Executive Speaking Weblog

Communication – the future of business

Archive for September, 2007

Breaking the Rules of Public speaking

Posted by Presentation Skills on September 25, 2007

Many people are of the opinion that there are a number of sacred rules in public speaking that should never be broken. You should never race through your speech, you should never hold the lectern and you should never turn your back on the audience.

I would like to challenge the validity of these rules.

I have been a Toastmaster for over 13 years, and have often pushed these rules on others. But I firmly believe that there comes a time when you must break the rules to reach the audience.

Case in point: The rule that you should never turn your back on the Audience while speaking.

At face value this seems like a good rule to follow as it helps you to engage the audience more.

However, it is possible to turn your back on the audience and engage them even more than when you are looking at them.

Recently I competed in the District 73 Toastmasters annual convention in Perth Australia. I was competing in the Table Topics competition final. About 2000 people from across Australia had competed in this impromptu speaking competition, and I was one of just 7 people left standing. In this competition, you are given the topic and expected to start speaking on it straight away. The only preparation time you have is while you are walking across the stage.

The topic we had was:

“If you obey all the rules, you miss out on half the fun.  Is this a good philosophy to live by?”

As I walked across the stage, I decided that I would break some rules myself. As I approached the centre of the stage, I turned and put my back to the audience and started speaking. I spoke about the rules that we should not break when speaking. The main rule was about keeping eye contact with your audience. I then proceeded to make fun of the rules about ensuring that you move across the stage so everyone sees you. Next was my favourite rule – the need to pause. I paused so long that even I forgot what I was going to say next. However, the audience laughed hearterly as I broke the rules that they all held so closely to themselves.

Whats more, when the judges returned their decision, I was the winner! From speaking to the others in the audience (and not just my friends!) I was a clear and unanimous winner.

So, it just goes to show, you don’t need to follow all the rules to achieve your objectives.

However, might I suggest that you have a good understanding of the rules of Public Speaking and know how they operate before you go out and break them. If you don’t understand the rule and how it operates, you may be doing your cause more harm than good it you decide to break the rules!

There is a copy of my presentation on YouTube.  It goes for 5 min and can be viewed here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r4ZOPZvzG6o



Posted in humour in presentations, public speaking, public speaking tips, Understanding your audience | 1 Comment »


Posted by Presentation Skills on September 24, 2007

These days it seems that every business presentation you go to has to have a PowerPoint slide show.  While PowerPoint is a great presentation aid for delivering a message, if you’re not careful it will smother what you have to say.  PowerPoint should improve your message, and not become your message.  PowerPoint is about making it easier for your audience to understand and accept your message.  It’s  not about showing off how clever you can be.  Below are a few points to keep in mind when you next need to use PowerPoint.

  1. Should you use PowerPoint?  Not every message should be put into a PowerPoint presentation.  if you are considering using PowerPoint ask yourself if it will help your audience understand your message.  If it wont help, be different and don’t use it! 
  2. Don’t let the PowerPoint presentation be a substitute for knowing your message:  Don’t fall for the trick of reading the slides to deliver your message.  If you simply read your slides, your audience will read them too. They will read ahead of you and blank out what you are saying.
  3. Minimise visual distractions:  Everytime your audience sees movement on the screen they will look at it. If they are paying attention to the screen, they are not paying attention to you. 
  4. Just because PowerPoint can, does not mean that you should:  PowerPoint is fun to play with and can do some amazing things, but that does not mean that your audience wants to see it.  After they have seen the first slide fly in from the right, the heading type itself out and the bullet points twirl in from the distance they will become tried of it.  If your doing it to keep them entertained, can I suggest that you should look more closely at your content.
  5. Use contrasting backgrounds:  Make your background 1 solid colour and choose a font colour that can be easily seen against it.  If your audience has to struggle to see the text they will have trouble reading it.  If you make regular presentations to clients consider getting a professional template made.  Standard Microsoft templates stand out!
  6. Know and use the ‘B’ key:  When you no longer want the audience to see what is on the screen simply press the ‘B’ key and this will turn the screen black.  When there is nothing to look at, they audience will pay attention to you.  This is what you want. When you want to move to the next slide, simply press the space bar or click as you normally would.  The ‘W’ key has the same affect and turns the screen white.
  7. If you are going to use a laser pointer, have a reason to use it:  The reason you have a laser pointer is to point out specific things.  If you are using a pointer to simply point to the words that you are saying, what message are you giving about your audience?
  8. Moving from slide to slide is easier than it looks!  There are many ways to move forward with slides.  Pressing the left button on the mouse is the most obvious.  But did you know that the left and right arrows will move you around the slides too, as will the space bar.  If you want to go to a specific slide, simply type the number in and press the enter key and you will go there.  You can get a ton of other tips by pressing the ‘F1″ key!
  9. Never skip a slide!  If there are slides in your presentation that you don’t want to use, hide them from your presentation before you get up to speak.  If you are standing in front of the audience and you skip 2 slides, the audience will wonder what was on those slides and wont pay attention to what you are saying.  This will brake your connection with the audience and ruin your credibility.
  10. Limit the number of slides:  For those old enough to remember your aunties slide show of her trip to Europe you will know why you have to minimise the number of slides you use.  If you weren’t around in the 70’s and don’t know what a slide show is consider yourself lucky!
  11. Get to the point:  As with any type of presentation, you need to get to the point ASAP.  After all, time is in short supply these days.

PowerPoint is a great tool that can help you deliver your message.  Just don’t let it become your message.

‘Til next time.



Australia’s Public Speaking Coach

Posted in PowerPoint, public speaking, public speaking courses, public speaking tips, Understanding your audience | Leave a Comment »

Room Layout Can Kill You

Posted by Presentation Skills on September 10, 2007

I have recently been engaged to develop a training program for the Network Marketing industry.  This program will focus on overcoming objections, and how to avoid them in the first place.  You can get more details on it here – Communication in Network Marketing

As part of my research I attended a meeting of the local Tupperware bussiness.  The night was “The Boys Night In”.  All the male distrubitors had the opportunity let us know what it was like to be a male distributor in a female dominated industry.

In the first part of the evening, Steve cooked up some hamburger steaks and a potato salad.  This showed how easy the products were to use and to sell.  What a great way to sell product!

Unfortunately, neither Steve nor the managers of the venue had looked at the room to see how the props that he was going to use would be seen by the audience.  Unfortunately they couldn’t be seen!

Steve was cooking at a stove and working from a bench.  The platform that he was working on was slightly raised, but not high enough for people down the back of the room to be able to see what he was doing.  As a consequence, more than half the room could not see what was happening.  Initially people lifted their heads to see, but as the presentation wore on, more and more people just resorted to listening and not looking.  This made his props redundant.

So how could have this been avoided? 

The most obvious improvement would have been a mirror placed above the stove and bench that the audience could look at.  This would have shown us what he was doing.  However, this is a costly (but permenant!) solution.  An easier and more simple solution was to simply hold the props up for people to see.  By holding the slicers and dicers up we would have been able to see what was being used and have been able to receive the training that he was delivering.

So how was he to know this?  By simply sitting in our seats before the meeting and looking around to see what we were going to see.  This would have alerted him to the problem and he could have then taken steps to fix it.

The physical layout of the room can have a massive impact on the result of your presenation.  Sit in your audiences seat to see what they will see. If you don’t like it, chances are the audience wont either!

‘Til next time,


Darren Fleming

Australia’s Public Speaking Coach

Posted in Network Marketing, presentation skills | Leave a Comment »

The 7 commandments of Public Speaking

Posted by Presentation Skills on September 2, 2007

In order to communicate effectively with anyone, there are a number of rules and conventions that should be followed.  Although I generally don’t like to be prescriptive, the points below offer a quick checklist for speakers.

  1. Know your reason for speaking:  Know what message you want to convey during your talk.  This will make preparation much easier;
  2. Know who your audience is, and what they want:  By understanding your audience, you will be able to tailor your message to meet their needs;
  3. Give your audience a reason to listen:  Find out what is important to your audience and use this as part of your presentation.  By knowing this your audience will pay attention to you so you can get your message across.
  4. Only speak to one person: Although this sounds counter intuitive, speaking to one person will bring the audience into what you have to say.  Whilst you see many people that you are speaking too, your audience only sees 1 person speaking to them.  Therefore, from their point of view, you are in a one-to-one speaking situation.  Speak as though you are in a one-to-one situation and the audience will think that you are talking directly to them!
  5. Tell a story and make a point:  People do not want to hear just the facts; they want to now what the facts mean.  So give them the stories behind the facts;
  6. Always leave them wanting more.  Don’t give everything away in your speech.  Always leave them wanting more so they want to follow you up.

Posted in public speaking, public speaking courses, public speaking tips | 2 Comments »

Nervousness in Job interviews

Posted by Presentation Skills on September 2, 2007

 I am often asked for the secret for overcoming nervousness.  While there is no silver bullet that will cure nervousness, having a planned approach to any type of public speaking, or job interviews will help you control your nerves. 

Firstly, you need to be prepared.  There is no substitute for knowing your material.  If it is public speaking, you need to know what you are talking about.  If you don’t, then you will be distracted by the potential that the audience will know more than you. 

If you are in an interview, you need to know where you are going with your answers to the questions that you are asked.  If you don’t, the interviewers will pick it. 

You also need to realise that the audience does not want you to fail.  No interviewer wants the person in the chair to fail because they were too nervous.  It is a waste of everyone’s time.  In the same way, no audience listening to a speaker wants the speaker to fail.  So realise the audience and interviewer are on your side and want you to succeed. 

Finally, remember to breathe.  This may sound incredibly simple, but most people overlook it.  When breathing, use your whole lungs, and not just your chest; really get the diaphragm involved. 

Keep your breaths long and slow.  This will have the effect of slowing your whole body down, which will inturn slow your thoughts down.  When your thoughts slow down, you will remember what you want to say, and will be able to deliver it in the way that you need too.

Posted in nervousness, public speaking, Understanding your audience | Leave a Comment »

Jokes and Public Speaking

Posted by Presentation Skills on September 2, 2007

When speaking to any audience, it is important to build rapport as quickly as possible. Humour can be a great way to do this.  However, leave the jokes aside. 

It is often thought that starting a presentation with a joke will get the audience on-side; however jokes will fail more than they succeed.  This will leave people laughing at you and not with you! 

Why is this? Most jokes rely on having a victim that you make fun of.  If the audience identifies with you more than the victim they will find the joke funny.  However, there will always be some who identify with the victim and will think your joke is poor taste.  If there are too many of these people in the audience your joke will fall flat. 

Jokes also rely on exact wording and timing to be carried off properly.  If this is out slightly your joke will fall flat.  Also, most of the funniest jokes cannot be told in public! 

If you are constantly opening with jokes, you will get a reputation for this.  You would be better off building a reputation as someone who has something important to say. Finally, if you do happen to find the right joke and deliver it properly and everyone thinks it’s funny, they will probably remember the joke more than what you had to say. 

If your joke overshadows your content you will not be able to deliver your message.   

Humour is important in all presentations, just don’t use jokes! 

So what should you use? 

Situational humour is often the best.  This involves knowing what is going on around you right now.  This can be simply passing a comment or making an observation on what is going on. 

The reason this works is that if you are thinking it, there is a good chance others are thinking it too.  If they are also thinking it, they will laugh. 

Another type of humour is self depricating humour. This is where you are the butt of the humour. This will show the audience that you do not take yourself too seriously.  This will build great respect for you. 

Remember you don’t always have to use humour to communicate.  If you don’t think yourself funny, don’t try and force it as it won’t work.    If you are unsure if a line will work, try dropping it into a conversation and see what reaction you get.  This will give you a good guide to see if it works.

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Understanding your audience pays off

Posted by Presentation Skills on September 2, 2007

At a recent course I held in Adelaide, I asked a number of business owners if they wanted to get some free publicity for their business.  The answer came back, ‘who wouldn’t!’ so I thought that I would share the trick with you.  I’ve used these tricks to get $50,000 in publicity for Executive Speaking, and you can use it too.  It is easier than you think, and will also work for any worthwhile cause – not just businesses. 

The trick is to understand your audience and what they want!

What did I do, and how did I do it? 

When I started Executive Speaking I wanted to generate some publicity.  I decided that the easiest way to do this was to get some advertising in national magazines that my audience reads.  However, I did not want to spend the big bucks to place ads in the magazines, and I was skeptical that they would work anyway. I decided that the best (and cheapest) way to get into these magazines was to write something for them that they needed.  The logic behind the thinking was this:

  1. Most people ‘out there’ need to improve their public speaking and communication skills.  Public speaking is not something that most people like, but they know they have to get better at it.  Therefore an article on public speaking would probably be appreciated as there are very few ‘How to’ articles in the media about it.
  1. Editors are always looking for something new that they can give to their readers.  They need this to keep their publications fresh and their readers interested.  As there are virtually no public speaking articles about, I thought I could write some.
  2. So I called the editors and said, “Hi.  My name is Darren and I have something that your readers need.”  I then explained what I could offer their’ readers’ and how it would benefit them.
  3. I then submitted the article.

 I have used this technique a number of times with many different publications.  This has resulted in me getting articles in BRW, MyBusiness, The Advertiser, Marketing magazine and others.  I have been able to include contact details and information about what I can offer my clients and how I can meet their needs.  The article works better than an advertisement as it offers real value to the reader that they can take away and use.  This helps build a relationship with the readers as well. So how can you use this?  Ask yourself: “Who are the people I want to reach, and what do they need?”  Then work out what they read and approach the editors of the magazine, newspaper, or radio.  Remember, the first audience you have to get to listen is the editor.  So work out what they want and how you can provide it.  What do they want? Is it something fresh and new, or an article that looks at a topic from a different angle? Once you have this worked out, write and submit your article.  If it is well written it will be run.   A few points to remember with this:

  1. Don’t just write an ad disguised as an article; the editors won’t run it.
  2. Offer value in the article; &
  3. Finally, swallow your pride and get someone good to read and edit it.  Get them to be ruthless.  This will help it get published

 The whole process from initial contact to a published article can take a few months, so get started now! It really is that simple!

Posted in public speaking, public speaking courses, Understanding your audience | 6 Comments »

Using stories in public speaking

Posted by Presentation Skills on September 2, 2007

As a speaker, it is your duty to connect with your audience.  It does not matter what the topic is, or who is in your audience, if you are not connecting with your audience your message is not getting through. 

One of the easiest ways to connect with your audience is with the use of simple stories. Simple stories are anecdotes that illustrate the point that you want to make.   

We use stories in our daily conversations.  Have you ever told a work colleague what happened on the way to work; your partner what you did at work, or the kids about what you did when you were young?  These are all simple stories that people share. 

People are drawn to these stories because of the emotion that is contained in them.  Your story of the trip to work may generate the emotion of laughter; you may share the emotion of frustration or success when describing to your partner what happened at work.  And your kids love the emotion of excitement from when you were younger. 

But where are the stories for your presentation?  Simply look at the facts and figures and ask yourself, “What do they mean?”, “What is the storey behind them?”  It is story behind the facts and figures that people want.  If you “facts and figures” tell you that your clients can save 10% by switching their services to you, tell them a story of someone who has achieved that.  That’s a story! 

Very few people will feel warm and fuzzy about facts; however, they will remember your stories long after the facts have been forgotten.

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