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Boosting Your Confidence Building Confidence Improving Your Presentations Practice Sessions Public Speaking Practice

Practice your next speech with us!

Each week the Speakers Alliance runs a FREE Public Speaking and Pitching Practice Clinic for people looking to improve their public speaking skills. Anyone who wants to practice a presentation, speech, sales pitch, social occasion speech, etc. is welcome to join and participate! If you do not have a speech or pitch prepared, you can still attend and listen to others practice and ask questions during the Q&A period.

Talks can be 5-6 minutes long. The panel will provide up to 3-5 minutes of feedback after your talk.

This week’s session is on Thursday, July 1 from 12-1pm PT.

Please note: We will be changing up the practice session times each week. Follow us on social media for the most up to date announcements.

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Improving Your Presentations Practice Sessions Public Speaking Practice

Upcoming Public Speaking Practice Session

Practice your next speech with us!

Each week the Speakers Alliance runs a FREE Public Speaking and Pitching Practice Clinic for people looking to improve their public speaking skills. Anyone who wants to practice a presentation, speech, sales pitch, social occasion speech, etc. is welcome to join and participate! If you do not have a speech or pitch prepared, you can still attend and listen to others practice and ask questions during the Q&A period.

Talks can be 5-6 minutes long. The panel will provide up to 3-5 minutes of feedback after your talk.

This week’s session is on Friday, June 25 from 12-1pm PT.

Please note: We will be changing up the practice session times each week. Follow us on social media for the most up to date announcements.

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Filler words Improving Your Presentations Public Speaking Nerves Public Speaking Tips Virtual Presentations Work Presentations

Umm, so like here’s my lenient take on filler words

Those pesky filler words, such as um, uh/ah, like, so, but, you know can creep into our speeches and presentations without us even realizing it. Sometimes we use them a little too much in our speeches and it becomes distracting to our audience. Best practice is to limit your usage of filler words, but I think some trainings go overboard on this rule, making you think that you have to be perfect as a speaker by not saying any filler words at all. This is, of course, very hard to do.

Moreover, it’s unclear how the number of filler words impacts the effectiveness of your message, and I don’t think there’s any evidence to back up the foundational assumption either way.

At the end of the day, the most important thing that you can do as a speaker is to provide well-organized and well-delivered message(s) and content to your audience.

My first fight with filler words

Before I joined Toastmasters in 2014, I had no idea about filler words. I didn’t notice them when I spoke, and I didn’t notice when other presenters used them, even excessively. I remember joining Toastmasters and being simultaneously impressed and intimidated that they count filler words throughout the whole meeting. When I finally mustered up the courage to give my Icebreaker speech (4-6 minute introductory speech about myself), I had nine “umms,” although I am pretty sure I had more and the Er-Ah Counter was just being nice. I couldn’t believe that I had nine filler words in there—I couldn’t even recall when I had said them!

Man nervous about giving a speech
What I am sure I looked like while giving my Icebreaker in October 2014.

After that, I set the goal for myself to not have any filler words in my speeches—I did not want to be the main focus and call-out on every Er-Ah Counter Report at the end of the meetings! I was now aware of my filler words, which helped me to then fix and break my habit of using them. Every time I said an “um” in my subsequent speeches, I could see the Er-Ah Counter making a little tally mark on their paper. With this classical conditional training (say a filler word and sense the Er-Ah Counter counting it on their report), I slowly started to limit my use of the word “um” in my speeches. However, it would really throw me in some of my early talks. I would say an “um” and then be upset with myself internally and almost lose my train of thought. Sometimes I would even call out the use of the filler word in the statement just in case the Er-Ah Counter didn’t notice it.

By my 10th speech, almost a year later, I had ZERO filler words, according to the Er-Ah Counter’s report! This was a major accomplishment, and I was so proud of myself. But here’s where I got a little lost and misguided—I don’t remember anything about that 10th speech except that I didn’t have any filler words in it. Did I leave the audience with good content and a message they could relate to and remember later? Did I deliver it in a well-organized way to help the audience truly understand the message? I don’t know. I really don’t remember, and if I don’t remember as the speaker, I am sure the audience doesn’t remember either.

I was so focused on accomplishing my zero filler words goal that I forgot my ultimate goal of a speaker—to provide an understandable and insightful message and content to my audience. I forgot about my audience and really only focused on myself.

The Fanatical Focus on Filler Words

I completely understand why public speaking trainers recommend limiting or not using filler words at all in your speech. Filler words, when used excessively, can be very distracting to the audience. They may start to pay attention to your filler words more than your message, which is what we do not want as speakers. If you have a nervous energy, like me, and use filler words excessively in your speech or presentation, the audience may think you are unprepared. Filler words can also decrease your credibility, and the audience may start to think that you’re not well-versed in the subject you’re talking to them about. Filler words can also affect your delivery. Let’s say you are trying to drum up suspense and silence, but you keep filling that silence with an “um” or “uh,” you may take away from that suspense you are trying to create.

My forgiving, lenient take on filler words

I get all of the reasons to limit filler words in your speeches and presentations, and I think it is important to be aware of your filler word usage and how it is affecting the most important parts of your speech: your content, message, organization, and delivery. With that said, I think sometimes we get so caught up in trying to limit our filler words and be perfect that we forget about our content, message and substance. The Er-Ah Counter is a great awareness tool to learn that you are using filler words excessively. However, I think it can be intimidating to new speakers and create a sense of perfectionism that just isn’t necessary.

I have seen and heard many memorable speeches that have been littered with filler words. However, their story/message was so strong that the filler words did not detract from the overall message. One example of this that I will always remember is The Moth story “Hoboken Roast Beef” by Adam Wade. I was taking a free creative writing class, and the instructor sent us the link to listen as an example of creating a wonderful story about everyday, mundane things. As I started listening, I immediately noticed all the filler words and couldn’t believe this was an example of a good story. But a few minutes in, my silly judgements subsided, and I started to enjoy the story. It is an excellent story – very humorous and heartfelt at the same time, and also relatable too! The storyteller’s pace is quick and frantic, which leads to him using more filler words, but that seems to fit his personality and his perspective in the story as well. I love this story and how he tells it! I have not listened to any of his other stories or speeches yet to know if this is his style or it was just this particular story, but either way, he did a great job in creating a memorable story that I still remember even a year later after listening to it.

My argument here is that a good story and message can overcome and surpass even the most excessive use of filler words. Perfectionism (in terms of filler words) does not enhance our speech much. No one in the audience has walked away from a speech saying, “That speech had no filler words in it! It was excellent!” The audience may only notice your filler words if used excessively.

This term excessively is very vague in most public speaking trainings as well because it’s subjective. To me, excessively means if you use a filler word about once a sentence on average. Others will have their own definitions of excessive amount of filler words, but the point is that it’s excessive when it takes away from your content and your message.

If you are a speaker who has been told you use filler words too much, that is certainly something to be aware of. However, take comfort in the lenient view that you don’t have to be perfect and make your speech filler word-free. Focus more on your content, message, organization and delivery, and your audience won’t even notice you had some minor filler words occasionally throughout your speech.

Three strategies to improve your speeches, which will also help you to limit your use of filler words

Perhaps you are someone who uses filler words excessively and wants to improve. If you focus on some of these strategies, then that may help you to improve your filler word problem while also improving your speeches and presentations.

1. WATCH YOUR SPEECH VIDEOS AFTERWARDS 

This can be uncomfortable, but it is essential if you want to refine your performance. When you watch yourself, you may realize that you used more filler words than you thought you had. You can also notice where you use filler words more—is it in the beginning and end or more in the middle of your speech? Perhaps you really practiced and had your opening and conclusion down, so you didn’t use fillers words at all, but the middle of your speech isn’t quite as practiced, which leads to you using more filler words inadvertently. Being aware of how many times you use filler words and when you most often use them is your first step in fixing the problem. Watching your speech videos afterwards will also help you to see what is working in your speech and what isn’t in terms of organization and delivery. You can learn how well you are getting your content and message across and how you can improve that for the next time.

2. THE POWER OF THE PAUSE

Filler words usually come up when people are transitioning from one point to another and feel you need to fill the silence. Purposeful silence in speeches, just like in movie theaters, is golden. Use a pause to signify that you are moving on to another thought, paragraph, example, etc. You can also use a pause to add to the suspense and make your audience wonder what will happen next (caveat here: only if this fits your story; if overused, this may be annoying to your audience who wants you to get to the point). The pause can be very powerful when used appropriately. Use it wisely to help you enhance your speech and give you the extra benefit of less filler words.

3. PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE!

I use this saying/mantra a lot in our A-Ha! Method Podcast (probably to an annoying extent), but it’s so true for public speaking and most other things in life. Practice makes progress, and I am trying to force myself to practice more too!

Practice your speech ahead of time. Practice it often. Practice it a lot! Practice in front of an audience, then get some feedback, practice it at home some more, and then give it again. You will get better at your particular speech and presentation the more times you practice, and you will also be more comfortable speaking in front of people in general if you continue to practice in front of an audience. Commonsense I know, but this actually involves a lot of effort and pushing yourself outside your comfort zone, which is easier said than done.

You can practice, practice, practice at one our Speakers Alliance weekly practice sessions. We will focus our feedback on your content, message, organization and delivery, and we will only mention filler words if you use them excessively.

Final feelings about filler words

If you focus on more important aspects of your speech, such as content, message, organization and delivery, then everything else will fall into place, including not using filler words. Let’s stop putting so much pressure on ourselves as speakers to be perfectly polished and start focusing more on our authenticity and the audience takeaways. Filler words are a small part of the presentation, and if you are just focusing on that as a speaker, an evaluator, and even an audience member, then you are missing out on other key areas.

Our stance at Speakers Alliance is that it’s okay to have a few filler words here and there in your speech and presentation if they happen to slip out. Don’t fret if you say a few – keep going with your speech and continue wowing your audience with your incredible story, message and content. That’s what we care about most of all!

Speakers Alliance is here to help with all areas of improving your public speaking. Here are a few resources to check out to take your public speaking to a new level:

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Boosting Your Confidence Improving Your Presentations Podcast Public Speaking Tips Special Occasion Speeches Wedding Speeches

Episode 4: The A-Ha! Method Podcast

Social Speeches: How to Give the Best Toast of Your Life

Social speeches are often our first – and most important – moments for public speaking. Weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, funerals – they all require good speeches and often are what prompts us to improve our speaking in the first place. Join Gabe Zichermann and Dayna Gowan for an exciting episode in which we discuss the opportunities and pitfalls of the social speech, and how to master it on your first go around.

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Improving Your Presentations Professional Speaker Public Speaking Tips Speaking at Conferences Speaking Hygiene

Speaking Hygiene – More than showering and looking good!

You’ve been preparing for this speech or pitch for weeks, maybe months. You’ve followed the lessons of the A-Ha! Method and developed a talk that’s going to get you that promotion, land you that funding, or raise your profile among your peers. The night before your talk you’re probably filled with excitement, nervousness and dread. You practice, practice, practice and go to sleep, ready for whatever comes tomorrow – the big day. 

Professional public speakers know something very critical: your “big day” actually starts the night before. The entire 18-24 hours before your talk, pitch or keynote requires special care and planning, in an effort we describe broadly as “speaking hygiene.”

No, speaking hygiene is not about showering and smelling good (though that’s also important and the subject of another article), but it is about ensuring that your time before the talk is carefully curated to ensure you’ve got the right energy level, the right focus, and the right amount of good stress. In short, you need to think like a rockstar, and put everything into the big moment. Here are some of the most important considerations:

Sleep

Make sure you know when your talk is, and ensure you’ve got enough sleep to maximize your alertness and calm. Time changes can wreak havoc on your body, so these must be factored in as well. If your talk is late in the day or you have an immovable scheduling issue, take a nap several hours beforehand. You’d be surprised how many major performers nap shortly before taking the stage – the key is to make sure your rhythms are in sync and you can do your best.

Eat

Eating is probably a major part of your day, and it can be tempting to just treat the day of your talk as any other day for food. But because too little food can leave you jittery and your stomach growling, and too much can leave you tired and sluggish, it’s crucial to time your meals appropriately. Eat well, but not too much and leave enough time to digest. Don’t eat anything heavy or carby right before, and definitely don’t walk out on stage with stuff stuck in your teeth (e.g. from a really recent bite). But do have something sweet nearby for after your talk: cognitively challenging activities deplete the energy in our brains and glucose is the cure. 

Caffeinate

Caffeine may or may not be part of your daily routine, but you’ll definitely be tempted to slam some back an hour or two before your talk as your energy flags and you worry about being at your best. Just as with food and water, make sure your caffeine intake is optimized for the talk you’re about to give. You want to make sure you don’t go overboard and end up jittery, or go under and laconic. If you want the caffeine to kick in right before your talk, plan to consume it approximately 20 minutes prior. Similarly, if you’re giving a really long talk, you might want to have some right before getting up on stage. Regardless, don’t overdo it. I’ve been there and it’s not cute. 

Investigate

I’m sure you think you know where to find the venue, your specific speaking location, and what time to be there. But don’t assume: it’s happened to me plenty of times where I get lost or the meeting point is non-specific, and I’m rushing to make it to my call time, out of breath and anxious. Whenever you can, do a walkthrough of the precise locations you need to be at and when. If you’re at an away event, you can do this the night before. If you’re somewhere local, do it the day of. Make sure you always leave yourself an additional 30 minutes to account for any hiccups, and don’t plan your flights or drives such that you’ll arrive right before your start time. Even celebrities build in contingencies. You should too. 

Isolate

You should do as little as possible before your talk begins. If your talk is first thing in the morning, you’ll have all day afterwards to socialize, network and the like. But if your talk is later in the day, you should focus on conserving energy for your performance. Wherever possible, don’t make significant intellectually-challenging plans for the time before your talk, and keep your socializing to a minimum. Again, think like a rockstar: the performance is the priority – and the point. Focus everything you’ve got on that one goal.

And therein lies the rub: the sooner you think of yourself as “performing” when you’re up on stage giving a talk, the better. Many speakers get caught in the loop of thinking they are Marketing Director first and speaker second, but on the day of a major and significant talk, embrace your inner diva. Prioritize your hygiene and watch your performance improve.

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Big presentation at work Boosting Your Confidence Improving Your Presentations Public Speaking Practice Virtual Presentations

TWO Public Speaking Practice Clinics this week!

Have an upcoming speech, pitch or presentation?

Come practice it with us!

Each week the Speakers Alliance runs a FREE Public Speaking and Pitching Practice Clinic for people looking to improve their public speaking skills. Anyone who wants to practice a presentation, speech, sales pitch, social occasion speech, etc. is welcome to join and participate! If you do not have a speech or pitch prepared, you can still attend and listen to others practice and ask questions during the Q&A period.

Talks can be 5-6 minutes long. The panel will provide up to 3-5 minutes of feedback after your talk.

This week, we are offering not one but TWO practice sessions for you to join.

Join us on Wednesdays or Thursdays to practice your speeches, presentations and pitches. Speakers Alliance is here to help and support you in your public speaking journey!

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Boosting Your Confidence Public Speaking Nerves Public Speaking Sweats Sweating and Speaking

Episode 3: The A-Ha! Method Podcast

Never Let ’em See You Sweat

Episode 03

Getting sweaty comes with the territory of being a public speaker. But when the deluge starts, how do you keep yourself in a state of flow? On this episode, hosts Gabe Zichermann and Dayna Gowan talk about the tricks, tips and hacks for making yourself less self-conscious and more in charge of your sweatiness. 

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Fear of Public Speaking Improving Your Presentations Public Speaking Nerves Public Speaking Practice Special Occasion Speeches

A Toast to Social Speeches and How to Make Them Great

Weddings, Bachelor/Bachelorette Parties, Holiday Gatherings and Funerals are all situations in which we may find ourselves needing (or wanting) to give a speech. For many people, this is the first time they are prompted to improve their public speaking skills. For others, it is merely a nail-biting event at which we desperately want to succeed. 

Speaking professionals refer to these kinds of talks as “Social Speeches,” or Special Occasion Speeches, to differentiate them from business or political ones. The important distinction is in the name: speeches in this milieu are meant to evoke a particular kind of closeness or connection. Generally if you’re asked to speak at these events, the organizer will be less concerned with your polish and perfection, and more with your delivery of appropriately funny and/or touching anecdotes in a good spirited way. 

Whether this is the one and only time you’ll get up in front of people to speak, or just another step in your journey to become a better communicator, there are several key lessons you should observe when planning and executing a social speech.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Yes, social speeches are somewhat lower stress than professional keynotes. They are usually unpaid, often unsupervised, and – because the organizer is not usually an event professional – they are given minimal attention until the big day. Don’t let this lackadaisical and freewheeling environment fool you: to do a great job at public speaking – regardless of the context – you need to practice your heart out. If you use the approach described in the A-Ha! Method, you can save significant time and may find it easier to memorize and nail those points.

You Don’t Have to Be Funny

Film and TV tend to represent these social speeches as comedic moments. But if you don’t have the halcyon delivery of Owen Wilson or the hipster gravitas of Vince Vaughn, you may not be perfectly suited to hitting those jokes repeatedly. This is not to say that you couldn’t or shouldn’t be funny, but the suggestion is to know your voice and to embrace it. If you’re more serious, be more serious and heartfelt. If you’ve got a light touch, do that. Either way, you’ll be more successful if you embrace your own POV than trying to fit into someone else’s mold.

Shorter is Better

Most social speeches should be kept under 5 minutes. Just think about the typical wedding: if 6 people/groups need to speak, and each takes 10 minutes, you’ll be sitting there for a solid hour listening to family members and friends drone on. Take a cue from what you would enjoy and keep it to a nice tight 2-3 minutes. The shorter timeframe will help you focus and give you clarity. After all, it’s better to say one thing really well than 5 things poorly.

Grab The A-Ha! Moment

In every social speech there is typically one line: an anecdote, observation, expression of love or broader social issue, that is the memorable moment from the speaker. Much as we do when giving a keynote or conference talk using the A-Ha! Method, our process begins by thinking about those moments of connection with the audience, and then building a talk around it. This emotional high-point is the thing that will have the biggest impact, so it needs to be strong. In most social speeches, there is time for one A-Ha! Moment in the middle, and a strong tag at the end that wraps everything up and brings it together.

Strong Openings and Closings

There is a tendency for most speakers to “fill” time as the stage or mic is being transitioned to them. “Hi everyone, how’s it going?” is a great example, or mentioning the previous speaker(s) to then ease into your speech. It makes the speaker feel better, but increases the time from the switch over until your first point of brilliance is expressed. If you can, take a deep breath and launch directly into your speech without any transitional phrases. The same goes for the end: as you create the last line of the talk, make sure to clearly differentiate between the end of your talk and the start of a toast (for example). Toasts or blessings are not endings, and should be treated as separate from your core talk. 

Many professional speakers, when asked to talk about their most important talks, refer to these social speeches. You may spend your life on a keynote stage, traveling around the world – but perhaps the most important memories you’ll make will be much closer to home. So no matter where you are in your journey of improving your communications skills, now’s the right time to lean in. 

Here’s a toast to your upcoming social speeches – may you give them and give them well, and may you regale all your family and friends with your stories and talks at your next special occasion event. Cheers!

Picture credit: Canva.com
Categories
Building Confidence Fear of Public Speaking Improving Your Presentations Podcast Public Speaking Tips

Episode 2: The A-Ha! Method Podcast

Episode 02

Getting and keeping people’s attention is harder than ever as a public speaker. In this episode, hosts Gabe Zichermann and Dayna Gowan explore the techniques that public speakers use to practice and develop their work, and how this helps build confidence. 

Preview:

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Big presentation at work Boosting Your Confidence Fear of Public Speaking Improving Your Presentations Sweating and Speaking Work Presentations

Never Let Them See You Sweat (when speaking)

I come from a long line of sweaty people. 

I remember my grandfather – whose BMI was much lower than mine – carrying a handkerchief in the dead of winter to mop his ever-sweaty brow. My larger frame (thicc by today’s standards) has made me even more sweaty in every aspect of my life. 

In general, I’ve come to terms with it. But when you’re watching your TED talk and see your arms lifted with sweat stains clearly visible through your dress shirt, it feels like too much. Being sweaty at the gym or beach poses minimal professional risk, but – even if people won’t tell you to your face – a super sweaty body or handshake isn’t great when you’re trying to bill $10,000/hour. 

Over my 20 years of paid, professional speaking I’ve tried almost everything to ameliorate this problem, from potions to just giving up and embracing my body’s quirks. Eventually I settled on a few tricks and strategies that have served me well. If you’re not a super-sweater, you might still find these useful – because even Zoom doesn’t hide those pits. And as any sweaty person knows, once you’re conscious of your sweat, it makes it almost impossible to focus on anything else (e.g. the speech you’re supposed to give). 

Antiperspirant

Antiperspirant is the first way most people try to solve this problem. But because adrenaline and increased blood pressure tend to increase sweating, speeches are more likely than most situations to “break through” supermarket brands. I recommend switching to a clinical-strength antiperspirant that you carry with you for talks (live or online). Asking your doctor for a recommendation is a great way to start. Don’t use the stuff regularly, or you’ll develop a tolerance for it (and potential other health complications) – so keep it for the “special” occasions of your speaking. If you don’t wear any antiperspirant on most occasions or days, you’ll find that the selective application of the stuff will help you on the days you need it most. 

Undershirts

Adding layers of undergarments can be a good go-to, but there’s a delicate balance between stopping your sweat from showing and raising your basal body temperature through excessive clothing. If you are an undershirt kind of person, a brand I’ve found to be highly effective is Eji’s. They make a line of “sweat proof” items that have a special liner to prevent your pits – and other parts – from showing. Whatever you do, don’t double up on undershirts or underwear – it will only make you hotter, and definitely won’t help. 

Blazers

The big secret of professional public speakers is the use of a strategic blazer. Men, women and non-binary speakers can find a range of great blazers that look good, project the right image, and help you keep from showing your sweat. The key is to not take the blazer off after your talk until the situation has calmed down, so to speak. This can be especially difficult in venues with inadequate air conditioning, but it’s a low price to pay for protection. And pro tip: black is both slimming and hides sweat the best. 

Handkerchiefs/Sanitizer

While your hands being sweaty during your talk is normal and really no big deal, sweaty hands after a talk – particularly when shaking them with prospective clients or event bookers – can be a major no-no. Take a minute after you’re done pitching or speaking from the stage to go to the restroom, wash your hands, dry them thoroughly, and return to the action in the venue. If that is impossible, a small amount of hand sanitizer (which you probably have at all times nowadays) and a handkerchief in your pocket can give your palms a quick refresh. Of course, you can also always use the pandemic as an excuse to elbow bump instead.

Body Temperature Regulation

There’s a reason that most TV studios are freezing cold. This serves two purposes: to keep the equipment and the hosts from overheating. Sweat ruins clothes, makeup and a 4K high-def close up, and the same will be true for you as a speaker. Now, you may not have control of the venue’s temperature – and particularly if you’re in Europe, the venue will most likely be on the warm side – but there are things you can do. First, dress for the venue prior to your talk. If it’s warm (and you’ll know because you followed my advice to scope it out beforehand), keep your blazer off and/or wear lighter clothes prior to the start of your talk. Don’t shower, work out or otherwise over-exert yourself in the hour before your speech or pitch begins, and do what you can to keep yourself calm. If you’re broadcasting from home – turn down the AC as low as it will go and freeze your room before the talk starts – you can set it back to a normal/cool temperature once you’re finished. And remember to drink lots of water…but not so much that you can’t time your bathroom breaks. 

Excessive sweating can become a clinical condition called Hyperhidrosis. Even if you don’t have this rare but often-debilitating issue, you can suffer from sweating that is “excessive” (a social, not medical construct) during and after important talks. The critical thing to remember, of course, is that this is perfectly normal. You should feel sweaty during and after a talk because you put your heart and soul into it, and that nervous reaction is absolutely natural. However, if you don’t feel confident and comfortable in your body under those circumstances, it will affect your performance. And the most critical thing is to ensure that your talk goes well, that you land your points, and that the audience is changed by what you have to say. Anything that gets in the way of that – and it’s usually something in your head – is detrimental to success. That’s why we teach the importance of practice, confidence and content-centricity in our self-directed online course, The A-Ha! Method

The phrase “Never let them see you sweat” was coined by advertising guru Phil Slott in his 1980s commercials for the antiperspirant Dry Idea. It caught on precisely because of its broader meaning: that you need to project confidence and calm, no matter how you’re feeling inside, if you want to conquer the highest peaks of your profession. Public speaking, pitching and meeting management are types of performance, and good performers invest in managing their sweat to create the right impression. 

The content comes first. But staying high and dry is always a good idea.