate your audience, you must be aware of and responsive to, their needs and interests.    
Final Thought: 
Remember, you can strengthen your professional or public speaking presentation by ensuring that you’ve paid attention to your audience before you prepare your materials as well as remaining receptive and responsive to the audience during your delivery.  Captivating, engaging public speaking is dynamic, so stay alert and responsive.  Your audience will thank you for it!
Feel free to send me your comments or questions, which I will feature in future posts.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Introduction: Know Your Audience: Part I

Motivate. Educate. Advocate.
CAPTIVATE Public Speaking Consultant Services

If a tree falls in the forest, there's a good chance that nobody (of the human variety) will hear. The tree falling may be a striking and significant event, but without an audience, the gravity of the event will go unnoticed.

Whether your context is the boardroom, the courtroom,  the political forum, the classroom or another venue, it is critical that you develop and refine the skills required to hold an audience's attention throughout your presentation.

This blog will contain key information on how to captivate your audience during public and professional speaking events. As a seasoned trial attorney, former college instructor and professional advocate/ educator/ speaker in Canada, the United States and internationally, I will be sharing my expertise with you as a public speaking consultant in this blog on how to ensure that the reception of your message is optimised for any audience and any forum.

I would like to leave you with one simple point to consider, namely, your audience.  How well do you know your audience before you give a presentation?  Sometimes, as in the courtroom, you will not necessarily know the identity of the particular judge that will be presiding.  Nonetheless, you will have general knowledge of the type of audience that you will be advocating before (a judge or justice) and can make certain assumptions based upon general truths about this type of audience. 

In the classroom, you may or may not be teaching the same group of students each time.  The same is true for presentations in the boardroom.  Either way, you will use your prior knowledge of the audiences in previous presentations to develop the next presentation.

In other contexts, you may be presenting to an audience with an unknown composition.  Yoo will usually have a certain amount of information available about how many people will be attending the event and how they came to be there (voluntary, mandatory, etc.).  You may also have a good idea about why the people are attending your presentation and thus can deduce some ideas about the audience's interests.

When delivering to a completely unknown audience, such as at a public forum, you may believe that you will not have the benefits of being able to make an audience assessment.  This is not true.  While you may not know the number of people that will attend, you will probably be able to have a good idea about why people will be attending your presentation.

Spend some time before each presentation reflecting upon your audience.  Who are they? What do you know about them?  Why are they coming?  What are they probably hoping to get out of your presentation?  If appropriate, based upon previous presentations to the same audience, what do you know about their expectations and reactions?

When you start your presentation preparation by considering your audience, you are in a better position to tailor your delivery for maximum effectiveness.  Each audience is unique and dynamic.  If you want to captivate your audience, you must be aware of their needs and respond to them.

Please send me your own questions ( )  and I'll respond to them in future posts.