Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Are Twitter and Texting Ruining Public Speaking?


I attended a real-time webinar the other day and as the presenter showed his PowerPoint®  slides, he deviated from his presentation every 3-4 minutes to answer a question posed from the moving stream of webinar attendees that was displayed to the left of the screen. I couldn't help reading the attendees' conversations going on during the presentation, many of which had NOTHING to do with the topic at hand! I am easily distracted naturally and soon found myself more interested in what the participants were discussing amongst themselves than what the presenter was saying. I liken it to a crowd of people in a room having conversations while a presenter is trying to make a presentation in front of the room where no one is really paying attention.

Many attendees use their laptops during some one's presentation. My question is WHY? One could say it is for note-taking purposes (did you forget how to write?) or emailing important information that simply can't wait until the talk is over (why don't you just exit the room and give up your seat to someone who indeed wants to be there and listen?) Some would even argue that it is now becoming more common to use the laptop to Tweet or text to friends who are not able to attend the talk, and give them your opinion of the presentation being given in real time. Am I missing something here? Can't you guys wait until you see each other in a few minutes out in the hall, after the presentation or during a break or during lunch? Maybe I just don't get it. One thing I DO know: Good presenters spend many hours preparing a presentation for the benefit of the audience so that attendees walk away with the "nugget" of knowledge they came for. To be less than attentive by using electronic devices to Tweet or text continuously is, well, rude and disrespectful to the presenter.

Frankly, I wouldn't recommend having an app where the screen displays the discussions during most live webinars and all presentations. Way too distracting. It tends to undermine the value of the presenter's knowledge and experience and his/her information being presented. Presenters should be given the option to either request that all electronic devices be turned off prior to the presentation or, for the sake of the die-hard Tweeters, periodically make a slide in the presentation with a Tweet set in quotes summarizing a key point(s) and then give Tweeters a few moments to re-tweet it or copy it to text messages. Other options are to open it up for questions at the end of the talk or use an app that has the "raise hand" option that is monitored by an assistant who gives the questions to the presenter.

Don't get me wrong. Technology is great and we need it and should take advantage of it. I, myself, can't go anywhere without my iPad and smart phone. Technology makes our lives easier and tasks more efficient, i.e., taking notes during a lecture, keeping up with the world events and information in an instant, anywhere, anytime. It does, however, have it's place.  When we humans want to really "connect" to one another, vis a vis, eye ball to eye ball, there really is no substitute for truly listening, with no distractions, in order to learn and understand.  Maybe it's just me, but it seems that although we are more "connected" to one another than ever before through all our devices, somehow it also seems that we are becoming more isolated as humans as we communicate with each other through a flat screen and minimize the importance of communicating with a real live person.

Irene P. Zucker
VerbaCom® Executive Development

©2010-12 VerbaCom®

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Q & A Session

The Question and Answer session after your presentation can be unsettling, especially if you're anxious about the kinds of questions you may be asked.  A good presenter tries to anticipate questions from the audience during the process of preparing for the talk, and in doing so,  do some research to be able to address possible unanticipated questions.  This alone, can you maintain poise and confidence.  A good rule of thumb is, if you KNOW your subject matter and overall presentation with all the specifics behind your statements, you should do fine.  Here are some tips to help you survive a Q & A session:

  • Be sure you understand the question.  You may have to repeat it or reword it. In answering it, be brief clear, concise and to the point.  No more, no less.

  • As you're answering a question, target it towards the overall interests of the majority of the group. If a top decision maker is present, consider answering what that person may also find interesting or relevant.

  • The Question & Answer session is usually after the presentation.  Often, the time allotted to answer questions is limited to, say, 5 or 10 minutes which limits the number of questions that can be addressed.  A good way to control the number of questions is to have people write questions on a piece of paper and pass them up to you the lectern. This  allows you a few moments to not only preview and think about a reply and it also allows you to be more selective in which question to answer and as well how  "in depth" you will go into it.

  • If you don't have an answer or don't know about a certain area within the question, say so!   The audience will respect you for being candid.   Never try to fudge your way with a "white lie" or by side stepping the answer with an impromptu, long winded answer.  People know when they're being fooled. Just admit that "I'm not familiar with that aspect" or "Frankly, I don't know" and promise to find out and to get back with them within a day or two.  By all means do so!  You don't want to lose your credibility. 

  • If a question requires a lot of detail, irrelevant to the topic at hand or may require a personalized reply, offer to meet after the session is over or during the break.  Exchanging contact information is also an option where you both can discuss the question away from the venue with less time limitations or distractions.
The Question and Answer session is a great opportunity to shine.  All it takes is being well prepared with the knowledge of the subject matter in your presentation and knowing the overall presentation itself, backwards and forwards,  so that you can revert to any part of your presentation and expand on any statement within it.  You will appear to answer with authority, poise and confidence.  Think it's easier said than done? Not really.  Remember, YOU are the one being asked to speak, probably because it was felt that you have the knowledge and expertise on the subject matter that the audience wants you to share.  Give yourself that.  It's a privilege and rather humbling to be able to share with others who want to hear about what you know.  

Monday, February 27, 2012

Public Speaking: 10 Keys for Correct Lectern Etiquette

Great speakers are natural and have an individual style. Style, however, is very different from protocol. As a speaker, you can destroy your credibility with poor lectern etiquette. Here are some tips for delivering professional presentations:

  1. Do not lean on the lectern. The lectern is there to hold notes, hide awards, and to support the microphone and other electronic devices. It is not a leaning post. Holding on to it with a white-knuckle grip announces to the audience you are nervous. Stand straight, a few inches away from the lectern, with both feet firmly on the ground.
  2. Gentlemen button coats. A buttoned suit jacket is a must for male speakers. During the speech, keep it buttoned if the speech is formal and/or does not require any arm waving or extreme body movement. Women may also button their jackets, however, because women's styles vary, a buttoned jacket is not required; women suffer enough having to wear high heels.
  3. Shake hands with the person who introduced you. In days gone by, when a person approached the lectern after the introduction, the introducer handed over control of the meeting by passing the gavel to the person being introduced. Today, with a handshake, control of the lectern occurs symbolically while giving an appearance of continuity and friendship. It is rude to both the speaker and audience to introduce a speaker and then leave the lectern unattended as the speaker approaches. The lectern or podium is the focus of the audience's attention; do not jeopardize the professionalism of your event by leaving it unattended.
  4. Always thank the introducer and greet the audience. Proper etiquette requires good manners. Before beginning your speech, it is polite to thank the person who introduced you and to greet the audience making a special greeting to dignitaries, government officials, and other special attendees. Remember you were invited and consider it a privilege.
  5. Familiarize yourself with proper introduction techniques. Learn proper introduction techniques and practice choreography at the lectern before-hand, if possible. The introducer and the guest speaker should not appear to be dancing as they exchange positions.
  6. Do not apologize for lack of preparation. There is no substitute for preparedness, however, there are times when preparation is not possible. Never apologize for lack of preparation! This insults the audience who will be wondering why you showed up and why you are wasting their time if you are not prepared. Cancel or postpone the engagement or, when this is not possible, take a few minutes to gather your thoughts, outline them on paper, and proceed with your speech. Chances are no one will even notice you are unprepared so why make it a point to tell them? If you are frequently called upon to speak at a moment's notice, prepare a "pocket" speech you can pull out and give anytime, anywhere, with variation.
  7. Eliminate distracting habits and verbal crutches. Those uhs, ahs, and ums can be very distracting and annoying. Practice your speech and record it to identify verbal crutches. Jitters can create havoc on your nervous system without you even knowing it. Nervous distractions like jiggling, tapping, hand clutching, etcetera, can detract from your talk. Learn good speaking posture, slow down, take a few deep breathes, and exhale any uneasiness. If you have a great speech and have practiced it, concentrate on relating your message to the audience, rather than how it is going to be received. Your delivery will appear natural and effortless if you concentrate on delivering your message with enthusiasm and sincerity.
  8. Every gesture, look, motion, and sound should have a purpose. Although body movement can enhance a message, movement that is made for the sole purpose of movement appears unnatural and awkward. Use hand and body movement to emphasize a point or to help the audience visualize. Naturalness comes with knowing your speech and practice. Practice relating the concept of your speech rather than practicing gestures. This technique brings out the natural you.
  9. Do not lose eye contact. Some talks are made to be read, others are not. Whether your notes are for reference only or meant to be read, poor eye contact is distracting. Good eye contact is a learned skill; practice.
  10. Do not thank your audience. As children, we were taught that it is polite to say thank you. It still is but, after a speech, it is erroneously used to fill in the space after the last word has been uttered. As you have already thanked everyone at the beginning of your speech, deliver a powerful closing, then simply turn it over to the next person with a smile and a handshake.

Irene P. Zucker
VerbaCom® Executive Development

©2010-12 VerbaCom®